Last week I shared a glimpse of my (after) summer travel plan. As I was sharing how my itinerary was shaping up, I mentioned some tips on preparing for my trip to France, and a handful of readers asked some questions about these tips. Therefore, I wanted to share a more extensive list of things to consider prior to arriving in France to help your France trip run smoothly. I’ve compiled a list with 10 helpful steps. I really hope these things will help you prepare for traveling to France! Enjoy and remember to have fun… You’re going to France!
Note: some of these tips are centered around travelers coming from the Netherlands. Still I tried to write these tips to get you thinking about what you need to prepare. It’s a starting point to plan out your trip to France. Unfortunately, my trip to France was cancelled due to a sudden hospitalization. My partner is now recovering and we hope to take a vacation abroad in the fall.
Here are 10 things to do to prepare for traveling to France!
Step 1: When are you going to France?
First make sure you have in mind when you are going to travel to France. The spring and the early autumn are great times to visit France. July and August tend to be very busy in most tourist areas.
Step 2: Where are you going in France?
France is about 13 times bigger than the Netherlands and offers a large variety of landscapes (from mountains to plains) and urban areas (Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux). One of your first decisions will be to choose where you’ll be heading to. This also depends a lot on the length of your stay. Do you have specific French destinations to mind? I highly recommend visiting the French countryside and exploring the Province or Lorraine region! You’ll experience a different side of the country and get an authentic taste of France.
Are you planning to visit multiple places? Then have a look at places with fast train links to Paris with the TGV or good flight connections.
Tip: are you traveling to Paris? Then watch the movie “Paris, Je T’Aime” (2006). The multiple stories that take place across Paris are a great intro to the city’s many different districts.
Step 3: What is your budget?
Now that you’ve decided where to go in France, it’s time to do some research on how much your trip will cost. Of course your budget depends on the way you travel, but also whether you choose to travel out of season or not. Most travelers spend around €74 on a midrange hotel, between €40 – €60 on a dinner for two and €24 per person, per day, on local transportation in France. Whatever the budget you come up with, make sure you allow a little more for unplanned extras.
Step 4: Do you have all your documents in order?
Good news for Dutch travelers: you don’t need a visa to travel to France! France is part of the Schengen area which means citizens of the European Union can travel to France on a national identity card or passport. Visitors from non-EU countries may need a visa, depending on the length of stay and their country of origin. For a full list of visa requirements for short or longer stays, visit the official French visa info website in English.
At the moment you must present a health pass to access leisure and culture venues and events bringing together more than 50 people, in bars, restaurants, malls, hospitals, retirement homes, residential care homes, and for long-distance travel by plane, train or coach. For campsites, and other holiday accommodation you will need to present a pass once, on arrival. The pass must prove that you are fully vaccinated, that you have been tested with a negative result within the last 48hrs or that you have been tested. Click here to read more information and guidance from the French Government regarding COVID-19.
Step 5: What about travel insurance?
It’s always recommended to have some kind of travel insurance. Some credit card companies include this when you use their card to pay for the trip. As the saying goes: always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst! Think about insurance for medical costs, flight cancellation, theft or loss and damaged objects like your camera or wallet.
Step 6: How to get to France?
France can be reached by train, car or plane.
Reaching France by air:
In order to get the best prices, make sure to read our article on how to book a cheaper flight. After several years of traveling and browsing the internet for tips on how to book a cheap flight, I have collected some key tips that will save you time, frustration and money when booking your next flight!
France has more than 20 regional airports and is easy to reach by plane. Also from outside of Europe, you can travel easily to France by plane. The airline with the most direct flights from North America to France is Air France of which most of the points of arrival will be in Paris. Also consider flying to Basel-Mulhouse, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes and Toulouse, as some of these cities are cheaper to fly to in comparison with Paris.
Traveling to France by train
Taking the train is the best, easiest, and often the fastest option for anyone planning to visit France without a car. French railways have a reputation for punctuality, though delays seem slightly more common these days than in the past. Most trains however run on time, and delays of over 10 minutes are unusual. Makes use of the high-speed bullet train (TGV) to get between far-flung destinations. Buy train tickets early to get discount. If you’re traveling with a rail pass, reserve your TGV seats as soon as you can. Local trains and buses get you to smaller towns. Also make sure you check the strike schedule in advance. Yes, there is a schedule to the rolling strikes by railway workers (see it here).
From the Netherlands you can take the Thalys to Paris. Thalys runs 10 times a day at top speed from Amsterdam via Schiphol and Rotterdam to Paris. The earlier you book, the lower the price. The lowest fare from Amsterdam to Paris is €35. The price can increase to €135 per ticket. Eurostar rides to France from many other countries.
