Tips for a First-Timer’s Trip to France
Earlier this year I decided to take my first ever trip to France, specifically to the beautiful city of Paris. Now, many of us have at one stage or another found ourselves day dreaming about one of the most romantic cities in the world, right?
Having a glass of red wine next to or on the Seine river, perhaps stealing a kiss (from a French man or any other man for that matter) underneath the Eiffel tower or even losing our taste buds (if you’re a foodie) when trying out the very famous and delicious pastries and crêpes at every other bakery or coffee shop conveniently located on every street and street corner.
Well, I have definitely found myself lost in images and blogs depicting that very experience, so I finally decided to pack my bags, put my leave in at work and purchase my tickets to get my own sense of beauty, adventure and face full of pastries.
When planning your adventure
Now, where do we even begin? It can be a little scary to book a trip to France all by yourself like I did, but it can be done. I found that speaking to a lot of people that have traveled to France or anywhere else for that matter gave me a better idea of what to plan and how to plan it. So here is a list of things I found helpful when I began booking the trip of my dreams.
When to book your trip to France
Setting the date for my trip was challenging. Of course you want go at the best time so that you are able to enjoy every moment of your trip and you also want to book your trip at a time when flights are a little wallet friendly just in case you are on a budget. Choosing the right time of the year to travel in advance will help you know what to expect when you finally get off of the plane.
I decided to book my ticket for the end of April purely because it would be the start of spring in Paris. (Could there be a better time to travel to France?). Read up online about the climate while planning your trip. This will help you plan your itinerary.
Do some research
One word…research, research, and research. Only once I returned from my trip to Paris, did I find out about a few events that I would’ve liked to plan my trip around, like The Paris Plages (where they bring in trucks of sand to create a beach like effect with blue umbrellas next to the Seine River), Fete de la Musique (a wide variety of free music concerts throughout the city for one whole weekend) and Bastille Day (the French independence day celebration, which is also a full weekend of music, fireworks over the Eiffel tower and a whole lot of dancing).
If I had any clue that events like these even existed I would have postponed my trip to a few months later. Although I didn’t get to join in on the fun, I still had an amazing trip as I am sure you will too. Just read about the area you will be visiting, see if there are any big events that you would like to join and book your trip accordingly. If you are like me and have a huge fear of FOMO, keep this in mind before booking your trip.
Where to stay
Whether you will be traveling with a friend, a group of people or by yourself, accommodation can be a bit pricy but there are ways and means around it. What worked for me was Airbnb because you can choose your price range and get a better idea of what everything is close to. You get to see images of the actual room/house/apartment where you’ll be staying and also see reviews from people who have actually stayed there. Although there were plenty of other options, I opted for the Airbnb Parisian apartment (which I had all to myself) only because I wanted to have the real Parisian living experience.
If you’re on a budget, you may also consider Couchsurfing, which will enable you to stay in the house of a local and, depending on the arrangement between the two of you, you may stay on their pull-out couch or in their spare room for a few days in exchange for a little culture swapping or a little back pocket change.
Then there’s always the option of staying in a hostel, which is cheap, easy and allows you to easily make friends. Whatever option you are leaning towards, be careful, do your research and ask around.
Booking a flight
Boy, when I booked my ticket it was undeniably one of the best days of my life – it meant that I would soon be on my way to France! So, let’s have a look at some of the flight websites that will get you the best round (or one way) ticket to your next destination. There are tons of travel specials all year round so keep punching in your email for updates for all well-known travel agencies.
Other websites to try out include, Sky Scanner and Travel Start. Both websites help you to find the best routes and best rates. You can also choose your favourite airline or have the option to mix it up in order to find the lowest fare. If keeping to your budget is important, each website is able to give you something close to your budget needs–which may include a few longer layovers. If that does not bother you, then book away! See it as another stop on the way to your destination–with more exploring time, if you’re lucky!
