I love planning independent travel, but the process can be overwhelming for some. Our plane from Paris just landed yesterday and there are definitely some critical decisions we made in planning the trip that made it the amazing experience it was.
I have been abroad several times, but this was Mr. L’s first time across the pond. Travelocity ran an amazing deal and we couldn’t resist the opportunity.
(Side note: You can check out my post with tips on finding cheap flights here.)
This trip was so much richer and enjoyable than some of my others, for a few key reasons (my travel partner may have made a difference, too).
While it is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share with you some of the best decisions I think we made on our trip to Paris… and one that wasn’t (learn from our mistake).
Based on our experience, here are some travel tips on the best ways to plan for your own, amazing trip to Paris, France.
Be adventurous and confident in your own planning!
When I went to Paris in high school, I was part of a tour group, which leads me to best travel planning decision number 1.
Guided tours have their place. Sometimes, you can find great deals.
Plus, if you are not confident in your ability to plan your own travel, or simply don’t have time to do the legwork, then by all means, find a reputable travel company to plan and organize your escorted trip.
I have heard great things about Gate 1 Travel and Viking River Cruises, though I have never personally used them. ( Also, those are not affiliate links. Simply a resource to help you do your own research)
However, I love doing the legwork. When done with thoughtful research and patience, planning your own European adventure can save you a ton of money.
When planning an itinerary, make sure you leave time to explore and don’t over-schedule.
If you want to walk down a side street, walk down a side street. If you want to stop at a cafe, then by all means… stop at a cafe. Pick and choose where you want to pop in or not. Call me a control freak, but I loved that how we chose to design our day was completely up to us.
Prior to leaving, I created a pinterest board specifically for this trip and soaked up all the advice I could and put it together for one epic adventure that fit us perfectly.
Understand Your Finances
Know your bank fees, conversion charges, and foreign transaction fees in advance. This will spare you sticker shock when you get home.
I loved our Barclay Arrival Plus World Mastercard, because it has zero foreign transaction fees. I also have a Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account, which I was able to withdraw from at any ATM without ATM fees. These two accounts saved us from having to worry about a bunch of extra fees on our charges.
Also, make sure to set travel alerts on any accounts, so that you are not stuck in a dirty metro station scrounging for Euro coins and trying to call your bank.
Take recommendations from friends, family, and locals.
Whether it is from Pinterest, Yelp, friends or locals..TALK TO PEOPLE. Ask questions to find out what is good.
We saw parts of Versailles that I didn’t even know had existed, even after doing a previous escorted tour years ago. It was worth every penny!
Yelp guided us to amazing, budget-friendly, off the beaten path restaurants and we talked to locals at those restaurants to guide us to whatever was next.
( Shout out to Le Potager du Père Thierry. We were squeezed in like sardines, but it was probably one of the best meals I have ever eaten.)
When I was searching for some cheap hotels in Paris, I used TripAdvisor reviews to find the Hotel Meridional.
It was a budget-friendly hotel, close to Montemarte and the subway. We had a great experience there. It was quintessentially French, though it had no AC. This was not a big deal, even in June. It was very comfortable with the window open ( and even a bit chilly). Still, something to keep in mind if you are traveling in July or August.
Nevertheless, I have found TripAdvisor to be a fantastic resource regarding Paris hotels.
Update Your Phone Plan
I was able to refer to my Pinterest board, utilize Google Maps, and find cool places on Yelp because I added international travel to my phone plan. Check with your phone provider to see what options are available to you, but we loved Verizon’s TravelPass. For $10 per day overseas, I was able to use my phone as normal.
Our data plan is decent, but if you don’t have a great plan or don’t want to pay extra…it is pretty easy to find wifi in large cities like Paris.
I also have some great recommendations for some apps that work well offline in my post 15 Travel Apps You Need To Simplify Your Trip Planning
Mr. L kept his phone in airplane mode, so we were not charged for his…but had it as a backup just in case.
With my phone and a solid portable charger, we got around easy-peasy. We even downloaded the amazing walk-through tours found on the Audio Europe app from Rick Steves. The app is free and we used my phone to guide us around the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay (Pack your own earbuds to save yourself several Euro).
Get the Paris Museum Pass
Paris is full of so many amazing things to do and the Paris Museum Pass allowed us to pop in and out of many of them without worrying about lines or entrance fees.
The Paris Museum Pass can be purchased for 2, 4 or 6 days. We purchased a 4 day pass for around $138 USD for 2 passes.
Your priorities and length of stay may decide whether this is worth it for you. For us, it made sense. We had already planned on doing the Louvre, Musee D’ Orsay, Versailles and Notre Dame. With entry prices averaging around 18 Euro/piece, we figured it would cost about the same to purchase individually than the pass. However, the pass allows you to skip lines.
This is HUGE.
Because of the line-skipping options ( which saved tons of time) and all that the pass included, we were able to visit numerous other museums that we may not have done without the pass.
In passing, we went into the Musée de l’Orangerie (and discovered the breathtaking view of Monet’s Water Lilies), the Pantheon, Musée Rodin, and The Tomb of Napolean at Les Invalides. These incredible structures would have been mistakes to miss.
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When we were near sites or had time to fill, the pass gave us the freedom to do so.
At the end of the day, if you plan on visiting more than 4 museums on your trip…this is definitely a value. After all was said and done, I totaled what individual entries would have cost us, and discovered that the pass saved us $150.
Find a Spot. Make it YOURS.
I think the best part of spending several days in one area is that you can find ” a spot.” A place that will carry a memory that lasts forever.
Our spot was on the steps of the Sacre-Couer.
We spent our first meal on the steps there ( a sandwich and coke from a local patisserie) and nearly every evening, we found ourselves back there with a snack looking out at the city.
No matter where you go, find a spot that you can go to really enjoy and experience. Make a lasting memory.
Research Tourist Traps…and avoid them.
Yes…the Sacre-Couer is in the super-touristy Montemarte area. The hotel was close-by and we enjoyed the people-watching and view, but I knew better than to buy my art there. A little research goes a long way.
By doing some online searching prior to the trip, I had heard about a cool art-house, 59 Rivoli. It used to be a squatter’s colony, but now housed studios for artists.
We also took time to experience the unique street markets and art markets. Off the beaten path, and super non-touristy, both 59 Rivoli and the Marche De La Creation art market, offered us two cool, original and unique pieces that are now lifetime souvenirs.
Finally, Know What You Want… and Why You Want It!
Tacky souvenirs are everywhere, so know what you want and why you want it. You will get home wondering why you bought that beret with Paris on it… however a piece of art you love, or daily items that Parisians use ( I loved shopping at Monoprix) will have lasting memories of your trip.
We did mess up by not being patient with a souvenir. Mr. L wanted a French soccer Jersey and paid nearly full price at a shop. The next day, we visited a cool flea market (le Marché Aux Puces) and sound the same shirt for 20 Euro. Ugh. I loathe losing out on a bargain!
Be patient when looking for what you want and keep your eyes open. I personally brought food back. Olive Oil, candy, jam, cookies and even cheese.
(P.S. If you plan on bringing anything back in glass bottles ( i.e. olive oil, wine, jelly), you want to buy these protective leak-proof bags in advance. They will save your luggage, and your emotions, in case something breaks. I loved bringing back my tasty treats without worry.
All in all…
By being flexible, relaxed and semi-organized in advance, we had an amazing time.
You definitely cannot see all of Paris in a week, but hopefully, one day, we can go back. I hope all of my readers get the opportunity to experience at least one incredible European vacation at least once! Just do some front end legwork, and you will have a great time!
I would love to hear your favorite travel memory! Please share it with me in the comments!