So You Want to Go to Paris?
Congratulations! Sounds like you want to embark on what will likely be one of the most rewarding and eye-opening journeys of your lifetime. The sheer beauty of Paris is reason enough for planning a trip to Paris. But what about the museums? Notre Dame? The food? The Eiffel Tower? A river cruise? Shopping? Yes, there is all of that and more!
So what is the first thing you do? Enter a search on the computer for “travel to Paris.” Expedia pops up. You go to Expedia and choose flight and hotel combination to Paris, because of course, you want to see if you can get a deal! Then, enter some random dates (just to check prices, you know), and also your departure city and the destination, Paris. Click “Search,” and …..
So Many Decisions
Hotels pop up. “Wait,” you say to yourself, “I have to choose a hotel right now? I don’t know ANYTHING about hotels in Paris?” Then, you see a countdown timer with Deal of the Day…. Pressure is already building. But, where are these hotels? Is one near the Eiffel Tower? Or do I want to stay near the Eiffel Tower? Should I be near a bakery or a cafe? Or is this hotel out by the airport where I will never experience the Paris of my dreams?
You may tell yourself, “let me try a different search. Costco has trips, TripAdvisor has trips, let me search again.” You enter the search, “trip to Paris” and more than 107 million results are in line to be displayed. Websites, blog posts, apps, package deals, with each one telling you the top ten things to avoid, to do, to travel stress-free…. Your head is spinning, and you haven’t even clicked on any. Even if by chance you click on the best guide ever, and it provides lists of what to do, how do you really do it?
How do I actually begin a trip to Paris? Paris with Scott is about trying to figure it all out so you can enjoy Paris. Evaluating the choices, making plans based on what YOU are interested in, feeling comfortable about going to Paris, and, experiencing the dream of Paris that you have.
How to Start
In order to enjoy the Paris that you dream of, there are a few things that you have to determine. When you think, “Paris,” what do you think of? What do you want to see? What are your physical capabilities? Are special accommodations for sleeping desired? Do you want Michelin-starred restaurants? Do you just want good food, good times, laughs and fun? Museums? Walks in the park? What about making a self-tour of finding the most pain au chocolates in one day? Or, riding the hop on hop off?
Breakfast in bed, or a croissant on the run? Hotel with cabs out front or near a Métro station so you can travel less expensively? Planning a trip to Paris is about choices – and because Paris is so great, there are many choices to make. If you are honest in making those choices, you will really enjoy your time in Paris. To start your decision making process, begin your Paris List.
The Paris List
Planning the details are key, but before you get to the planning stage, start roughing out a list of places that you really want to see – your “Paris List.” Creating a Paris List is just like what it sounds – a written list of things you want to see and do in Paris. It is like going to a candy store and picking out what really, really looks good to you. Do the same for Paris.
Try a little notebook, a legal pad or on the computer, whatever method works best for you. Just keep it handy while you research and jot down places that look interesting. Do this over the course of days or a few weeks. Later, you can go back and review the list, investigate and research more, and edit your list. How do you research? Begin figuring out what you like and want to see, by reading about Paris in guidebooks, looking at photo books, reading histories or fiction, watching movies and searching the internet.
Narrowing Things Down
You will find sooooo much to do. But, you should focus on what really grabs your interest. Only you know if you want to visit gardens, or house museums, or shop at the flea market, or climb the stairs of Notre Dame’s towers. Do you want to go to museums? If not, do not feel obligated to put those on your Paris List. Have you been obsessed with the Mona Lisa your entire life? Then, definitely put it on your Paris List!
Really explore the different and various elements of Paris and determine your level of interest. Something that looks terrific when you start making your Paris List may lose some of its appeal as you find out more and more about Paris. Your interest in one thing may lead you to five others. As you research and investigate, you will revise your Paris List multiple times. No choices are wrong.
Deciding what you want to see is just a process to be able to really enjoy Paris. Remember, think hard and determine your true interests. Your Paris List will guide you when you are planning your days in Paris. You will only have a certain amount of time, so do what will make you happy when you are there.
Do You Have a Passport?
Do you have a passport so that you can get to Paris and see all the things on Your List? If not, apply now through the U.S. State Department. If you have a passport, stop what you are doing and go find it right now. Check the expiration date. Make sure the passport is valid for six months after you plan to return (that is the general rule and each country will inspect the expiration date when you enter).
In addition to the passport, you should read some of the official information on traveling to France from the U.S. State Department.
Now that you have Your List and your passport, you should assess your capabilities. Can you walk a good quarter mile without stopping? Can you climb two flights of stairs with no problem? It can be a few hundred yards or more inside some of the large metro stops from when you step off the train and walk to street level.
A note on accessibility in Paris. When visiting a monument, those with accessibility issues may experience special attention by workers. Sometimes this means bringing you to the front of the line, taking you up an elevator or generally trying to help facilitate your visit.
