Poser ses valises

Set down your suitcase

How I love the French expression, ‘to set down one’s suitcases’. Although it hints of travel, ‘poses ses valises’ means just the opposite: to stop moving around and settle down somewhere.

Ah, travel. The romance, intrigue, the sheer chic of wheeling that expensive Samsonite trolley bag around. Of taking off in one language and landing in another, of leaning back in your seat and being served while selecting from various entertainment options.

Readers of this blog will see where this is going. I love going places. I just hate getting there.

Why do I dislike travel so much? I’ve mentioned before how much I hate packing. I used to enjoy the idea of a few empty hours in which to read, catch up on work or just let my thoughts go idle. And I still do: on a train or a boat. But when it comes to air travel, it’s another story.

Travel for me is a great many small details and a few sweeping generalities. Most of them are aggravating. It seems that effort required to move from point A to point B across borders and seas with suitcase intact is inversely proportionate to the increasing democratization of international air travel.

First there is the airport security check. The removal of personal items, the stacking of your stuff in plastic boxes, the impatience of the staff and fellow travelers. The shoes that ring alarm bells and must be removed. The full bottle of water that goes down the drain, only to be replaced by one that costs twice as much on the other side.

Rinse and repeat. Hurry up and wait.

If purgatory exists, it must surely be in an airport departure lounge. Where, despite the unpleasant state of being on hold, the upside is the chance to people watch. And the endless parade of humanity, with all of its foibles, is by turn entertaining and repugnant.

The fact is that I do not wait well. I am unable to settle comfortably into one of those molded plastic chairs with the immovable arm rests that prevent people from lying down. My eye wanders continually to the departures board, to check if there are any changes in flight status. I look for signs of life at the gate, in case we may be called to board. I watch the people for signs of lunacy, check for the nearest exit, ever vigilant in case a disaster should be about to occur.

In another scenario, I race to the gate for fear of missing the ever-earlier boarding call, where I learn that my flight is delayed. Then look around hoping to get a good coffee or a nice strong drink to dull the pain only to discover that this particular terminal or departure area is devoid of anything as civilised as a proper coffee shop or bar. Vending machines only with their astronomically priced distractions.

Finally we board (bored) and I learn that the only thing on offer are soft drinks and hot beverages, served at boiling temperature in carcinogenic plastic cups and so late in the short haul flight there is barely time to gulp them down before we land.

If we land, says my ever-paranoid self. Despite the fact that time and again seems to prove that we will indeed deplane in one piece. But that little voice has been drummed into my psyche and nearly always makes itself heard somewhere midair.

If the flight is long enough to have food and drink service, I order the Frenchman to get wine even though he no longer drinks, just so I can have a second tiny bottle. He is highly amenable to my inflight alcohol dependency.

Possibly he hopes it will take the edge off my nerves enough to hunker down and read or watch a film for a few hours. He, of course, has downloaded a slew of his latest series, something involving drugs, violence and bloodshed. His iPad is primed for hours of entertainment, which is he able to absorb under almost any circumstances. Turbulence, delayed food service, even amidst the crowds in the departure lounge. I do envy his ability to focus on pleasurable pursuits while I self-inflict mental anxiety and count the minutes. Either that or he is asleep. He often nods off before we even achieve altitude.

With a raging thirst brought on by being so unnaturally high in a pressurized atmosphere of the plane, exacerbated by nerves and boredom, I down each and every beverage on offer. Wine, water, coffee, tea, more water…which is why I always take the aisle seat. I’m frequently up and visiting the loo. Husband will go perhaps once in an 8-hour flight, often just before we land.

Another form of limbo for this reluctant traveler is circling in the sky over an airport for endless loop de loops waiting to land. When all of the highly impatient, nervous flyers like moi are thinking to themselves: is everything all right in that cockpit? I imagine the copilot, suicidal, having slipped a mickey to his unsuspecting captain. I can almost see terrorists having cracked the door code and insinuated their way inside. Or worse, having taken remote control of our plane somehow and sending us for a nosedive into the sea.

