The best worst travel story ever

We were four hours into our journey when they made the announcement: we were turning back and returning to Paris. We all pulled up the location map on our monitors and let out a collective groan. We were HALF WAY THERE! They have to be kidding, right!?! Our flight still was going to be 8 hours, except now we were going to end up the same place where we started.

How to get jelag without actually going anywhere.

I knew weather delays could be an issue. This is just not how I expected it to unfold. My mom‘s wise words came in handy: I worry about the things I have control over, I don’t worry about what I have no control over.

Truth be told, I think some of my Facebook friends were more mad about the situation than I was. The way I see it, you can either complain, or make the most of the situation. I mean, how many people can tell the story of how they traveled halfway over an ocean, only to turn back to where they started?!? I tell everyone I meet now. 😂 I’ve found it’s a good conversation starter, and makes other people feel like their day hasn’t been so bad after all.

Thursday night I had questioned the fact that we were even departing, but I also was relieved to know the worst of the blizzard cyclone storm was supposed to be over by then. Alas, despite different previous messages, our pilot announced that JFK had indeed closed, and they tried everything but no other airports had space to accept us due to the crazy weather. (We also needed an airport with a long enough runway, and one that was still open at midnight).

At that point I also realized how much worse it could have been. I didn’t go swimming in the ocean. We didn’t skid on ice when landing. I’m not traveling with kids or a baby (but my seat mates were!). And I didn’t have to deal with wet luggage from a water main break (that really did happen the day after we arrived at JFK and an hour after I departed for my next flight).

On the bright side, we were put up in a hotel at the airport and had free meals. And we – the self proclaimed “Norwegian [airlines] refugees” – had a common story. It made me realize one of the realities of living in Paris: I don’t talk to strangers like I do in the U.S. And I admit, I miss that. On the plane, no one could use turn to their phones – our new normal force of habit – so instead we had to talk to each other. I’ve never heard such chatter on an international flight, let alone at was 2am.

The conversations with strangers continued as we waited in line to check into the hotel, and to pick up food vouchers, and ate meals together. Each step of the journey we continued to bond. Suddenly our new 2pm departure later that day (by the time we got our bags and checked into the hotel it was around 7am), became a 7am departure the following day. The story kept getting “better” and better.

Through it all I chatted with people throughout the day with interesting stories I would never otherwise met. More than complaining, we laughed. A lot. In one case I met someone waiting in line for a dinner voucher, but when someone else joined the conversation an hour later, they assumed we’d known each other for years. Ha!

Waking up at 4:30am was not the most fun. Neither was the disorganized wait in the airport. Or the two hour late departure. But we had a bigger plane and empty seats, so that wasn’t so bad. When we FINALLY landed in NYC ~50 hours later there was applause. Then we we sat on the tarmac for 4 hours. It only added to the best worst travel story ever. It could ALWAYS be worse. 😉 Between hearing/seeing stories of friends trying to travel and social media, there was another dose of perspectivel. I’ll take 4 hours vs. the 13 hour wait on the tarmac we spotted on Twitter any day!

You can’t make stories like these up. So, yes, I’m telling the story about a plane turning around halfway to our destination. But it’s also a story of perspective and making the most of what comes your way.

From these adventures, I learned a few valuable lessons:

  • It’s all about attitude. You can either be the bad attitude in the room, or the good one. Being pissed isn’t going to do much. It made my day when other passengers thanked me for helping put things in perspective for them.
  • If you’re traveling in winter know that weather delays are real and your plans may be affected by them. The people you yell at are human too, and it’s not their fault. (I’ll give the Norwegian airlines flight crew props for being so lovely and professional through it all.)
  • Be patient + set low expectations. I often joke that through living in France I’ve learned to set my expectations low, and that way it only gets better from there. We had a few naive moments – like when we landed and then waited on the tarmac forever (it’s not over until it’s over 😉). One look on twitter showed that some other flights waited seven or thirteen hours that day. Perspective.
  • Pack carry-on only in winter. That ensures you don’t have to deal with waiting for baggage on top of flight delays. If you are checking a bag, move a couple pairs of underwear and some makeup (or whatever will make you feel human) into the bag you’re traveling with – just in case!
  • Buy a liter bottle of water once you’re through security. This is a result of my traveling budget airlines who keep you less hydrated (for free), than most, but I never regret it. Staying hydrated is also my secret to combatting jetlag.
  • Go to the bathroom before you land. You never know how long you’re going to be sitting on the tarmac, and they may not let you go to the bathroom for the first hour!!
  • Bring snacks. Again, you never know when you’re going to be sitting on a tarmac for four hours. The airline doesn’t have enough extra meals for everyone, so instead you get nothing. Hungry, frustrated people are no fun! You can make friends too if you share your snacks.
  • Share the humor on social media as it unfolds (well, when you’re back on land). Tell a story. Your friends will be rooting for you! And it’s a good way to laugh at the situation.

Ok, everyone has some travel horror story? What’s yours? Share them in the comments!

Travel to… learn

Whenever I meet new people and tell them the name of my blog, they say, “oh, you must travel a lot.” Which I suppose I do travel more than many people, but that’s not the point. With my motto I say “travel is not about where you go, but how you see the world.” I see travel more as a state of mind than a checklist of places you’ve been.

In 2017 I chose the word “pivot” as my theme of the year. I quickly came to realize that I couldn’t accomplish the changes I wanted if I kept doing the status quo. I also didn’t know exactly what this pivot would mean. I let curiosity be my guide.

At the end of 2016 I picked up a copy of Designing Your Life, inspired by Stanford professors Bill Barnett and Dave Evans’s popular course that uses design thinking skills to help plan your life. (I also followed their course on CreativeLive). Rather than diving into one thing head first, they have you imagine multiple scenarios, and prototype and test them out before you make any jumps. It was a helpful tool too in making sure I was getting the most out of the status quo while I put gears in motion.

