I was just one of millions who were shocked yesterday at the fire that destroyed Notre Dame in Paris, France. But all the memories I had from nearly four years ago with this structure came rushing back. While in Paris, I loved walking to this city center and did so several times. I took a walking tour around the island that taught me a lot about the history and art. I climbed to the belltowers, found sanctuary inside the sanctuary, attended an evening service, picnicked in its shade, and even explored the underground crypt. I never imagined that this building that pointed to God for over 850 years would be destroyed in my lifetime.
Without the dedicated firefighters working hours upon hours yesterday, Notre Dame would be in worse condition than it is now, and for that I’m thankful. But we must also remember that it’s possible there wouldn’t be a cathedral to save today if a writer hadn’t saved it nearly 200 years ago.
Victor Hugo and The Hunchback
Notre Dame de Paris wasn’t always as beloved as it is now. After years of neglect, it found itself in a state of disrepair in the 1800s. At the time, a Parisian writer by the name of Victor Hugo decided to do something about his beloved city center. He wrote a book titled Notre Dame de Paris. It ended up being translated into many languages. In the English translation, it was titled The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
As the popularity of the book spread, readers spilled into Paris to visit the now-famed Notre Dame. This eventually pressured the government to restore the cathedral to its former glory. Why? If you haven’t read the book, the story might not be what you’d expect. Many of us think of the Disney adaptation, which, while I didn’t enjoy it much as a kid, as an adult it became one of my favorite Disney movies due to its unique themes. Victor Hugo actually spent more of his book describing the Notre Dame, with the storyline more as a selling point. It’s even darker than Disney’s darkest cartoon, and does not have a happy ending. But the point was made, and Victor Hugo got his real-life happy ending of a restored cathedral. I was able to visit Victor Hugo’s final resting place in the Pantheon in Paris, lying amid other famous French who shaped their culture.
What Writers Can Do
As I watched the live updates of Notre Dame burning, I couldn’t help but think of Victor Hugo and how he used his character Quasimodo to save the cathedral only to have it destroyed today. But if a writer could save Notre Dame once, could another writer save it again?
I’m not saying that writer is me. Although I have toyed with an idea of a story about a backpacker who visits places like Paris, it’s still only an idea in my head and not on paper. I did feel a personal connection to Quasimodo as I stood in “his” belltower, I actually have the same type of scoliosis that this character did. (Obviously, mine is a mild case where his was much more extreme.) As an urban backpacker, this can cause extra pain as I travel. Paris was the first place I visited in Europe, and while I was already starting to feel pain there, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a place of refuge and freedom.
But most of us are writers in some form or another. In this modern age where anyone can be published, maybe we all can work together in writing our way to save Notre Dame again. I’ve already been inspired by the news reporters saying that it will be rebuilt (though we don’t have a timeframe yet- hopefully in this lifetime!) and the people on social media who have pledged money and shared their own stories. If you’ve been to Paris, share your personal experience so that the Notre Dame’s memories will not disappear, even if its roof has. If you haven’t seen Notre Dame, I know its tales have still affected you in some way. Share what you’ve learned about the historic cathedral, or write about how excited you are to see it being rebuilt. Who knows? Maybe one of us will become the next Victor Hugo, writing a book that features the future Notre Dame.
Start now: What’s been your experience with the Notre Dame, whether in person or through books/movies/etc? How did you feel when you heard it caught fire? Share with the world in the comments below!
Do you love the idea of getting flights, lodging, ground transportation, meals, and attractions for free or steeply discounted? Who wouldn’t want that! This is what makes travel hacking so enticing. But this can be too daunting when it comes to churning credit cards and running up a big bill.
Never fear, there are plenty of travel hacks where owning a credit card is completely optional! Below are credit-free hacks based on my personal experience, as well as a few collected from others in my travel networks.
When I first visited the Subaru dealership, I brought measuring tape with me. I wanted to make sure I was able to lay down in the trunk with the back seat down. If you road trip in a van or SUV, this could be a comfortable and cheap option for overnights. For me, I started doing this as a kid. Before getting my own tent for Christmas, I would often choose to sleep in the back of my dad’s Jeep Cherokee during family camping trips. My first car was a 2000 Ford Explorer. I bought it for about $1750, and made a large portion of that back in savings by sleeping in it at free campgrounds and WalMart parking lots. Since then, I’ve learned to fit an inflated air mattress in the back, how to make temporary privacy curtains, and that my favorite free spot to stay the night is casinos that allow RVs overnight. Just a few steps away, I have access to bathrooms, WiFi, and security!
