We love this article (“Travel Is About Commas, Not Exclamation Marks,” by Samantha Brown) because, like most things in life, travel really is about the little things, or as Samantha Brown puts it “the commas.” When you plan your trip, you’re thinking about all the big sights you’re going to see, the great adventures you’re going to have and the delicious food that you’re going to eat. And, absolutely, you will see and do those things in your tour with us. But what travel also offers is a step beyond these things that you are expecting.

Travel to Paris outdoor cafeThose “commas” can be found in the conversations you have with your waitress, who comments on your French, the taxi driver who tells you how much he appreciates you visiting his country, making friends with a woman in the grocery store line in a small town where no one speaks English – those little moments that give you big insight. All of these little moments have made us feel more connected with where we are at that moment in time and give us that true spirit of what travel is all about.

Paris France Running ToursSo, in addition to satisfying your expectations of seeing that piece of art you’ve always wanted to see, finally visiting that city you’ve dreamed of, or seeing the Eiffel Tower twinkling at night, with us you will also get to experience the “commas.” You will be able to participate in a road race where countless countries are represented, where you may not understand what the spectators are saying to you, but you know they’re cheering you on and that there are no language barriers when it comes to a post race party! Since we like to slow things down a bit so you can enjoy just being where you are and enjoying being in the moment, you’ll experience more of this spirit of travel.

Runners in the Luxembourg Gardens ParisAs we run over here in Europe, we have come to notice some distinct trends, patterns or general etiquette of greeting your fellow runners when you’re out there getting your sweat on.  First of all, wherever I am back home in the U.S., big city or not, I find that runners tend to acknowledge each other with a nod, a quick wave or a brief “hi.”  Of course, this is a generalization, but you know what I mean.  Of course, in big cities in any country there is always an element of anonymity, so you don’t always acknowledge each other.  Living in the mountains of Colorado, I don’t have a lot of extra oxygen to expel when coming across a fellow runner, so what I do is  give a quick little hand raise.

Enter our travels…I read recently that the French do not smile at strangers (running or strolling) and that they find it odd when we Americans do so.  They find it almost indicative of some sort of senility – that we think we know these people at whom we are smiling.  I don’t know if the French would agree with this.  But, yes, the French culture is different than ours in the U.S.  They are more to themselves, they’re not going to mow you down with a big bear hug.   So, when in Paris I’ve gotten used to not addressing anyone which was very weird at first, but then I got in the zone and thought nothing of it.  Until I got to Belgium, where I forgot my manners and wasn’t quick enough to respond when I got the nod.  Yep, it’s the nod.  It took me a few more runners to get into the nod…their predecessors probably thought I was rude, nope, just slow on the draw!  Runners in Switzerland

Fast forward to Switzerland…I got a mixed bag, but one super enthusiastic and terribly cute older gentleman who I came upon on a woodsy trail stands out in my mind.  He was really chatting me up…in German.  When I said I spoke English he just pointed at my KT tape and at various parts of his body (which I took to be achy maybe??) and then he put his hands in a forward motion down the trail.  My interpretation of this message was that while we might have some aches and pains, we carry on!  (Regardless of age or country!)

And circling back to France, when in Brittany running on a lovely gravel path along the Rance river where I would soon come upon a quaint little town complete with a cathedral (seriously, it could not have been more idyllic), I received an onslaught of “bonjours” complete with smiling faces – who’s senile now?  Well, so much for all of that business about the French.  (You can read my rant on why the French aren’t rude here.)  Perhaps, like in most places, it’s just a big city thing there in Paris.  Enjoying all of the beauty of Paris while running though is certainly “bonjour” enough.

 

*We would like to make the disclaimer that generalizations are abundant in this post as we certainly did not cross paths with every runner of each country mentioned and hopefully no offense was taken by any smiley, wavey, chatty international runners (wink, wink).

I speak French.  Not nearly as well as I would like, however.  Duolingo tells me that I’m 48% fluent.  My conversations with Parisians tell me otherwise.  (My tutor is helping me with this!)

It’s a foggy morning, a Normandy foggy morning.  You need a knife and fork to cut the air (un couteau et une forchette).  Dan and I walk to the Caen Parc des Expositions where I catch the bus to Pegasus Bridge, the start of Les Courants de la Liberte half marathon (it also happens to be the first bridge liberated by the Allies in Normandy.)  It also happens to be just a few days after D-Day.  It’s always fun to see and feel the excitement of race day.  Even in another country, it’s the same.  Some are dressed in goofy outfits, some are stretching, some look really serious, some are cool and joking around.  I say goodbye to Dan and get on the bus.  I’m surrounded by people, but can’t follow any conversation.  So, I kinda feel alone, on a bus, in France to go run 13.1 miles in a foggy abyss.  I’m refusing to text Dan as my battery is running down and I need it for my running tunes!  Thanks to those of you who chimed in on Facebook and gave me suggestions for good running songs.

