By Gabrielle Lamontagne
Apparently the concept of packing light is not unheard of. I never do it, but some people do. From all the traveling I’ve been doing between taking two planes to France and the European train system, I’m slowly learning that a lightly packed bag or two is necessary for less stress. My trip advisors warned me about this, but I don’t think I took it as seriously as I should have. Luckily, on my first train ride, with my five heavy and somewhat large bags, my stop was the last one, so I didn’t have to worry about an extremely fast exit from the train.
When I went to Nice, France, with my host sister, I had only one heavy bag and a purse. For the stops that were not the last, the e-ticket said (in fine print, I might add) that we were required to be at the door two minutes before departure. Thank goodness, because there really are only a few minutes to get off and let others on before the train takes off again. However, I got so anxious about missing our stops, I would make my host sister leave her seat with me a lot more than two minutes before we had to be at the door. Luckily, we had no problems. In fact, my anxiety about traveling here has caused me to buy only a few souvenirs so far, and all of them are small and flat, so that they won’t take up much room in my suitcase. I’m hoping to only have one or two big bags when I leave Dijon by train for my aunt’s house (she lives closer to Paris), because I won’t have friends with me to help me get on and off quickly. Yikes! Overall, though, even the second class on trains here is cozy. The seats are all carpeted and the windows are huge, great for staring out at the cities and countryside. There are usually also little tables, like on a plane, for reading or food. Sometimes, there are even plugs for electronics on the train. Everyone I’ve encountered in the travel departments here has been very accommodating and kind, so that’s comforting.
The bus and tram systems in specific towns are a lot less stressful. The stops are announced beforehand, and if you miss your stop the next one is at most one block away. You can also request stops or open the doors at your stop if they don’t do so automatically, all at the touch of a button. There’s plenty of room for standing or sitting, as well as room for the handicapped and people with strollers. There are almost always two of the same bus stop across the street from each other, one for each direction, because the streets here are small, so crossing the street to park in oncoming traffic would be dangerous for the buses here.
Cars, however, are another thing. One of my advisors drove me home from the train station on my first day here, and I have to say that everyone here drives a lot faster here on tiny roads – in tiny cars, but they have less of a problem tailgating everyone and stopping in the middle of intersections. Honestly, car traffic here is the stuff of my nightmares. Bikes also ride on the same street as the cars, so I wouldn’t suggest it.
I much prefer to walk or take the bus everywhere. The buses and trams go everywhere around town, so if you really don’t want to walk, you won’t have problems. However, walking is easy in cities and smaller cities like Dijon, because there are sidewalks on every road and there are even some roads where cars are forbidden. I’ve had very little stress walking around, though in big cities it is somewhat dangerous if you’re a female and by yourself, because there are a lot more people here, let alone creepy people, and you’re more likely to be pickpocketed as a tourist. Dijon, I’ve found, is very safe, though (in case you’re thinking of studying abroad in France – I highly recommend the Dijon program). Plus, think of all the exercise, and eustress, you’ll be getting by walking everywhere!
In truth, the principles of foreign travel are basically the same as traveling in the U.S. Use caution and be polite – and get exercise by walking! But as long as you stay safe, it’s all good. Definitely try it!
Gabrielle Lamontagne is a sophomore double-majoring in French and business administration. She is currently studying abroad in Dijon, France.