Help others for airline perks.
Back when I was an EMT, I helped out with someone having an emergency while boarding our plane. Had this person stayed on the flight, the crew would have offered to refund my ticket to sit with her. Although this didn’t happen, a flight attendant gave me one of those super-expensive snack boxes I would never afford to buy myself. Megan Parsons shared, “this couple asked if they could help me because I am flying alone with a baby. I said yes and their boarding position jumped significantly.” Obviously opportunities like these don’t always arise, but it always helps to keep an eye out!
Use free toilets.
“Go when you can, not when you must.” I heard this from a NYC tourguide ten years ago, and it’s stuck with me as a useful, albeit awkward travel motto. Of course needing to use the bathroom when there isn’t one available can result in ruined clothes, laundry expenses, smelly luggage, and embarrassment. I’ve pointed several visitors to free bathrooms in a small tourist town near where I live, and look out for free restrooms while I travel. This tip is especially useful in areas where most public toilets cost money, since they’re still usually free at restaurants, paid attractions, churches, trains, and porta potties. (Bonus tip: always carry a pack of travel tissues. Your stall may be out of toilet paper, and in some countries the stalls don’t always have toilet roll holders!)
Get free food and drinks in the airport with this simple tip.
We know that the shops and restaurants in airports are overpriced. But do you know how to get food and drinks past TSA security? More and more people are realizing that you can bring an empty bottle and fill it with water once past security, instead of dropping several dollars for a disposable plastic bottle. (If you do forget your water bottle, some airport fast food places might give you a free water cup.) You can add single-serve flavor packs if you wish. As for food, it’s totally okay to go through security as long as it doesn’t contain many liquid-based components. (Mustard on a sandwich should be fine; a heavily-frosted cupcake is a no-go.) You don’t even have to fit your food in your carry-on or personal item as long as it’s consumed before boarding.
Find mistake fares and airline sales.
Stephan Mark Smith shared, “Check each day until you find a mistake fare.” While I personally have yet to find a mistake fare, I did take advantage of a cheap airline sale a few years ago. As long as you’re not too picky about your destination, you could plan a great trip around a cheap flight!
Fund your trip with gift cards.
Just about every aspect of travel can be paid for with a gift card. If you have partially- used gift cards lying around, get creative and brainstorm how they can be used towards upcoming travels. For everything else, check out Swagbucks. Many people think of this site as a rebate program. But I promised that none of these travel hacks require a credit card, and this one doesn’t have to, either. On Swagbucks, you can earn points by watching videos, playing games, taking surveys, and my favorite, using a search engine. These points then translate into gift cards for gas, hotels, cruises, restaurants, Groupon, and more. You even get free points just for signing up!
Check the fine print on coupons.
Between free travel gear and free souvenirs, this hack has saved me a lot of money, and provided me with wonderful things I never would have gotten if I had to pay for them! I ignore most coupons because their stipulations require me to buy something I don’t need. But years ago, while backpacking Nashville, I found a coupon that offered $3 off at a local candy store- no minimum purchase! I even surprised the cashier when I got a $2.50 nut log for free. Since then, I stay on the lookout for coupons offering free food, free souvenirs, and free gear. I also like stores that allow coupon stacking or using coupons on already-discounted items. My favorite coupon right now is the $10 rewards coupon I get from Eddie Bauer twice a year. I have to spend at least $10 to get $10 off, but it’s still a good deal for useful gear and clearance items!
Visit your library before leaving.
A library is more than books. When planning my trip to Europe, I learned about Rick Steves, and wanted more of his advice than what was offered online and on PBS. I went to the library and found his Europe Through the Back Door guidebook as well as a few seasons of his show on DVD. Of course my rental time wasn’t long enough to bring these with me in Europe for 90 days, but I could take notes on the most useful information for me. For shorter trips, a borrowed library book is great for downtime, as long as you make sure not to lose it. With a lot of weekend road trips I’ve been taking lately, I enjoy getting an audio book or two from the library to listen to in the car. I’ve also taken periodicals from the free magazine rack. Your library may have other perks that benefit travel as well.
