If you have traveled before, you know that it can be stressful. I love traveling. Getting to see new places, experience new cultures, try new foods – what’s not to love? But there certainly is a small bit of stress due to the unknowns. I want to know the details that will make my vacation more enjoyable. I want to know it all so that I can not be a hopeless tourist.
Don’t stay in that area.
Make sure you bring cash to tip.
Use Google Translate to make sense of the Japanese menu.
You get the idea. If you’re one of those people who find enjoyment out of knowing absolutely nothing about your destination – pass up this post and check out one of my other ones. If, however, you are planning to visit Paris, and want to know what it’s like – what it’s REALLY like – read on! I promise that you’ll find no dreamy descriptions of the Eiffel Tower, or romantic dinners – just real, unfiltered tips from someone who has been there, and done that (and will be back in a few months!).
TIP #1: You don’t have to Tip at Restaurants
I tip even when the service is awful, and usually a pretty respectable tip at that. If the service was great, I firmly believe in tipping generously. In my mind, this encourages the truly great employees to continue being great, and hopefully for the less-great to improve. I should know – I used to wait tables. The reason I’m telling you this is, for someone like me – who tips sometimes just to make things less awkward in certain situations, going to a place where I don’t have to tip, is weird.
In Paris (and much of Europe), tipping is not expected. You’ve probably heard this before. I did, and when I went, I said “I’ll still tip just to be safe” and much to my surprise: nobody expected a tip. There was no awkwardness, it was simply a surprise if I did tip them. I often tipped generously, although not on purpose – mostly because I wasn’t used to the fact that one Euro (vs. our Dollar in the states) is a coin – so I’d typically just throw a pile of Euro’s with the check and go. The wait staff came to really like us for some reason.
But seriously, if you’re going to Europe, don’t stress tips. My advice would be this: if service is TRULY exceptional, by all means – you should tip. If it was average, don’t tip, and don’t feel bad about it.
TIP #2: Don’t wait for your bill
The first few times we dined in Paris, we were shocked at the horrible service. We would sit down to eat, and by the time we were ready for our bill, we waited. And waited. After a few restaurants, we noticed something. The service wasn’t horrible: we were the ones out of place. In Paris, the waitstaff often will wait for you to specifically ask for your check before bringing it. It’s their way of giving you space to dine and enjoy your meal. Ironically, the one thing we were criticizing, was actually a nice gesture.
I’m not saying you have to learn French (although I did, somewhat) – but a few words is helpful. To say “Bill/Check, please” in French, you would say “l’addition s’il-vous-plaît” (Pronounced: LAH-DIS-E-OHN SEEL-VOO-PLAY). If you’re in doubt about the pronunciation, check out the video below.
This simple phrase was our ticket to getting our check, and not looking stupid. Learn it!
TIP #3: Nobody wears Tennis shoes
I’m guilty of wearing running shoes basically anytime I can. My trademark outfit is a polo shirt, jeans, and some nice running shoes. In France, you don’t wear athletic shoes unless you’re going to the gym. On that note, almost everyone is surprisingly dressed up compared to what I was used to in the United States. If you want to blend, lean toward nicer clothes. That being said, if you’re going to be walking a lot, ultimately you should do whatever makes you comfortable, but this tip is for the travelers who are more fashion conscious.
TIP #4: Layers, Layers, Layers
Paris weather can change quite quickly. The last time we were there was in September, and in the morning it was chilly, but by 2pm, it was hot! As evening came, the temperature dropped drastically.
On that note, the summers in Pairs are pretty warm, with Fall and Spring being very pleasant with generally moderate temperatures in the daytime (but remember, it cools down fast!). Winters are expectedly cold. Rain can fall anytime of year, and usually does.
TIP #5: People are incredibly nice
There’s a perception that people in France are unfriendly toward Americans. We truly believed this, and were very pleasantly surprised on our trips there. The people were not only nice, but very welcoming. I believe there’s one very thing you can do to ensure this: embrace the culture. Learn the language. Learn the history. Be respectful. Do this, and the Parisians will respond in a positive and welcoming way.
TIP #6: Pack light, there’s stairs.