Welcome to my twisted writer’s mind. There is a great deal of drama. Travel only fans my flames.

I watch in fascination as people go by in wheelchairs, with babies and toddlers, with pets in carriers, folding strollers and various paraphernalia. How is that I, an able-bodied middle-aged adult, find this so hard when others with real baggage seemingly grin and bear it?

On a positive note, I may have missed my calling as a consultant to the airline industry. By the end of our trip, I had completely redesigned overseas air travel to be more comfortable and efficient for the modern-day passenger. More on that later.

For now, vive l’été chez soi!

Just as many in France are packing their bags for a much-anticipated summer vacation, I’m home from holiday and very pleased to be staying put for awhile.

How about you?



  1. francetaste · July 12, 2018

    I do remember when flying was not so unpleasant. It isn’t just the democratization but the stripping away of services. Once upon a time, there was room for your baggage above your head. You could be the last one to board and you could put your stuff above you. And if you did have to put it in front of you, you still had legroom. I don’t need much–I’m only 1.63 m–yet even I feel squeezed. And squeezed sideways, too. I’m not all that large, but I find myself doing self-origami in an effort to avoid touching a stranger who is spilling into my space. That kind of stuff, especially on a transatlantic flight, makes for tension. The one saving grace was to plug in my headphones and watch 8 hours of movies that I hadn’t seen. But now they’re doing away with that–since everybody has a smart phone or tablet, they figure you can bring your own entertainment, just as you can bring your own food.
    It has been a while since we’ve been to the U.S. (and now we are waiting until Jan. 2021), but I am not thrilled about the abuse of service animals. I am not an animal lover. In fact, I’m downright terrified of dogs, in particular, though I don’t want to interact with any species. Do airlines accommodate those of us who would have a heart attack if seated next to an animal?

    • MELewis · July 12, 2018

      You make some excellent points (I never thought of those who are terrified by animals). At the same time, the idea of sending a beloved pet in the (not always oxygenated) baggage compartment is horrifying. Solutions must surely be possible. I will add your concerns to my new manifesto for the modern air traveler. Hopefully there will be changes by 2021. BTW, I’m 1.58 and also feel the legroom squeeze!

    • Osyth · July 12, 2018

      Did you read about the lady who wanted to bring her ‘support peacock’ on board a flight from Newark to LA? She was denied despite having purchased a seat for it. On several grounds including it’s size. As you know, I do fly with my dog in the cabin. So far all the airlines have insisted that the combined weight of dog and carrier be less than 8kg, that the dog be able to turn 360 degrees inside the carrier and that the carrier be able to fit under the seat in front in the same way as any bag. I would defy anyone to even know I have a dog with me. I feel that should be the rule for all animals. They should not be out of their container both for their own safety and for the consideration of fellow passengers. The whole service dog thing here irritates the hell out of me – you literally have to say ‘I’m anxious Doc, write me a note” and you can take the dog anywhere you like. Which is yet another example of the rights of the individual outweighing the rights of the masses.

      • MELewis · July 13, 2018

        That’s interesting, how does it work with ‘service’ animals? Do people have them on the seat next to them and do they have to pay? I have never before seen anyone on a plane with a ‘live’ animal!

      • Osyth · July 13, 2018

        If the dog is registered as mitigating difficulty to its owner in terms of the owner’s disability, which can include anxiety or other emotional conditions, then it gets to fly free of charge at it’s owner’s feet. Like so many things, the whole concept is open to abuse. I feel that if animals are to be allowed on planes out of carriers then a standard question on booking should be ‘do you have an objection to sitting next to a passenger with an animal. If the service animal seats are limited and only allocated in a particular part of the plane then at least a passenger with allergies or fear issues would not run the risk of sitting next to a dog (or peacock!).

