Lessons Learned

21 Nov
19 November 2017.
No matter how many trips we take, we learn something new to apply to the next adventure. Just last week I learned I should have a packing list even going to Portland for two nights as I managed to pack the car and forgot to bring a jacket. In Oregon. In November. Hello, Columbia store! I did get a nice, new winter coat out of it.
Lesson 1: Packing
Packing is always a work-in-progress. I was very pleased with how much I managed to fit in my suitcase and keep the weight reasonable at about 22 pounds. For an eight-week trip I had 2 blouses, 2 long sleeved tees, 3 short sleeved tees, 2 jeans, one black pant, a lightweight cotton pullover sweater, khaki jacket, cardigan, jammies & undies. [See: It Fits.] One of the tees died in the first two weeks and I had to buy a fleece in Munich because I was sick of being cold. That heavy fleece made for some packing challenges as we moved on. And I found myself grabbing the same blouse, one L/S tee, and my two remaining SS tees over-and-over. I wished I’d had another cardigan instead of the khaki jacket. So, next trip, I already have a revised packing plan.

My wardrobe is about layering: 2 blouses, 2 long-sleeved tees, 2 short sleeved tees, 2 jeans, one pullover sweater, khaki jacket, jammies & undies. Wear on the plane: black stretchy pants, tee, & lightweight jacket.

My intentions were to class up my act and wear make-up more often. I wore make-up daily from the age of 13 to 62, so in retirement I seldom put it on. This trip was no different. Next time a little CC cream and mascara and nothing more for “dress up.”
We did take trekking sticks and were so happy we did. Definitely worthwhile and they do not weigh much.
Lesson 2: It’s OK to ship
We don’t buy too much when we travel, but I did acquire some nice table linens in Ortisei. Along with the fleece I bought in Munich and the one Ric bought in Ortisei when he hit a level of cold intolerance, the linens pushed us over-the-top and we had to break out the packable duffle. Ric had to schlepp that thing to Venezia and again to Assisi, along with his roller bag and day pack. Luckily it only weighed about 10 pounds. In Assisi we took the Umbrian oil we had purchased at a farm, the no-longer-needed trekking sticks, and the acquired linens to Mailboxes, Etc. Yes, it was pricey, but well worth getting rid of any weight we could since we still had a month of travel ahead of us. [See: Assisi is more than San Francesco for our shipping adventure.]

Not the stairs we had in London, but this staircase at Palazzo Braschi in Roma is rather dramatic, don’t you think?

Lesson 3: Check for stairs
We decided a few of years ago that we would no longer climb more than one floor with luggage. I think it was specifically during a trip to in 2014 when we had a place on the 4th floor (5th American) in Porto Santo Stefano. [See: By the sea.] It’s one thing to walk up-and-down without luggage, but if there is not an elevator we no longer stay where we have to walk up more than one flight with luggage.
Our last trip threw us two curves.
In Paris, the description for our “apartment on the 5th floor with elevator” did not mention the elevator was for one person at a time! Whenever we returned from an outing (three or four times a day) we had to take turns going up one at a time. It was no problem to walk down, but up five flights (6th floor American) was a bit much along with walking 7 to 10 miles per day.

This was our elevator in Roma when we lived there. It is HUGE compared to what we had in Paris this year.

In London I had reserved an apartment in a modernized building with an elevator. We stayed in the same apartment in 2015 and knew what we were getting. However, the landlord had to switch us to a different property [See: Wrapping up the Grand Tour.] when a problem caused by another vacation rental caused the condo board to change the rules. The new apartment was lovely except for the entry stairs (steep and narrow with a shallow tread) and the apartment stairs (twisting spiral with grab bars) which made it an adventure every time we exited or entered. It was only 37 steps, but it felt like exercising in the gym.
Always ask about the stairs.
Lesson 4: Never go more than 4 nights without having a kitchen
We made a last-minute change in our itinerary and instead of a week in an apartment in Roma, we spent 4 nights in a 5-star hotel in Pesaro and 3 nights in a B&B in Bra. Both places were enjoyable, although remarkably different, but what we missed was being able to dine in. We were forced to go to restaurants. That gets old. When we changed plans I should have worked harder to find an apartment in one or the other.
Lesson 5: Minimum one-week stays
It is not practical to spend a week everywhere. I would kill myself if I had to spend a week in Paestum, for example, as we found two nights too long there. [See: We have time.] We enjoyed getting to see Pesaro and Bra, but one-week stays might have been a bit much without a car. Still, we moved around too much in our eight weeks. We will endeavor on our future trips to pick bases and stay at least a week even if it means renting a car to take better advantage of the base. That would have been a good solution in Le Marche as well as Piemonte, had we stayed in one or the other for a full week.
Lessons learned in past travels
Long ago we adopted the practice of using a taxi upon arrival if our digs are not within a 10-15 minute walk of the station. We cling to this practice to make arrivals and departures less stressful.
Cooking (simple meals) while traveling is highly desirable. It saves money, but also calories and sanity. Restaurants get old and it is tiresome to have to find one every single night. In some countries it is damn hard to get enough fresh vegetables in a day. We relish having an apartment with even a miniscule kitchen so we are not forced into restaurant food for every meal. Salads and pasta are favorite limited-ingredient meals when we are traveling.

My brother and sister-in-law flank my favorite Roman tour guide, Sonia Tavoletta.