Looking back, it almost seems like 2017 was my “year of learning”. Each one of my travels involved going somewhere to learn something; it’s almost like I don’t know how to travel unless I’m learning something new. On my Paris tours I always encourage people to explore the city through their own interests. I realized that was the very thing I was doing for myself, and it took me a little bit of everywhere.

Most people would look at this list and say “what the heck is she doing!?” or “why is she learning that?”. But each of these events or workshops enriched my mind, and deepened my own work. In fact, from UX (user experience) to storytelling, everything I learned helped link together my past experiences and tied them together in ways I never expected. As Walter Issacson said, “The pattern tends to be curiosity across disciplines.”

Traveling to Munich was a no brainer. I’d never been, so if I have an excuse to visit a new place AND see friends, it’s a double win. Also, in a small world moment, my friend Yann-Yves (who I’ve collaborated with in the past) is part of the awesome CreativeMornings Munich team and filmed Christine’s talk. I’d traveled to San Diego for AdobeMAX where Christine had spoken in November 2016, so it was fun to see her presentation grow with more experience.

Yann-Yves in action. Sadly someone at the venue decided to open all the windows right before starting, making Christine’s slides less visible in real life, but thankfully there’s the video below!

During her creative residency Christine officially launched her Everyday Explorers product line. I connected her to all my contacts for the Berlin leg of her trip. Then I started to get jealous that they’d all get to hang out without me, so I decided it was best I go and support her ;) It was also the perfect excuse for me to stay in what would become one of my favorite hotels: the Michelberger. Her event went great and I even got to meet Erik Spiekermann, and reconnect with old friends I met through blogging. It was awesome seeing everyone have fun with her travel journal kit too. (It later inspired me to host a mini workshop for Christine when she came to Paris, knowing workshops are something I’ve been wanting to do more of too!).

Everyday Explorer’s travel journal kit, deconstructed Christine style.

Develop an Authentic Leadership Style – but why? I like learning new things, and because I’ve encountered too many moments in my life which I feel like could have been essential learning moments, but instead they were just frustrations. I was curious to attend so I can be part of the leadership I want to see, and be. Turns out that instructor John-Paul Flintoff also wrote a book called How to Change the World which was a nice addition to my bookshelf.

One of the possible paths that came into my mind while reading Designing Your Life was UX research/design. I knew it was already in my wheelhouse of experience, but just under a different label. I signed up for a UX bootcamp at General Assembly and it turns out that I loved it. While so much of user experience is about designing apps and websites, what I loved most was the focus on the work that goes in behind the scenes, in person, off the computer, and through sketches. The power of disconnecting to lead to stronger solutions. (Spoiler alert: you’ll see this connects to a pivot later in the year.)

I’ve nearly filled a notebook per event/workshop I’ve attended this year. I love looking back through them, which helps spark ideas and my teaching.

The Annie Atkins Graphic Design for Film Making workshop in Dublin changed the way I approach projects. As a creative there’s a lot of pressure to be “original” but as Annie taught us, every film is created from existing worlds. Even the eccentric world of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel (the film that Annie worked on that made her a household name – well for designers at least) started with images of actual places. Rather than starting from scratch, looking to what we know can be a powerful tool. During the two day workshop we learned how to fake calligraphy, age documents, and even make fake passports.  Little did I know, but the simple act of having to write and create our own telegrams would give me an even greater appreciation of the telegram I’d find later this fall from 1942 announcing my mom’s birth. I see movies and my own family’s “archives” in a new way now.

You can watch Annie talk about graphic design in film in the video from this year’s AIGA conference, or listen to her on the podcast 99% Invisible

The Here London conference was inspiring for giving a look inside the process of different kinds of creatives. The conference is from the team behind It’s Nice That and Lecture in Progress (advice, insight and inspiration for the next generation of creatives)… And completely unrelated, that trip I had the AMAZING experience of Secret Cinema: Moulin Rouge (where I got to put my new prop-making skills to good use in order to get into character for the over-the-top immersive event).

Know what I learned this year? I love making things with my hands. I don’t know if it’s a return to being a kid again, or just wanting to disconnect. The Risotto Studio‘s riso print studio’s notebook making station was a highlight!

Data Visualization? Really? Yes, really! Numbers scare me, so I’m trying to face them head on. Know what the biggest takeaway was from my Guardian Masterclass? Data Visualization is ultimately all about storytelling and deciding what story you want to tell, and for which audience. I was surprised, but not, all at the same time. I didn’t even have to try to find the connection to my other work – it found me! As for Edward Tufte, I’d attended his one-day seminar about 10 years ago. I knew I liked his approach and was ready for a refresh. It was an excellent exercise in simplification and looking at the facts. I was also looking for an excuse to go to Boston ;)

My Guardian Masterclass was led by Adam Frost and Tobias Sturt of Graphic. During the day we had a couple challenges where we had to determine how we’d visualize a data set. 

The Tufte books are valuable regardless of what industry you work in. They also are included in the seminar price (seminars are all over the country).

Of all my workshops, I was surprised that STORY led by 74-year old Robert McKee was the most exhausting. Three days of 9am-8pm lecture, culminating in a half-day analysis of the film Casablanca, was a shock to my system (or maybe it was the 16 movies I watched in 9 days leading up to it to prepare ;) ). Information overload at times, I still walked away with a brain full of different ways I could apply what I learned about screenwriting to storytelling in any number of ways across my work. Due to the intense schedule, I barely had time to talk to any of the other attendees, but of the couple people I talked to, one random conversation near the coffee queue has led to interesting conversations that may be leading to some intriguing endeavors and linking together of projects. It was another reminder of the perk of getting out and attending workshops (in the real world), especially when you don’t know anyone else. You never know when or how inspiration may strike.

