“Paris Trip Tips”. “Paris Travel Guide”. These were just some of my search words when I started Googling how to travel to Paris without a tour guide. I think I spent weeks just entering the words “Paris Trip” “Travel” “Tips” “Guide” in the Google search box that those letters seem to be fastly fading on my keyboard.
How did this happen?
When hubbie and I had to, unfortunately, nix our Philippine trip this year because of some unforseen detail, we thought about where else to spend the days off he has already filed for. (It is soooo painstakingly difficult for a nurse to get extended vacation time at work!)
At first we wanted to go to Cuba – that sounded really exciting. Think Havana nights with Camila Cabello singing that song in the background. But Googling about the country, I learned that going to Cuba seems to remain a tad too complicated and politicized right now for US citizens and green card holders. Thus, Cuba – scratched!
Next, he suggested a beach vacation. I was thinking another cruise? We’ve been to 2 cruises and the stays on the islands were too short for my liking to immerse in the culture. Again, vetoed! Hawaii maybe? Honestly, I much rather see the beaches in the Philippines. And Hawaii just seems too expensive for what its worth. So it was a no-no for Hawaii, too! Any other tropical island? Truth be told, I didn’t really want to get a tan just yet. So there, no beaches – for now.
Then it dawned on me, why not Paris? We’ve always said we wanted to start visiting Europe, so why not start now? It didn’t take a lot of sales talk to convince hubbie to go to Paris. So Paris it is!
Paris is always a good idea. – Audrey Hepburn
And so there I was in front of my Mac again, on Google, searching for tips on how to travel to Paris. (Google really is my best friend – it has NEVER let me down. Ever! ?) I visited so many travel websites, stalked a lot of travel blogs, watched a ton of youtube vlogs and borrowed a couple of travelogues from the library. Heck, I even bought kindle books on how to speak in French and a Paris travel book by Rick Steves.
Armed with all the tips I gathered, at last, our Paris vacation was planned, experienced, documented, accomplished and survived! We are now back home after a week away. If you follow me on Instagram, or Twitter, or my Facebook page, you’ve already seen glimpses of our trip. But there’s more and I promise I will share all the photos and detailed experiences, my lovies. I just have to ask for your patience while i lay them all here (much like our Holy Land trip that still needs to continue on). But I am getting there. Stay with me… pretty please.
But before I go to our Paris nitty-gritty, I need to recount my gathered travel tips and let you know how accurate those internet tips still are. Some of them were treasures, some of them were outdated, and some were complete duds! Thus, I am giving you a modernized, actual, real life Paris Travel Tips and Guides, specially made for those newbies like us.
Here they are, my lovies – my Modernized Paris Travel Guide.
1. When should I travel?
We went to Paris in the end of May. Some travel guides say that spring or late fall would be the most perfect time to go. Why? There aren’t too many tourists and the weather is perfect. Judging the thick crowds and the unbelievable long lines most specially for the Palaces in Versailles and the Louvre museum (despite the museum pass), I would say, that’s about right. Gosh, I can just imagine the lines during the peak tourist season.
Another advantage of travelling during those leaner months is that plane fares are cheaper. So make sure you check more than one booking website. Despite all the new booking sites, the least expensive plane fare I got for the specifics I wanted was from the old-timer Expedia.com. So do your research – these sites are not created equally.
2. Where can I stay?
Paris is not a cheap city. The closer you are to the sites, the more expensive your lodging will be. But it doesn’t mean you can’t afford to visit. You just have to be creative and flexible.
The City of Paris is divided into 20 arrondisement or districts. Depending on what is in the district, as far as tourist sites are concerned, the lodging rates can go high or low. My general guide would be, choose the site you most likely want to stay near at and scout for lodgings within that arrondisement. Of course, staying near the popular sites like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre or the Champs Elysees will be more expensive than a lesser known museum or park. There will be a lot of hotels situated in all of the arrondisements. There are also airbnb’s, hostels and apartments that you can rent for longer stays.
With hubby’s credit card reward points, we were able to find a hotel in the 11th arrondisement for a much lower rate. Altho, if we did stay in the more touristy districts, his reward points would just be pocket change. And we struck gold because even if our hotel isn’t near any of the big tourist sites, we were near so many local parks, boulangeries, cafes, boucheries and a church and of course, the Metropolitain – Paris’ subway. This district was perfect for us.
This leads me to:
3. How do I get around Paris?
I mentioned the Metropolitain or the Paris subway. This is important to know because if you get an affordable hotel and it isn’t near any of the sites, you need not be discouraged. You can still go to whatever attraction you want to go to by just using the Metro and the RER. Just like New York City, Paris has an intricate web of railways underneath and sometimes above grounds which makes commuting easy. You can hop on a train on one station, get off on another station, walk towards your connecting train, still inside the tunnels. And you don’t have to wait too long either because the trains arrive so often and on time. At one point we even used their bus to go around the city and that was fun, too.
Once you land in Paris, while inside the airport, ask an airport personnel to direct you to where you can buy a Metro ticket. Make sure you already have some money exchanged for Euros or you have a credit card ready. When you get to the vending station for the Metro, there are staff who will assist you on how to operate the machine. But do not be afraid, the machines also have instructions in English 🙂
We bought two 5-day tickets on Zones 1-5. This gave us a ride from the airport to the hotel, unlimited rides on the Metro and RERs. Because we paid for Zones 1-5, we were able to go to Versailles and Disney Park (and the outlet stores at Marnee Vallee) and the ride going out of Charles de Gaulle airport.
Hubby and I availed of AT&T’s international plan so that we can use Google maps to help us navigate the streets and the metro. Of course, he, being an old-time boy scout, picked up a free map of the Paris Metro on our first trip out of the airport. This was all we needed to weave our way around the city. And I have to say, after our trip, we both rocked Paris’ commute system!
