How Smart Girls Travel

Some might call this clutter. I call it "bee-u-tee-ful" Oh yes, I do.
Some might call this clutter. I call it “bee-u-tee-ful!”

As I finish preparations for my first solo trip to Europe in four years – a 10-day excursion to Provence, France – I wanted to share with you some of the thoughts that have flitted through my brain the past few days. In no particular order:

  • Inflatable neck pillow, no inflatable neck pillow?
  • What if it rains? What if it’s too hot? What if I step on a scorpion?
  • What if all of France goes on strike? (they do that, you know)
  • Je suis un publicist.
  • Is my passport expired? (checks passport)
  • Several days later…Is my passport expired? (checks passport..vicious cycle)
  • Je viens de New York.
  • Ok, I’ll have the brown shorts and the white shorts, and the four sundresses. Or should it be five sundresses?
  • Je voudrais un ver de vin rouge!

As silly as these questions are, they’re a luxury I am afforded because I already took care of the serious stuff:  photocopying my passport and credit cards so I have copies for myself, my parents and my emergency contact; giving my emergency contact a copy of my safe deposit box key and instructions regarding my will, the deed to my house and other important documents it contains; and, I’ve alerted my credit cards companies that I will be overseas. Just in case you are wondering – I have performed these acts for every overseas trip I have ever taken. This time though, I have added extra precautions to make things easier for myself and my loved ones shoud something go awry. Pay attention, please.

For starters, I took a 10-weeks’ long course in conversational French to gain a basic understanding of the language.  I’ve purchased an international phone and shared the phone number with friends and family, and programmed their contact info into it.  I visited the homepage for the U.S. Embassy in France and located the nearest embassy branch to where I will be staying, recording the various phone numbers in my phone and printing a list of emergency services and personnel. Lastly, but most importantly, as it’s something every U.S. citizen should do when traveling overseas:  I registered my travel information with the State Department via its Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It’s a free service that provides travel updates/warnings tailored specifically to your trip, and also serves as a record of where you’ll be staying in your chosen country of travel, your emergency contact information and other pertinent details should you require assistance from the Embassy. If you do nothing else to prepare for an overseas trip, please enroll in this program.

As I wrote in a previous post, this solo trip will not be my first in Europe since the attack, but it will certainly be the longest since I visited Spain in May 2008. And I admit, I’m a little nervous. I always get hit with a bout of butterflies upon landing in a foreign country and going through customs. Just getting from the airport, to public transportation and then, to my hotel, seems to be the hardest part of the trip because I am half asleep, dehydrated and cranky as all get out. Still, I recognize that scaring myself every now and then is healthy for me, especially when I know the reward will be immeasureable. This time is different, though.

I am keenly aware that if anything happens to me on this trip (e.g. I get mugged, scammed or manhandled) I will  be forever tagged as some kind of idiot who attracts bad things that in some way are my fault. Nevermind the fact I have successfully traveled this way for YEARS to my great benefit and enjoyment. People are strange. I’ve had no shortage of well-meaning friends tell me to “be careful” in a sort of parent-to-child way. While I know it comes from a good place, it stings a little. What happened with Marco was not about not being careful. It was about not being perfect and not forseeing the unforseeable. It was about crossing paths with an evil I could not have fathomed.

I wish people would celebrate with me or congratulate me on taking this very significant step forward. I know I am, and I’ve had some very sassy pep talks in the mirror the past few mornings to prove it. All I know is that a short time ago I was laid so low by fear that I could not understand why I ever thought I could or should travel alone overseas ever again. Somehow, I have vanquished that fear and all its terrible implications. Now, I have a coffee table covered with pocket French books, travel kit tems and a leather-bound journal I have not touched since November 11, 2008. And I have 10 days ahead of me filled with strolls through flowered fields and Van Gogh’s paintings, jugs of local wines and rinds of cheese that will make me forget anything I ever thought I knew about cheese or the delectable crepes it finds its way into. Isn’t that worth celebrating? Mais oui. Of course.

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