Double up on freebies at events.
Some of my favorite travel memories have been at free local events. I went to some of these at the advice of a local person or fellow traveler. Others I stumbled onto completely by accident. Either way, you’re likely to find a free concert, play, or street fair, especially in large cities. Not only is the event free, but you can often double up on freebies at events like this since the sponsors often give free items away. This could mean food, apparel, pens, and other items that make excellent souvenirs.
If something goes wrong, cash in on all you can.
I definitely would not recommend getting into a car crash as a way to travel hack. With recent personal experience, it’s a hassle, it’s costly, and it can ruin the joy of travel, at least temporarily. But if something like this does happen to you, milk it for all it’s worth. My favorite car crash perk has been the free massages and chiropractic adjustments, especially helpful since my health insurance ended just a couple weeks after my crash. You can enjoy this benefit even if you were only a passenger in a crash. When I got my rental car, I planned a weekend getaway to Redding, California. While I paid for the gas, the rental was covered by insurance, and it didn’t add mileage to my own car. Speaking of mileage, since my car was totalled before its warranty ended, I got most of it refunded. While each situation differs, look into what’s available in the event of an unfortunate incident involving a car, plane, hotel, restaurant, event, or attraction. Don’t be demanding or threatening, but be sure to get what you’re owed.
What travel hacks have you done? Let me know in the comments!
In light of recent events, I’m going to postpone my original posting plans and spend today talking about Nice, France.
On this day exactly one year ago, I was spending my final day in the United States before embarking on a three-month journey which I’ve come to refer to as my Mediterranean Trek. My first destination actually was Paris, France, which made the attacks late last year feel more personal and devastating. After Paris, I spent a few weeks in three cities in Spain before returning to France, this time through the southern part and to Nice.
Nice is a beautiful city with exquisite art, architecture, and natural beauty. Like Paris, they also have a Notre Dame Cathedral near the center of the city, which I loved seeing lit up at night. I even attended an evening mass there. (Though since I don’t speak French, I have no idea what they were saying!)
Much of Nice’s art was related to other famous pieces around the world. I found decorated architecture that was made by Gustave Eiffel himself! I also found replicas of statues outside of France, such as Michelangelo’s David and The Statue of Liberty. Of course there was some completely unique art with unique history in Nice as well.
Old Town is a big tourist attraction to visit, but I went to an even older town and headed to the northern part of Nice, where I ended up walking along some ancient ruins!
But the best reason to visit Nice is for the beach lining the Promenade des Anglais. While the beach itself isn’t very comfortable for sunbathing (it’s made of chunks of rock instead of sand), the Mediterranean Sea is so blue and perfect for swimming in! And while it is a strenuous hike, going to the top of the hill to overlook the city is definitely worth it!
I missed Bastille Day in France by just a couple of days, but I did get to attend a French event that is known around the world. I wrote an article for TravelingMom with tips based on my experience witnessing the final stage of Le Tour de France. I sent it in for publication before news of the most recent attack broke out, but I do hope that Le Tour enthusiasts are kept safe and that it doesn’t deter anyone from watching the race in person. I think one of the best things we can do after an attack is show that we are not afraid, and getting involved in Le Tour de France is just one way to do it! Click here to read my tips for watching the final stage of Le Tour de France in person.
My recent guest posts took me all around the world!
Across the Ocean
If you’ve ever been to Disneyland or Walt Disney World in the United States, you may wonder if it’s worth going overseas to international Disney parks. Even die-hard Disney fans may want to stick to the original two! When I went to Disneyland Paris, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome!
Do you have a tourist attraction near where you live that you just haven’t visited yet? I’m not above playing tourist in my hometown. I’ve enjoyed historic Jacksonville, hiking places like the Table Rocks, and even Harry & David (although I enjoy that last one less since I worked there). But one attraction I just haven’t made it to is also one of the most widely known: the Pacific Crest Trail. I got to explain why in this collaboration with other travel writers. Do you think what I said was a good reason, or just an excuse?