Most metro stops do not require that long of a walk, but Paris can demand a lot from your feet. Of course taxis or ride services like Lyft or Uber are available. But even if you use these ride services, once you exit the vehicle, the walking can be lengthy inside a museum, or around Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre, or along the bouquinistes.
Do You Love to Walk, Stroll or Meander?
It is blocks and blocks and more blocks to walk around Versailles – we do not have the luxury of carriages dropping us at the front door, so a lot of foot work is required. Visiting Paris requires a good bit of stamina. Do you need a nap in the afternoon before embarking on dinner? You will have jet lag for at least the first few days, so a nap could be a good idea. If you are accustomed to a little rest in the afternoon at home, plan on it in Paris as well. That is kind of a fundamental part of the self-assessment, can you do it at home? If so, you can probably do it in Paris.
And the opposite is true as well. Being aware of your abilities and requirements is important for planning your trip and for you to enjoy Paris. It is not good or bad one way or the other, it simply must be factored into your planning. Also, your abilities may impact where you must spend a portion of your budget. If you have mobility issues, you may have to spend more on transportation and adjust expenses elsewhere. For example, maybe make sure to go on the off-season or choose a less expensive hotel option.
Need Help Planning Your Trip?
Another part of the self-assessment is to answer whether you are comfortable planning your own trip. If you are, great. If not, that is completely fine, too. Everyone does not need to go it alone. Many organized tour groups can help you get there and back without losing you – and you don’t have to make detailed plans unless you have some free time. That is a great option for many people! But, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy reading and thinking and dreaming about Paris and making sure you see the things on Your List.
Solo or With Friends?
A major part of the self-assessment is determining who is traveling with you. It is fun to travel with others who have common interests, or with friends who are happy to do anything. But choose your travel companions wisely. Before asking someone to go with you, make sure deep down that you can spend some serious quality time with them. The companions will most likely be in on the decision making process from here on out. Want to go on your own? No problem. By yourself you get to do exactly what you want with no input from others. Any way you want to do it is the way you should do it. It is your trip to Paris.
Make a Budget
Yes, everyone has to make a budget. The biggest costs for most people are the flight and a place to stay. These two may dictate how much you have for everything else – museums, dining, landmarks, souvenirs, transportation, etc…
Your budget does not have to be sophisticated. I would love for my budget to be on a spreadsheet, but generally it is written in multiple columns on a yellow legal pad. I can scratch out a price for an airline ticket and rewrite it if I find a better deal, and I can do the same if I change my mind with the hotel. Then, I add up entrances and hop on hop off tickets, and also estimate what I will spend on food each day. Plus, I add in a few euros for postcards and postage!
Establishing a budget will help you in making choices when planning. The budget is kind of a juggling act between picking dates, the airline ticket, choosing a place to stay, determining length of stay, whether to have picnic lunches rather than eating lunch at a restaurant each day.
If you get a deal on a flight that extends your trip one day longer than you were planning, it could save enough to pay for that extra night and day in Paris. One cost goes up and another can go down. Believe me, budget will not have a huge effect on your enjoyment of Paris. Although it will determine some important parts of your trip, Paris will not disappoint. I have been there on the barest of budgets, stayed in a hostel, eaten street food for all meals (or eaten cookies and water from a convenience store) and loved every second of it.
I have been fortunate enough to stay at nice hotels and have money to go out to eat at a restaurant and loved every second of it. Was one better than the other? I don’t think so. Only different, but equally enjoyable. Once you nail down the flight and place to stay, those items will be set and you can see what is left for your holiday in Paris and figure out how to make your budget work.
Just remember what Audrey Hepburn says in the movie Sabrina:
“Paris is always a good idea”
Even if it is always a good idea, picking dates and marking them on your calendar will set your holiday in motion. To begin picking dates, print out a calendar of the upcoming months. Print each month on a separate sheet of paper and spread the months out and kind of get an overall picture of what is coming up in life. Then, look at your work calendar and see what is going on and when you cannot be away – mark those dates out.
Next, see what may be good times to be away from work. Are there days that overlap with holidays when you will be off work? If so, that can be a good time to work around. (Once you pick your dates, make sure you get the okay at work for the days off before buying plane tickets!)
Children traveling with you? Then you may have to visit Paris in the summer or during a holiday break. If not, you may want to see what offers the more economical hotel price in the off-season (August, November, beginning of December, January, February, maybe March depending on when Easter falls). After that, look at the holiday calendars – here and in France.
French public holidays are:
- January 1 (New Year’s Day)
- Monday after Easter
- May 1 (May Day)
- May 8 (Victory in Europe Day)
- July 14 (Bastille Day)
- November 1 (All Saints Day)
- November 11 (Armistice Day)
- December 25 (Christmas)
If your travel includes one of these days, expect everything to be closed on that day. Of course, your hotel will be open, but monuments, landmarks, museums, many restaurants and practically all shops will be closed.
