Now that we are actually here, in France, I can look back and analyze the mistakes that we have made. They revolve around two main themes: how the first month of the journey was planned; and, how we packed.
I will deal with the latter first as that is an easier subject to tackle. We decided before we ever left home that we wanted to keep our luggage to one suitcase and one carry-on sized bag per person. That meant one suitcase full of clothes per person with the carry-ons being used for niche items. My carry-on was devoted solely to electronics: ie., dvd player, dvd’s, dvd burner, ipods, cameras, computer, and all the necessary cords and batteries. Irie’s carry-on was used for her “friends” (stuffed animals), books, and games. Lisa’s carry-on consisted of jewelry, toiletries, and the like. We might have been able to pull that off except that we had chosen to take the QM2 so we needed to bring nice clothes for the ship. Thus, we ended up with an extra hang-up bag (the size of a suitcase) that had dresses, my tuxedo, and dress shoes, among a few other things like books.
Unfortunately, we were unable to keep it to just that one extra bag as we madly scrambled the last few days in Ashland to pack up the house as well as pack up ourselves for the year abroad. As it turned out, all the electronics couldn’t fit in my carry-on so we had to carry the computer separately in it’s own case. We also had a briefcase-like purse that carried all of our important itinerary papers, passports, money, and important info from home like banking and insurance. “Our life is in that bag.” Another canvas bag was packed with extra books and journals, so in the end we stuffed our rented SUV with 4 suitcases, 3 carry-ons, a computer case, a brief case, a canvas book bag, Irie’s American Girl doll...and Maggie.
Let us not forget the 4th member of our family who is still in Michigan with family, waiting to be flown to Paris next week. Besides Maggie, we had to pack her very large kennel, food, leash, brush, chew toys, and food and water dishes. When she joins us in Paris we will need to, somehow, transport all of the above to Fréjus. We are hoping to rent a Eurovan (like we used to own) or possibly a small RV. Unfortunately, our lack of internet access is causing a delay in making those arrangements as well.
Considering that we had to transport all of the above from Oregon to Michigan, and then everything except Maggie and her supplies from MI to Baltimore, to NY, on the QM2 to England, and finally to France, we did well with one glaring exception. Our one and only flight (with Flybe) on the entire journey turned into a nightmare as we attempted to cross the English Channel for a 1-hour flight from Southampton, England to Brest, France. They allow 20 kilos/person checked baggage and 10 kilos/person for a carry-on. Our total came to 84 kilos and 2 extra carry-ons which ended up costing us an extra $500 or about $10/pound over the limit. So much for the cheap tickets which were originally about $60/person. We got taken to the cleaners.
So in conclusion, we overpacked. Not only do we have too much stuff, but considering the very gray and cool weather we’ve had on the ship, in England, and Normandy, we packed the wrong stuff. We still have a “winter box” sitting in our friend’s garage waiting to be sent to Fréjus (or not) that holds most of our long pants, sweaters, winter pjs, coats, etc. Live and learn.
This is a perfect lead-in for the mistakes we made in how we planned the first stages of our journey. This experience is about spending a year abroad in France. Thus, Lisa and I are in agreement that spending our first month (and tons of cash) trying to get to France was probably not the best way to start our adventure. Too many stops, too much stress, and too much baggage (literally and figuratively). Instead of focusing on France, language skills, and what would be involved in fitting in, and getting situated, we were trying to please others. It was too much. We feel that the time we spent with family in Michigan and old friends in Baltimore was forced, that we were distracted and thus unable to give our full attention to where we were and the people we were with. That was not fair to anyone involved. We have paid a price for these mistakes, and honestly, still are as we attempt to now regain our footing in a completely alien environment.
If I had it to do over again, we would start the journey on the QM2. It was a luxurious, relaxing way to enter Europe in a kind-of reverse pilgrimage. That would have meant flying straight to NY, which also might have forced us to reexamine our luggage. We also visited the kennel on board the QM2 and as it turned out, there was a kennel available for Maggie. Yes, it would have been expensive, but she would be with us which would have helped Irie’s ability to feel less homesick. She has had a tough time this first week in France. She is missing contact with other kids, is shy and insecure about trying to speak any French, and has repeatedly said she wants to go home. Since the two of us are are dealing with our own issues of integration, this has been emotionally difficult. Lisa worries we are “wrecking her life” while I argue that, like us, she will start to feel more comfortable and this will be an experience that will help her be more flexible and open-minded throughout her life. She just doesn’t know that yet.