I will try to hike the PCT soon. (Not the whole thing; just the part near me.) I’ll let you know what I think when I get there!
I can’t wait to share what adventures I’ve been up to lately! But my computer is in the repair shop, so until I get it back and can share the photos I took, here are a few things that can take up your reading time.
I actually wrote three articles for the April/May issue of Pristeen Magazine. While it’s a fashion-based magazine, I got to write more about adventure-based things. My first article on page 10 is “Who in the World is Fanny Crosby” a historical figure I look up to. But the really exciting stuff starts on page 56. I wrote about my experience in Italy for the “Around the World” column. Then I interviewed Osayi, a 17-year-old from Rome. Although I haven’t personally met Osayi, it’s possible that we were in the same church service once! I got connected to her by e-mailing a pastor at an English-speaking church I attended in Rome. You can read all about Osayi, Rome, and all of Italy by reading Pristeen for free here!
Travel the World, Then Change the World!
I don’t always write about travel. But I do believe that travel is one way to help better understand the world, and therefore know how to change it. Some of these principles are applied in each and every issue of Girlz 4 Christ Magazine, which you can subscribe to for FREE! As Girlz 4 Christ’s editor, I love submissions from how people are impacting their communities. In the past issue, I got to write an interview with actress Cozi Zuehlsdorff, a documentary review and interview with an adopting family, suggestions for those times you have to stay put but want to take a “bookation”, and a collaboration of five previous cover girls to celebrate the magazine’s fifth birthday. I’m working on the next issue which will feature a famous Christian on the cover, and even include some adventurous articles inside!
Happy Earth Day! Most of what I write here is creative ways to travel that will save you green. But in honor of today’s holiday, I’m going to shift gears a bit and talk about another way to save the green.
Many environmentalists frown upon travel as it causes greenhouse gases and a bigger carbon footprint. True, carbon costs associated with travel can be astronomical, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be cleaned up and greened up. Since Earth Day is celebrated each year on April 22nd, here are 22 ways you can make your travel more green!
(Bonus: In addition to saving the green for the environment, many of these will save the green in your wallet, too!)
Stay in Hostels Staying in a hostel dorm with others requires less square footage and encourages community. Hostels also often tend to buy in bulk and cut out worthless amenities, so you won’t create excess waste with miniature shampoos.
Go Camping Get in touch with nature, and then be encouraged to preserve it! Any kind of camping is probably helpful for the environment, but you can take it a step futher with primitive camping, where you won’t have electricity hookups, WiFi, or possibly even flushing toilets!
Stay with Friends Instead of creating a demand for a temporary place to sleep, go somewhere that’s already being lived in. Your friends will probably equip you with the same shower, dishes, and bedding they always use instead of providing disposible or temporary supplies like a hotel does.
Don’t Request Sheet Changes Unless Absolutely Needed In your own home, you probably realize that washing sheets from just one bed is enough to load an entire washer and dryer. Save the water, soap, gas, and electricity by skipping sheet changes. You don’t replace your sheets at home every day, do you?
Bring Your Own Toiletries in Reusable Containers I’ve shared some of my favorite travel toiletry containers here before. Whether you use my recommendations or not, siphoning toiletries from bulk containers into smaller, reusable containers is much better than purchasing one-time bottles from the travel section of superstores.
Borrow or Buy Used Travel Gear There are some items that may be necessary while traveling, but useless in everyday life. If you absolutely cannot go without it, ask your friends, family, and social media followers if you can borrow their tent, or ice chest, or lawn chair, or… you get the picture.
Do Laundry Effectively If you need to do laundry on your trip at all, first see if there is anything you can wear more than once between washes. Bring your own eco-friendly soap instead of the single-serve packets found at the laundromat, and try to line-dry your laundry, even if you have to do so indoors.
Carpool If someone else is available to travel with you, going in one car instead of two will cut your emissions in half. Better yet, if you’re both licensed drivers, split the driving time to help keep alert and avoid accidents.
Take the Bus or Train I love both of these options! You get to see so much more of the country, and reap the benefits of extremely low passenger miles per gallon! Trains are often a vacation in themselves, and long-distance buses make travel available to all income levels!
