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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Six travel mistakes I've made this summer

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Six travel mistakes I've made this summer

In Oslo's Vigeland Park
I know.  LLMW does not make mistakes...aghast...but she really does...and bad ones sometimes too.  Just because you have a lot of knowledge does not mean you know everything...plus, you sometimes forget or are lazy or just don't know any better.  I made this site not only to help others but to have others help me!  So before you laugh and get a kick out of that, see what I did that was less than perfect as we all tend to do.

I planned and arranged a trip to Oslo.  Because this city will make even the richest person feel poor and have an empty wallet before it's over, I thought I would save and get a hotel outside the city center.  That part was just fine...we saved literally THOUSANDS of euro, and it was a luxury hotel to boot, mysteriously being upgraded to a business suite with two rooms, two bathrooms and a wonderful buffet breakfast (boy, did I score brownie points for that one).

Sure, I saw that it was on the main metro ring with connections every minute and only six stops from downtown, and certainly wasn't worried about us getting around.  I planned how easily we would get there (no problems actually), but I got LAZY and just assumed I would do the same thing on the way back for our early Ryanair airport bus.  Imagine that sinking feeling you get, when you get down to the metro platform at 0610 and see the first train comes only at 0649, only 11 minutes before you have to catch your paid-for bus back to the airport to catch that flight.  Oops, it was a Saturday with less metro connections.  Can you say "oh sh*t?!"

After a nanosecond, we raced back up to the hotel, had them call a taxi (which arrived in less than 5 minutes) and arrived in plenty of time for the bus.....but $40 poorer.  Lesson #1 learned, follow thru from beginning to end in trip planning, especially if you absolutely have to be somewhere at a certain time!  Also watch time schedules on holidays (know what they are for that country) and on weekends!

This summer I also had an ambitious notion that we would relax in a wonderful country cottage in the peaceful countryside in Normandy.  I had visions of us seeing the sites during the day and then viewing some wonderful countryside vistas driving back to our wonderful retreat.  I carefully researched many, many cottages, B&Bs and even a few chateaus.  Since my plan was VERY ambitious and it involved going in exactly two different directions (St Malo and the famous Mont St Michel vs. the Normandy Beaches), I thought I would split the difference and try to find something in between.  I found the ideal place in the most idyllic setting...on paper.  The first day was peaceful and relaxing after we finally arrived (that'll be my third mistake below).  Once we started visiting the sites, I realized my mistake.  Yes, it looked like only x amount of miles from this destination to that one on Google...but try to actually drive the winding and narrow country roads and you quickly realize it takes MUCH longer to drive them in person.  After two days of it taking us two hours to get somewhere and then two hours to get back at the end of the day, with me in a nauseous stupor, I came to the conclusion that we needed to pick one area OR the other and leave our pastoral place.

I chose a wonderful historic hotel near my beloved sites in Normandy (our main goal to see) and was then happy for the rest of the trip.  Even though the WWII battle sites and of course the many other sites along that part of the coast were spread out, we still spent no more than 45 minutes driving to any one site for the rest of the trip.  Don't remind me that I forfeited the rest of the money we had paid for the country cottage (I try not to think about that) and then had to shell out another 70 euros a day for our nice hotel room with no cooking facilities...but you know what?  I was happy and we all know what happens when momma isn't happy.  What's the lesson here?  There's Lesson #2.  Take the time to see what kinds of roads there are at your destination.  Take the time to really see how long it'll take you to drive everyday to see what you want to see and prioritize which direction you want to travel in!  You can't see everything!


Of course, also on this trip, our home had a slight issue that needed immediate attention.  Of course, it needed attention on the morning we were due to leave for our trip.  Doesn't it always happen this way?  After finally getting things taken care of, we hit the road at 0900.  I know I have mentioned before to check the German school holiday site and stau situation.  I also know the Belgian schedule from living here.  Why oh why did I not check the French schedule?  Can you say "bank holiday"?   I don't know.  I'm still wondering about that.  All I know is that we waited anywhere from 20 minutes to ONE HOUR at EVERY SINGLE TOLL BOOTH going thru France along our route.  It wouldn't have mattered if we had a "fast pass" either (which many Brits rent or buy to allow them to breeze thru the auto lanes).  The traffic was well backed up before all the lanes even decided to split.  This turned a four hour drive into an EIGHT HOUR drive!!!  Lesson #3, ALWAYS, ALWAYS...and then again...check the school holiday schedules for the countries you will be traveling through and to!

