I’ll never forget our first visit to Paris. Although we’d travelled extensively within Australia, Scott and I had never left our home country together. And our joint international travel experience amounted to me visiting Singapore with my parents when I was 16 years old.
We honestly had no idea what we doing. We didn’t understand how anything worked and I’d packed disastrously. Everything was new and sometimes, a little confronting.
Which is why I’m always compassionate to the concerns that first time visitors to Paris have. I receive many queries via email, and I also see the questions that are asked in the various forums I’m a part of.
I thought I’d take a little time to address many of the common queries I see regarding a first visit to Paris. Yes, this is a long post, but I wanted share all of these answers in one, easy to find place. I hope you find it helpful.
If there’s an area that might raise anxiety in a first time traveller, it’s money. But with a little preparation, you can make your financial management a stress free part of your trip.
- First up, the answer to the question I see regularly. Both credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Paris. Aussie travellers should note that PayPass is not used as broadly it is in Australia, so make sure you know your PIN before you leave home, as sometimes you’ll be asked to provide both your PIN and your signature. It pays to do some research into which cards are best for you – some cards are cheaper than others.
- Travel with more than one card. We travel with a combination of Pre-Paid travel cards and a credit card and a debit card. This strategy is helpful for a number of reasons. One – we have backup funds if a card is lost, stolen or unexpectedly stopped. And two – it allows you to use one card for hotel authorisations without the funds being held eating into your holiday spending.
- Have some cash on hand too. It’s handy for small purchases, ticket machines and for any Parisian market shopping you might do. It can make better financial sense to take small amounts of cash out of ATMs rather than risk lugging a stack of cash from home. So take the time to do that homework on debit cards.
- It is worth letting your bank know where and when you are travelling. Then they won’t assume the worst and put holds on your cards due to unexpected foreign transactions.
- Finally, I’m not sure if this tip applies to my friends in other countries, but Australian travellers can save on bank fees by always choosing to pay in Euros rather than Australian dollars.
Safety And Valuables
Whether I was travelling to Paris as part of a team or on my own, I’ve always felt safe in Paris. But as you do when travelling to any major city, you need to think about your surroundings.
- Unfortunately we live in a world where theft is a thing. And sometimes the attempts to separate you from your belongings can be quite brazen. Travel day-to-day with limited cash and belongings. Paying for the ATM fees is a better option that losing all your spending money. And ladies, consider carrying a small cross body bag rather than a shoulder bag or backpack. It is the one thing that I always travel with. You can hold it close to the front of you, And in cooler weather it can fit under your coat. Remember too that pickpockets frequent the major tourist haunts, so take care when you’re in crowded areas.
- Know that scams are regular happenings in Paris and the larger French cities. Scammers are always coming up with new ways to separate unsuspecting travellers from their money. One ommon scam sees a group of young people asking you to sign a petition (where you could be pickpocketed while you are distracted or asked to handover money as part of signing the form). Another is the ring scam where you’re asked if you dropped a ring and while distracted looking at the ring, will have your valuables removed.
- There are always lots of questions on what to do with your passport. For me, this is a matter of personal choice, as there are pros and cons to both options. As for me, I’m a keep your passport with you kind of traveller. While carrying your passport at all times does put it at risk loss, there have been many times that I’ve needed to produce it as a form of identification. And I’ve heard way too many horror stories of passports being left in hotel safes.
- We all know that when we visit Paris from anywhere else in the world, we are technically tourists. However it pays not draw attention to that fact if you can help it. Avoid standing on the street with a map wide open. And try to dress in clothes that blend in (the amount of travellers I see sporting high visibility gear makes me shake my head).
- I’ve heard many travellers share their concern that ‘menu du jour’ pricing is a way to trap tourists into eating poor quality food. If you like what’s on offer, let this concern go and instead enjoy the value that will most likely follow.
- Dining out at lunch time is a great option for travellers who might be on a tighter budget or if you’d like to experience a Michelin starred experience at a bargain price. Lunch time menu prices are often far lower for food that is coming out of exactly the same kitchen.
I try to provide regular packing advice on DF so I won’t overdo it here.
- My best tips include packing light, choosing layers rather than bulky pieces, building outfits around your (comfortable) shoes and opting for a complementary colour palette. You can get more packing advice via my Ultimate Packing Toolkit. It’s free, and you can access it here.
Arriving in a new country can be daunting. You may not speak the language. You could be feeling the effects of jet-lag. And you have no idea which way you should be heading. It makes sense to have your ‘how to get out of the terminal or station plan’ ready to go before you arrive.
- On our first visit to Paris we caught the train into the city from the airport. Today I recommend the fixed rate taxis or the many car services available. And I always have the address written out on a slip of paper so I can pass it to the cab driver. This saves me worrying about my French or trying to show where I want to go on my phone.
- If you happen to be catching a taxi from a train station with your luggage, watch out for entrepreneurial types who will hang out at the taxi rank to help you lift your bags into the cab. They are in no way related to the taxi itself, but will expect you to tip them for their trouble. A polite no and a thank you are your friends if you happen to find yourself in this situation.
- While walking is the best way to take in the beauty of Paris, once you’ve settled into your accommodation and are ready to explore, don’t be afraid to take public transport. This is especially true if you get footsore, or need to get somewhere more quickly. I shared my best tips for making the most of very convenient Paris Metro here. And buses are a great way to get around – cheaper than taxis but with a similar view.
One Final Thought For Your First Visit To Paris
Apart from reading the Distant Francophile website (you can subscribe here so you never miss a post) I recommend joining Jo Karnaghan’s France Travel Planning Facebook Group. It is full of great discussion and really helpful tips. If you haven’t met Jo, she was a guest on The Franco-Files recently – you can learn more about Jo here.
I’d love to know if regular visitors have any tips for first time travellers to Paris? Please feel free share your thoughts in the comments section below. And for those of you yet to undertake your first visit to Paris, if you have a question that I haven’t covered here, please don’t hesitate to yell out.
And until next time – au revoir.