Tips for Tourists in Paris: Part 1
After many visits from family and friends, I've found myself being hit up for information, as well as offering it freely on the streets to tourists I meet. I don't know about you, but getting ripped off is not my idea of a good time, so I've compiled a few tips that will help you to really enjoy your Parisian vacation (and to feel like you've got the inside story!) You'll find more info on lots of other sites, but these are the things that have been important to the people who've been here to visit me, so I thought I'd share. If you're coming to Paris for the first time or for the fiftieth, have fun!
- Pack as light as you can, planning the amount of toiletries you'll need so you can toss the leftovers and leave room for souvenirs. (Shampoo, etc. are much more expensive here, so bring from home!) Try to plan outfits that will mix and match to save space. (I stick to a few colors.) Washing things out in the sink and hanging to dry is an option you should consider. I did an 11-day Europe trip with a carry-on size bag and was so happy I did.
Bring layers. Paris can be hot on one street, and you walk around the corner to a big wind-tunnel of a boulevard and you are cold. A scarf is a necessity (not just for fashion, you know!) as well as a light jacket, and other layers. I like to layer light items like cotton tops, light sweaters, etc. Even if you think you won't need them, pack at least one pair of jeans (this Spring has been cold!) You can always strip off, but when you're cold, you're cold.
Plan to fit in. The French are known for dressing a certain way. They aren't dressed to the 9's 24/7, but they do pay attention to their appearance at all times. You will likely not see the same fashion things you do in the US (or wherever you live.) The french rarely wear gym clothes (sweat shirts, shorts, white tennis shoes, baseball caps). You will mostly see them in casual but neat clothing, leather or fashionable (but comfortable) shoes, and not-too-revealing items. The only time I've seen a young girl wearing the typical American college/Britney Spears combination of super low pants with the underwear hanging out, a spaghetti-strap top with the bra showing, the belly exposed and flip flops is when I came across some American tourists.
You may think, "I'm American and I don't care what they say! If I want to wear my sweatshirt, cargo shorts, baseball cap and white tennis shoes, By Gum, I will!" but when you get here, you may feel differently. It's best to have a back up plan, because you will enjoy your vacation much more if you feel comfortable in your own skin. My stepmom laughed at me when I told her this, but when she saw some American tourists here who were dressed like that and how they stuck out (and how uncomfortable they seemed), she understood why I warned her. (Not that they would ever dress that way, but many Americans do when travelling.)
- *small umbrella (it can rain on one block, and be sunny on the next)
*zipped carrying bag big enough to hold items you'll need and comfortable to carry/wear, but not too big so it's heavy (watch for pickpockets)
*sunscreen (the bricks and stone here reflect a very bright, white light)
*electric converter (but be prepared if it doesn't work. Pam's didn't work for her hair straightener thing, so she did the wash-n-wear thing for 2 weeks. The voltage here is more than twice as high as American electricity.)
*a book (some nights you'll be tired, and want to spend some time vegging in your room. English books and magazines are expensive here.)
*Camera charge cord, possibly another card for pictures (digital cameras)
*Any medecines you might need. (Pharmacies are great here, but you won't be familiar with the medecations--the only one I knew was Advil Cold, which you can get now, though it's called "Anadvil Rhume". For your own comfort and peace of mind, it is best to carry it with you.)
Flying through the night is often the way to go, but it can make it hard once you arrive. Paris is 6 hours ahead of the East Coast of the US (and add an hour for every time zone thereafter) so you may struggle to adjust. Some things that can help:
- Get ready for 'bed' on the plane. Do your usual teeth brush/ contacts out/ face wash routine, and pack something comfy, like squooshy socks. Try to snag a blanket and pillow early--they go fast.
If you can sleep, even for a few hours, it will help with the jet lag. An eye cover can be wonderful for this, as well as ear plugs. I also take melatonin, which helps me to sleep without the groggy, gritty after-effects of some other sleep aids.
Drink water. Planes are very dehydrating, and the better you feel, the better you will feel upon arriving. Alcohol and caffeine will dry you out even more, and the sugar in juices can be hard to deal with on a long flight. Eat lightly, but do eat. The sooner you convince your body of the new time schedule, the less difficult the time change will be. Food helps.
- Be prepared to be patient. Have your passport handy, but don't expect things to go at an American pace. They won't. And no matter how mad you get or how stupid you think it is, it won't change. (Trust me, I know.) There is even a verb in French for this, "patienter= the act of being patient". Things take a LOT longer to do here, in general.
If you are taking the train into Paris, make sure you get a ticket for as far as you need to go. Ask specifically, and show them the address of the hotel. It's terrible to get where you are and not be able to exit! (This does happen, and has happened to me. I had a man help me climb over a turnstile because I couldn't get out and there was nowhere to buy the rest of the fare behind the turnstile.)
If you are taking a cab, have the name of your hotel, street address, nearest Metro station, arrondissement, and a map printed out for the cabbie, because chances are the cab driver will not speak English. There are so many streets in Paris, and hundreds of hotels--err on the side of safety. You'll think "Oh, he'll know" but a misplaced apostrophe, a street that begins with an "l" but not used as the article--these things can throw it off and make your ride from the airport long. It will feel like they are taking you on a wild goose chase, but they are probably not. Paris is twisty turny and there are no direct routes anywhere. That's just the way it is. Be prepared to pay 75-100 euros (in cash) for the cab. They don't take cards OR American money. Don't even try paying with USD--they will just get ticked off. (Would you accept euros in the US?) You can get cash at the airport, from an ATM (Retrait). It might be best to ask for a hotel shuttle before you leave the US. If they have one, it's usually a better value and you know for sure the driver knows where to go.
Added by kyliemac, "you can book a shuttle from the airport online from the states & they will charge your credit card (so no worries about euros and no tip needed!) - they seem to run from 24€ - 30€, door-to-door service from the airport to your hotel. it's very convenient, as you avoid all kinds of hassles (like stairs with your suitcases). you can google "airport shuttle paris" and come up with a bunch of options. it's less expensive than having someone come meet you at the airport... " (Thanks, K!)
KNOW YOUR PIN NUMBER. In France, there are no fees for the ATM's and their exchange rate is the best, because it's up to the minute via computer. "Changes" charge a fee, and they may have older data. You can find ATM's everywhere (they are called "Retraits") and you can use them. Usually, they will give you a choice to read in English. They will suck your card in, but you won't get any money until your card is removed, so don't panic. But know your PIN. Don't write it down on your card or on your person, but make sure you know it. (My dad didn't, and it was definitely an issue.) The button in green marked "Validation" is the enter button, the red "Cancel" is, well, Cancel.
See Part 2 for "Beyond the Airport".