The other day, I shared a list of favorite bakeries, café and boutiques with Rachel, my web guru. She and her family are going to Paris at the end of the month. And I told her about one of my favorite travel tools, the index card, Paris by fiche, my low tech way to plan a trip to Paris or anywhere.

My obsession with index cards dates to high school when I learned how to use this bygone system of information gathering.

When I read that the American writer John McPhee structures his complex narratives using index cards, I was hooked for life. (I picture McPhee in his office, the desk and adjacent tables blanketed with white cards on which he has written themes and notes from his research.  He’s rearranging the cards looking for the patterns he will craft into one of his delicious stories for the New Yorker.)

Poilane Bakery Index Card

When traveling, I use index cards to keep track of where to go in the city I plan to visit. For example, when planning a Paris trip, I include the name, a brief description, the address, phone number and métro stop of my favorite places on grid-lined index cards.  (Papier quadrille, c’est très français.) One card per stop. Bookstores, museums, quirky boutiques, neighborhood restaurants.

Places like these:

Antiquarian Bookseller ParisPot Lid Door Handle Paris

I put the arrondisement in the upper right hand corner. Each day, I tuck the cards in a pocket. Then I scan the cards to see if there is some special place in the neighborhood to which I am drawn.

Paris on a gray day.

Half the fun of travel is the planning. You can start collecting the index cards months or even years ahead of the trip. (Although many are illegible my travel cards go back a couple of decades.)

Crotchety pack rat, it’s the age of the Smart Phone you say. But who wants to be looking down at a phone when walking the vibrant streets of the City of Light? How often does a phone run out of juice?  And what about spotty wee fee, Wi-Fi?

Rachel loved my low tech system. Merci mon amie.

Gross Meringue in Paris

Here is a teaser, some of my favorite places in Paris listed on index cards. You can look at the file to see how I structure them. If you are obsessive,  download the file, add your own addresses and print out these cards.

Side Trips:

I first read about John McPhee’s system for organizing his material in the introduction to The John McPhee Reader, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1972.  You can read his own words on structure in narrative writing from the New Yorker.

A quick internet search reveals the rich history of note cards systems.  Start here.  Send smoke signals when you get lost in this rabbit hole.