Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Everything You Need to Know About Traveling to Paris

Everything You Need to Know About Traveling to Paris
So today's post is going to be very candid. I wanted to let you all know of everything I can think of about my trip and because of that, it's lengthy. I also wanted to share because a lot of the info I'm about to share, I really could not find on the internet. These are also a culmination of all of the questions from DM's and e-mails that I have received... trying to cover all my bases, here! 

I also STILL haven't gone through all my Paris photos, but I promise, they're coming VERY soon! 

Time Difference
We all knew the time difference was going to be a challenge. I think I was personally concerned because even when I travel to places in California with only a 3 hour time difference, I really notice it. I am one of those people who really need their 8 hours of sleep, so a 6 hour time difference was a bit worrisome. 

So with that, the time difference was a bit rough to adjust to. However, I think we all did an incredible job of not wasting any time sleeping. We took Advil PM on the red-eye to Paris so we were sure to sleep the entire flight. We all three were able to sleep the entire flight and got off the plane feeling a little disoriented but rested enough that we were ready to take on the day. We didn't sleep the first day until around 5pm and only let ourselves sleep for about an hour. I think that hour was needed for sure, but it was just enough to get us re-energized for the rest of the night. We then went to bed around 1am our first night and I think that's what made us able to adjust to the time difference so quickly. 

The only odd thing was that communicating with friends/family in the US was tough, because we were waking up as they were going to bed, and they were getting off of work as we were going to bed. Nothing too annoying at all, but just something to know!

The only other thing I'll note about the time difference is that it probably took me a full week once I was back to fully 'recover'. It was really nice in the mornings, I would wake up at like 4:30/5am. I am not a morning person so it was really crazy to me to have done a day's worth of work by noon. I'd look up at the clock and expect it to be 4pm, but it was only just time for lunch. But because of that, I'd end up going to bed around 7:30. 

TLDR: I was worried about the time difference but it wasn't that bad at all. 

Who I Traveled With 
My two good friends, Peyton and Ava. I have known Peyton since birth. Our dads went to high school together and have been friends ever since. We travel a lot together! I've known Ava since high school. Her sister Dana is who I was originally friends with my freshman year of high school since we cheered all 4 years in high school together. Dana is currently pregnant so she did not join us on the trip, but Ava and I have been friends for 11+ years! I visited her in LA 2 years ago, but she has since moved back from Pittsburgh and lives two doors down from me! 

I think finding someone to travel with is tough. Once you find that person(s), it's like striking a gold mine because who you travel with can make or break your trip! Since I've spent days and weeks with both Peyton and Ava, I was confident we would all have a blast together. Peyton and Ava had actually never met before our trip, but I knew they'd get along perfectly! 

I think the important things with the three of us is that we all have somewhat similar interests. We also all travel the 'same' in that we all checked bags (aka we were not interested in backpacking) we all wanted a beautiful/nice place to stay (no hostels, etc.), we all were on similar budgets, etc. Not to knock hostels or backpacking, but it's just to show how important it is to all be on the same page.

Why We Went
Peyton and I had never been to Europe and have been talking about a trip for years. I was so bummed in college because I wanted to study abroad so badly. However, I switched my major and because of that, I would have had to graduate a year later if I had chosen to study abroad. I always say this, but I have very few regrets in life and not being able to study abroad is one of them.

Ava called me up one night back in early July and said 'hey, there's a great price on flights to Paris, do you want to book now.' I literally booked my flight the minute I got off the phone with Ava and told Peyton to do the same. We had no plans in place or anything, but we figured if not now, then when?

We chose to go the week before Thanksgiving because that is a notoriously slow time for tourists in Paris. I would go back at that exact week we went in a heartbeat. It was still a bustling city, but we didn't wait in any lines and crowds weren't bad at all. I've heard stories about there being so many tourists that you can't even get a decent photo or you have to wait in lines for hours to do anything. 

One of the things that prohibited me from traveling to Europe is the cost. There's a quote from Father of the Bride, where Steve Martin's character, says, "I know it's going to be expensive. But, we don't go to Europe. We don't own fancy cars. I don't own expensive jewelry so we can afford to have a big wedding."

Obviously, he is referencing a wedding, but I've always resonated with that quote so much. I like nice things, don't get me wrong, but I really value saving first before anything else and am very focused on my future. My parents brought me up on the phrase 'live below your means' so spending a lot to travel to Europe just seemed like something that would be draining my retirement fund.

