Summer Holiday isn't over yet!
Why Not an International Vacation?
Did you know that as of 2016, only 36 percent of Americans have a passport? That really surprises me, because it means all those who don’t are missing out on the many wonders to be seen outside the borders of the U.S.
My first international trip occurred when I was around 11 or 12; my family boarded a plane—a first for my sisters and me—and “hopped” from Miami to the Bahamas. The only thing I remember from that trip was having a sensation of tipping over as we were driven in a van to our hotel, with the driver seated on the “wrong” side and the vehicle driving on the “wrong” side of the road.
After that excursion outside the USA, my international travel as an adult consisted of jaunts to our neighbors to the north and south, Canada and Mexico. I went to Edmonton and Calgary to see hockey, and vacationed in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. Yet, as my 50th birthday was within shouting distance, I’d never gone “across the pond.”
I got my opportunity in 2006, when I met someone who was a frequent international traveler, so much so that she and her husband owned a share of an apartment in Paris. When she learned I’d never been to Europe, she said, “we should go,” and I figured she was merely saying that to be polite. However, the next thing I knew we were making plane reservations and on our way to “the City of Lights.”
We started our days late — around 10 or 11 a.m. — and ended them late as well, since it stayed light until nearly 11 p.m. We hit all the tourist spots — the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Champs Elysees, etc. — and had some fabulous food. With one exception — a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower — we chose restaurants that didn’t have English translations on the menu; we wanted to stay clear of touristy places. Given that my French was extremely limited, I always choose “poulet” (chicken); I didn’t know how it would be prepared, but that was okay.
One of the highlights of our trip was being on the Champs Elysees when France won a World Cup game — just as we were coming out of a movie theater where we saw the original version (English with French subtitles) of “The Da Vinci Code.” The street was cordoned off to prohibit vehicular traffic, and people seemingly came out of the woodwork to celebrate. We had a late dinner and started looking for a taxi back to our place around 1 a.m. — only to find the few we saw were “occupé.” We finally wondered over to a hotel and asked someone to call us a taxi, and ultimately got “home” after 2 a.m.
My memories of Paris include fabulous pastry shops seemingly at every corner, great shopping, and a very trendy population; we spotted many people wearing the color orange, and shortly thereafter, that hue was all the rage in the States. With one exception — a rude waiter — the French people were nice and very interested in us when they learned we were from California. We did the best we could to respect them, saying “Bon Jour,” “Au Revoir” and the few other French phrases we knew; we didn’t want to be categorized as ugly Americans — and we did see some of those.
Another highlight was that we almost missed our return flight. Our apartment was on the second floor, so with the exception of arriving and leaving, we didn’t use it, taking the stairs instead. As we got ready to catch a taxi to the airport, we put most of our luggage into the glass-fronted elevator, and at the last moment, my friend tossed in her jean jacket. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it all the way in; an arm got caught in the door, and the elevator was stuck.
Panic set in! My friend dialed a phone number we saw adjacent to the elevator and tried explaining the situation in a rather comical way — using a French accent to say words like “technician,” “elevator stuck,” etc. Not knowing whether help was on the way, we knocked on doors until we found a woman who spoke French and English and shared our predicament. She wasn’t comforting — saying even if the message was delivered, it could be half an hour or several days until someone came around.
Just as we were trying to come up with Plan B, we heard the tinkle of keys and footsteps on the stairs. Lo and behold, it was someone to help us. He quickly opened the elevator doors. My friend grabbed her jacket and started running down the stairs, leaving me to deal with all the luggage as she went to hail a taxi. Did I mention it was blazing hot? By the time we were headed toward the airport, we were drenched in sweat — and fearful we’d miss our flight anyway.
Most of our French taxi drivers had scared the bejesus out of us with their fast and rather reckless style. Not this guy. He was perhaps the most cautious taxi driver ever, even as we explained the need for speed. When we finally got to the airport, the area to check in for our flight was empty of passengers but the airline folks were still there. We made it, bags and all, and could relax when we settled in for our long journey home to San Diego, via Boston.
Think of all the memories you could make on a trip abroad. What are some hot spots for August travel? Glad you asked…
Great Travel Destinations for August
For August travel, Travel+Leisure magazine suggests the following destinations outside the U.S.:
Florence, Italy. Florence is bustling even in August when the weather is warm and many Italians and other Europeans head out of town for vacations. Its museums, cathedrals, piazzas, and ancient streets welcome visitors, and cultural events and festivals entertain under the stars.
Ottawa, Canada. August is a popular season for tourists in Canada’s capital. Temperatures are in the mid-70s, just right for taking in the sights and enjoying whitewater rafting, fishing, and other outdoor activities.
Budapest, Hungary. August is a time of festivals, concerts and parties in this ancient city on the Danube.
Tahiti, South Pacific. Exotic and inviting, August’s weather in this tropical paradise is warm and dry, with temperatures ranging from the high 60s to mid-80s.
Need some time to get a passport? Travel+Leisure also suggests the following U.S. cities as excellent August travel destinations:
Manhattan Beach, California
Bodega Bay, California
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Chautauqua-Allegheny, New York
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
And, if you want to be spared from having to create a vacation itinerary, consider an August cruise — to Alaska or the Caribbean — or perhaps an adult-geared river cruise or a Disney cruise if younger family members need to be considered.
Are you traveling anywhere to take advantage of the last month of summer vacation? Please share!