Throughout my years of travel, I think I have made every travel mistake on the planet. Thankfully I have learned from my mistakes, and I’ve also picked up some great tips from other friends and fellow travelers. Here are my top suggestions for traveling both in Paris as well as throughout Europe.
1. Pack light. I completely understand the urge to bring every adorable blouse, dress, and pair of shoes you own, especially when visiting such a mecca of fashion as Paris. However, Europeans and their cities don’t cope well with overpackers. Taxis have small trunks, escalators and elevators are rare luxuries, and you’ll often be expected to haul your own luggage up stairs and along cobblestone streets. Unless you’ve arranged for a car service and you’re staying solely at luxury hotels, never bring more than you can handle on your own. See this post for some advice on packing light.
2. Bring an umbrella. Everywhere. Every day. Just trust me on this one. Check out this post for some great umbrella suggestions.
3. Get to know public transportation. The bus and Metro subway system in Paris is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s very easy to use, and at only 6 Euro per day for an unlimited-ride Mobilis pass, the price is impossible to beat. If you rely on taxis to get throughout the city, you’ll easily spend upwards of $100/day or more, and taxi drivers in Europe are notoriously rude, unethical, and difficult to flag down. If you plan to walk everywhere, you may waste up to half of your day just getting from one place to another, not to mention how quickly you’ll wear yourself out. Learning to use public transportation does take some research and time, but the savings are huge, and you’ll be able to see far more. Get more advice on using the Paris Metro here. Many other European cities (Rome, Venice, Nice, London) also have great public transport systems, as well.
4. Plan ahead, but don’t overplan. I’m a huge fan of a spontaneous unplanned trip, but I also know that kipping the planning can mean missing out on the best a city or country has to offer. It also usually means spending a lot more money than you have to. I recommend having a list of 1-2 attractions or neighborhoods to explore each day and one free day per week to relax or do something unexpected. Check opening hours to ensure that you know which days the attractions and activities you want to do are open. Also make sure to book any plane or train tickets well in advance, as prices can skyrocket at the last minute. Most of all, I especially recommend planning your meals out in advance. For more info on that, check out our restaurant guide here.
5. Get some rest. When you spend a lot of money to take a trip, it’s tempting to pressure yourself into always doing something in order to feel like you got your money’s worth. However, that can lead to serious travel burnout, and it can leave you feeling tired and miserable and cranky instead of enjoying the experience. Remember to get proper rest every day and take care of your body, especially your feet. Don’t be afraid to head back to your hotel for a midday nap, or to curl up on the grass in a park and just people-watch for a couple of hours. Take a hot bath to let your feet soak, get a massage at the hotel spa, or sleep in until noon. Some people even choose to set aside an entire day of their vacation to just lay in bed and recharge. Whatever works for you, take some time to rejuvenate and relax.
6. Don’t miss the nightlife. Many travelers spend so much time and energy every day seeing the sights that by the time the sun sets they are exhausted and just want to curl up and go to sleep. However, in many cities in Europe, especially in Paris, the city is most beautiful, most alive, and most fun after sunset. My favorite thing to do in Paris is to grab a bicycle and ride around at night, looking at the beautifully lit buildings and watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle over the Seine, then finish by people-watching on a cafe terrace with a glass of wine and a tasty dessert. However, in order to enjoy the night you have to have energy, so plan at least one or two days where you take a midday break to recharge and then head back out once the sun sets.
7. Dress up a little. Europeans tend to dress stylishly, and they often have disdain for people who appear casual or slobbish. Unfortunately, that often translates into rudeness towards people in the “tourist uniform” of jeans, dirty tennis shoes, fanny packs or backpacks, t-shirts, and baseball caps. While I always advocate dressing for comfort, especially with footwear, it’s possible to be comfortable AND stylish. Doing so will not only make you feel better about yourself but it may also improve how you’re treated by the locals (and it will keep you off the radar of tourist-targeting pickpockets). Guys, opt for comfortable leather loafers or boat shoes and tailored slacks (such as wrinkle-free Dockers in khaki, black, or navy), paired with polos or button-ups (always tucked in and belted), and well-fitting sweaters or sports jackets in winter. Ladies, go for fitted dresses in nicer fabrics, blouses with dark skinnies, and nice ballet flats or smoking slippers. In colder months, both genders can opt for a classic trench or wool peacoat to keep warm. If you choose to carry a bag, go with a leather cross-body purse or messenger bags (for safety, always choose a bag that zips).
8. Learn the language. No one is expecting you to be fluent, but learning at least a few key phrases can dramatically improve your experience. Though it’s true that most people in Paris do speak at least a little English, it’s very rude to just assume that the stranger you have approached will understand you, so at the very very least, learn how to say “Hello” and “Do you speak English?” in the local language of whatever country you are visiting. Other good phrases to commit to memory: “Excuse me,” “Please,” “I’m sorry,” “Thank you,” “How much is this,” “Do you have a restroom,” “Where is the ____” and “Have a good day.”
9. Know your banking situation in advance. Having the right debit or credit card, knowing the best place to get currency, and understanding the VAT tax refund program can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the course of your trip. A small amount of research and planning can save you a ton of money. See my page about banking and currency here for more info, and plan at least a month ahead.
10. Watch out for pickpockets. Nothing will ruin your trip like having something stolen. Paris is very safe and you don’t need to worry about your personal safety, but you should take some basic precautions to protect your phone, wallet, and passport while traveling. I suggest a money pouch worn under your clothing for maximum security, and be especially careful when using your iPhone, which is the #1 target for pickpockets.
11. Be flexible and keep perspective. Things are going to go wrong. Flights will get delayed, trains will be missed, reservations will get lost, and not every experience will be a pleasant one. No vacation is without its hiccups, but you don’t have to let it ruin your fun. Rather than letting yourself be negative or upset, take a step back from the situation and indulge in something you love, or reward yourself for getting through it. Whatever it is you’ve enjoyed most about your trip, do it again. Most importantly, make every morning a new start, and let go of any residual disappointment you’ve got lingering in you. Remember that traveling the world is a privilege that many don’t ever get to experience, so take advantage of it and make the most of your experience while you can!
12. Ultimately, do what makes you happy. Go to the same restaurant every night if you love it. Leave the museum you just spent 50€ to get into because you’re just not feeling it. Order Domino’s because you’re craving American food. Spend a day laying in bed. Take a cab that last four blocks when your feet just can’t handle any more walking. Drop an ungodly amount of money on a tasting menu that looks incredible. Whatever makes you happy, go for it, and don’t feel bad about it.
I occasionally update the blog with more in-depth discussions of helpful travel tips. To see all of those, check out the Travel Tips category page here!
If you have a travel tip you’d love to share (or would love to hear about), let me know!