Planning Paris: Tips and Tricks

Paris. Paris! To be totally honest, I’ve put off a lot of writing about this amazing trip because trying to break it down into manageable chunks has seemed so…unmanageable. Ten days of total immersion in another city, especially one I’ve always loved and had up on a pedestal a bit, is tricky! With that said, we would have had a way less successful and jam-packed trip if we hadn’t done a ton of planning and research up front. Before I jump into recaps, I think it makes sense to share a few things that really helped take our trip to the next level…and a few things I wish we would have done differently.

First and foremost, I can’t recommend getting off the “hotel” track more highly. Paris is an incredibly expensive city to visit (CBS puts them in the top ten), and hotel rooms in the heart of the city are both astronomically expensive and comically tiny. We decided almost right away to search for a flat or apartment on AirBnB or VRBO instead. I stayed in a VRBO condo on my trip to Puerto Rico in 2014, and loved the experience! We quickly narrowed our desired location down to the 1st arrondissement, home of the Louvre, Ile de la Cité, and Jardin des Tuileries. It’s walkable to so many places and the historic feel and beauty of the area made for a perfect setting to stay in. We lucked out and found an absolutely beautiful flat for only $150 a night! With a kitchen, living area, washing machine, and plenty of space to spread out, it felt like a home base way more than a hotel room could. I know we all appreciated the luxury of a little extra room, especially once we started shopping!

We spent months making and refining lists of what we wanted to do and see while in Paris, and decided to book tours well in advance of when we were departing to make sure we had an organized, manageable schedule. My mom and I both did a ton of research…I was able to leverage some of my experiences from 2010 to ensure we saw my must-sees, and we both scoured sites like Viator, Rick Steves, and Frommers. Once we had our list figured out, my dad put together a handy Excel grid for us to fill out day by day, and we started booking! We tried to add variety to each day…not clustering the museums all in one day, spreading our day trips across the ten days, building some unstructured time into every day…and it worked out near-perfectly to do so.

One of my favorite surprise money-savers was my dad’s discovery that we could book a lot of our tours at a discount using Verizon SmartRewards. Since we’re on a family plan, we get a certain number of points every month that can be used toward shopping, restaurant and travel discounts. We booked all but one of our tours through the site and ended up saving hundreds of dollars doing so…I definitely recommend checking out your cell phone provider’s site to see if you can do something similar!

Getting around Paris can feel completely overwhelming. The city is 47 square miles, after all, and alternates between quaint, labyrinthine streets and uniform, standardized Haussmanian boulevards. Finding landmarks and figuring out where we were was a constant challenge the first several days, and still wasn’t easy by the end of the trip in many arrondissements. We relied heavily on the “Plan de Paris” pocket map booklet that our AirBnB hostess, Louise, left for her guests at the apartment. Organized by neighborhood, it also includes metro and RER (train) information and lays out the city in exquisite detail.

We also leveraged the offline “Ulmon Paris” map app on my iPhone pretty heavily after some friendly Ohioans told us about it over dinner on our third day. It doesn’t use cell phone data, and you can look up hundreds of restaurants, shops, and landmarks within the app. It made it a bit easier to get around the areas I wasn’t totally sure of! One of our hugest lifesavers, too, was the fact that Emily went through and looked up addresses for every single restaurant and boutique we wanted to check out…it was so helpful to be able to look up where we were going in advance!

Now for the little things…first off, everyone who’s been to Europe knows the outlets are different. Make sure you bring both an outlet adapter and a converter…the adapter makes your plugs fit the outlets, but the converter (critically) adapts the electrical current to work. Also, I found it helpful to keep a list in the Notes app of my phone with my passport number, our address, key contact details, and other necessary information.

Finally…my biggest regret…I wish we would have taken the time either in advance or on our first few days to figure out the Metro. Our first three days in Paris were dominated by rain, so it was just plain easier to duck into a cab than to take the time to a: find the nearest Metro station b: figure out the line we needed and c: negotiate all the changes necessary. In 2010, my friends and I did it with no problems, but we always wanted to hurry and get to where we were going. Further into the trip, we walked a ton more, but still relied on cabs when necessary instead of the Metro. I’d advise getting a longer-term pass on day 1 or 2 of a trip and really trying to make it work…we could have, and in hindsight, it would have saved us a TON of money.

Whew! With all that out of the way…I can’t stress any more how important it is to do a little leg-work in advance. If wandering around and winging it is your thing, then that’s great (and I’m officially jealous!), but for us, it was critical to have plans and an itinerary, and all the up-front work we did definitely made our stay way more enjoyable.