Robert McKee is the author of the books Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, Dialogue: the Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage & Screen, and Storynomics (coming soon).

Believe it or not I did have a few other trips last year too, so maybe I’ll get around to sharing those one day too if you missed them on Instagram. I may not be good at taking actual vacations, but I’ll travel to learn any day! I have to admit, having one’s own business has it’s perks when it comes to writing off these expenses – it’s all an investment!

In fact, I happened to post a few images on Instagram – here and here – from my mom’s 1974 travel journal from her trip to Kenya and Tanzania with the American Natural History Museum the same day this post initially went live. It took me a little while, but then it clicked – my mom traveled the same way and loved to learn!

So where are my travels taking me in 2018?

I’ll be stateside in the beginning of the year to see friends and family, I’m attending UX design events in DC and London, and will be back in London to see Hamilton (finally using those tickets I bought 18 months in advance!!!). That will get me through March. Beyond that, we’ll see where inspiring reasons to travel take me…

p.s. I didn’t mention it in the list because it’s all taking place in Paris, but I’m back teaching again! (One of my goals with my “pivot”.) I’ve been developing UX design curriculum and courses (in English) for OpenClassrooms, which is Europe’s largest online education platform. Turns out teaching is the most incredible way to learn! In my first two months on the job I learned more than I did in my two masters degrees (where I learned a lot too). It’s so rewarding! But even moreso, I think it’s a good indicator that I’ve pivoted in the right direction.

Creating Your Own Path


Hi! It’s me, Anne! Remember me? I know it’s been awhile. A lot of things have changed for me in 2017, but as I gear up for 2018, it’s time to get my writing back on track. So, the time to start is now.

I launched my business in 2012 as a way to stay in France, and realizing I enjoyed and thrived on the structure of the life of a grad student. Starting a business came with its own challenges from having the right to work in France, but not as a “salaried” person (that’d mean taking a job from a French person) to learning how to be an entrepreneur (and en Français! no less, which means I still don’t know what certain accounting terms are in English!). But it turns out the constraints I had working in France made me carve out an incredibly rewarding professional life. The way I work and the work I do may forever be difficult for me to articulate (because it’s not always the norm), but I’m proud to say I’ve carved out a way to work that I love, and it has only gotten more rewarding with time.

Over the summer I sat down for a call with Jennifer Synder for her wonderfully inspiring podcast, Creating Your Own Path (CYOP) to talk about that very subject. I first got to know Jennifer through my Skillshare map making class where she was a really engaged student and our friendship grew from there, despite the fact that we still have never crossed paths IRL. We could have talked for hours, but here’s our conversation broken down into three parts:

CYOP #118: How to Create Cohesively Across Multiple Platforms

CYOP #119: Handling the Freelance Ebb

CYOP #120: Using the Internet to Create Offline Connections

If reading is more your cup of tea, here’s the 2013 interview I did with Jennifer! It even shares a rare glimpse into my life as a costumed character. 😂


Another reason for my silence online was that in September I lost my mom to ovarian cancer rather suddenly. As anyone who knows me, they know that my mom was my biggest champion (and also silent Twitter awesome link curator 😉). My mom was thankfully able to listen to these episodes, and in what ended up being her last week one of the things she told me was, “Anne, you have so much confidence now.” It meant so much to hear that, as I know myself all too well as “the quiet one” growing up. These words also gave me the confidence to speak at her funeral (my words are in the link above) – something I never would have considered not that long ago. Jennifer and my mom had also “met” in that magical Skillshare classroom, so I’m so thankful that I got to tell her what a gift these three episodes were to my mom.

I’ve realized in recent years, I’ve fallen off the internet radar a bit. Some of it has been focusing on business and making a living, a reaction to the state of the internet, and also rethinking my priorities. My plan in 2018 is to share my voice more, whether it’s talking about my mom, dealing with death and loss, the joys of travel, sharing my latest projects and endeavors, or reflecting on life as an entrepreneur.

I’ve learned that we all have the ability to touch others, whether we know it or not. Despite what society tends to indicate, it’s not all about numbers and metrics. One of the things I’ve set out to do is to slow down, reach out, and let people know they’ve made an impact or inspired me. I never expect a response in return, but I’ve worked to become more intentional in how I say thanks, because I know how valuable those words and conversations have been to me in my own work.

p.s. The artwork in this post is by the talented Melanie Biehle as part of Jennifer’s CYOP Artist in Residency program (she is so amazing at giving back to the creative community!!). I love the quotes they selected, and it’s a good reminder that sometimes we need to listen to our own advice. In addition to using it as artwork to promote the podcast episodes, Jennifer also sells notebooks and prints with quotes from her podcast guests in her online shop!


Healthcare in France


Healthcare is one of the attractive features of my life in France. Honestly, I could never imagine running my own business or being an entrepreneur in the U.S. without having a safety net like it if anything ever were to happen to me. Having healthcare means I can be creative, I can take risks, I’m free to run my own business and do the work I do and am best at (which is anything but the typical 9-5 job). If anything major happened to me, I know I’d be supported by the national rather than racking up heathcare bills that would be even more hazardous to my health (back when I worked in the States and had good insurance, the health system still caused me a lot of anxiety).

So, here is my American perspective of navigating French healthcare. I’ve already survived bureaucracy, and thankfully healthcare rarely causes me much stress – except when my American-ways get in the way. I hope this can also serve as guide to what to expect at the doctor or Emergency Room in France should you ever find yourself here. Even if you don’t speak the language, don’t worry, you won’t be turned away.

Disclaimer: this is the Cliff Notes version. Don’t take everything at face value. These are my experiences, and I invite others to share their experiences navigating healthcare in France in the comments.