Travelling to France by car
Driving to France from most neighbouring countries (The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, Spain) is no problem at all, as systematic customs and border controls have been abolished within the Schengen area. Travellers coming from the United Kingdom can use the ferry port or channel Tunnel.
When driving in France keep in mind that manual transmission cars are cheaper and will give you better mileage. Also watch your speed. There are speed cameras everywhere and fines are expensive. Lastly, when filling up with gas, remember that ‘essence’ is gasoline and ‘gasoil’ is diesel.
Step 7: Where to stay in France?
Of course you also need a place to stay in France. The earlier you book your stay, the more choice and cheaper options you’ll get (most offer full refunds if cancelled). Think about where you would like to overnight, in which arrondissement? And also how much money you would like to spend on your accommodation (number of stars, comfort, price range etc.) and in what type of accommodation you would like to stay overnight (traditional family-run hotels, camp sites, bed & breakfasts, guest houses, etc.).
My experience has been that in France a three star might be more the equivalent to a 2 star in other countries like The Netherlands. A good three star could be very comfortable but is likely to have a small room. Also beware of Paris’ narrow staircases. In Paris and French towns you might be surprised at how narrow staircases can be and not all buildings have lifts.
Step 8: How to get around in France?
Now you’ve arranged your journey to France and know where you’ll arrive (and depart) it’s time to get a little more detailed in planning your trip to France. How will you get from A to B?
Make sure you know how you travel from the airport or train station to your accommodation on arrival. Do some research in advance for example on a shuttle, taxi, rental car or the Air France coach service. Also make sure to bring some cash in Euros with you, as some drivers do not accept credit cards.
If you are traveling from the United States or any distant international destination to France, reserve a rental car before you begin your trip. I am always exhausted when I arrive in a far-away country. Knowing you have transportation arranged reduces time and stress on location. Keep in mind that Sundays are days that most rental car companies are closed. While the trains still run on Sundays and vacation rentals will check you in and out on Sundays, not all other travel businesses are open.
Step 9: Work on an in-depth plan for your French trip
Now that you know how to travel to France, how to get around and where to stay overnight, it’s important to do some research on what you would like to see and do. Do you want to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower? Wonder at the amazing art galleries and museums? Explore the hidden gems of Paris? What are the outdoor activities available in your destination? Are there any festivals and other cultural activities worth attending? How about eating out or shopping (at traditional markets)? Make a list of sites, restaurants, and experiences to enjoy.
To get the most out of France, it’s essential to connect with locals and French culture. Go on a wine tour, play boules with the locals, and make an effort to understand what matters to the French about their country. There’s a stereotype that the French are extremely rude and dislike tourists, but in my opinion most French are very kind.
Most towns and tourist villages in France have their own tourist offices (offices de Tourisme) where you can get paper maps and brochures. Remember Sundays and Mondays are often a day when tourist places, restaurants and shops are closed so check this when making plans! Make sure you plan well but in the back of your mind, be prepared for the unexpected and to be a little spontaneous!
Unlike some other travel destinations in Europe, the French speak very little English. If you have any time left or are very very excited about your trip to France, try to learn some French words. Whether with Babbel, Duolingo or French Today, take some time to polish up the basic French phrases and vocabulary you will want to know to navigate around the country. Another good option is to bring a book or a smartphone with an offline app to translate some of the harder stuff.
Step 10: Time to pack for your trip to France!
Packing tips for France! A golden rule: only pack what is essential and try to avoid extras that will make your bags too heavy. What you’ll pack will depend on your chosen destination and the season of the year. Choose clothes and shoes that are comfortable and fit for the season. Plan on packing at least a decent pair of shoes and one nice evening outfit. If you head into an upscale restaurant or opera, you won’t feel awkward.
If you want to continue using your national mobile phone while being in France, you may need to enable international use by contacting your phone operator. Also make sure you have your phone fully charged when traveling around and bring relevant travel adaptors. Although smartphones are great, I recommend you to print out some travel information and important friend/family contact details as a back-up. Imagine what you would need if your phone goes down and type it all on one page.
Finally, think about how you’ll obtain euros whether from your local bank or by withdrawing cash from an ATM in France. Most French ATMs accept foreign cards (Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, etc). Just remember: if your bank/credit card account is not in Euros, you will pay a commission on each transaction.
Hopefully, these tips will help you feel less stressed and have made organizing your itinerary for France much easier. I hope you have a memorable trip to France!
How do you prepare for your trip to Paris? Share your tips with us in the comments section below.
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