Workation France: What to Bring

Five things you should bring from home, four of which I’ve spent way too much money on since we’ve arrived in France but are essential for a workation*:

Sunscreen: You can’t skate out of a pharmacy or even a grocery store with sunscreen for under 10 euro, about $13.85 at the current exchange rate. Even tiny travel-size bottles are pricey, and in the haute montagne, you need it. (Actually, I picked up my toastiest sunburn at the crag at Les Gaillands, in the valley! It’s a south-facing cliff.)

Envelopes: For a vacation, you don’t need envelopes, but for a workation, you probably will need to send something back home via snailmail. It would have been easy to bring along a handful of envelopes from home. Instead, I bought a pack of 50 here for what I could have bought 500 for at Office Depot.

Saline Solution: We ran out of saline solution today, and I discovered why the big bottles of the stuff are behind the counter at the pharmacy here: You could get a nice bottle of wine for less. It’s possible that I was gouged for buying on one of the main streets in touristy Chamonix, but fact is, it’s so pricey I’d get laser surgery to save money if I lived here.

Trail Mix: I like to eat trail mix when I hike and climb; it’s part of my real-food trail energy regime. If you shop at Whole Foods, it’s easy to become a trail-mix junkie and sample many varieties in the bulk section for a fair sum. In France, though, you’ll either pay a lot for a tiny bit of pitiful mix, or you’ll pay a lot to put the raw materials together yourself. A big bag of my favorite mix would be more useful at this point than an extra shirt or socks.

Energy Bars: These don’t exist here. If you can’t hike or climb without your favorite Clif Bar or Lara Bar or whatever, you’d be wise to bring a box or three, depending on your voracity.

And now one thing you don’t need to bring to France: your health insurance card. Well, if you end up in the hospital you might need it…anyway, if you go to a doctor here, like I did last week, you’ll have to pay cash up front and submit to insurance later. In my case, a visit to the doctor put me out 60 euro, which is less than it costs me to see a doctor back home since I have the crappy insurance that the self-employed are forced to buy in the U.S. Last year, my little brother went to a doctor in Zermatt, which was 35 Swiss francs (pretty close to the same amount in dollars). Perhaps here, the health-care industry is making bank on saline solution and sunscreen rather than sick people.

*This summer, I’m conducting a work/play experiment in the Alps. I’ve moved my home office from Colorado to Chamonix, a lovely but sometimes insanely touristy town at the foot of Mont Blanc. This post is the third in a series about temporarily living and working in a premiere trekking and climbing destination–and another country.