I love the Metro. It’s very convenient and fast. But just like any big city, pickpockets are all around. So make sure you’re always aware of your belongings, your environment and everyone around you. Try to board the middle cars and once you’re in, if you can, inch a little farther away from the doors. With all my life experiences with pickpocketers, they always want to have a quick getaway. So they will always be near doors and front or rear cables to get out of the subways fast.
We almost got victimized by these pickpocketers. It was a good thing that I did my research before hand and bought a Travelon and Pacsafe carryon for me and hubby. These people were no match for the locks on my bag. (More on this on another entry.) So yes, I definitely endorse these bags and do use the locks.
4. What do I wear?
Aside from a Travelon or Pacsafe bag, bring a pair of VERY good walking shoes. A lot of the streets of Paris specially the older streets are either cemented, bricked or made of cobbled stones. I don’t know about you, but my feet would definitely complain if i used my flat ballerina shoes on the cobbled stones. So for all the trekking we did and going up and down so many metros, I knew my sneakers will do the trick.
Many sites advice you to dress like Parisians do. That they wear mostly greys, whites and blacks. And they advice you to do the same to blend in with the locals. Don’t wear shorts and don’t wear striking colors.
Let me tell you this. If you’re planning on visiting a lot of the tourist sites, you’re not going to see any of the locals there. Parisians try to avoid those places due to the thick crowds of tourists. So you’re not really blending in with the locals. They’re all tourists all around you, just like you! Secondly, while going around our non-touristy neighborhood and while commuting, I noticed that the Parisians also wore brighter colors than the suggested greys, whites and blacks. I saw pinks, oranges, reds, animal prints, light blues and flower prints. Altho, they do mute it down with neutral-colored skirts, pants or jackets.
But let’s just say you’d like to wander away from the city attractions, and you do want to blend in with them, then take heed. Truth is, the French dress for the season and not for the weather. And because it was still spring, no shorts, no spaghetti straps just yet. And a lot of leather jackets, trench coats, windbreakers. What I didn’t see are tights and leggings worn by themselves – specially the printed ones. None of the athletic wears unless you’re jogging on the streets, I did see them wearing skinny fit jeans. A lot of them! So whoever said that skinny jeans are out, should take a closer look at what the French are wearing.
I regretted not bringing some black sheer stockings, also. Because they do wear those paired with black skirts. I stopped wearing those here in the US because they say it’s so out-of-date. I guess Parisian women think nothing of it. Plus, it could’ve helped me keep warm when I wore my black skirt and it was chilly outside. So sheer stockings are still “in” despite what some people say.
So my advice?
Wear what would make you comfortable, most specially with all the walking you’ll be doing. When wandering thru their own local turfs, I would actually go with their stlye of “season dressing” more than “weather dressing”. I did observe that they’re also very modest with the way they dress. So no short-short skirts or shorts, no plunging necklines, and most specially, not both of them at the same time!
Oh, and bring a raincoat and an umbrella if you’re going in the springtime. It rains during spring – a lot!
5. Bonjour, Paris!
The French are not snobs. In fact, the ones we’ve encountered were very polite, accomodating but also very reserved. They don’t talk loud and they don’t small talk. Waiters don’t stop by your table every 5 minutes or so just to ask how you’re doing or if you’re enjoying your meal or stationing themselves by your table to chat with you. They let you be and approach you only when you discreetly raise your hand up a little to signal you need something.
The salespeople greet you when you enter their store and then just let you wander around their store. They would only ask you once if you need something and that’s it. But they would help you out to look for sizes or different shades right away.
They do appreciate you greeting them in French and letting them know you know your courtesy words. Most locals you will meet in restaurants and stores actually know English. I do try to speak in a low voice tho because I notice they do that. The French aren’t loud people, I observed. So I try to match the decibel of their voices.
So grab that small “everyday french” book and start learning the French word for “sir” and “ma’am”, “good morning”, “good day”, “good evening”, “good bye”, “thank you”, “please” and “sorry”. And it would also help if you know how to count from one to five 🙂
6. What should I see in Paris? Where do I go?
Hubby and I enjoy museums. Paris is such a haven for art works and so museums abound all around! If you’re like us, I suggest you get a museum pass. It didn’t really get us in fast enough at the Palace of Versailles but for the most part, we took out the hassle of paying at the ticket booths, most specially in the Musee d’Orsay.
If you only want to see the main attractions, the following spots are free to view:
- Eiffel Tower (but not the ride to the top)
- Arc de Triomphe (but not the museum inside)
- Tuileris Garden
- The pyramids outside the Louvre Museum (but not the museum, of course)
- The Sacre-Coeur Basilica (but not the entrance to the dome)
- Champ de Mars
- The Jardin du Luxembourg
Hubby and I didn’t go to Paris Disneyland but we did stop by the place and took pictures at the entrance. So you might need to do more research on that on Google. Being by the entrance was exciting enough for me. And honestly, the mere fact that hubby and I were able to do this was all the fun we both needed at that place.
So there you go. I will not declare myself an expert and these are all born of my experience as a first-time tourist. But I hope this helps first time visitors to have a safe and fruitful wandering within the wonderful City of Light. Next time, I’d like to take you to the places we’ve been to and show you more pictures of these places!
The once named “godmother of the Philippine Blogosphere”, Gigi Manaloto-Refugia, known by her pen name “Ate Sienna” has been blogging since 2002 in her old pansitan.net community where she housed famous bloggers. She now writes about being 50-something and shares her tips on fashion, makeup, skincare, travel, food and thrift-store diving.
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