Here We Go…

We arrive at the start about an hour before the race.  Great, I’ve got loads of time.  There’s a lot of chatter, again, too fast for me to understand anything.  But, there are loads of lines at the porta potties.  There’s a universal language!  One woman walks out of the porta potty and is mortified as she only then sees the line and realizes that she just budged in front of all of us.  I wonder what the word for “budge” is en francais?  She gets a lot of chuckles.  It’s all good lady.

D-Day Race Start Normandy

10 minutes to the start and as I’m in line, the announcer is trying to jack everybody up with clapping and high fives.  I can barely see much of Pegasus Bridge.  Did I mention the fog??  The gun goes off and away we go.  It’s a bit of an incline at the start, so I can see everyone in front of me.  Yeah, I’m slow, so there’s plenty of people in front of me.  I’m taking it all in.  Spectators cheering us on.  Check.  Little kids with posters with messages to Daddy, “Papa, tu es très vite!”  This I understand!  (In English, “Daddy, you are very fast!) Check.  Quintessential stone buildings that tell you, “Hey, you’re running a half marathon in France.”  Check.  Feeling like you are part of something really cool.  Definitely, Check.  At that moment, there’s a shift and I have this moment of clarity…runner’s high already?!  My thought, “we’re all the same.”  (Relatively speaking, of course.)  We’ve all trained for this day on some level, no matter how easy or hard this may be for any of us.  Spectators flock to support those cruising through their little village.  Yep, we have this at home.  Oh, look, cute kids wanting high fives, yep, done this before.  Love it!  I ran all over the course to make sure I slapped every hand of every little kid and that one adult looking for a high five.

Bravo!

D-Day Race Normandy VillagePeople are splitting off into twosomes, lots of singles.  Some are walking already.  Some listening to music, some chatting, giggling.  I’m running this alone, but with each step, I don’t feel that way at all.  This race prints the name of your country on your bib if you aren’t from France.  I’m the only one from the USA as far as I can tell.  Still don’t feel alone though.  We run through more villages with more spectators, more kids, more inspiring posters… there are even bands at a few villages.  Amid the constant sprinkling of spectators whether it be in villages or on a dirt path in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, I experienced my favorite memory…picture this, a driveway that appears out of the woods, hosting a cute little old Frenchman with his wool cardigan and cap, calmly yet continuously clapping his hands and saying, “Bravo! Bravo!”  I’ve never received an authentic, “Bravo!” before…you know, doing something actually “Bravo!” worthy while I was in France.  Definitely did not feel alone.  And then I see an older gentleman go out of his way to make a fellow runner not feel alone.  He takes a quick zig to the right, pats a guy on the back who is walking and just zags back to his spot.  Heart melts.

Almost There

D-Day Race High Fives!And now I’m 10 miles in and I think, “oh, I got this”, now it gets fun because I’m feeling good.  The long downhill stretch didn’t hurt either.  We’re back in town, leaving the poppy fields and cute Frenchman behind.  Hello, cobblestone.  You are super fun to run on.  Ha!  But the energy is awesome.  In Europe, they often print your name on your bib, so people are yelling your name.  Your name!  “Allez, Jessica!”  So cool.  I slap some more 5-year-old hands. I make eye contact with a few people as I have a huge grin on my face and I see the same spread across their face.  I come around the corner and it’s almost over…”What?  No!  This has been so fun!”  I’m trying to look at all of the spectators lining the very packed last third mile of the race.  Everyone is so into it…and so am I.

We Are One

pegasus half marathon finish lineThe thought never left me that how ironic it is to do something that is just you, it’s all you.  This isn’t a team sport, running (at least not always).  Yet, here we are, people from the US, France, Poland, the UK.  We are all here for the same thing, our love of putting one foot in front of the other.  The love of where those feet will lead us.  The love of how they got us here in the first place.  And all the fun along the way.  We might be from different places, with different political views, different colors, but we are all there to do the same thing.  Despite my need to work on my French, I never felt alone.  If you don’t want to feel alone, try a race in another country.

Ugh, insurance.  After budgeting for your trip, who wants to shell out more cash for insurance??  We get it.  But, keep in mind, a trip is an investment and if things turn upside down, whether it’s something that happens at home before your trip, or something that happens during your trip, you really want to make it easier on yourself by having travel insurance to cover you.

Travel insurance covers situations from an illness preventing you from taking the trip to lost luggage, flight delays/cancellations, or even the extreme of medical evacuation.  Most travel insurance companies offer various packages with different coverage options priced accordingly.

Note that some coverage options require you to purchase travel insurance within 21 days of your first deposit towards the trip, i.e. the purchase of your flight, hotel reservations, etc.  This can be tricky as part of purchasing travel insurance is knowing what your trip is worth so you can insure it properly.  If your travel insurance needs don’t require you to book within 21 days, then wait and see what your final costs are.  Otherwise, figure out your general budget for big ticket items like flight, hotels and transportation, so you can purchase your insurance lickety split.

