TripAdvisor.com I always do pre-trip research on this site, particularly their Restaurants and Things to Do search criteria, occasionally for hotels too. The restaurant listing is really helpful - you know you'll never get a dud meal if you stick to the top 20. Always check the dates on the reviews and take the dusty ones with a grain of salt.
HomeAway.co.uk. We prefer to stay in apartments/holiday homes rather than hotels as they're cheaper (than two hotel rooms) and come with a kitchen. We can save money by eating in and save stress by avoiding restaurants when the kids are tired and close to meltdown. I've used this site for about half our holidays across Europe - most of the property owners are British or speak English, so communication is easy. They also have detailed lists of what the property contains which is useful when you don't want to lug your travel cot or high chair with you, or want to be sure linen and towels are included. Some of the properties say they are only rented by the week but every time I've contacted the owners (via the little enquiry box on the side) they've had no problems with a weekend rental.
Booking.com These guys are a worldwide accommodation aggregator. A lot of the accommodation they offer can be cancelled 24 hrs before your stay with no penalty, which is awesome. They have lots of user reviews which I rely on heavily when choosing somewhere to stay. Best thing about the reviews - you can narrow them down to suit with fields such as families with young children, singles, older couples, etc.
LastMinute.com.au. An Australian/New Zealand travel site (accommodation, flights, etc). Like the name says, you book closer to your holiday date (rather than in advance), but they regularly have great deals on nice hotels.
LIVING IN FRANCE
AngloInfo Provence. This website has lots of information on living in Provence as an expat - all in English. They have a great free weekly newsletter that has lot of helpful tips for making the most of life in this part of France.
Picard. This chain of stores across France deals only in frozen food - both base ingredients and snap frozen pre-cooked meals. Great for travelling when you have a kitchen in your accommodation. It's healthier than fast food (but not as healthy as home cooked meals) and a time and money saver (with an wide range that will suit fussy eaters). Have microwave - will eat.
Auchan.fr I get my groceries delivered by these guys - they've been great. Not a single broken egg.
I have a Canon EOS Rebel T1i. Just to make things confusing it's called the Canon EOS 500D in the UK, France and Australia. This camera is, to me, the perfect compromise between performance and value for a non-pro photographer. It takes great pictures and is affordable compared to full-frame (3 thousand dollar) cameras. I also like that it has a fairly small body, which makes it lighter and easier for women (or anyone with smaller hands) to handle.
Canon have put out two more recent versions since I bought mine in 2010:
Canon Rebel T2i (Canon EOS 600D in UK and France)
Canon Rebel T3i (Canon EOS 650D in UK and France)
Of course, these have more bells and whistles than mine (particularly in the ability to take video, which doesn't appeal to me. I already have a video recorder.) However I haven't been tempted to upgrade because I've been really happy with what I have. It's important to buy a camera that you can grow into, but there also comes a time where you start paying for things you just don't need and will never use. For me, the T1i/500D is fitting the bill so far. And of course, now that there are two models above it, prices have come down.
You can buy the camera as a kit with a standard lens - but if you are thinking that photography is something you'd like to pursue as a hobby, I'd recommend very strongly buying the camera body alone and then buying some better quality lenses to go with it. The kit lenses are not terribly good.
The EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens (here for the UK or France) is fantastic for the price and you'll see it recommended all over the place. I use this for taking portraits and detail shots of my sewing/crafts.
My favourite, most versatile (and most expensive!) lens is the EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM zoom (here for the UK or France). I use this for just about everything and it's the lens I always have on my camera body when we are out on our travel adventures. It's heavy (670g/1.5lbs) but to have a zooming range at such quality you can't get around that.
Last year I bought the EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM wide angle lens (here for UK or France) to round out my collection. I love using it for landscapes and architecture (especially those churches).
Point and Shoot (P&S)
I bought a Canon Powershot S100 (here for UK or France) for when I want to travel light. The P&S camera market is crowded and confusing - it took me ages to make my decision. I wanted something small with a manual mode; it came down to these two models:
Canon Powershot SX260 HS (UK, France).
- Manual controls not quite as good as the S100
- Awesome zoom (20x)
- Cheaper than the S100
- A little bit bigger/heavier
- Not as good in low light conditions
- Seriously: a 20x zoom!
Canon Powershot S100 (UK, France).
- Best manual controls (shoots RAW and JPEG, wider angle and lower f/stop*)
- Not as good a zoom (5x)
- Larger sensor which gives better image quality.
- More expensive.
- A little bit smaller/lighter
- Better in low light conditions
- Lens error in previous models (my only concern) now fixed in 2012 models.
- If you love photography you'll love this one.
*24mm vs 25mm wide angle; f/2.0 vs f/3.5 but it sadly drops off quickly when you zoom
Both cameras (indeed most P&Ss) have crappy battery life - I carry a second battery with me.
They both have video with the same specs. I'm no help here as I'm not much interested in video.
Both have GPS which can help when you download 1000 photos and can't remember which was taken where. Can be turned off to save battery life.
Obviously, I bought the S100 but I still think about how good that zoom would be from time to time.
If you prefer to stay on automatic, I would've bought the Canon Powershot Elph 300 HS (known as the Canon IXUS 220 HS in the UK or France) if manual controls didn't interest me. I kept coming across good reviews of it in my research - great pictures (including low light conditions) plus it's smaller, lighter and cheaper than both of the above.
Binding clips. Every time I show a photo of these someone comments on them. They save you from a lap full of pins but don't put them in your hair, they hurt! Find them in the US here, UK here and in Australia here.
Fabric. I have used all these online stores and think they're great:
Pink Chalk Fabric
Cotton Thread Fabrics
UK Book Depository (these guys mail anywhere in the world for free, which I love) or Amazon.com and Amazon.com.uk.