      • Kiki · July 13, 2018

        Goodness, I’m learning something new every day. My little dachsie was coming with me everywhere in Switzerland too, train, tramways, buses. But never on a plane. Since my next dog certainly is going to be larger than 8kg incl basket, there won’t be any airtravels any more.
        This certainly also means that Bean doesn’t have to stay in quarantaine, right? Good on him 🙂

      • Osyth · July 13, 2018

        No, she has a Pet Passport and that is sufficient for Europe. In the US it is state specific so always best to check with the port of entry website before travelling. 😊

      • Kiki · July 13, 2018

        NOt having a dog (yet, as I’m still in France with heavy travelling), I have no doubt that I will not travel to the US any more, but I have seen und discussed with Brits who spent their weekends in Touquet & Deauville with their pets and they claimed that vets here in F made huge amounts of money with them visitors (they seemed all to have weekend houses in France and living quite close to the coast in UK) as the UK government asked for a vet’s certificate every single time they took their darlings back into their home country…. even after a day or two!

      • Osyth · July 13, 2018

        As my vet in Cantal is fond of saying ‘isn’t it ironic …. a British dog going back to Britain and you have to pay me, a Frenchman because the British Government insist on a pointless tablet’. It’s the way it is and we play by the rules 😊

  2. Susanne · July 12, 2018

    I believe you logged into my mind remotely and pinched all my travel angst (right down to choosing an aisle seat) and exposed it to the world! Good to read I’m not alone in my paranoia, fear and anxiety when it comes to air travel. I am less and less inclined to cross borders anymore and certainly not the one to the south. Our vacation this year is in Ontario – by car. I’m bringing my own pillow so the comfort of home is coming with me.

    • MELewis · July 12, 2018

      Ha, ha…if you find yourself taking the toaster along with the pillow, we may be twins separated at birth! Comfort is essential on holiday as at home in my book. So pleased I’m not the only crazy in the air! As for going south of border, I’m with you. Scariest country in the world these days.

    • Kiki · July 13, 2018

      Susanne, Ontario is big enough to give you all your travel & holiday/vacation experiences you need. Love the pillow addition. With me it’s my ‘feet cushion/pillow’ – but only when I travel by car, which is another PLUS for travellers by car vs by air! Enjoy your stay/va-cation 🙂

      • Susanne · July 13, 2018

        You’re right, Kiki. From north to south, this province is vast with oodles of beautiful towns to explore and gorgeous landscape. Yes, I’ll enjoy my pillow but what on earth is a feet cushion?

      • Kiki · July 13, 2018

        I lived, in another life, for nearly 2yrs nrby Toronto (worked in T, lived in Scarborough) and we found Ontario a hugely beautiful and varied province.
        Re the footcushion: That’s probably just my stupid way of not-speaking English. It’s a longish firm cushio/pillow with a ‘hump’ at one end where you rest your legs & feet during the night. It’s a bit cumbersome and it doesn’t travel in a suitcase but is fine to throw on the backseat of a car. I had varicouse veins, operated years ago and I have practically no cramps any more since I learned to place my legs & feet on them….

      • Susanne · July 15, 2018

        Thanks, Kiki. Now I know what a foot cushion is!

  3. George lewis · July 12, 2018

    Good piece, while I share your impatience and frustration I am more like Stephan with a fatalistic attitude ,what will be will be.

    • MELewis · July 13, 2018

      That’s the only attitude that makes sense, as from the moment we board we give up control over what may happen, yet it’s not so easy to just decide to be that way. I’m working on being a better passenger and taking a page out of his/your book!

  4. Kiki · July 12, 2018

    I’m totally and utterly d’accord avec toi! I LOVE travelling by train, preferrably by TGV (when and if they’re on….), by boat (sort: croisière) and even by car when with HH – but flights are nearly unbearable. I have witnessed every scenario and I am nearly at a point where I don’t even want to go anywhere if an airport is involved (nearly!).
    As to the drinks – wine: You are married to a non drinking Frenchman? Does that even exist? Not that I mind that much if it means I can gurgle down HIS stash as well as mine 🙂 But highly unusual all the same. Mind you, I sometimes wish there were more like him and I would NEVER question anybody who is not drinking. Except I just did – but only in a conversational way 😉
    Great post, as always – driving to Devon later in the season – by car, filled with books to bring to charity shops, DVDs for friends after having viewed them. Bottles of wine for the (un)discerning one or other, Swiss chocolate and French cheeses for a picnic….. God help us if ever we need to do that by plane. We would have to BUY an airplane!!!! Doesn’t bear thinking about.