We have found that Yonder has always suited our needs – it compares many insurance providers and helps you find the best insurance for you.  Check it out and make purchasing travel insurance one of the first things you do on your trip “to do” list.

Once you get that checked off your list, you can breathe easier that you have yourself and the investment you’ve made in your trip covered.  Travel happy!

Yes, everyone is always talking about how you need to pare down and just use a carry-on sized piece of luggage for your next trip, whether it’s 3 days or 6 weeks.  We’ve done it for 4 weeks and we’re about to do it for 6.  Here’s the why and how.  And not only why you need to use a carry-on, but why you want to use one.

Carry-On Rules

First things first, when we say carry-on, we don’t mean a backpack.  We mean an actual suitcase with these dimensions – up to 22” by 14” by 9,” for a total of 45” linear inches – that we will inevitably check anyway.  Keep in mind that European carry-on dimensions are smaller, so be prepared to check your carry-on if flying within the EU.

Our Favorite Carry-On

TravelPro MaxLite 4We love the TravelPro MaxLite 4.  We love it because it is lightweight, durable and has good balance when fully loaded.  We like having the 4 wheel spinner version because in tight quarters you can easily push it in front of you or roll it next to you, so you don’t wear our your back dragging it behind you.

Here’s a good article with user reviews of a handful of carry-on rollers.

Why a Carry-On?

We use a carry-on because there are trains, planes and automobiles involved in travel.  You do not want to be hauling a lot when trying to hail a taxi or make your way through a train station and onto a train.  Train stations don’t always have escalators – and the ones that do always seem to be out of service.  We’re talking stairs people.  You don’t want to be panicking to get the very few spots in the train car reserved for large luggage.  And, if you have smaller luggage, then you can easily lift it up into the overhead bin.  Now, with Finish Line Travel, we will be taking private cars to most locations, so train travel won’t be an issue, but if you intend to start your trip early before hooking up with us or plan to extend it, you may still run into these issues.

Some hotels don’t have elevators…even the really nice ones where you’ll be staying with us.  Europe is old and the stairs in many hotels are steep and narrow.  And while we’re talking about hotels, again Europe is different than the U.S.  Their hotel rooms are often smaller and there’s no need to break an ankle because you had to perform a Ninja Warrior move just to get around your suitcase because it was taking up valuable real estate on the floor.

Packing in a carry-on for any period of time may sound daunting.  It is not.  It is liberating.  In the next few weeks, we will be showing you how to pack for an extended period of time while not being bored of your clothes or having to wash them every night down by the river.

So, trusting that you’ll jump on board with our packing lists, consider all these reasons to go with the carry-on!

Oh, while you’re checking out luggage options, no we didn’t forget about souvenirs!  Parisian scarves…check, Belgian chocolate…check, Berliner beer stein…check.  We use this Eagle Creek tote to bring back our souvenirs.  It doesn’t take up much space in your carry-on as it folds into a little square until you need to fill it up!

After getting your passport, the next step in your trip preparation process is to notify your credit card companies (including your ATM bank) of your travel plans.  Some of them no longer need to be notified as the chip offers added security features.  However, it’s good to give them a call, so you know what’s what and then you won’t need to call in the future!

All you need to provide them with is your dates of travel and the countries you will be visiting.  Also notify them if you will be making any purchases to foreign businesses before you leave the US during your trip planning, i.e. making hotel or train reservations.

When contacting your bank regarding your ATM card, review your daily withdrawal amount and increase it if you’d prefer to make larger withdrawals as each withdrawal has a fee.

Apply for or Renew a Passport

When traveling abroad, the first and foremost item on your travel prep list is applying for or renewing your passport. Go to the US Passport Website to get started.  Plan ahead!  Processing time for a routine application or renewal is 4 – 6 weeks.  You can pay extra to have it expedited (2 – 3 weeks), or you can process your application at an agency site in as little as 8 business days.  If you don’t have any agency office near you, then you can use a service like Travel Document Systems to get your passport processed as quickly as possible.

2017 is a busy year for passport renewals!  For more information about this, and how passports are changing, why you need 4 empty pages, and the 6 month rule, check out this Condé Nast article.

6 Month Rule

As a general rule of thumb, if your passport will expire within 6 months of your travel dates, you will need to renew your passport.  There are some exceptions, but why risk your overseas vacation?!?!  So, check those dates carefully, and plan ahead and make sure your passport is valid.  For more details on the 6 month rule, see this article by The Points Guy.

Do I Need a Visa?

If you are traveling to the European Union, you do not need a visa.  (But, there have been some rumors about that rule changing in the future.)  To find out visa requirements for any worldwide destination, visit the U.S. Department of State website.