Let’s visit a few scenarios:

I’m usually able to make an appointment within a week or two. If I’m really sick, I can almost always make an appointment for that day if doctor can fit me in. All my doctors’ offices are inside typical Parisian apartment buildings. I feel more like I’m visiting a home rather some sterile, soul less room with ugly furniture. There is almost never a receptionist (except at my gynecologist’s practice where a few doctors each have their own rooms – I also pay more at this doctor, as you’ll see below). That means that most of the time it’s the doctors themselves answering the phone and taking appointments, which can get admittedly get slightly frustrating when you’re in the middle of an appointment when you really don’t feel well. The biggest difference between France and the U.S. is that you won’t find gowns (paper or cloth) at the doctor’s office. Modesty isn’t really part of the culture; think of it more as something that makes your visit more affordable!

pretavoyager-doctorfrTo get to my regular doctor I go through two sets of beautiful big wood doors, pass through this garden courtyard, and then head upstairs. The office itself is pretty boring, and not nearly as photogenic as this. I will note that I think my doctor thinks I get too much exercise!

I typically pay 25€ for visits to my regular doctor (médecin traitant). Part of that visit is covered by Social Security (Sécurité Sociale) into which I pay, I’m reimbursed for some – or all – of the cost of my visit. Many people in France also have a “mutuelle” which is additional insurance. Compared to the U.S. even paying full price is so affordable that I didn’t feel it was necessary to have the additional insurance.

However I recently had a meeting with my banker, and now I pay 21€/month towards a mutuelle. He assured me it’s good to have a mutuelle should I ever need an extended hospital stay. I’d definitely have a mutuelle if I worked as a salarié (full time employee), but as a freelancer it’s extra. I also regularly pay a lot into Harmonie Mutuelle, which despite the name, is not at all a mutuelle, but is the group that manages my health care [RSI] under my particular business status. So no, health care in France is not free, but it is affordable, and helps take care of everyone.

pretavoyager-FrenchgynoThe waiting room of my gynecologist is WAY nicer than most doctors’s waiting rooms. This doctor is more expensive (90€/visit), but she has a different status as a doctor, and I’ve kept going even after my amazing student insurance ended. Still, it’s nice to be in a “home” setting for a check-up. I always joke I could live here!

Another slightly strange thing for Americans when it comes to going to the doctor in France is that most of the time lab tests don’t happen at the doctor’s office. Instead, you go to a “Laboratoire” which specializes in different tests. The doctor will give you an ordonnance (prescription) for the tests you need. They don’t cost very much and depending on how long it takes to process the results, they will soon be posted online, as well as sent to your doctor. I’m fairly certain I’ve even had to walk down the street with my pap smear in hand in order to drop it off at a lab. Similarly, because doctor’s offices are typically in independent apartment buildings, it means there is not a pharmacy attached. If you ever need a shot, you’ll need to pick it up at the pharmacy and take it back to the doctor to administer.


Good dental coverage is not very common in France. I pay dental out of pocket (~60€). I like going to my dentist just because he has the coolest waiting room ever!

I’ve learned the hard way over the years that I could have just gone to the pharmacy 90% of the time and they could have given me just the medicine I needed. (There are also a few 24 hour, 7/7 pharmacies around the city too). In general medicines are far less expensive in France than in the U.S. However, when you feel awful and are upset, don’t expect a lot of compassion from the people behind the counter most of the time (I have had some great [warm] pharmacists help me too!).

In France les pompiers (firemen) are the first responders – yes, they do more than hosting awesome dance parties for 14 juillet! Earlier this year I was walking with a friend visiting when her knee gave out unexpectedly. She couldn’t move so the lovely gentlemen behind us called the pompiers and waited with us until they arrived. I of course went along. I was relieved to add another hospital adventure to my list of experiences that was not my own. You call 112 in case of emergency in France. I don’t know what her medical bill ended up being, but I think she was fortunate it happened in France rather than in the US!

pretavoyager-parisambulance 600My view from inside the ambulance when the pompiers picked us up. Due to the nature of the case they ended up taking us to a hospital on the other side of the city. 

When I feel really awful, so much so that I don’t have the energy to leave the apartment (particularly back when I lived in a 7th floor walkup), it’s nice to have the option to call SOS Médecins. It’s more expensive (~70€/visit) than going to a normal doctor, but it also means the doctor comes to you. I’ve only called them once, and I felt like they needed (there were two who came) a stretcher after climbing my 7 flights! It’s a good thing I didn’t break anything, because they never would have survived getting me down the stairs ;) Even though it wasn’t what I called about, they were concerned about my blood pressure, so they called a private ambulance to take me to a hospital. (That ride cost 80€, but after social security it was only 45€). It’s interesting to know that different hospitals in France have different specializations, so they won’t necessarily take you to the closest one. Later in the year for a different illness, I ended up visiting Urgences: Stomatologie (or the mouth ER). There are so many speciality stores in Paris, that I love that there are speciality hospitals too.

pretavoyager-mouthERWithin the large hospital complex, at Hôpital de la Salpêtrière in the 13th arrondissement, there is a specialized “urgences” (emergency room) for “stomotologie” – in other words, there is a Mouth ER! A co-worker suggested I should go there when I was experiencing a mouth issue. I was too stubborn, saying I would just go to the normal doctor. Well, eventually I ended up here and it was way cheaper than any doctor!

I’d spent enough time in France to realize that hospitals in France are fairly low on frills. Fortunately, for my first visit, I had planned appropriately: wore leggings, a comfy t-shirt, fleece jacket, socks, and packed a totebag with water and a snack, not to mention a book and extra battery pack and cord for my phone (not that I really felt up for the latter two, but at least I had the option). My first visit I wasn’t sure if I could eat (it was kind of why I was there in the first place), but once they let me out I was SOOOO happy to have this. On my two hospital visits I’ve witnessed other patients literally kicking and screaming because they’re starved. (That sounds really dramatic, but we all know how we get when we’re hungry and don’t feel good.).

pretavoyager-FrenchERwaitingroomI encountered very few TV screens in my hospital visits in France.

