Things to consider when traveling to Paris

When traveling abroad, it is easy to overlook simple tasks that may not be on your regular travel planning “to-do” list. On our recent honeymoon to Europe, we faced challenges that, if we had known what we were getting into ahead of time, we could have avoided.

Luckily, you are here reading this now and can learn from some of our mistakes to make your first (or next) trip to Paris a little easier!

Understanding the language

Unless you are fluent in French, you will likely run into the same situations we did as Americans traveling in Paris. We faced several challenges from the get-go between trying to navigate the public transportation systems and trying to order what we wanted off a menu. We quickly became very familiar with the phrase “parlez-vous Anglais?”

Yon thought, as someone who speaks Spanish and can pick up languages fairly quickly, he would be able to help us understand some of the signs we saw or phrases we heard in France. Julia’s high school French came in handy when his Spanish fluency failed us.

Before traveling to France, we heard from friends who had traveled there that the French appreciated when you tried to speak the language before speaking to them in English. We could have navigated the city easier had we known more than two words in French. We’d encourage you to consider learning a few key phrases when traveling there - or even learning enough to carry on conversations with locals.

Research how you’ll travel around

Once we arrived at the hotel, we dropped off our bags so we could explore the city a little. Within the first hour of being in the city, things seemed to unravel and the stress set in quickly. We got as far as the cafe across the street before we realized we needed a little more help to navigate around without having our GPS to help us (more on that later). The language barrier, coupled with the lack of knowledge regarding how to get where we wanted to go, led to us turning to the ways of the past: physical paper maps.

The metro system has many ticket dispensing and entry machines, and the train doors don’t open for you - there is a button or lever that opens the door. These machines and mechanisms were new to us, and learning on the fly was the only way. When trying to find the correct train to take, the name you see will be the final destination. To know which route to take, you’ll have to know where your stop is. There were information desks, but there was no guarantee that the person behind the counter would speak your language.

This lack of knowledge of how things worked on the metro made the first day the learning day. Once we mastered the underground, we took to the streets. Cars and bicycles will slow and stop for you (the pedestrian). On the other hand, most cars and bikes do not follow the rules.

Note: There were motorcycles and bicycles (and even cars) that would gladly just run through a red light without worry. Make sure to look twice before crossing the street.

Along with the basic rules of the road, there are unspoken rules you will see:

  • Locals do not wait for a signal to walk across a street. If the lane is clear, they will cross.
  • When traveling on an escalator, stick to the right side if you’re not rushing through it.

It’s a busy city, and people have places to be.

Get a phone data plan

This one isn’t a deal breaker if you’re trying to escape from the real world and enjoy your getaway to Paris, but if you’re used to the cushioning of Googling everything, you’ll want to get a data plan. Depending on your wireless company, this can be VERY expensive. We did not get one and very quickly regretted our decision.

You don’t realize this when you’re in your safe bubble of unlimited data; however, when you are in a strange city with no way to research a coffee shop or read Yelp reviews on a restaurant, you make mistakes. Take it from us, who visited three very disappointing restaurants because of our lack of resources to research them.

When it comes to the Internet, here are some tips:

  • If you don’t get a data plan, there is still hope. Not sure on Android devices, but if you open the Apple Maps app (while connected to the Internet), you will store the maps in the cache. This cache allows the map to be available offline to work your way around the city.
  • Public Internet is not safe. When accessing your bank accounts or personal sites, you should consider using a VPN. A determined bad actor will easily sniff your traffic as you browse the web, but using a VPN makes it just a little more difficult for them. Yon uses ExpressVPN, but any reputable company will give you a simple-to-use experience.

Plan your itinerary before you travel

Finally, the last bit of advice we can give you is to plan before you travel. Like you, thousands of other people are planning to visit these cities. You can quickly get into a tourist trap because you forgot to book tickets online.

Eiffel Tower A view of the Eiffel Tower from the ground

One example is the Eiffel Tower. If you aren’t visiting it on your trip, are you even being a real tourist? Make sure to book your tickets online before you go to Paris, or else you will be standing in a line for half an hour to get on the lift to the first level.

Using a site like Viator can easily and quickly get your tickets into places ahead of the crowds. Yon bought our entry tickets here, which also got us a little tour guide before we entered the tower, not to mention access to the summit. His purchase also allowed us a boat ride through the Seine river, which was well worth it since we just wanted to see everything we could!

Another reason to consider purchasing your tickets before your trip is that some tours and locations will fill up quickly and not allow more entry after a limit. If there is something you for sure want to see on your trip to Paris, make sure you check the availability and slots. We were curious to visit a Museum when we went, but there were no available slots left.

Baked croissants The beautiful and delicious croissants we made in the class

Some advice from us would be to try new things. One of the most delicious memories we have of Paris was when we made croissants. We learned the process of making the dough, how croissants should be cut and rolled, and even how to laminate them with eggwash to make them perfect. If you’re curious about making croissants or want to ride a bike through Versailles, book the class and try something new!

When visiting Paris (or any other European country), you should consider these points to make your experience in a strange land more exciting and fun. When you remove the stress of trying to understand the city transit and can find a delicious place to get a crêpe or croissant, you’ll feel better about the trip entirely. Allow yourself to enjoy everything from the beginning by preparing yourself ahead of time!