In 2014, my family decided to travel to France for summer vacation. We spent two weeks in Normandy, and spent our final week in Paris. Paris is a large city filled with landmarks, traditions and an unfamiliar culture. Going there, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised about how great Paris was. I had fun seeing their famous landmarks and I was also happy just to wander the streets. However, there are a few things I wish I knew before I went there for the first time.
Pickpockets and scams
With large crowds come pickpockets. Paris is no exception, and stolen wallets are a common occurrence. Luckily there are some measures you can take to protect yourself. What worked for my family is keeping wallets in the bottom of our full backpacks. Never put all of your valuables in one place, for an example in a purse. If that purse gets swiped then you can lose your identification as well as money, and as a traveler, those are crucial. Taking measures to be cautious never hurt anyone (except the thieves). If you are travelling with kids, be sure to inform them about thieves and how to handle possible situations. Also prepare for the unexpected. If you let your guard down and you wallet or passport get nicked, what will you do then? Prepare a backup plan. Being careful in crowds is a must. While my family was waiting in in line to get into the Palace of Versailles, my Mum’s bag was unzipped three times. Luckily nothing was stolen, but you have to watch your back and watch out for your travel companions. Always be wary of pickpockets in Paris.
There are many scams to watch out for as well. One of these scams my family encountered while on our trip. As we were walking along the Seine River and a group of women surrounded us, tapping pens on their clipboards quietly. I found out later that in this scam, people pretending to be deaf distract you with a campaign to help the deaf (which is another scam) and steal your wallet when you are distracted. My family luckily recognized it as a scam immediately, and maturely ran away. It was an odd experience (one of the women kissed my mum’s shoulder), but we escaped with our wallets and phone and we were fine. It was eye opening that scams aren’t something that only happens to other people, it can happen to you too. Be cautious while in Paris. You can also educate yourself on some of the common scams before going. Suggestion on where to learn more: http://thesavvybackpacker.com/pickpockets-europe/
Paris has about 30 million visitors each year, and if you’re going to visit a famous exhibits or attraction, you should be expecting long lineups and waits. The best thing you can do to prepare is to buy your entrance pass ahead of time. You can do this trough a travel agent. Trust me, you will thank me later as this will save your time and patience. Always try to do you biggest attraction first thing in the morning so you beat most of the crowds. There is an exception to this rule because a great time to visit the Eiffel tower is in the evening during dinner. The lines quiet down and if you stay long enough, you can see the city at night. The ‘The city of lights” name is outdated and the city does get quite dark, but the tower lights up which is nice, and worthwhile to see. If you know you will be standing in a long line outdoors be sure to bring water, wear sunscreen and a hat as you may be in the sun for a while. Or if it’s going to rain bring an umbrella and a rain coat.
Knowing French is not necessary to visit Paris. Paris is a tourist friendly city and it is easy to survive without knowing French. However a few useful sayings can get you far there. It can earn you more respect as a tourist from the Parisians (most people who live in Paris are not fond of tourists, to put it nicely). I would recommend learning a bit of French before you go, as this may give you and advantage when you need help or when you are lost. It can help you make friends along the way, too. I found small French towns were more willing to talk to travellers and I had quite a few nice long conversations. In Paris, conversations with locals were almost nonexistent.
The Bigger the Attraction, the Bigger the Price
Prices around famous attractions tend to be more expensive. For an example, don’t eat lunch right beside the Eiffel tower. Lunch for four people cost $100 Canadian. The over priced food didn’t even taste that good, it was your typical fast food. Any sane person would have walked away, but my family was at a desperate point where we were hungry, grumpy and tired and needed to sit down and eat. Ways to avoid pricey meals are packing lots of snacks to hold you over and planning to eat in less touristy areas. Packing your own lunch is a cheap alternative.
One last piece of advice, be careful when ordering water. It is common to receive distilled water instead of normal water. You may have to clarify.
Paris is an amazing place to visit and I wish I could have spent more time there. I hope your trip will be fantastic and this advice will help you along the way. It’s nice not to be unpleasantly surprised if you keep this article in mind, you can avoid the common unexpected situations. Bon voyage!