Walk or Bike Everywhere at Your Destination Make a point to do this everywhere you go, even if it means staying closer to the city center. I can’t imagine all that I would have missed out on if I took cars or city transportation everywhere I’ve been.
Don’t Fly First Class I’ve flown first class one time, and it was WAY overrated. Flying in coach means that the seating allows for more passengers to fly (and thus cuts down on emissions per person), plus lowers the waste of beverage cups and snack wrappers.
Pick Restaurants that Serve Local Food You’ll get a better sense of the local cuisine and prevent excess trucking and shipping of food.
Become a Vacation Vegetarian I’m not saying you have to give up meat. (Not everyone can!) But try to select veg options in your travels. Besides the environmental advantages, vegetarian options often cost less, and you will be less exposed to those icky stomach bugs that travelers fear.
Bring Washable Dishes or Stay Somewhere that Offers Them It’s not that time-consuming to wash your dishes after eating instead of throwing them away.
BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle!) Vacations tend to make me thirsty! Instead of buying drinks everyday, I’m saving my wallet, my waistline, and the Earth with a reusable bottle.
Recycle Ticket Stubs (or Use an eTicket) These are usually recyclable, but rarely do people think to recycle them!
Visit Local Parks Fresh air, green plants, and a free place to explore the local culture. What’s not to love?
Borrow Books or DVDs for Downtime Sure, you could buy a paperback for those times you need to relax. But many hostels, and now even some hotels, offer lending libraries or book/movie exchanges. Reduce the demand for new materials, and lighten the weight of that carry-on you brought!
Avoid It Why do you need a tacky souvenir (that’s probably not even made at your destination), when there are more effective, and more eco-friendly, ways to capture your memories? One of my favorite mementos are my travel journals. Photos are another great option, or if you absolutely want to buy something, send yourself a postcard or letter from your destination.
Is long distance bus travel right for you? Only if you enjoy traveling, like to save money, or want to leave a lighter environmental footprint!
In other words, the answer to that question should be YES!
But I understand that some people might need some convincing. I know that I needed some encouragement at first! But just one month after my first Greyhound trip, I embarked on a bus journey across the United States! A year later, I was traipsing all over France and Spain by long distance bus.
I recently got my first post on Traveling Mom, a travel resource website for women who want to travel with (or without!) kids. It goes into more detail on why long distance buses should be considered for your next adventure.
While in Paris, I took a day trip to Disneyland. I was fortunate that my parents’ favorite family vacation was going to Walt Disney World, so I went there several times when I was young. When I was even younger, we would take day trips to Disneyland while visiting relatives in Southern California. It was pretty much a no-brainer to blow my daily budget for the opportunity to go to a Disney Park while abroad!
Needless to say, I loved the experience and my new goal is to visit the Asian Disney Parks. (And also go to Disneyland’s California Adventure. How have I not been to that park yet?) But when asked if I liked Disneyland Paris more or less than Disneyland in the US, I’m not entirely sure what to say. So today, I’m going to break down the perks of the parks in the United States and France, and you can help me decide which one is better!
US: At Disneyland in Anaheim, California, a one-day ticket is $99 for anyone aged 10 or older. This only lets you into either California Adventure or Disneyland. To get into both, it is an extra $40 for a park hopper ticket. Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida, has a higher price for their Magic Kingdom at $105, but the other three parks are only $97 for ages ten and up. A park hopper pass at the Magic Kingdom is $64. Note multi-day tickets do lower the cost per day, and these prices were taken January 26th, 2016. Tickets in more tourist seasons do cost more.
France: Disneyland Paris has a drastic seasonal price difference, due to lack of year-round warm weather like California and Florida. Right now a winter ticket starts at $64 for ages 12 and up, but a ticket that can be used any day of the year is $115. These tickets are valid for both of the parks (or, as they say in France, “parcs”), so no park hopper pass is needed. This is the price you get from the US website, but if you use the international website, you’ll find winter tickets starting at 47 euros and year-round tickets at 74. This is usually cheaper, so purchasing from the international version of the website will save you lots.
Winner: Disneyland Paris No matter how you look at it, it’s a lower price!