On one of our trips to a country with a different currency, a certain someone in my family suggested to use the rest of that currency to pay part of the hotel bill.  I hesitated...well, what if there is an emergency and we need some quick change?  Luckily, a last minute taxi ride that was NOT planned was payable by credit card.  I even tried to tip the driver in Euro, our home currency in Belgium, but he would not take it and kept telling us not to worry and to catch our flight.  He was such a nice man.  The amount I used in that foreign currency to pay part of the hotel bill would have paid the taxi driver almost EXACTLY...with enough left over for coffee...which I desperately needed at the airport and couldn't buy because I didn't have a foreign coin to my name.  Lesson #4, I think the peace-of-mind is worth it to keep at least some bills in that foreign currency...at least enough to pay a taxi or some other quick emergency!  With so many military families traveling all over, you can sell your currency, especially if you have bills, at a later date.


This summer has been unusually cold and rainy, from start to finish.  Yes, we packed plenty of shorts and swimsuits we didn't get to use, at least when we were outside for the most part.  We brought rain and cold weather to each of the four countries we vacationed in this summer.  We had more rain days than sun days.  You think I would've learned by the third trip at least to bring more warm clothing.  No, I was determined to pack pretty much the exact same things I had packed previously.  I ended up recycling my fleece pretty much every day and found out that the combo of fleece and a rainjacket on top can be pretty toasty.  Me and my fashion sense were non-existent.  Lesson #5, even in summer always have raingear AND something warm to wear...doubled...unless you don't mind wearing the same thing over and over again.  The good thing about fleece is that it rolls up very nicely in your suitcase and is very lightweight to boot!

In Amsterdam, we were in this wonderful little restaurant.  Now, you know that Europeans don't do doggie bags like we do doggie bags.  In fact, if it wasn't for the Americans running around in Europe, there would be NO doggie bags.  Europeans don't do them!  I always prepare myself for the errant look I get when asking if I can take my leftovers home.  I've been given newspaper, waxpaper and butcher paper to wrap my stuff up.  I've had stuff leak thru those flimsy wrappings, and it is not pretty.  My solution....is to ALWAYS carry a few ziploc bags of a few sizes...of the freezer variety due to their sturdiness.  I'm not going to tell you to do it, but if you want to make your kid...or you and the family a little sandwich from the breakfast buffet for later...I'm not going to tell you not to do it either.  Well, in making my list for the trip, I thought I'd be slick and download an Iphone app specifically for packing....I missed a key item in the transfer from paper to app....ziploc bags.  Not only did I not have it for my leftovers but I also didn't have it for the wet swimsuits or the opened bag of goldfish that wanted to jump out all inside my purse nor for the pile of receipts I like to keep in order til I get home.  Crap.  Lesson #6, travel with a few ziploc bags of various sizes.  You won't know what you will use them for ahead of time, but somewhere and somehow, you WILL end up needing them!

Of course I learned a few other lessons, but they are not worth the paper I would write them on, so I will end here.  Do you have any lessons learned from this summer?  Any summer?

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you as always for sharing, we had a similiar situation with a day trip this week, couldn't figure out if the French Holiday was going to put a crinkle in our plans or not!
Could you share that App? Thanks! I'm a list maker as well!

August 15, 2011 at 12:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip on the ziploc bags! My kids are notorious for eating 2 bites then asking for the rest later, so thanks!! I wouldn't have even thought to bring this.

August 15, 2011 at 9:10 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

The app I used for packing is called uPackingLstFree. Now of course I have nothing to compare it to other than a piece of paper, as I have not tried any of the other electronic packing lists. I like that you have different lists for different situations (like I have one for flying Ryanair, another for driving to a vacation rental, etc). I noticed my Tripadvisor app has a packing list too, but I haven't tried that one yet.

August 15, 2011 at 6:24 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

The app I used for packing is called uPackingLstFree. Now of course I have nothing to compare it to other than a piece of paper, as I have not tried any of the other electronic packing lists. I like that you have different lists for different situations (like I have one for flying Ryanair, another for driving to a vacation rental, etc). I noticed my Tripadvisor app has a packing list too, but I haven't tried that one yet.

August 15, 2011 at 6:24 PM  

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