Like most hospitals around the world, you can expect a wait. But in France you get more of a 1960s/70s vibe, without any (well, maybe a few) flat screen TVs to keep you busy and distracted. Healthcare is more affordable because every facility doesn’t need to be state of the art. As long as I can get healthy, I’m ok with that.

My check-in was quite lovely as most of the information they needed was on my carte vitale (social security) card, which resembles a credit card with a puce (chip). Into hour four or five – on a Saturday afternoon – I started to feel a bit neglected in the small, beige, rectangular room with a checkered tile floor. There were only five people in the room, and most in worse shape than me. I eventually got wheeled into the private room, where I waited for awhile and then got some tests done. Then it was more waiting. Whew! 9 hours later: it was just a virus. I was free to go. The doctor told me I could go, but then nothing happened. I waited a bit longer before confirming I really could leave. I was utterly confused that in the land of bureaucracy there was no need for more forms, or the need to check-out. The thing that made me laugh the most was that no one had told me where/how to leave the hospital. I had been wheeled to various rooms and no longer knew where I was. Thankfully the biggest stress of that day had been finding my way to the exit– to where my friends were waiting to pick me up.

pretavoyager-FrenchERThe room where my blood was tested at a hospital in the 10th arrondissement. Notice comfy pants, socks and shoes. Don’t be afraid to bring your own blanket and water bottle too! 

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Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 16.45.19

Christmas 2015 really came when my first [experience] bill from the “urgences” arrived and I only owed 29€. I later realized it was that “expensive” because of all the lab tests they ran. In spring 2016 I owed 6,90€ for my ER visit and 13,90€ for my follow-up appointment. Seriously, I spend more than that on meals every day! My coworker had encouraged me to go there from the start (even telling me about the “mouth ER”). The real irony is that it was so much cheaper than the 75€ specialist my generalist sent me to (more would have been reimbursed had I had a mutuelle at the time), and whose specialty seemed a bit different, and made me worse, not better. This experience was a small price to pay though in the realm of health care. Any mental blocks when it comes to hospital, is more than made up in the fact that it won’t make you bankrupt!

pretavoyager-FrenchhospitalA small section of the large room which was the “mouth ER” where I had my initial visit, as well as a follow up visit a couple weeks later. I felt a bit like I was time traveling through the décor, but all I cared about was that there was a doctor specialized in my issue who was talking to me.


While I can’t speak directly to this experience myself, I’ve had enough friends go through it, and have made hospital visits, so I thought it was worth touching on. Before I freak you out by saying that you’re expected to bring your own towels, remember that having a child in France is a very low cost. (I believe it’s over $10,000 in the U.S. for reference).

My friends have stayed in the French maternité for 3-5 nights in general. This was not because they had any complications. It’s just how it’s done here. One friend had a 360€ bill for a 5-night stay, but that’s only because she had requested a private room. While it was not covered by Secu (social security), it was covered by her mutuelle, so the total came to 0€. She did admit not all of the visits leading up to the birth were completely covered, but again, that’s where the mutuelle comes into play. Another friend paid 60€/night for a private room and another 25€ supplement for her husband to be able to stay there too – all covered by their additional insurance.

Two other major differences regarding having a baby in France are the fact that maternity leave is much longer (it usually starts a month or more before the birth), and, after the baby is born, moms receive “perineal réeducation” (vaginal retraining), which is like a video game for down there to get things back and working ASAP. What can I say, love is important to French society, and the French love vacation (all 5-9 weeks/year + holidays).


In short, we Americans have the tendency to associate healthcare as something that is naturally and inevitably expensive. As the French would say, “C’est comme ça!” (that’s how it is.). However, in this case, nothing could be further from the truth. Healthcare can be affordable. It can support everyone who is sick, no matter who you are. Americans, just look to the rest of the world to see how it’s done – they’re onto something with universal healthcare. That’s why travel matters – you can see other way things are done, and learn from these experiences.



French Lessons: Voting in France


Becoming French has its perks. The biggest perk is never having to renew my carte de séjour ever again, but being able to vote in French elections is high up there too. It’s one thing to follow another system online, but it’s another living and learning to have to navigate a new system. I have to say while we often take what we grow up with as the “right” way to do something. Learning how another country works is fascinating and really we all have a lot we can learn from each other. While I lived here during the Presidential elections in 2012 (French presidents are in office for 5 years), actually being able to vote changes one’s perspective.

To vote in France you have to be 18 years old. You register by December 31st. (I was lucky and filled in my forms right before the end of the year). By early April registered voters receive their “carte electorale” which has your voting locations and you must vote at that location within your arrondissement. Before both the first round voting (April 23) and second round voting (May 7th) registered voters receive a mailing with flyers for each candidate as well their name cards (these you vote with, but are also available at the local voting center).


Unlike the U.S. system, the election cycle is much shorter (and far less agonizing in that respect). France is not a two-party system, but rather home to many parties. The first round vote narrows down the large pool of candidates; the two candidates who receive the most votes will move on to the second, and final round. (John Oliver explains the system well.). Typically the two main parties — gauche/socialist and droite — move forward but neither made it through to the second round. In fact, Emmanuel Macron made up a party, “En marche!” translating to “let’s get going,” for his candidature. There are spending limits for each candidate, and each candidate has equal media time. During the debates, there is literally a clock tracking how much each candidate speaks. The debates last over two hours and end after midnight – interesting for a country with only one time zone. 24 hours leading up to the election French media nor candidates are not allowed to make statements (in this case, even to refute what has been dubbed as “Macron Leaks”.).