US: I love taking the Walt Disney World Magical Express from the Orlando airport to the resort my family stays at, and then the free bus service between the Disney hotels and parks. It’s probably the only positive part of US Disney’s current transportation situation. I remember when California Adventure was built in Anaheim, and Disneyland had to go from a spacious parking lot to a multi-story garage. Although I’ve only used the bus transportation in Florida (which takes you right to the park entrance), the parking lots did look spacious, although many people have to take the tram because they park so far away.
France: I purchased the Disneyland Paris Express, which picks you up from one of several downtown Paris locations and escorts you to the Disneyland parking lot for 99 euros. (Neither of the US Disney Parks offer a similar service from LA or Orlando.) The parking lot was spacious, but surprisingly far away from the entrance and it took several minutes and moving walkways until I could even see the parks. I liked this service, but if I were to do it again, I would instead take the metro. It costs about the same as the extra cost of the Disneyland Paris Express ticket, but it’s faster and brings you closer to the entrance. You actually pass underneath one of the Disneyland Paris resorts on your walk into the park!
Winner: Disneyland Paris Neither country has perfect transportation. I do wish the buses could get closer to the park entrance, but there are more options to get around and this park seems to be better connected to the city.
US: The original park, Disneyland, is in California. The turn of the century brought a second park to Disneyland, called California Adventure. Over in Florida, Walt Disney World consists of the Magic Kingdom (similar to the Disneyland park), Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, plus a couple of water parks and other fun attractions.
France: The first park in Disneyland Paris is Disneyland, which of course is pretty similar to the Magic Kingdom or the original California park. The second and final park is Walt Disney Studios, which, while it has a several unique attractions, is most comparable to Hollywood Studios.
Winner: US Disney Parks It would be harder to determine a winner if I were only comparing Disneyland Paris with Disneyland in California. But with Walt Disney World, it’s no contest. The French Pavilion in Epcot alone had as much French culture as all of Disneyland Paris.
US: Being the oldest parks, most of the famous Disney rides originated in the United States. Instead of listing all the attractions that can also be found in Europe or Asia, I’ll point out a few of the unique highlights. A longtime favorite ride of mine has been the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This one is also in France, but the US version offers a longer ride. The Animal Kingdom has completely unique rides, including several with real life animals! And while Epcot is still in my home country, rides like Spaceship Earth, The Seas, Mission: Space, and Ellen’s Energy Adventure have me thinking about the world as a whole.
France: Most rides, especially in the Disneyland Parc, are carbon copies of United States originals. But the French have a few winners of their own. “Moteur, Action”, is a show that was brought to Hollywood Studios as “Lights, Motors, Action”. Unfortunately, that show can now only be seen in France as it was closed in the US for the upcoming Star Wars renovation. An attraction that hasn’t been brought to the States yet is “Ratatouille: The Adventure”. This is a fun 3-D ride around French fine dining from a rat’s perspective. US parks should take note on this ride’s creativity!
Winner: US Disney Parks This one was REALLY hard to decide. In the end, my tiebreaker was that The US copied very little from other nations’ parks, and also that several parks means a wider variety of rides are offered. If I had to take the average ride from each country, I think it would be a tie.
US: When you ask an adult why they take their family to Disney Parks instead of a competitor, they don’t say it’s because of the rides or the characters or the price. It’s because “it’s clean!” Every other amusement park I’ve ever been to had an undertone of sketchiness to it. I know that they were probably perfectly nice parks, but Disney’s cleanliness standards have just set the bar too high.
France: Disney’s need for clean translates into French, too! Like the US parks, you won’t find messy gum for sale, but you will find a trash can within a few feet of wherever you’re at. Also like the US parks, smoking is only allowed in designated areas. Unfortunately, this is not enforced quite as well as some of my time waiting in the queues involved choking on smoke from people ahead of me.
Winner: US Disney Parks I’ve seen people smoke outside of designated areas in Walt Disney World too, but the reputation of cleanliness is better displayed here.
Disneyland Paris, France
Winner: Disneyland Paris For no other reason than I love how the sides have retaining walls, making grass grow halfway up the castle!
So I guess it is possible to break Disney down into categories and determine a winner for certain elements, but I still don’t know who should win overall. Which park sounds like a winner to you?