    • MELewis · July 13, 2018

      Well, the non-drinking Frenchman is a recent phenomenon. We used to kill a bottle (or more) of wine together over dinner. Then he tried to going dry for a while to see if he could do it and found life better that way. So it stuck. And despite my moaning about drinking for two, I admire his willpower. At the same time, I find myself happier doing things in moderation where he is more of an all-or-nothing type. As you say, one can never criticise another for making the choice not to drink. As long as no one tries to get between me and my beer! 😀 Hope you enjoy the summer in Devon. How lovely that you fill the car with treats for all! Bises to you, Kiki! xx

      • Kiki · July 13, 2018

        Had a funny, beautiful and in-depth reply done on my reader which promptly disappeared….. :/
        What I had to say is that when you have witnessed from pretty close the pain, anger, results, fights, disillusions, near-wrecking of relationships, the last thing you want is to ‘blame’ somebody who is going off the booze.
        What I admire most in said person is the fact that he (of course it’s a he!) NEVER complains about his not drinking any more. He is serving drinks, wine etc to his family, friends, in a restaurant he is calmly drinking juice, water, and he takes faithfully his tablet every evening.

        For many years, I ‘consecrated’ the month of February (I let you figuring out why Feb!) to not drinking any alcohol. Just to see if I could do it! I could and having happily taken that joyful result in at the end of the month, I continued my other intake of wine. I never drink too much but can get quite quickly dizzy on white wine – therefore it’s rather the red…. and it’s so nice!!!! Enjoy it while you can and while it’s fun and good – and if needed, you’ll stop and it will be alright too!

        We’re in Devon always only for a week plus 2 days for driving to and fro…. but it is always so enjoyable, visiting friends, going to concerts we have booked since February, eating fish & chips at the sea, laughing far too much, being together with our ‘old’ but faithful buddies…. gives us ‘reserves’ for a long time after!

      • MELewis · July 13, 2018

        Sounds like so much fun! Good on your for moderating your pleasures with the alcohol treats (even if you picked the shortest month, lol). I am also working on it. As my Dad likes to say: Everything in moderation, including moderation!

      • Kiki · July 13, 2018

        😉 I like your dad!!!!!

  5. Osyth · July 12, 2018

    I have a husband like yours. And he drinks so I don’t get the extra bottle … curses!!! Everything you say. And no – not going away this summer …. spending it tarting the yard so it’s splendidly brimming with curb appeal next year 😉

    • MELewis · July 13, 2018

      After my horrible Alitalia flight from Rome on which they only served soft drinks on a Saturday night flight, I sometimes nip to duty free in the airport and stash a mini-bottle in my carryon just in case. It’s my secret anti-stress weapon when flying and I will not be denied! 😝 Enjoy your summer gardening — is that in the US or are you back in France for summer?

      • Osyth · July 13, 2018

        I like this plan. I will consider doing the same in future. In the interests of being a calm and stress free passenger of course. I would be mortified if there I found I was only offered soft drinks on a plane …. I’m amazed you survived!!!