Make a Date with Paris
Then, look at what events are happening in your home town that you may want to attend – mark those dates out. Finally, check family birthdays and make sure you will not be away during one that may get you in trouble. Or a wedding. Mark those dates out, unless….. Sometimes these things must be missed and you could bring back a great present! After all of that, if there are any dates left, try to pick out a couple of date ranges that will work. You may want to pick a Thursday through the following Saturday or Sunday. That way you really only take off seven days from work (even fewer if there is a holiday), but you have two weekends during the trip.
Choosing a Saturday return will get you back a day before work begins again so you can regroup, catch up on mail, water plants, get the dog and try to get a little bit back on schedule before beginning the work week. Choose what works for your life and your budget. With those couple of dates, start looking at flights to check prices.
The airline prices alone could be enough to make up your mind on dates! If you can be a little flexible, flying on days during the week can be considerably cheaper than flying on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The airlines and travel sites have made it easy to see a range of prices for the different days of the week, so take a look. Now that you have your dates, you can move on to the airline tickets and place to stay.
But, wait…. Even though this site is about Paris, if you are going all the way to Europe, you may want to go to other places. More destinations means more planning. Up to you!
Buying Airline Tickets
Buying airline tickets is a crap shoot. Articles come out regularly trying to advise of the best time to buy airline tickets. Most say at least two months out from the trip. Okay, great. But, what day is the best day to buy? I think you could search on the internet and find an article to validate any day and any time you could imagine. All I know is, that if I search on one day it seems like I get one price, and if I search on another day, I get another price. Who knows?
These are some things to think about before buying tickets. Before pressing the buy tickets button, check and re-check your calendar. Confirm your dates. If you find a price that you think is really great for you, some airlines allow you to pay a small amount and hold the ticket. Consider this if you are not absolutely, positively ready to commit. Flying into Paris is really easy – pull up any airline or travel site and you can find so many flights going to Paris you can’t shake a stick at them all. Paris is one of the top destinations in the world – try your frequent flier miles less than 270 days out and you will find out.
A Name by Any Other Name … Might Not Work
Book your ticket in the same name as the name shown on your passport. If your passport and your airline tickets do not match, it is highly unlikely that you will be allowed to leave the country. Once you find a flight, and before you pick your seats, you may want to look at seatguru.com. On seatguru.com you can find your plane, see the seats and try to avoid choosing a bad seat. If you do not complete all passenger information at the time you purchase your ticket, you can use the airline generated Record Locator to go back into the website and enter passport details and other information that is needed before your flight.
Should you be fortunate enough to have lots of points, and/or can get an upgrade to a higher class of service than coach, consider the flying time in that upgraded category. Most likely you would want to spend as long as possible in the higher class or service (more comfortable and you can sleep). For example, rather than fly from say, Dallas/Ft. Worth to New York in coach, then from New York to Paris in an upgraded category, you would want to fly from Dallas/Ft. Worth direct to Paris in the upgraded category. That way you have more time in the upgraded category. For those flying in coach, you may want to break up the trip into shorter legs. Or, if you are like me and are 6’4”, I just want to get there in the shortest time and the shortest time on the planes.
I like to fly to New York and then fly from New York to Paris and squish up and suck it up and just get there. It is not comfortable, but it is less time being uncomfortable. Purchasing your ticket from one airline all the way through to Paris will help you if the flights change or are delayed. If you are making your own flight arrangements, give yourself at least an hour between arrival time and the departure time of your next flight. More, if possible.
Watch Out for Delays
A problem can arise when you purchase your first flight from one airline, and your second flight from another airline. Should there be a delay or cancellation of the first flight, the second airline does not care about the reason you missed your flight. If it is the same airline all the way through, they will rebook you on another flight for no additional money (if it was the fault of the airline that you missed your flight).
Beware of sites that look real but are ad driven and recommend only their advertisers – it can be a recipe for disaster. Travel agents, right in your own town, can be a tremendous asset for flights, transfers, tours, etc… Find one who specializes in Paris and go directly to them for advice and to purchase airline tickets. Many times they will have suggestions on how to get to Paris from your hometown that no one really knows, but them. If you have a special need, call the airline and let a representative know. They will collect information on your flights and set up in-airport transportation for you – do this well in advance of departure.
Peace of Mind
Travel Insurance? Lots of sources can provide travel insurance. The airline or travel site where you purchase an airline ticket may have an option. Or, if you have American Express, you can potentially purchase only the parts of insurance that you want or need. Other insurance companies, like John Hancock, offer varying coverages.
Make sure you read what these insurances cover so that you can make an informed decision. Generally, trip cancellation insurance must be purchased within a certain number of days of purchasing the airline ticket, so check with the insurance companies before purchasing airline tickets if you want trip cancellation coverage.
Ready to look at hotels?