A little (well… maybe more than a little!) planning before you travel will make your trip much more enjoyable once you’re there!
Take this Loire Valley trip for instance. To make my life easier, I took the most direct route to planning and bought a book about France road trips called Back Roads France published by DK Eyewitness Travel. This saved me days on the internet searching for interesting places to visit and presented a well composed scenic route to follow with castles, cathedrals, wineries, quaint villages and lots of other recommendations for entertainment.
When I had my list of places we wanted to visit (i.e. castles, wineries, restaurants etc.) ready, I researched the current opening hours on the internet for these places so that Jim and I wouldn’t show up to find them closed! I also noted their location on the map and the telephone number in case we had problems finding them. Nothing is more stressful than driving willy-nilly around an area hoping to wherever you are visiting either lost or wondering if it is open. It can ruin a driving trip (and a relationship!)
Since we only needed the ten pages of the book that discussed the “Centre” part of the Loire Valley (called the Valley of the Kings), I copied these pages to take with us on our trip. There isn’t any reason to take the extra weight of the whole book. I have found that I always end up being the pack-horse on our trips. Umbrellas, guidebooks, cameras, water bottles and anything else we might need for the day go into my carry-all. I’m not sure how that evolved, but Jim has very cleverly avoided carrying any of these things on any of our trips! So, a few printer pages turn out to be much more manageable than a few guidebooks.
Most guide books come with pages that have all the Road Signs for that country listed along with pictures of what they look like along with important phrases for the road in that language like “Where is the gas station!” I print these also and plan to have them at my fingertips while we drive.
I learned that lesson the hard way when Jim and I ended up on a half-finished road in the forests of the Czech Republic with road workers laughing at us as we turned around in front of them. We were at a dead-end in the middle of nowhere. When we finally reached the point where we had entered the road originally, there was a large “Road Closed” symbol that I had neglected to read correctly.
Since I continue to be the navigator (with the help now of GPS in the car) I wanted to brush up on my long unused college French. I have found that the best way to do this is by using Rossetta Stone, Language-Learning Software. It’s fun and easy to use and I found that it didn’t take long at all to spruce up my French. Now I can embarrass myself and my husband with confidence when I try to actually speak it!
So, we continue to plan and prepare so that we can actually enjoy being in the moment when we are in lovely France.