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SIM Cards, Bus Transport, and Other Tour du Mont Blanc Questions

June 24, 2019

As a follow up to my previous Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) 21 Frequently Asked Questions and Hiking the TMB with Children posts, here’s another quick Q&A reference for you to bookmark. Keep in mind, these answers are only a reflection of my own personal experience hiking the TMB solo with my four children.

Heading out of Courmayeur, Italy on the TMB route.

Q: Where do I get a SIM Card that will work in France, Italy & Switzerland?

A: I purchased the Orange Holiday SIM Card online at Amazon before I left the US. Conveniently, you can top it up online. In France, you can also buy this card at an Orange store (there isn’t one in Chamonix, at least last I knew. You may also find SIM cards at a Tabac shop in Chamonix. I found one for my teenager at the Tabac near the Aiguille du midi lift.

Q: How do you find out the weather each day while on the Tour?

A: You’ll want to get up the up-to-date local Mont Blanc/Chamonix forecast. You may see the forecast posted daily for hikers at gites/refuges/refugios. You can also checkout out Chamonix-Meteo. Whatever you do, know what to expect in terms of weather each day before you set out, but also be prepared for anything, including to seek alternate transportation during a section (e.g., bus) or to get to a lower trail when prudent.

Q. Is there a bus to get to the traditional start of the Tour (Les Houches) or Chamonix?

A: Yes, there are buses. We had a positive experience with Alpy Bus. We prebooked seats online and went right to the Alpy Bus kiosk/desk at Geneva Airport upon arrival. After only waiting a few minutes, we were escorted to the bus (big van) and we were off to Les Houches.

Q. Can you bring trekking/hiking poles as carry on luggage on the plane?

A: My recent travel experience is that airlines are cracking down on allowing poles as carry on luggage. Check with your airline, but don’t be surprised if they refuse to let them on with you, unless they are for medical reasons (and you may need to show some sort of doctor’s note to prove this). You can find inexpensive poles at sport stores in Chamonix, so if your choice is paying for an expensive checked bag or buying poles upon arrival, you might actually save cash doing the latter.

Hope this helps. Happy TMB.

Julie

Blog Destinations

Wild and Free Children: Scotland Adventures

June 22, 2019
Walking/Hiking St. Cuthbert’s Way, Scotland.

This past spring, the kids and I spent a week in Scotland with the goal of completing the 100K St. Cuthbert’s Way Holy Route. We walked the breathtaking and isolated route from Melrose to Holy Island in five memorable days.

Africa Blog Destinations

Cape Town, South Africa with Kids: Our Experience

June 22, 2019

Cape Town, South Africa with Kids

I’m going to start with this: Cape Town, South Africa’s natural landscape is absolutely beautiful. The people are friendly. The food is great, and its presentation is fancy, even at ‘mall’ restaurants. For the food quality and portions, the prices by U.S. standards, are generally inexpensive.

Our trip to Cape Town last year got off to a rough start, beginning at JFK airport. I had previously confirmed that as Americans we didn’t need any sort of travel visa, but I had read online that a parent traveling solo with a child would need to present a birth certificate in addition to a passport for a child. On this trip, my sweet husband and baby daddy was booked to travel with our brood of four. This doesn’t happen often! Accordingly, we didn’t think twice that we’d need to show up at the airport with birth certificates. We also didn’t receive any airline instructions to bring them.

To get to JFK, we had traveled several hours by car from another state. When we arrived at the airline counter, we were asked for the birth certificates or copies of them. We were told we couldn’t board without them. This began our travel nightmare.

We quickly searched through our online/cloud files and could only find one child’s birth certificate! Eeeek. We’d have to go ALL THE WAY home to get the birth certificates. The airline re-booked us on the next available flight: later that night. I decided to get on the next plane home to get the birth certificates, which was leaving JFK in an hour. I could do this. I would need to get a ride and drive nearly two hours to get the birth certificates after landing. I’d then need to rush right back to the airport to catch a return flight back to JFK, in order to make it onto the re-booked flight.

Fly, drive, grab certificates, drive, fly.

Easy Peasy. Not quite. At every juncture there was a delay. The plane out of JFK had a mechanical, which resulted in me running down the airport corridor to beg the airline to change my flight to another flight scheduled to leave minutes later. Once on that flight — just barely — that flight also had a mechanical. This mechanical resulted in me arriving to my home state late. Therefore, once I had the certificates in hand I was already too late to catch my return flight.

I would have to catch the first flight of the next day. At this point, my husband was still at JFK with my four children. Waiting.

When I finally boarded the flight the next morning, that flight was also delayed due to a mechanical. Well, to be precise…someone forgot to close the fuel cover after refueling the plane, so we had to wait. Frantically texting my husband, I knew that when my flight arrived at JFK, I would have exactly 30 minutes to switch terminals and board the international flight to Cape Town before the plane door closed.

Cut to the chase. The plane arrived a few minutes ahead of time, despite the schedule. I was feeling optimistic about catching the international flight and super excited to reunite with my family. However, immediately after landing, that hope was nearly dashed. The plane had to wait on the tarmac for what felt like an hour for an open gate. When the ‘ding’ came, I ran up the plane aisle to the cabin door. First in line to get off the plane.

But then there was a delay opening the gate. I watched, feeling paralyzed and utterly powerless as airline crew tried repeatedly to connect/lineup the jetbridge to the plane. I was down to 15 minutes.

Finally the door opened.

I ran so hard and fast through one terminal to the next. I surely looked ridiculous. The airline had arranged to fast track me through security and escort me to the flight. I jumped on the train shuttle.

When the door opened at the terminal, there was my husband. He nodded, and I knew I was too late.

That was the start.

Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, it’s certainly not fair to judge an entire trip by its start. However, the entire time I kept wondering, Is this Delay Meant to Be? Is my family not supposed to go on this trip?

Thankfully, the international airline was phenomenal. Actually, one particular agent was wonderful. She was truly an angel, made repeated flight changes for us in light of my delays, and offered calmness to my family.

Having missed the flight, we were rebooked the following morning. We would now fly to Cape Town two days later than originally scheduled.

London

Things started to look up when we arrived back at JFK the next morning. We had airline lounge access before our flight. Oh my…the kids went crazy with the food and unlimited, lightning fast wifi.

Our new itinerary included a surprise layover in London which allowed us to explore the city for an afternoon.

Then came time to board our flight to Cape Town. When we arrived at the airline counter after going through security, we were told that we couldn’t board without a marriage certificate!

At this point, any calmness left in me was gone. I freaked. This was never mentioned anywhere or by any airline agent. Not to mention, our children and my husband and I all share the same last name, which was on their passports and birth certificates. AND, all of my children look so much like my husband and/or me that there is absolutely no way anyone in their right mind could think they didn’t belong to us.

Thankfully, do to another upcoming adventure, I had a copy of the marriage certificate in a recent email. The agent said an email copy of the marriage certificate would be fine.

And then…. when I pulled it up on my phone he said he couldn’t read it and didn’t think he could accept it because it wasn’t in English and wasn’t translated! (We were married in another country). I had to persuade him to look closer, as it did have the English in small text, but he still insisted that he would have to talk it over with his supervisor first before accepting it.

A Sign?

At this point, I was nearly completely convinced that this epic hurdle-after-hurdle must be one of those signs that people don’t pay attention to, and regret later. I thought for sure our family shouldn’t travel onward.

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