We use guides or guided tours to make the most of our time. We had only one day in Munich so having a guide was a perfect choice. A guide is also valuable to help with complicated sites (Pompeii, the Louvre, the Foro Romano) or to give the tour guide (me) a break. We used London Walks for the latter this trip and have used Paris Walks as well. Worth every centissimo or pence.
Feel free to skip something or change plans if our energy or interest level is just not there. We planned to go to Hampton Court Palace while in London, but we had been very busy and when I got down to the details of planning for the day trip, it was going to cost £75 for the train to-and-from and entry to the site even with a 2-for-1 deal. That and the better part of the day. We found our interest level in the site for that much money did not equate so we stayed in London and enjoyed other sights.
Sometimes we take a day off when we are traveling. Just do something little – maybe simply shopping and lunch – and then relax with a book or a movie and do the laundry. It is not a crime to do so. It is not a waste of time. It is “living local.”
Time to plan another trip! It remains to be seen if I can follow all of my own rules.

13 Responses to “Lessons Learned”

  1. Grier November 23, 2017 at 03:22 #

    I am very cold natured and usually pack for the expected low temperatures at my destinations as mornings and late afternoons/evenings are much cooler than the predicted high temps. Thank you for the post, Laurel. What a fantastic trip!


    • Laurel Barton November 23, 2017 at 05:31 #

      You are welcome! You actually gave me the idea to write this, so I also want to thank you for asking for the topic.


  2. Marcia November 21, 2017 at 18:25 #

    What a wonderful article and great insight to well seasoned travel. We hate checking luggage. Expensive AND the risk of it not arriving. But when we travel to Prague, Vienna, Budapest in the dead of winter, I think we may need to break down and check a bag! We’ll see if we can use your advice and fit it all into a carry on. Happy Thanksgiving.


    • Laurel Barton November 22, 2017 at 15:59 #

      Hi Marcia. We did all of our winter travel with carry-on only. The keys are no more than three pants, merino wool layers and limited tops at that, a base layer for under your pants, and a puffy coat. Do not pack the coat as it is allowed on its own. Wear boots and take another pair of sturdy shoes, Smartwool socks, gloves, etc. I also include or wear a fleece on the plane. Good luck!


  3. Gayle Seely November 21, 2017 at 16:29 #

    Bravo, Laurel, for getting this all down in one place. I feel like I should print it and make it mandatory to read it before planning travel. Thanks!


    • Laurel Barton November 22, 2017 at 15:55 #

      Gayle, I am so glad you liked it and found it useful. I will need to re-read my own advice before the next trip . 😁 Happy Thanksgiving to you and Dennis!


  4. Lori Veloski November 21, 2017 at 12:08 #

    Great ideas and suggestions. Much appreciated!


    • Laurel Barton November 22, 2017 at 15:54 #

      You are so welcome and thanks for reading! Now I hope I can follow my own advice. 🙃


  5. Will McAllister November 21, 2017 at 11:36 #

    Hello Laurel – all good tips. Gracia and I are just back from 6 weeks … Seattle to Chicago, to Milan, to Sicily, to Rome for a transatlantic cruise to Florida, back home to Seattle. We had a great time, but our trip involved 6 airlines (each with different luggage rules), two apartments and 6 hotels. Each European hotel had an elevator (tiny), and one took us to the top floor, then we had to climb 20 more steps to the top, top floor. 🙂 We’ve always tried to take less stuff than the time before (Gracia and I are getting too old to manhandle the bags around) – next time we’ll take even less!


    • Laurel Barton November 22, 2017 at 15:53 #

      Wow! Talk about packing challenges! Sounds like a great trip, though. Are you planning the next one yet? Happy Thanksgiving to you both!


  6. mvaden1948 November 21, 2017 at 11:13 #

    I once went to Montreal (Canada for those who don’t know) for a five day conference I figured it wouldn’t be any colder than home so had only a fairly lightweight suit jacket….no coat, no sweater, nothing particularly warm. It was October and I froze. The tiny hotel where we stayed (I love small and funky) was in a very French (more than usual) district and no shopping anywhere we could find. Pretty much a “bedroom” community with a few Asian restaurants here and there. I told my husband I was more comfortable trying to order Chinese food in French than Vietnamese (although I have a much better feeling for Vietnamese food many years later) so we walked in and the woman handed us menus in English. Ha, not a problem and we had a lovely meal….and cheap. I do enjoy eating out but now I won’t do more than three days without an apartment….or at least someplace with a “kitchenette” which is pretty much what you get in Italy anyway.
    Luckily the venue for the conference was well heated or maybe it was just the body heat, it was the velodrome that had been built for the Olympics.
    My lesson, never leave home without some kind of coat. I now have one of those puffy jackets that squish into a matching bag and it goes everywhere….even Hawaii as I tend to travel in December and you know it’s going to be cold at one end or the other of that flight. There was a really bad rainstorm one year in Maui and I just could not get warm. I overheard a woman in the grocery store saying she was so cold that she sat in the car with the heat on.
    I do tend to keep a list after a trip of what I packed and did not wear even once. I do have Venice for a month in winter down to a science.
    Bookmarking your post for friends.
    PS I just can’t do carry on only. I have small enough bags but just don’t want to be responsible for schlepping them on and off the plane.;-) And since last time I used wheelchair service someone else did the schlepping…even of me.


    • Laurel Barton November 22, 2017 at 15:50 #

      What great stories, Michelle! I understand your reluctance to carry-on. We decided to check our rollaboards this trip, but we packed a change of underwear and a shirt in our day packs, just in case. We figured we had two days in our arrival city for a bag to catch up with us as needed, but having a small, light bag is essential for train travel, IMO. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!



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