All countries are different when it comes to visas, and finding information about what you’ll need should be first on your list when you decide to travel. The visa process can be a bit daunting. All the processes are fairly similar although it will change depending on what visa you’re applying for. Just have a look at the requirements online or at your closest visa office and you’ll find a list of things you need for the type of visa you are applying for. Applying for a visa can take up to 4 weeks in South Africa so make sure you have everything booked and planned well in advance so that you have all the necessary documents to apply. Then, all you’ll need to do is wait.
What to pack
I think that it’s important to pack a little bit of everything because you never know what to expect (unless you go to the French Alps in the winter time). When I was in Paris in April, the weather was supposedly ‘warm’ but there were more cold days than what I expected. Needless to say, I wore my jacket every day and even slept in it sometimes.
There were rainy days and sunny days, and because I’m used to a completely different climate and wasn’t 100% prepared, I ended up with a nice little respiratory infection cold on my flight back home. It rains a lot in France, so be sure to bring an umbrella.
A European adapter is next on my list, followed by comfortable shoes–an obvious choice for all the walking that you will be doing in-between sightseeing and metro trips. I would also suggest packing boots as they help to keep your feet dry when walking around the streets on a rainy day. We stepped in quite a few puddles and ended up with soggy socks and shoe during many days.
And my final little bit of advice for packing for France is to keep an eye on your belongings. I bought the smallest little body hugger bag that could only carry a few essential items like my little hand held camera, metro card, lip gloss, cell phone, credit card and money. Pickpockets are a real thing on the metros and on the streets of Paris. Invest in a little essentials bag with minimal zips and buttons when you travel or just keep your items locked under a little travel lock.
Plan ahead, get a list together of all of the things that you want to see and places that you want to visit especially if you are only in one place for a few days or hours. Get an idea more or less of where everything is and start planning your route. The queues at some of the main tourist attractions can be a bit crazy but they move along quite quickly. Do as much as you can, take in every moment–there is so much to see and do and a lot of beautiful photos to be taken. If you end up missing something or getting lost, embrace it–there is something unique around every corner even if it’s not on your ‘to see’ list.
Try to speak to some of the locals (bartenders, waitresses and shop attendants) to see if they can recommend a few places for you to explore that most tourists don’t know about. Some of the French people that we met on our routes weren’t the friendliest of people, but many of them were very lovely! I made friends in Paris that I will be meeting up with again on my next trip through to France so the old tale of all of them being rude is not entirely true.
Extra tips and advice
1. Blend in
There is something about blending in that keeps you out of harm’s way and gives you a better experience from beginning to end. In Paris, people like to look good, so try wearing the longer shorts on a hot day if you can and leave the flip flops for your next trip to the beach.
2. Steer clear of pushy merchants
There are a few funny characters that I am sure you will come across while roaming the streets who may also be some of the friendliest too. People will try to entertain you for some change or push some Eiffel Tower ornaments in your face to make a quick buck or two, and they aren’t always bad people. There will always be a few shady ones around though who will make you feel a little less comfortable. Stay in areas with other people and say NO if they get a little too close.
3. Don’t fear the Metro
The metro may seem tricky but it’s very simple to master. Sure, you will get on the wrong train a few times, but it will only take a 5 minute ride to get back on the right track, so don’t freak out. Keep a metro map with you at all times. If you’re really in a pickle ask the metro staff to help you.
4. Hop on, Hop Off
These buses are cheap, reliable and they take your all around Paris, with the bonus of giving you some historical commentary through a pair of headphones (that you plug into you seat) along with a bit of little French music to even out the scenery in between stops. If you want to see as much as you can in a short amount of time this is a great option!
5. Learn the Language
Be sure to dabble in a little bit of the language with phrases like Bonjour, Merci, Salute and Au revoir. Learn some words and even some phrases if you can. It makes things easier. Believe it or not but there are a lot of people that don’t speak any English (or at least they pretend not to). If all else fails there are some great apps that help you to translate text on menus, like Google Translate or Speak and Translate.
I hope this gives you a little more insight while planning your next trip to France. Above anything else, I hope you have a great time! Explore, make memories and take photos! Lose yourself in everything France has to offer!