Everything is smaller in Europe. Showers, Restaurants, Stairways, everything. It’s also true that many places in Paris do not have elevators (referred to as ‘lifts’ there). If you pack massive suitcases, be prepared to possibly have to hike up several floors of winding narrow stairs. I did exactly that, and also got the honor of doing it twice, to carry a bag for a friend of ours who we linked up with in Paris. That was way better than going to the gym.
My recommendation? Pack small and light, and plan on doing laundry. It’ll make your life much easier all the way from the airport, to your accommodations, and back. We used to take a giant Travelpro suitcase, but my 300,000+ flight miles taught me to go smaller, so now I swear by the Travelpro 22″ Rollerboard. I own three of these, and despite our world travels, they all look brand new. It’s a bit pricier than the normal suitcases, but for the occasional traveler, it’ll probably be the last suitcase you ever buy. It’s pretty bad when you get excited about suitcases, right?
TIP #7: Power considerations
One of the absolute most overlooked items for visits to Paris (and Europe) – is power. France uses an entirely different plug than in the states, and a different voltage. This part is very important: you need to look at your electrical devices to ensure that they support 220-240V. Typically, the power adapter for your device will show the voltage that it is built for. What you want to see is “100V-240V”. IF they do say this – all you need is an adapter like this.
If, however, they don’t support 220-240V? You’ll either to buy a new device, or use a step-down transformer, like this. My strong advice is to just bring devices that support the desired voltage, though, and not mess with transformers which can be hit or miss anyway, and are way to big to travel with, unless you don’t have a choice. In our case, I bought my wife a hair straightener specifically for our Europe trips that supports both USA voltages as well as Europe, and we have our adapters for the rest of our devices (iPhones, Mac laptops, and iPads – which are all 100-240V).
TIP #8: Got Data?
While traveling to Paris, you’ll want to consider how you plan on staying connected. Most hotels and many vacation rentals have Wifi, and many public places also have Wifi as well. You’ll want to make sure that you check with your cellular provider ahead of time to ensure that your phone will have coverage overseas. Be warned, though, you can absolutely get around relying only on Wifi.
If you do require cellular data, ensure your phone supports GSM bands 900 MHz and 1800 MHz. It’s very important to note that the US uses different GSM frequencies than in Paris – so just because you have a GSM phone, does not mean your phone will work in France. The best way to find out is to look up the specs on your specific model of phone, and ensure that the 900 and 1800 MHz frequencies are supported.
TIP #9: Stay in a Vacation Rental
Everyone is different, and some people prefer hotels, but we wanted a more authentic experience. We generally prefer our European trips to be in vacation rentals. The beauty of vacation rentals is simple: you get a lot for your money. We stayed in a flat for a week just two blocks from the Louvre. The cost? $700. A hotel in that kind of location would have easily been double. Plus, our ‘neighbors’ were actual Parisians, which is just plain cool.
If you’re interested in going this route, AirBnB, and VRBO/Homeaway, are my personal favorites.
There are a couple of downsides to vacation rentals: the potential for damage, and lack of housekeeping. You’re staying in someone else’s property, so you need to keep it pristine. If you’re bringing kids, I tend to lean toward hotels for this very reason. No matter what you do – don’t drop an iron down 20 wood stairs in your rental. If you do, there’s a good chance you don’t get your deposit back, and an even better chance that your neighbor knocks on the door to see if someone just died. Not fun.
TIP #10: Use the Metro
In most major cities, transportation is a headache. If you’ve ever taken the subway in New York City – you know what I’m talking about. You’ll be pleased to hear that the Metro in Paris is surprisingly clean, cheap, and very efficient. You can buy a pass in several day increments, which is what we did. I highly recommend you download a copy of the Paris Metro and keep it handy on your phone. Remember: you might not have data, so it’s best to save it as an image or document on your phone, that way you can access it offline. I used this to avoid carrying around a paper map and looking too much like a tourist.
If you’re worried about whether or not the metro will take you to where you want to go, the short answer is: it will. All of the major sites have a Metro stop within reasonable walking distance, and those that are further are serviced by the RER.
Armed with these tips, you’re ready to visit Paris. It’s one of my favorite cities on earth, and I’m confident you’ll love it too! If you’re visiting, or have visited, leave a comment and tell me if I left anything out in this article!
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