The French Weekend Getaway

French weekend getaway recharge
Monet’s water lily pond in Giverny, one hour outside Paris.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could just stop, press a button or two to freshen up, and reset yourself? Like an old school VCR? Well the French can, and do, by regularly using their weekends to recharge and invigorate themselves.

The secret is the European weekend getaway.  It’s taking advantage of your time off to travel, to any place that bombards your senses with new experiences and distracts you from your day-to-day worries. This act of unplugging allows you to return to your “normal” life with a refreshed outlook and more positive attitude. I’m not making this up, research has actually shown that travel can improve your well being  by decreasing stress, boosting happiness, strengthening personal relationships, and even enhancing creativity, so you may function better when you return.

The French are masters of sneaking in little trips. Now they may have an natural advantage with a minimum of 5 vacation weeks (often up to 9!), and 11 public holidays; there is even debate over whether they have  TOO much vacation (bastards ;-)! Nevertheless they have traveling strategies that make it easy and low stress to take advantage of short little vacations, and not break the bank at the same time. Here is my list of French-inspired travel tips to make regular trip taking more attainable.

 

Keep it local

The key to keeping travel cheap, low stress, and suitable for even the regular weekend is to keep it local. That means keep it within your country, possibly your region, and for maximum ease in your own language.

  • No matter how much time off you have you can take advantage of it. If you have half a day go somewhere within an hour of your home; for a whole day travel up to 2 hours away; for the weekend or long weekend travel up to 5 hours away.
  • Pick up a travel guide for your hometown (or state), or search the internet for day and weekend trip ideas
  • Consider taking public transportation. Europeans prefer to take trains and buses over cars, because they can sit back, relax, enjoy a café, and watch movies, even tie up work emails, or hang out with their travel partners without having to navigate, all while saving money.
  • Have go-to spots where you have a known place to stay and get to know the local area to make running errands easy. This way you can decide to take a trip in a pinch without much advance planning required.

Here are little trips of varying distances from Paris that we have done:

Half day trip
Half day trip to Versailles, 30 minutes from Paris.

 

Paris day trip
Day trip to Monet’s lily pond in Giverny, one hour outside of Paris.

 

Towns of Provence, 3 hour train ride from Paris

 

french weekend trip grand canyon
The French grand canyon. 5 hours from Paris (3 by train + 2 by car).

Be healthy and save money

The French are fantastic at enjoying life, without overindulging. They enjoy delicious food and refuse to go to gyms without gaining excessive weight. Here’s how to adopt their strategies for weight maintenance on vacation:

  • Be active! Go for a hike, meander through a village or local market. Don’t exercise just to exercise, but engage in activities that keep you on your feet and having fun (i.e. don’t spend your entire vacation lounging in a hotel). For more on how the French exercise without going to the gym, click here.
  • Limit your dining out experiences. Have you ever gone on vacation and felt a prisoner to your dining schedule? Returned home barely fitting into your clothes after dining out three times a day? Don’t fall into this trap! Find local farmer’s markets and stock up on local delights, fresh produce, and cheaper food for your trip, or even go to the grocery store and pick up the basics. Our family has a policy of not going out to restaurants more than once a day on trips (often not even every day). When you control what comprises your meals you will usually eat healthier and cheaper. Plus not planning your day around restaurant schedules frees up more time to explore.
  • Picnic! Just because you are not eating out constantly (see above), doesn’t mean your eating experiences should be boring. Find cool new places – a park, a garden, a forest – and have a picnic. Enjoy the local scenery and people watching.  This is an especially great strategy if you have young children and going out to eat is an added hassle.

Here are some easy suggestions for eating while traveling:

Breakfast ·      If you have access to hot water or a coffee maker bring coffee, instant coffee, or tea to your room for a convenient morning caffeine dose

·      Fresh fruit is easy to keep in your room and the healthiest breakfast. Nut butter packets (peanut, almond, cashew butter) are portable and easily enhance the nutrition of a banana or apple

·      Grab a pastry from a local bakery

Lunch/Dinner (we usually eat out for our biggest meal of the day) ·      The ultimate French meal on the go is to grab baguette and cheese and bring your portable knife with a cover (don’t do this is you’re flying, getting stopped by security is a horrible way to start a trip). Other delicious toppings for baguette include pâté, foie gras, confiture (jam), butter, and honey.

·      Sandwiches. French keep it simple and simply stick deli meat and cheese in bread.  Take out sandwiches work too.

·      Crudites: adorn your meal with raw vegetables, like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, or snow peas.

Gouter (snack) ·      Fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts and seeds

·      Yogurt

·      Indulge with a pastry

 

Treats There are so many ways to enjoy local treats without a full sit down dinner. The local patisserie/chocolatier for little cakes, macarons, or chocolates, the quaint ice cream shop, the bar for locally brewed beer or wine, or a hip little café for an espresso.

 

Keep it simple

  • Pack lightly as traveling won’t seem like such an imposition on your life if you keep it simple and don’t have huge suitcases to unpack when you get home, exhausted on Sunday night (or Monday morning if you’re daring!). Nobody’s going to notice or care if you wear the same outfit twice.
  • Don’t try to do too much with kids. Having strict expectations for travel activities when there are kids in the pictures spells tantrums and disaster. Choose one or two activities to do per day, plan around nap time and scheduled meal times. Don’t ignore the regular routine of young children because sleepy and hungry kids means cranky kids and therefore monumentally stressed out parents.
  • Be motivated but flexible. Motivated to get out of the house and do things but flexible if it doesn’t work out.  So by all means get out of the house and go to the zoo with the kids, but don’t sweat it if it doesn’t quite work out how you planned.  Like the time we left for a three hour drive to Brussels assuming we’d make it by lunch, and it turned into a five hour drive when our 2 year old had a bad case of Montezuma’s revenge.
  • Practice the art of doing nothing.  Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean you have to jam pack tons of new activities into your day.  Doing absolutely nothing can be exhilarating when on vacation too: think, sunbathing on the beach, quietly watching a beautiful sunset.

Most of all, be like the French and worship the weekend!  When you step out of the office, do your best to truly unplug from work during your time off.

  • Claire

    LOL at Montezuma's revenge! Love those pictures and the food suggestions are making me hungry. You should do a post on tips for traveling with babies/kids without wanting to turn around and go straight back home the minute you leave the house!

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