Voting happens on a Sunday in France, which helps account for the country’s high voter turnout which tends to be above 80%. (Speaks volumes to the U.S. which votes on a Tuesday and has about 50% turnout, even with early voting). The catch with the May 7th election is that it falls on a holiday weekend (Victory Day – one of three holidays in the month of May in France). During Presidential elections in France you are only voting for one person, and nothing else. The U.S. scantron and electronic voting system typically has at least 10 things on the ballot. In France there are the two rounds of elections, followed by a vote for the legislators a month later.

During my first ever French election [first round voting] I was in Dublin, which became an eye opening experience on how everything is not what one expects. As an American living abroad I’m used to absentee voting, which involves me applying for an absentee ballot and mailing in my vote to my home state before the election date. My eyes nearly popped out of my head that I learn that in France you vote by procuration, or essentially sending a friend to vote in your your place. My initial reaction was “voter fraud” but after having lived it through two elections now, I have to say it works. It is also very official and you go to the Mairie [Mayor’s office] to register in advance. So while in Dublin at a workshop I received a text from my friend — I voted! For French citizens who live abroad it is common to register and vote at your local French Embassy. The queue may be long, but there’s a certain pride that goes along with voting in person.

So how does voting actually work?

  1. Based on your carte electorale you know where to vote. Voting locations, like the U.S. are at schools, but also at the Mairie [Mayor’s office] of each arrondissement [district].pretavoyager-bureaudevote18
  2. You are given a number for your bureau de vote so you know which queue to wait in (my voting center had two).
  3. You cut the line to go pick up your small brown envelope. First you check in with your French I.D. You’re asked if you’re free later to come count votes, and then are told to pick up your name cards to go vote behind the curtains. The interesting thing here is that you’re required to pick up two names so that it is not obvious who you’ll be voting for. This year the name cards added braille for blind voters.
  4. You go “behind the curtain” to place your vote – folded inside the envelope.
  5. You destroy the card of the candidate you are not voting for and drop it in the big bin on your way out. (You the try to make out crumpled names to get a quick sense of the results as you walk by.)
  6. Given this is France you go back to the end of the longer queue. This is the part that confused me, as typically choosing your candidate is the longer part of the process. This line is to officially cast your vote.
  7. At the front of the line there is a big clear box with votes in it. First you have to be checked in yet again with your official I.D. card. There is a big paper ledger with all of the registered voters. There is a clear plastic line guide to ensure you’re signing in the right box.
  8. Once checked in the officiator of the box opens a small latch and tells you to put your envelope inside. She then says “A voté” to signal your vote has been counter [the latch has a counter associated with it] and stamps the back of your carte electorale. (I didn’t think to give my friend my voter card, hence no stamp for the first round.)

Congratulations! You may not have an “I voted” sticker, but you have voted in France! And now that I’ve voted and written this post, I have to jet out to vote again. Don’t worry, just voting by procuration, for a friend. Not too shabby to be voting twice in my first official French presidential election ;)

UPDATE: Emmanuel Macron won! He takes office next Sunday. Compared to the Americans (election early November, inauguration in late January), here’s one time the French sure work fast….

Paris Tours: Navigate Paris


After 200+ tours over 4 years, I decided it was necessary to create a new home for my Paris tours: Navigate Paris!

The original Navigate Paris has always been my most popular tour (3-hour crash course overview of the city with custom exploration) — I love it because it’s never the same for me either. My Paris Design Tour has a general loop of many of my favorite shops celebrating French design and design-y places and adapt it to the interests of those on my tour.

I’m most excited for the latest addition: Research Trips. I started these a couple years ago but more thought of them as part of my consulting work. Now I want to open them up for others who may be looking to invest a little more, or are traveling to Paris with a specific project in mind and they’re looking to Paris for research.

Learn more about my offerings on Navigate Paris along with reviews, FAQ and links to my Paris guides! I also created a Navigate Paris Facebook page, and @navigateparis on Twitter and Instagram (but those accounts are more to tag; still follow @pretavoyager for Paris updates).


Vivre Paris

2016-dec-vivreparis2016 went out with a bang. I had an entire full page feature (en français) in the December issue of Vivre Paris! My face in print! Talking life, work, and my favorite places in Paris. It was a legit 1.5 hour interview with the journalist (Anne Le Mouellic) and a photographer (Charles-Henri Dannenberg) came too! My life is un peu compliqué to explain, so I was thrilled how it came out. Look for the cover with a wintery illustration and “un hiver Parisien” in red type. I was also excited to see Marie-Anne Bruschi of Re-Voir Paris featured inside too! I know people tend to turn to blogs and Instagram for inspiration, but Vivre Paris is one of my favorite publications for everything Paris from the selections, to design and photography. It always feels fresh and focused. You can pick up a copy at a green newsstand in Paris or subscribe online.

What’s in store for 2017? Some changes. My word/theme for the year is “pivot.” I love what I do, but want to continue to make some tweaks to continue to focus on my end goals. I’m feeling alive and inspired from new discoveries and potential opportunities, so on verra (we will see).

I’ll announce it officially soon, but I’m currently developing Navigate Paris, a new website to house all my Paris offerings (tours, experiences, guides and tips). It’s still being tweaked, but you can check it out online at I’m really looking forward to taking on more of what I call Research Trips, which are intensive half or full-day experiences in the city to help businesses, organizations and individuals to explore an interest, theme or trend.

In non Paris related news, all of January I’ll be giving feedback to all projects updated in all of my Skillshare online classes, if you’re looking design a map, make a travel poster, learn InDesign (short or long form), rethink a presentation, or update/redesign your résumé or CV! There are a bajillion other awesome classes too if you just want to learn something new in the New Year.

Très Belle Année!

