This post is written by Dennis, then 15.
Over the recent spring break, I went on a week-long trip to Paris, France with my school. We went in a group of 31 kids and 4 French teachers. Our school used the company ACIS to organize the trip and provide a tour guide, but there are many other such organizations. I have put together these travel tips for American teens traveling to Paris, but packing and shopping tips may be useful for some other places in Europe.
For an extensive list of Paris activities (and to book your own, check out this Get your Guide site).
1. PACK LIGHT AND COMFORTABLE. The first step to every journey is packing, and this one was no different. There was a 50 pound weight limit for luggage for our Air France flight, but good packing kept me well below that. Since we were going to be gone for seven days, and I knew I would buy some swag overseas to bring home, I packed light and tight in a small carry-on suitcase to make moving around less of a hassle. I packed assuming the worst possible weather situations (this was unpredictable springtime after all), but I only packed clothes that are comfortable (but still acceptable to wear in public) because we were going to be doing a LOT of walking. Try to dress understatedly “European”: going “full American” in flashy sneakers and polos is sure to gain you some looks.
Don’t forget to bring a camera, or, if you are going to be using your smartphone to take pictures, clear your phone memory to allow for the MANY photos you will be taking on this trip (I took over two thousand, so I had to delete several apps on my phone to make room). And as always, don’t forget to bring your charge converter. This is Europe; their sockets are different.
Finally (and most importantly), use money belts to carry your valuables. When my mom told me she was getting me a money belt I thought it was a fashion suicide. I was too young to be dressing up as a 45 year old dad! How wrong I was: wearing a money belt is a)super convenient to have valuables on hand and b) protects you from those infamous European pickpockets.
2. BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS. Paris is full of pickpockets. If you find yourself in a crowd, or anywhere else you may be distracted with looking at art or monuments, you are at risk. (They can also distract you “directly” by offering something with an unusual persistence). Never assume they can’t get in your pockets: they can, and they WILL.
3. USE THE METRO. In Paris the metro is very quick transportation to many of key monuments such as the Louvre and the various Arcs.
4. SHOPPING. While tourist shops abound (and often have good prices), they have notoriously bad quality. The Galeries de Lafayette Mall has separate stores for both male and female clothing, and has something for everyone on each of its lavish floors. Most of it is obscenely expensive but good prices can be found. The Latin Quarter also has many good shopping opportunities, such as the Gibert Josef Bookstore. WIth several locations and over five floors their book selection is ENORMOUS. Those looking for bargains can visit the Monoprix, which is essentially a French Walmart. Be aware that the second that you leave Paris, the prices of goods take a nosedive. For example, in Paris a bottle of Coke can sometimes reach 5 euros, while just outside Paris it you would be hard pressed to find a bottle worth more than 2 euros.
5. BE SURE TO VISIT:
The Eiffel Tower is a one of a kind experience, and the line is of a similar quality. The length of the line vacillates from nonexistent to seemingly endless hours of waiting, so plan accordingly. Walking up the tower is nowhere near as terrifying as it sounds, and is a very satisfying experience.
There are cathedrals literally in every town in France, and Paris boasts an overflowing supply. The Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sacré-Cœur Basilica on Montmartre are both breathtaking cathedrals that are well worth your time. Plan to climb the Notre Dame if you can: the view is amazing, and you can even pose with the famed bells of the church!
The Montmartre area, with its own unique character, offers some great views of Paris in addition to its famed Basilica.
The Arc de Triomphe is also worth the climb, as is seeing the daily procession to the Tomb of the Fallen Soldier next to the Arc. In my opinion. the Arc de Triomphe boasts the best view of Paris, especially at night: not only can you see Paris in all of its bustling glory, but there’s enough space for you to move around and take the kind of pictures you want; there is usually no line to go to the top.
As museums go, the Louvre is a classic and always will be. You could be in the Louvre for months and still not see everything it has to offer.
Versailles is just a quick ride away, and its opulent glory deserves a view. Make sure to rent a bike to cruise around the gardens; this is something that is just as fun as it sounds.
And of course, the Jardin du Luxembourg is always there for you to walk around, take in the scenery, and maybe even play a game of Petanque in the courts (balls are free, unless they’ve been stolen since I’ve been gone).
Another one of my favorites is the Rodin Garden and its famous sculptures.
And you cannot leave France without seeing a Castle.
Royal Chateau de Chambord in Loire Valley: not your average Castle.
6. FOOD. France is well touted for its food, and for a good reason: it is superb. From local dishes such as escargots to more international ones, food in France is universally good. The plentiful sandwiches available at every corner are well suited to be a full meal and are cheap as well (we had breakfasts and dinners provided by our tour, but were on our own for lunch). Make sure to check the menus in advance though: some restaurants have obscene prices and a single coke can set you back almost 8 euros, depending on the location.
And of course, the reason everyone goes to France: pastries. Don’t be discouraged by the prices in Parisian bakeries. I found my macarons heaven at the cafes near Chateau de Chambord (two hours’ drive away from Paris) with local stores offering delicious macarons at 1 euro a piece! (The airport offers macarons at nearly 3 euros, so think ahead about those souvenirs to bring home.)
7. STAY CONNECTED. There are two ways to have an internet connection on your trip: get an overseas data plan, or use free wifi. Most cafes have wifi, and don’t be afraid to ask for the wifi code at any location. (But some French waiters do not care if the wifi works or not, so don’t be too annoyed when they just give up right in front of you.)
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