      • Osyth · July 13, 2018

        The gardening? Here in the US. Not sure when I will next be back in France 🇫🇷

    • Kiki · July 13, 2018

      Your ‘curb appeal’ sounds as if you’d already plan to move on! Before you’ve even arrived in the big land of endless bounties!!! 🙂 You will greatly upset your neighbours (sorry, neighbors in the US of A) with your festive display tomorrow!!!! You’re more French than the Franch I know here and all this coming from the British Isles!!!!! Have fun, love 🙂

      • Osyth · July 13, 2018

        The house I live in was my husband’s marital home with his first wife so we have always intended to sell it. Unfortunately, my predecessor was not house or garden proud so there is a lot of work to do to maximise the value. But that used to be my business in England so I’m the gal for the job 😉 As for the Quatorze …. depends where you are – in Cantal they go pretty crazy and Grenoble was quite fun too. Flags are a tongue in cheek nod to the USA … they fly theirs at every opportunity and many Nono-opportunities too so we thought we would make our own statement (diversity, right?) 🤭

      • Kiki · July 13, 2018

        boy oh boy; you’re not one to stay ‘unemployed’ for a minute, are you….. So you’re effectively cleaning up 2b’s house for a sale next year! You are one brave and courageous woman, BRAVO
        With regards to celebrating the Quatorze, I thought it was VERY t-i-c to do that IN the USA, but heck, why ever not! We also put up our lampions, Swiss flags and warm feelings for our home country wherever we are. Only, you are both not even Americans; that is what made me chuckle!!!!

      • Osyth · July 13, 2018

        My husband is a US Citizen. And sure – I’ll take brave woman as a label 😉

      • Kiki · July 13, 2018

        sorry sweetheart, wasn’t aware of that important point! 🙂 Avec toutes mes excuses!!!

      • Kiki · July 13, 2018

        …. sorry should engage brain before writing. Need another espresso – I blame the heat!
        You are Brits, I was going to say, not French…. so scrap the Ami bit please! 😉

      • Osyth · July 13, 2018

        This comment opens up a can of worms for me so I will politely, in the interests of not hijacking Mel’s commentary feed any further, decline to go into the details of our nationality either current or future *smiles enigmatically* 😊

  6. Colin Bisset · July 12, 2018

    The writer’s mind is sometimes a curse on a flight, just as you say. Half the time I’m sure I’m in the Orient Express rather than a Boeing 777… My usual thought when coming in to land in Paris or London after enduring 20+ hours of airline food, bad sleep and dessicated sinuses is ‘I’ll be really annoyed if we crash now.’

    • MELewis · July 13, 2018

      Sometimes it’s a curse in general although we always manage to entertain ourselves, n’est-ce pas? I echo your thoughts sometimes about the irony of a crash after such long flights (just when you think you’re out of the woods…) but 20+ hours? I would be climbing out on the wing by then. Or resorting to pharmaceutical science. I suppose you just have to get through it by thinking of the wonderful things that await on the other end. Come to think of it that would be a great idea for an anthology: Writers on planes – Short stories from twisted minds! I look forward to reading your modern take of the Orient Express! 😀

      • Colin Bisset · July 13, 2018

        I must confess that alcohol does play a part… And now I’m stirred by the idea of that anthology – joint authors, perhaps, and guessing who’s got the darkest imaginings!

    • Kiki · July 13, 2018

      😉 – oh man, 20hrs+ flights – THAT must be living hell. Just wait a bit longer Colin and you won’t be even ‘able’ to do these flights. HH (thats Hero Husband) had to fly to China regularly in one of his former jobs (until the UK site was ready to close as the Chinese produced all their goods…. – I bet you didn’t see that one coming, eh?! – and he even was ‘offered’ a job there. But his health didn’t allow any of this and nowadays even a flight from Europe to the US makes him seriously unwell for a while…. LOVE your last sentence! I often say things like that 🙂 🙂 🙂

      • Colin Bisset · July 13, 2018

        Currently stockpiling over-the-counter medications in preparation for the next trip… Hello darkness, my old friend. 🙂

      • Kiki · July 13, 2018

        This doesn’t sound to me like a worthy life-trade-in…. 😉 Good luck, flying Colin! Long may you last and live!