BOARDING PASS: Christine Herrin

boarding-pass-christineWhen I launched this blog 9 years ago, little did I know all the doors it would unlock, or who has been sitting quietly on the other side of the screen. Then last spring I received an email from Christine Herrin asking me to be her mentor when she was selected for this year’s Adobe Creative Residency (which may just be the coolest gig in town—one year to pursue the project of her dreams!). While lots of people love travel, there is a smaller handful who see it in unique, creative ways. Christine is one of those people, and through the residency is pulling together her skill as a designer, scrapbooker and handletterer, with the goal to make documenting cool again by developing her stamp line (they’re clear! you can see where you’re stamping!!) and creating her own travel kits (trust me, she’s thought about every detail). After a few year hiatus, I’m thrilled to resurrect Boarding Pass to share a glimpse of how Christine travels.

010I’m rarely in my own travel photos, but I knew I needed to get my picture taken beside my initials. This was a mural in Shoreditch in London.

Last trip taken:
San Diego, CA for Adobe MAX! It was the big event we had all been long preparing for, and a really important one for many reasons. I got a chance to show and talk about my work to a bigger audience (and gave my first conference talk in front of 450 people!) and hang out with my mentors and fellow Creative Residents. Then Anne and I hit the road and drove back to San Francisco swinging by Palm Springs, Salvation Mountain, and Santa Barbara. Before that I went to Seattle, WA — locked myself up in an Airbnb to get stuff done, and I have to say, it worked! (Now I need to go back to Seattle to explore…)

christineherrineverydayexplorersEveryday Explorers Journal Kit I designed as part of my Creative Residency project.

Next trip on deck:
Manila, Philippines, for the holidays. Looking forward to all the food that comes with Christmas gatherings, and finally getting to recharge. Also can’t wait to see family and friends. A big international trip with Adobe is being planned for early next year, but it’s still a big mystery whether I’m being sent to Berlin or Tokyo!

Get a peek inside Christine’s dream Creative Residency.

One place you would go back to again and again:
London. Definitely my favo(u)rite city. Some of my best friends from college currently live there, and have successfully talked me into visiting every year since 2011… and if I could, I’d make it a yearly tradition forever! (Or maybe move there someday…)
08London is my favorite city. I was in town for the Queen’s Jubilee a few years ago, and like a true fangirl, camped out along the Mall to see Prince William and Kate Middleton wave from the balcony!

Place you’d most likely recommend a friend go visit:
Seoul, Korea. A perfect mix of good food, efficient public transportation, hipster coffee shops, and all. the. stationery.

06The design scene in Seoul is amazing. 

Preferred method of transportation:
Train for sure, but I try to walk as much as I can. But then again, I get most of my best ideas on long-haul flights too.

Place you’ve never been but dying to go:

Dying to do a few weeks in Scandinavia — I’ve only been to Copenhagen, but would love to go to Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki, etc.

012My favorite thing to look out for when traveling? Local paper shops!

Place you’d never go back:
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I went a few years ago as part of a Asian backpacking trip with college friends and we were super underwhelmed. Then again it was probably because it felt so much like Manila that we got pretty bored easily. ;)

Most memorable trip in 2 sentences or less:
Three weeks: Switzerland, London, Mediterranean cruise (Greece/Italy/Turkey), Rome, Mexico. One carry on bag with a coat + boots, a bathing suit, and a formal gown to boot. :)

03More design work inspired by travel.

How do you prepare for a trip?
Most of my obsessing comes in booking flights (always looking for the cheapest deal) and figuring out where to stay. Almost always leave packing to the night before (panic!) and light research before the trip. I usually like to figure things out when I get there, as long as I have a general idea where I am and what I’d like to see.

How do you record your travels when you’re traveling?
I collect everything and anything. Usually at the end of each day I try my best to write in bullet points some highlights or the activities for the day so I don’t forget for my scrapbooks. Usually the amount of iPhone photos I have is enough to remind me, though!

011Another rare photo of myself — sometimes I feel like I need to take these as proof that I was there. In this case, “there” was Snaefellsnes in Iceland.

What is your favorite thing to photograph in a new place?
I love street signs and well-designed advertisements. Sometimes shop fronts with good type is fun too.

02A set of travel cards for scrapbooking that I designed with prompts I use — because it’s not just about what you see and do, but what you eat, too! ;)

On an average, how many pictures to you take on a trip?
Ooh, too many to count. Maybe 300, I’d say.

What’s in your “designer travel kit”?
I bring my Instax camera but am usually too shy to whip it out and take photos in a quiet cafe (especially when I’m alone). A blank sketchbook/notebook for sure, always. My phone is my main camera.


An example of what goes into my travel scrapbooks.

What do you do after a trip? How long after a trip does this happen?
In the past I’d gather the stuff I’ve collected and put them into a Project Life album — probably a few months after. Lately haven’t had the time to really collect nor write anything down (cry!).

05Another peek at my scrapbook — this one was from a trip to Melbourne I saved mostly restaurant business cards and the empty shell of the local SIM card I got.

Favorite souvenir/thing to bring back?
Local magazines and publications, smaller art pieces (prints, postcards) from local designers/illustrators. I do pick up a lot of random paper things along the way — ephemera like maps, brochures, postcards, tickets, postcards, and flyers. I see it as getting a taste of the local design scene (and I hoard paper, in general.)

07A few things I saved from my last trip to Seoul. A favorite piece was the small instruction card that came with my meal on the flight, explaining how to eat the traditional dish they were serving.

What inspired your Everyday Explorers journal?
I love collecting a lot of bits and pieces when I travel with grand plans of turning them into finished pieces and scrapbooks when I get home. Buuuut, we all know how it goes: you get home exhausted, and all the stuff you’ve collected ends up in a big ziplock bag that you can’t throw away. This kit was born out of my desire to document on the go and give myself a place to put all the bits and pieces, whether or not I end up creating something with it or not.