I know after reading that, I sound like the most boring human being ever, ha! But honestly, I'm not sure why I ever let the cost stop me. I calculated everything after my trip and it really wasn't 'expensive'. Of course 'expensive' is very subjective, but to give you an idea of what I mean by that: what I spent was easily comparable to what I would have spent in any other major US city for a week+.

I think one of the reasons people think that prices are so expensive in Paris is because their tax is included in the price as is the tip. So if it costs 15 euro for a burger, that is the total price. I actually wish the US was like this. It's so much easier and clear-cut.

In regard to the exchange rates, both London and Europe are going to be more expensive. But, the Euro is actually weak right now and was only 1.16 to the dollar, which was so nice. In London, however, the pound was at 1.33 and not only could we 'feel' the strength of the pound in our wallets but also things were just all around more expensive. I think if we would have spent the week in England, it would have been a much more expensive trip.

I wanted to say all of this because I know traveling to Europe is considered lavish and a luxury to many and I promise you, you can do it at a cost that won't kill your wallet.

Even if you are on a very small, tight budget, but really want to see the world, a lot of Paris was free. For example, many of the churches, like Notre Dame are free. The Arc de Triomphe was inexpensive as were a lot of the museums, walking throughout the Jardin Des Tuileries and all of the beautiful gardens were free. And in regard to food, dinners and some lunches were pricey, but buying a sandwich from a vendor and eating it by the river is only around 6USD. They're delicious and it feels so Parisian! I really urge you to take the trip and not let the cost deter you. I needed someone to tell me this earlier in life, so hopefully, this encourages you!

Euros/ Payment
So in preparing for our trip, I meant to go to the bank and get both euros and pounds. I actually ended up forgetting and figured I would get them at an ATM in Paris and London. We actually ended up never needing Pounds or Euros. Ava had gotten some Euros out before our trip, so we had those to borrow if we needed to buy something that didn't take cards. The only things that didn't accept cards were the locks we bought from a man near Pont Neuf. Other than that, even the street artists on Montmartre accepted Visa. I think we were the exception rather than the norm, though. I was just freaked out that I didn't have actual cash but after about a day, I stopped freaking out and realized it was totally fine.

I also urge you to check with your credit card to see if they charge you a foreign transaction fee. I ended up getting the Chase Sapphire Reserve card before my trip. I had been looking into getting another credit card since I only have one Visa, and did a ton of research. This card has insane travel benefits and I could not recommend it more. It was accepted everywhere we went. Peyton actually ended up getting it before we went, too!

We had absolutely no rain while we were there which is pretty unheard of. We got SO lucky with the weather. Some days were gray, but most were sunny. We actually would leave our coats at home some days because it was very mild. Especially coming from Pittsburgh, 45 degrees to us isn't bad at all. I actually didn't even bring a coat to London, it was that warm. We wore dressier coats, but a lot of people were wearing Canada Goose jackets. We wore sneakers and booties for the most part and I'd say the majority of people were also wearing the same type of footwear. I felt that overall, as fabulous as Paris is, the dress was 'upscale' casual everywhere we went.

I am going to touch on this in a much larger blog post because I think it's important and I've also gotten tons of emails about this topic. I also want to share a personal story on something that happened the first night that we were in Paris.

The world is a scary place right now. However, overall we felt safe. I also wanted to tell you all to take the metro!!! And again, I'll touch on this in my post about safety coming up next week. But, I was SO scared of the metro from what a lot of people said about pickpockets and petty crimes. I'll be the first to admit, I'm a bit sheltered and things like that really scare me. However, the metro was amazing, inexpensive, and incredibly easy to use. I don't think there's anything to be afraid of! 

Getting to Paris was a breeze. We took a flight from Pittsburgh to JFK and then JFK to CDG right outside of Paris. We actually booked our PIT to JFK leg separately from our JFK to CDG because it was cheaper (by hundreds of dollars), but also gave us a lot more flexibility. The one thing I will say that was annoying, but we totally knew we were going to have to do this, is that we checked bags. So we had to go to baggage claim at JFK and recheck our bags since we flew Delta first and then American... but with all of the money we saved, it was totally worth it.

While in Paris, getting around is SO easy. We walked almost everywhere. I truly believe it's the way you get to see everything. But also, Paris is just such a walkable city. Other than that, we took a few Ubers and also used the metro.

