* This post does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of this travel strategy
It's coming up on the end of the year, so obviously I'm going to write some year-in-review posts about the hot flaming garbage fire that was 2016. Before I get to those, though, I want to make an overdue post about the one big trip I took this year, and some advice/recommendations from it that might actually be helpful to other people. SO! This past October, I traveled to London, England and Paris, France with my mom and my cousin. We spent approximately 48 hours in each place, which was, I can say in retrospect, a ridiculous planning choice. I was the primary planner for the trip, and if I had a chance to do it all again, I know I would do some things differently. It's too late for that, though, so at the very least I hope you all can learn from my mistakes (and from my excellent choices, of course).
Our basic schedule for the trip was to fly out of Boston on a Sunday night, arrive in London on a Monday morning, spend Monday in London, then take the train to France on Tuesday and spend Tuesday and Wednesday in Paris. On Wednesday afternoon we took the train back to England, and Thursday was spent in London. We flew back to Boston on Friday morning. It was definitely an action-packed week.
I've been to both London and Paris before, during my study abroad semester during college, so I didn't want to do a lot of the classic tourist stuff. However, we did get afternoon tea at the Dean Street Townhouse which was lovely (and Rosie and Jessica of the Day of Fun podcast were kind enough to join us, which was a delight!) and I really wish we had that tradition in America. We also went to a few museums (the Tate Modern and the Victoria & Albert, where I saw the quite interesting You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 exhibit) and to an exhibit of graphic arts (books, posters, paper goods, etc) from the Harry Potter films. We caught evensong choral service at St. Paul's Cathedral (because I'm a music nerd, not because of any religious relevance). I also got to see a dear friend from my study abroad time who took the train down just to sit and watch the Great British Bake-Off finale with us at our Airbnb and drink gin and eat brownies. (Thanks, Tommmmm, you are a peach!) In other food news, I had a very good meal at NOPI, a delightful happy hour (cynar gin fizz! truffle potato crisps!) at Polpetto, and a delicious breakfast I'd gladly eat every day at Dishoom; all are highly recommended.
We checked off a few more touristy spots in Paris than in London, including l'Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre (well, the courtyard anyway—turns out almost all the museums in Paris are closed on Tuesdays, for whatever reason), all the Jardins (Tuileries, Luxembourg), Notre Dame, and some very important shopping destinations (Shakespeare and Company bookstore plus Julia Child's go-to kitchen supplier, E. Dehillerin). There was some good food, including at Alain Ducasse's new place Champeaux in Les Halles and obligatory macarons (are those actually good, though??), but my favorite was a perfect risotto that I ate at this tiny bistro right after we got in on the train. It had greens and salty aged, shaved Parmesan and shiitake mushrooms and was really, really good.
I didn't take enough photos. (Never enough photos!) I didn't check to see which dates museums are open or not open... I talked myself out of buying souvenirs that I now wish I had bought. I definitely didn't bring enough chocolate home with me. Trying to do a little bit of All the Things means you don't do anything fully. I didn't realize you need to make reservations for random weekday lunch in Paris! I didn't get to eat a Cornish pasty or French baguette. I didn't plan enough classic tourist moments for my mom and my cousin. I didn't journal at all while we were traveling. I didn't do a good job of communicating how I was feeling with my travel buddies. I haven't yet figured out a way to go live as an expat in London for the foreseeable future.
This whole trip was inspired by the fact that there is a new discount airline called WOW Air that now flies from Boston to Europe for extremely cheap. Like, under $400 round-trip cheap. For those prices, you don't get much in the way of perks, but I'm pretty low-key about that stuff. I'm not sure I'd completely recommend it to everyone though; make sure you really know yourself, and your travel style, and your patience levels (and, so very importantly, those of the people you're traveling with) before you decide the price is worth the restrictions. Also, NB: WOW files into Gatwick, which is a bit of a haul from central London. Other travel on Eurostar and the London Underground/Paris Metro was all fine and normal.
We booked an Airbnb in London for the whole week to use as a home base and then had one night in a hotel in Paris. The Airbnb was in Islington, and it was fine, but a little further away from the Underground/any kind of useful restaurants, etc than I would have liked. Airbnb is a weird concept that I'm still not entirely comfortable with, and if I had to do it again, I might just stay in a hotel, to be honest. The hotel we had in Paris was actually really great for the price and perfect for what we needed—clean, quiet, and comfortable.
I learned a lot about my personal travel style on this trip. Now that I've lived in/around a city for quite a few years, I feel much more comfortable being in cities and I think aimless exploring is my preferred way to experience a new place. Although I love to plan, given the chance, even after all the planning, I'd rather just wander around a city with only a vague idea of where I'm going when and let things present themselves to me that way. I'd also rather do it alone, or with one other person who also likes being alone. Being alone together is a different thing than just being together, I think. In the week we were traveling, I probably had about 45 minutes by myself, and that really didn't work for me. I love my mom and my cousin, of course, and love spending time with them, but travel is already stressful and since I had planned a lot of the trip, I felt a lot of pressure for everyone to be having the greatest time possible at every minute of the day. Of course that is never going to happen and trying to force it will only make it less and less likely. All that said, travel like this is amazing and I am very luck to have the chance to do things like this and I don't want to take them for granted, but you can't let that get in the way of doing things in a way that feels right. I'm not sure I'll be going on another big-deal trip like this any time soon, but if/when I do, I feel like I'm much better prepared to do it in a happy-making way.
If anyone out there is planning a trip to London or Paris in the near future and wants to talk in more detail about recommendations/advice or if any of you have tips for successfully traveling with other people as a neurotic introvert, please drop me a line! I do want to give the whole thing another go at some point (WOW Air also flies from Boston to Reykjavik, Copenhagen, and Berlin, which are all on my shortlist), and it's never too soon to start planning. Did you travel anywhere exciting or interesting (or disappointing?!) this year? Do you have any travel plans for 2017? Do you want to see the extensive set of annotated maps, spreadsheets and itineraries I put together for this trip? Do you love or hate looking at other people's vacation photos? It's okay, you can tell me.