09Collected pieces from a day (!) around Paris = design inspiration.

I actually got the idea for a portable box during a trip to Paris to see Anne, as we observed how we both loved to collect paper pieces and just needed a place to organize and put them all. A lot of the prompts [see image #3 above] included in the journal kit are things I used to notice on my own travels, and having them all in one place will hopefully make documenting and reflecting much easier while you’re in the moment!

sqsCustom box design for the Everyday Explorers Journal Kit.

What was the first trip that really got you excited about traveling?
I remember getting the chance to tag along with my parents to a trip to Beijing when I was 15. History was already my favorite subject then (I ended up becoming a history major later) and I had just learned about the Forbidden City in class. I found myself standing in front of the actual Forbidden City (and its size blew my mind and was larger than I had ever imagined) close to tears and so excited to see more, more, more.

Elsewhere on the web

Boarding Pass is a series that explores the creative ways people see the world.

9 Independent French Designers

pretavoyager-parisdesignParis Fashion Week is in full swing, so I thought it’d be fun to share a post of my favorite independent designers, of a different sort—ahem, the ones actually in your budget and that make great souvenirs. The more I travel the more I realize that at times it seems everything looks the same, so on my Paris tours I make a concerted effort to showcase French designers and “made in France”—the things you can’t find everywhere. This post highlights nine of my favorite French brands who are constantly pushing the status quo, their work and the materials they use.

pretavoyager-omy-600OMY is a French company specializing in playful coloring “maps” that range from oversized wall posters to pocket guides to Paris and beyond. Fun for all ages. Shop 10th arrondissement (2 Rue Gabriel Laumain, 75010), and found around the city at shops like Merci and BonTon.

pretavoyager-papiertigre-600Papier Tigre run by 3 French designers is constantly pushing the possibilities and creativity of paper. Their products are printed on recycled paper, primarily in France. Their Paris shop is located at 5 Rue Filles du Calvaire 75003 (with their products also for sale at other boutiques), the Mitte area of Berlin, as well as a Pop-Up in Ginza, Tokyo.

pretavoyager-lebagnieur-600Le Baigner (translation: the bather) is a men’s natural soap brand with the most beautiful packaging.  Available at Papier Tigre and various stores around Paris, as well as online.

pretavoyager-maconlesquoy-600Macon & Lesquoy accessories take a playful spin on broaches (hand embroidered, inspired by military pins) and iron-on patches. It’s not until you put one on that you realize the full joy it brings — I love my croissant and pretzel! Available at Papier Tigre and various stores around Paris, and online.

pretavoyager-parisiener-600What started as a crowd-funding campaign to encourage illustrators to imagine a New Yorker-esque covers of the imaginary magazine “The Parisianer” has spun off into a series of posters and a book. Available at booksellers such as ARTAZART.

pretavoyager-nailmatic-600Nailmatic is a line of nail polish made in France. The company can often be seen collaborating with French brands like OMY and Paper Tigre. There’s a polish vending machine inside BonTon Filles du Calvaire, and available at a range of shops.

pretavoyager-jamni-600Jamini is the brainchild of Usha Bora, working with artisans in various regions of India to help bring a French design aesthetic to traditional craft methods from wood block prints [pictured here] for home décor to the use of peace worms for elegant scarves. Two boutiques (10 rue du Chateau d’Eau 75010 and 10 rue Notre Dame de Lorette 75009) + online shop.

pretavoyager-kerzon-600Kerzon is a scent-centric brand by two brothers focusing on smell packets, candles and more recently perfumes where the packaging is just as important as the product. Available online, at Papier Tigre, and various shops.

pretavoyager-linstantparisianL’Instant Parisien started as one of my favorite Paris-based websites and inspiring Instagram accounts highlighting chronicles of creatives around the city (in a local, non-cliché kind of way) before launching a crowd-funding campaign to launch their very own magazine (in French and English!). Available online and various stockists; cover art by Virginie Morgand.


Speaking of Paris, there’s currently a free Made in Paris expo in Hotel de Ville (City Hall in central Paris). Visit through the Rendezvous entrance facing BHV department store. Rendezvous also happens to be a great tourism resource and gift shop that’s aimed at a more local, less mainstream tourism crowd; they also have a fantastic collection of free, beautifully designed brochures of resources and events for you design fans.

The fall theme for Le Bon Marché department store is also Paris. The installation with Paris-curated products is on through October 15th and is a great way to discover unique French brands, and exclusive collaborations.

{Un}Glamorous Paris: Chambre de Bonne

IMG_2590Nothing irks me more than when people say I live a charmed life because I live in Paris. Really, there’s a lot of unglamorousness behind the scenes, particularly when it comes to living in Paris apartments. My life is definitely not like you see in the movies! This month marks 7 years I’ve called Paris home since moving here for grad school in 2009. In June I moved into my first “real” Paris apartment. For the first time in 7 years I have my own mailbox and can check my mail 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I can’t tell you how luxurious life feels now!

Recently Elena Berton, a writer for the WSJ Expat blog reached out to me after seeing my past posts about finding an apartment in Paris (1, 2, 3 and my personal favorite where I had friends draw floor plans of their first Paris apartments) to get my take on small living. While I’ve always been proud of my modest, miniscule living the fact that I had been a long time editor for Design*Sponge sharing more than 500 hundred beautiful “sneak peek” interior home tours from creatives around the world made me a bit ashamed, or at least hesitant, to share pictures of my own apartment. Also, after grad school I was in my 30s, found myself unexpectedly starting my own business, and bragging about how small and unglamorous my apartment was wasn’t exactly the clientelle I wanted to attract at the time. I decided the time has come to finally give a “sneak peek” inside my own Paris apartments.

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