How to Plan for Travel: How to avoid getting slapped (or worse)!


This is Part 8 in my How to Plan for Travel countdown series with one blog post per month containing travel tips to get my family, friends, clients and you ready to go for your next vacation overseas. From August 1 through June 30, I’ll be counting down the tips by how far in advance it’s optimal to plan. If you stumble across this blog post in April, and you’re planning a trip in May, you’re not too late. You’ll just have to do things a little more quickly.



How can I get organized for travel: 2-4 months before


How to Plan for Travel: Learn the culture!


Have you ever heard the term “Ugly American”? That description has nothing to do with lacking fashion sense or not being blessed with good looks. Instead, that phrase is used to describe Americans who are loud, demand things to be done “the way we do in America,” and are unfamiliar with a country’s etiquette, rules and laws. So, if you want to avoid being called an Ugly American or getting slapped or even thrown in jail, it’s important to spend at least a little bit of time reading up on the culture of your destination.


Where can you go to find this information?

Pick the brains of your travel junkie friends.

Browse a guide book.

Members of Netflix or similar sites can rent or stream a documentary.

Watch movies set in the country and made in their language.

Read fictional books set in the country.

Scour travel websites like TripAdvisor or Rick Steves.

Or do a web search for articles via the almighty Google machine.


As an example of the type of information it’s helpful to know, here are the tips I shared with our family and friends who are planning a vacation in France this summer:


Four American Myths About France


When I hear Americans talk about how terrible other parts of the world are, it saddens me that they think this way because they’re expecting other countries to be just like America. Each country has its own culture and its own way of doing things. If you understand what to expect, you’ll enjoy your visit that much more.


1.    “America is the greatest country in the world.”

America is the teenage country of the world. We’re young, think we know everything, and rebel against the rules. France is, well, like your grandmother. She’s been around forever, knows her way is best, and there’s just no arguing with her. Behave at Grandma’s house.


 2.    “The French are rude.”

They are if you begin your conversation in English, even though you are in their country. They are definitely rude if you say something stupid like, “Well, it’s not like this in America.” France is not America.  Think about irritating things a foreigner might say to you when visiting the States. Then remember to not say the very same things over there.


 3.    “French food is fattening.”

If you enjoy it in moderation and drink plenty of wine to help it digest, you won’t gain weight. It also helps if you walk between breakfast, lunch and dinner, instead of spending the whole day parked on your derrière.


 4.    “The service is terrible.”

The French love food, talking and life. Good meals should not be rushed. Good meals should not be interrupted. They think it’s rude to be bothered every ten minutes to ask if you need anything else.        




General Tips for France


As we toured Paris and Provence in the summer of 2012, I jotted down notes that a first-time visitor might want to keep in mind.




Americans with Disabilities Act. This is an American law, not a worldwide right. Sorry, there are no special ramps, and there are no elevators in many buildings.




            Take Away: eat on the run

            Café: drinks and snacks, 1-2 hours

            Restaurant: Minimum three-course meal. If you don’t have 2-3 hours to relax, go to one of the other two choices above.


Most places stop serving cooked food from 3:00-6:00 P.M. Many places do not re-open for dinner until 7:00 or 7:30 P.M. Plan for your stomach accordingly.




Holidays and Festivals

July 14 is Bastille Day. It’s our equivalent of Independence Day. Streets will be closed, so plan ahead if you are driving on this day. Carnivals will be set up. Fireworks displays will happen the night before and the night of.


July is a popular time for festivals in Provence. If you plan to visit villages in the area, check the calendar for their festivals and events. If there is an event in the area, book a hotel or B&B a minimum of six months ahead.





Learn key phrases for greetings (hello, goodbye), common questions (Where are the toilets?) and items you might buy (laundry detergent).

            If your guidebook doesn’t contain a phrase list, consider purchasing a phrase book.

            The smaller the town, the less English will be spoken.




There are few ramps and elevators, unless you are staying in a very modern hotel in a large city. Only bring what you can roll and lift on your own. If you can’t toss your suitcase into an overhead locker (like on a plane or train), or haul it up three flights of stairs, consider packing lighter – unless you pay for your own personal porter to haul your stuff. They have washing machines in France, so you can pack enough clothes for a week and do laundry. (We have great Laundromat stories!)





Each village in Provence has a market day; some have two. If you plan to visit villages, be aware that parking is at a premium, and they will tow cars the night before and morning of if you’re in the way. If you want to experience a market without too much hassle, consider spending the night before in that town.





As of this printing, you can drink in public in France! Vive le France!

BYO corkscrew (purchase a cheap one in a store when you arrive) and plastic cups (from your hotel, or stock up at a store)

If you can’t find a fromagerie (cheese shop), charcuterie (meat shop) and boulangerie (bakery), hit a Carrefore, Mono Prix or Lucky Casino (mini-marts) to purchase food.

            50g of meat + 50g of cheese + 4 slices of bread = 2 hearty sandwiches

            1 bottle of wine = 4 (8oz) plastic cups

            .5 l = ½ litre = 2 glasses of wine




Toll Roads

They don’t take U.S. credit cards where it says “Cards” so go to the Cash lanes. (That’s right – we learned the hard way!)





            Save time, hassle and worry: Pre-purchase them online and pay extra for reservations.

            The platforms aren’t announced until 20 minutes prior to departure, so just relax at the station.

            Validate your tickets in the machines before boarding.

            Look for markings on the outside of the train to make sure you’re entering the correct coach.



Journeys are so much more enjoyable when you make friends instead of causing a scene. The time you invest in learning about your soon-to-be host country will save you a lot of headaches in the long run.


Bon voyage!




How to Plan for Travel series:

Part 1: Budget

Part 2: Set your travel goals

Part 3: How to choose your accommodations 

Part 4: How to choose your transportation

Part 5: How to develop your daily itinerary

Part 6: What documentation do you need?

Part 7: Credit cards, debit cards and travelers checks – oh my!

Part 8: How to avoid being slapped


Next time: Let’s make some purchases!

About Helene Segura

Helene Segura teaches go-getters how to use their time more efficiently in order to have a more peaceful life. For details about her, be sure to visit

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