  7. Kiki · July 13, 2018

    Mel; I DO apologize for taking over your blog – I think I should be forbidden access. It’s just that your posts are a) always really interesting and fun and and and, b) invite such a lot of really fascinating, fun, interesting comments, and finally c) give me kick of fun, laughter, joy every single time.
    So – what I mean – may I stay a bit longer? Pretty please? 😉

    • MELewis · July 13, 2018

      You must be kidding! I love your comments, which are often worthy of their own posts. 😉 Was just about to comment that you are on form this morning, my dear Kiki! Vive les vacances et la bonne humeur! xx

      • Kiki · July 13, 2018

        I’m so glad – I just hope I’m not frustrating your faithful readers – I’m NOT planning to take over!

  8. Victoria Blake · July 13, 2018

    Completely agree. My last flight was in a 17 seater to Alderney in the Channel islands. One passenger on either side of a small aisle. One of the passengers hated flying and held hands across the aisle with their partner. It was sweet but not very reassuring. And in small planes you can really feel every bump. Before that I had the landing from hell in Naples in the middle of a thunderstorm. It was raining so hard that they wouldn’t let us leave the plane for quite a long time and my god did I want to get off that plane!

    • MELewis · July 13, 2018

      That sounds like a VERY small plane by any standard! I’ve been through a couple of scary landings lately too, and a trip on a smaller plane in Italy, so I know how you feel! It’s enough to make you want to avoid air travel all together — until the next time the bug bites! Thanks for chiming in and happy travels!

  9. acflory · July 13, 2018

    I used to be fine with plane travel. Now, I think I’d rather walk over hot coals. Or maybe take a boat, except I can barely swim…-sigh- On a brighter note…welcome back!

    • MELewis · July 17, 2018

      Thanks for the welcome wishes! Clearly not all of us are cut out for travel. If I could snap my fingers or twitch my nose and teleport myself across the world, maybe I’d be more keen. 🙂

      • acflory · July 18, 2018

        Hah! If you learn that nose-twitchy-thing, please teach me! I still have Japan and China on my bucket list of must see places. :/

  10. Heide · July 13, 2018

    This is FANTASTIC! Like you, I envy my husband’s ability to conform his body to a molded-plastic chair and disappear into a movie or a book. And like you, I also have to occupy the aisle seat because I cannot say no to a drink cart! Perhaps we should start our own airline, in which all of the seats are on an aisle, and the bottles of booze are full-size instead of a quarter ounce? 🙂 Thank you for the laughs. And my sympathies.

    • MELewis · July 17, 2018

      So glad you enjoyed my musings, Heide! Love your idea of all aisle seats. That would leave room for keeping our stuff beside us where we actually conveniently reach it. Must definitely leave room for a drink cart with large bottles! Cheers 🥂

  11. Suzanne et Pierre · July 17, 2018

    I totally agree with you… flying has become a chore we have to accept if we want to go places. I actually prefer road trips now but living in Canada it doesn’t give much options, especially is you are trying to avoid going to the US. So flying is it but I do dislike the wait and the flight. Pierre also dislike the planning of the trip but once we have landed the fun does start… Glad you had a good journey back to Canada. (Suzanne0

    • MELewis · July 19, 2018

      Thanks, Suzanne. You’re right about the road trips in Canada. The distances are so daunting, with many long stretches in between places you want to see, that flying is pretty well the only option. I would consider the train if it were much of an option. We wanted to take the Rocky Mountaineer in B.C. but they only offer (very expensive) package trips. We’ll do it one day for sure. You guys are great travellers so I’m sure you’ll be flying off somewhere again soon! 🙂

  12. poshbirdy · July 24, 2018

    I am not a nervous or stressed passenger, but I recognise that travelling badly (most economy flights) is a waste of my valuable and otherwise very enjoyable life. However, I would never be able to pay the additional for Business or First, so wasteful I will continue to be! I love a good train trip or road journey where the scenery constantly changes, and I never go to sleep while on the move

    • MELewis · July 25, 2018

      So we have a few travel habits in common….sadly, it’s economy for me too (unless the odd time for business). Hardly worth it on the short hauls but I’d happily upgrade for those overseas flights if I had the budget. You’re right – life is short and I hate to waste time. Guess I’ll have to work on my inner zen. 😉

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