Getting to London was also SO easy.... it was seriously as easy as taking the Amtrak from Philly to Manhattan... only the Eurostar is nicer. We just booked a ticket on the Eurostar website for the times we wanted, showed up about an hour before, crossed the border and then grabbed some breakfast and coffee before boarding and we were in London in under 2 hours. Very, very easy. I wish the US had transportation like the Eurostar.

Navigating around Paris was incredibly easy. We walked mostly and I found it really easy to go from place to place without needing even much help from maps. I honestly think that the maps make it look like a lot longer walk than things ever ended up being. There were plenty of Ubers, taxis, and like I mentioned, the metro was so incredibly easy to use (even if you don't speak French). I would suggest if you are going, to walk as much as you possibly can!!

What to Do/See
Just like any major city, you are never going to be able to see everything. We tried to pack as much as we could into each day, but we also didn't want to over exhaust ourselves. You can find my itinerary post here, and I honestly think we saw a ton without killing ourselves each day. I also loved that we all shared some of the 'major' things that were 'musts' for us. We all made it our priority to get to our 'musts' and then added on other things as we had the time.

We made very few reservations. We were going on a notoriously un-busy week, so we really didn't think we'd need them and luckily, we were right. We got into iconic places such as Brasserie Lippe without a reservation. The only time we ever even waited in a line was to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower. 

I'm going to end on this one because it's kind of funny, and I'm so curious if anyone else noticed this, too. Water was hard to come by in Paris. When you go to a restaurant, you have to ask specifically for 'une carafe d'eau' which is tap water... or else it's like $10 for a bottle of Evian (literally like a 16 oz bottle). But the carafe that we got at every. single. restaurant. was like 12oz. Then, for glasses, they give you a double shot glass-sized glass. For three girls, we would get like two sips each. And once you order, they never come back to check on you, so asking for more water was practically impossible. Also, I loved France because they don't put ice in your water (I hate ice)... but I know some people love ice, so this is your FYI!

So as we learned of the lack of water, we started to frequent Carrefour and Monoprix which are grocery stores (their pharmacies don't sell water/candy bars/etc. like the ones in the US do). We would buy huge water bottles there and chug them because we felt so dehydrated for the entirety of our trip.

The wild thing is that the water bottles are SO expensive! I'm talking like 8USD for a normal water bottle. Another thing to note about this is that the bottled water tastes funny... we figured out after a few days that Evian was the only water that tasted like 'normal' water to us. We were so curious so we found out that in France, they add a lot of calcium and sodium to their water. We kept referring to it as 'creamy' water because it tasted thick.

We also started drinking from the sink during our last two days at our Airbnb after we were so thirsty we just couldn't take it anymore. I'm actually laughing as I type this because we were laughing so much over the water situation the entire week. I'm talking tears from so much laughter. The water from the sink was actually good and when I travel back to Paris, you better believe I am bringing or buying a huge reusable water bottle to tote around with me everywhere. That is the one thing I never heard anyone mention before our trip. But this is your warning: bring a water bottle and a handbag that can fit one!

I also feel like I need to give a good PSA about drinking bottled water because a lot of you will give me a hard time about it. I live in Pittsburgh and we have a serious lead problem in the tap water. Therefore, I am very used to/accustomed to drinking bottled water/filtered water... it's the norm for me, unfortunately. But I'm all about drinking out of reusable bottles when possible!


Anonymous said...

This was a great post! Looking forward to your other Paris posts. My in-laws live in Europe and I struggle with the water too. I have learned to bring an enormous refillable water bottle and chug it before we leave our Air BNB or when we return! My husband says Europeans just don’t drink as much water when out, and reminds me that locals don’t eat out as much as tourists!

A huge cost savings when traveling in Europe is staying at an Air BNB and eating meals there. Cutting back on restaurants and eating a sandwich at “home” for one of your meals cuts down soooo much on expenses.

Shannon said...

I love this and how detailed you are! It seems like you had the best time! :) I have been to Paris and I am interested to read your safety post because I too experienced some not great things in the city. The city is beautiful but I definitely felt the need to be aware.

#unmatched said...

I was actually in Paris the exact same time. For the water, I'd highly recommend going to Monoprix or Franprix grocery stores and buying water there, so much cheaper. I stayed a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower and there was a branch of both stores within walking distance.

Lauren said...

I love how you arranged everything - it makes it so useable! I love this post and want to take a trip to Paris so badly now!



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