If your itinerary allows it, stay at least 5 days in Paris. You could easily fill several more days, but 5 days will let you hit the highlights.
Make sure your passport doesn’t expire within 6 months from the last date of your travel.
Photocopy your passport and carry around a copy with you. Leave the original in a safe if you have one where you are staying.
Call your phone company and price international data plans or buy a throw away phone with a local SIM card once you arrive in Paris. If you are connecting with your place of lodging or a restaurant, this is necessary as well as for an emergency. You can go with a minimal plan and disable cellular data until needed and use wi-fi most of the time. Use a wi-fi connection that requires a password to avoid logging on to an unsecured network.
Pack only what you can fit into a carry-on. Don’t waste a minute checking luggage and standing at a baggage claim conveyor belt.
Pack electrical power plug adapters for France.
When sightseeing, carry a small day pack with only the essentials. Add toilet paper to your list of essentials in case you run across a water closet that is out. Be aware that some sights will not allow you to bring in a large backpack.
Food and Drink
Most restaurants take reservations and open them several weeks to months in advance. Plan ahead where you want to dine and be ready to make reservations the minute they open them. Find recommendations here of places you must eat. If a website reservation is not an option, make an international call by purchasing Google Voice minutes. Most restaurants can take reservations in English.
Some restaurants will call to confirm your reservation on the day you plan to dine. If you don’t confirm, your reservation is subject to cancellation.
Avoid restaurants that have Americanized menus that are lengthy. Choose restaurants that have menus posted outside with a limited menu of seasonal dishes.
To save money make your restaurant reservations for lunch instead of dinner. At some restaurants you can get the same menu (possibly fewer courses) for significantly less.
Most restaurants are starting dinner at 7 with locals eating around 8:30-9:30.
Sparkling water for around €1 is a normal start to any meal. Why have tap water with an incredible meal when you could have something better?
Small beverages are normal and the most affordably priced.
€1.50 is a reasonable price for espresso, stand at bar or get it to go. You can pay double to sit down and drink it.
When you enter a shop or restaurant, always greet with “Bonjour” before you say anything else.
When ordering an amount and holding up your fingers to show how many, start counting with your thumb.
Tell shopkeepers what you want (produce, cheese, clothing) unless they tell you to choose for yourself. Think of it as entering someone’s home and them giving you something. It’s considered impolite to just grab something yourself.
Travel with a chip and pin debit and credit card. Notify your bank and credit card company of the dates and places you will be traveling. Ask about your debit and credit card foreign transaction fees. 3% is high. No foreign transaction fee is the best. You can save hundreds of dollars when booking airfare, lodging, and paying for meals when you have no added foreign transaction fees. Find out your ATM withdrawal limit and your bank’s emergency phone number to call collect in case of an emergency or lost card. This shouldn’t be an 800 number.
Do NOT exchange money. The exchange rate is horrible and a complete rip-off. You will lose a huge percent of your money.
Use a bank ATM to withdraw cash with a debit card. Do not use ATMs located away from a bank as they may have no security cameras and a higher risk of card skimmers that will steal your information. Get 200 Euros in 20 bills. If given the option, do not choose “dynamic currency conversion”. All this will do is add a surcharge to convert the amount of Euros to dollars on your receipt. Choose the local currency (Euros) as if you were a local.
Wearing a money belt is a good idea to carry a copy of your passport and extra cash, but I also preferred to wear a crossbody purse to have easy access to small amounts of cash, metro pass, phone, etc.
Always have cash on hand in case a store does not accept credit cards. Cash is easier for smaller purchases.
Carry coins if you need to purchase individual metro tickets at a station with no ticket window.
Tipping is not expected in Europe as the tip is included in the menu prices. For a taxi, you can round up to the nearest Euro or tip €1-€2.
Buy a Navigo pass or a carnet (book of 10 tickets) for the length of your stay. You don’t want to spend time buying tickets every time you need to ride the metro. A Navigo pass covers the greatest area including travel on RER trains to Versailles and the airport. Your pass gives you unlimited use of public transportation including the metro and buses.
Pick up a free metro map and learn how to read the routes. You can tell the direction the train will travel by looking at the end of the line stops. You’ll take a train traveling in that direction and get off at the stop you need along the way instead of travelling the the end of the line.
After you validate your ticket, retrieve it from the machine and keep it until the end of your travel. You can be fined for not having a validated ticket while riding the metro or while in the area past the turnstiles.
If the doors to the metro do not open automatically, you can open the door at a stop by pushing a square button near the door or lifting a metal latch on the door.
Enter in the front and exit out the door at the middle of the bus. Push the red button if you want the driver to stop. The bus won’t stop automatically at each stop unless there is someone waiting to board.
Taxi and Uber
The cost is higher for a taxi and Uber, but can be worth it if you need to get somewhere fast or just want to cruise down the Champs-Élysées and around the Arc de Triomphe.
Use travel apps like Google Maps and Google Translate. Google Maps will pinpoint your location without a cellular connection or wi-fi. You will never end up lost since you can see where you are and if you are headed in the right direction. Google Translate uses your phone’s camera to translate text from French to English. Simply open your camera app and hold it over a menu, historic plaque, etc.
Major sights and restaurants are closed different days of the week, most often on Sunday or Monday and sometimes Tuesday. Plan your itinerary based around when you are able to get in.
Buy the Paris Museum Pass if you plan on visiting several museums. Children under age 18 get in free. For a teenager, it’s a good idea to have a student ID or driver’s license ready to show if asked for it.
Get an early start. You will at least be able to avoid long lines at your first stop of the day.
On days you are touring churches and cathedrals, wear long pants and carry something to cover your shoulders if wearing a sleeveless top. You don’t want to wait in line for an hour at Notre Dame only to be refused entrance because of bare shoulders.
For audio tours you can save money by purchasing a Y jack to share audio tours and split the audio between 2 sets of earbuds. Download Rick Steves’ audio tours for free.
Buy Rick Steves’ guide book and read it! The walks outlined in his book make you feel like you have a personal travel guide. The step by step walks make the city come alive and point out landmarks so you don’t miss a thing.
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