The minute my son opened his mission call, I knew that I would be visiting his mission when he was done. Who doesn’t dream of visiting the South of France and Switzerland? Then as he served his mission, I knew our trip would not only be a spiritual trek but we would visit some of the most beautiful places in France.
How to do it on a budget
Because we had 2 years to plan, I was able to get tickets for only $76 each for Chicago to Geneva. Here are some suggestions:
- Get a mileage credit card. US Airways Barclay’s Credit Card had a wonderful promotion- 50,000 miles with the payment of the $89 annual fee and one purchase. That wasenough miles to book a trip to Europe. Both my husband and I got cards. (I almost got one for my son but restrained myself). Unfortunately with the merger this credit card doesn’t have this offer anymore. But I frequently see 50,000 mile offers for $3000 in purchases in 3 months for other credit cards. Remember you can pay for tuition, groceries, gas, etc… with your card and as long as you pay it off at the end of the month you don’t have any interest charges.
- Rent apartments Hotels are very expensive in France so we rented apartments through both Airbnb and HomeAway. The apartments we rented were so nice and clean and their locations were perfect. It was so much cheaper than staying in a hotel. Plus we had a kitchen, washer/dryer and the kids could be in separate rooms. If you haven’t used Airbnb, here’s a link for a discount.
- Look for deals on car rentals I kept a watch on the car rental rates and they did fluctuate quite a bit. Make sure you get it early enough so that it is a good deal.
- Be Flexible Many times when I talk to people about our vacations they are surprised about where we go when in reality we wanted to go somewhere else. We have learned to be flexible. I look for flight availability for Lyon (mission home), Biarritz (where he served) and Geneva (near where he served). We ended up flying in and out of Geneva because that was the best flight availability for when we wanted to go.
- Book Early Decide whether you are picking up your missionary or going back later. My son wanted to go back later and we wanted his siblings to visit the mission too so going back during the summer was best. I booked my flights in April for an August trip. The earlier you book (especially with award flights) the more availability you have.
- Stay with members My son became really close to one family so we were able to stay with them in their attic, which is set up for their kids and grandkids when they visit. My son also stayed with some members on a couple occasions and he really enjoyed it. This saved us a lot of money and gave us the opportunity to spend time with his friends.
- Go grocery shopping Food expense is usually one of the highest items on vacation. Every morning I’d walk to a boulangerie to get fresh baguettes and chocolate croissants. We went to the supermarket and got ham and cheese and fruit and had picnics. We found affordable places to eat.
Some Things I learned while visiting my son’s mission
Seeing my son in France was eye opening for me. He was a different person there. He was in his element and people were as happy to see him as he was to see them. It is a view into who he became that I wouldn’t get a chance to see unless I went. Plus I got to see places and meet people who have become very important to him. Here are some things that I noticed.
- Because they ride buses, they usually don’t know the car routes. They also can’t tell you about the traffic laws or signs.
- While walking, they don’t always that the shortest route. They take the routes where there are more people to talk to or houses to tract. Or they take you to weird places because that is where people lived.
- Because money is really limited, they usually know the cheapest places to eat. And because that is what they were used to, that is where they will want to eat.
- When he got back in his mission, he was always looking for opportunities to get into a conversion with people because that was what he did. He was also always looking for chances to serve. He helped an elderly lady walk up the sidewalk, helped people move and translated sacrament meeting.
- He forgot he was not a missionary anymore. On the night we arrived, we were all exhausted but our son ran to his old area. He ran into the elders and had dinner with them. He also abandoned us a few more times to go out with his former companions who were serving in areas he had served. He went out with them to visit members, old investigators and to show them good places to meet potential investigators. He followed up on former investigators.
- Some areas will feel like home for them. He served in one area for 7 months and all the members remembered him and were sincerely happy to see him. He felt so comfortable there.
- He wanted to buy all the things he had seen during his mission but couldn’t afford to. We were lucky to be in France during soldes (sales) and he was able to get some things cheaper. Remember that depending on where they go, they will want to buy certain items. France happens to be clothes and Switzerland chocolate. Other countries have leather goods or sweaters.
- We wanted to visit places, he wanted to visit people. He also wanted to see the missionaries who were serving in his areas.
- Sometimes missionaries do crazy things. My son wanted to hike up to some ruins on top of a mountain. There was not a clear path and it was very steep. We couldn’t do it even though he had done twice on p days.
- Food is such an important part of a mission. My son wanted to eat or drink some very specific things such as Ravella in Switzerland and Gateau Basque in Biarritz.
- This was the first time that he spoke a foreign language better than me. The French can be picky about how people speak their language so for them to go out of their way to compliment him in several different occasions made me proud.
- In Europe missionaries are encourage to visit historical sites and cathedrals. My son was able to give us a good tour of these sites, even knowing the background.
- Because missionaries have to go home early and they only go shopping on p days, they don’t know when things open or close. In France that is a challenge since shops close early and sometimes at random times.
- We were special to the people who are special to him. One afternoon while shopping with my daughter we ran into the elders and introduced ourselves to them. A recent convert, whom my son had taught, was introduced to us. He ran up to me and gave me the biggest bear hug and kiss. “You are Walters mom, I love you. I love your son” He then spent the next 1.5 hours with us and insisted on buying us crepes. Another person insisted on feeding us dessert even though he didn’t have much. Finally another family insisted on making us dinner even though it was after 9 o’clock. Thank you.
Being in France/Switzerland
- While the places we visited were beautiful, I have to say the people are met were even more special. Ward members, people he taught, missionaries were all so loving and welcoming. Merci.
- One thing that my son never told me was they use the most amazing bread for sacrament meeting. Not the cheap, left in the freezer in case someone forgets loaf. It makes the sacrament even more special.
- The Spirit was so strong. The members that really have to make a choice to be members and it shows in the sweet spirit they emanate.
- Something are just weird. In France apparently most bathrooms are separate from the toilets. Just different but I like it better all being in one room.
- In public places, bathrooms are for the most part co-ed. There are no stalls, they have floor to ceiling walls separating them so no one can see in. The sinks are shared even if the toilets have male/female signs. No talk about transgender bathrooms there.
- People stop to enjoy life. Shops close early and on Sundays. No hurried lunches, things are enjoyed. Friends and family are important and time is spent with them.
- They are all so skinny. They walk a lot!!! They go up stairs. They eat a little of each good thing and savor it. No diets. Just good food.
- The French seem to know when baguettes are coming out of the oven because there are lines in front of the boulangeries. I have to admit I did sing praises when I ate a baguette fresh out of the oven. It was heavenly. The miracle was that there was any left when I got home.
- Parking is difficult to find and expensive. Tolls are ridiculously expensive. (More on driving in France in my next post).
- Staying in apartments helped us live like the French.
- Food is expensive but very good. There are restaurants from all over the world so we had the chance to try foods we never would eat anywhere else. We tried Senegalese food. It was great.
- The French prefer to speak English to you than to hear you butcher their language. It has been 23 years since I’ve had French so I was rusty.
- I loved shopping the open air markets. Most towns have one at least once a week. Some of them have it every morning. Fresh fruits, cheeses, sausages, vegetables, artisanal products.