8 Dos and Don'ts for
Traveling to France

-Nate Benner

My wife and I recently returned from a 7-day honeymoon to France. Now that the jet lag and return-to-work stress has subsided, I look back on the experience fondly. We spent 4 days in Nice, and 3 days in Paris. Admittedly, I went into this rather green, not speaking a lick of French or having much knowledge of the culture. However, I’ve always been one to live life on the move, and I’m eager to share 8 do’s and don’ts with you, dear reader, so that your trip to France is as enjoyable as possible.

8 Dos

1. Plenty of research

on hostels, hotels or Airbnbs

Determining where to crash is a whole can of worms depending on what type of vacation you’re trying to have. Rather than get into that topic as a whole, it’s important to note that the French amenities are generally different from what comes common in an American abode. Things like A/C, a queen sized bed, breakfast, wifi are all things that are not necessarily guaranteed in a European hostel, hotel or Airbnb. Go down the amenities list carefully when making your decision. Also, consider the location and proximity to the areas you want to hang out in. In Nice, our hotel was a full mile away from the beach where we spent most of our time. This was not a problem for me and my wife, as we took a different route through the city every time and experienced more of the city that way. However, you may want to avoid any excess steppage, so do plenty of research.

2. Consider your
packing carefully

This tip should come as no surprise coming from a Nomatic employee. However, it’s not to be taken lightly as excess baggage can come at a hefty price and be a pain to move around logistically. Additionally, packing poorly can result in packing less overall and having less of what you need on your trip. My wife packed her stuff in the Nomatic Check-In and was able to keep her hands and shoulders free after checking her bag. I utilized both of our overhead carry-on spaces packing my gear in a Carry-On Classic and the Travel Bag 30L. When I went through the airport I put the Travel Bag 30L on top of the Carry-On Classic using the luggage passthrough and moved super easily from gate to gate. Whether you’re trying to pack everything in one bag, or maximize your luggage space for souvenirs, you should absolutely utilize packing accessories. On my trip, we packed all our clothing in compression packing cubes and brought a Vacuum Bag 2.0 XL for all our dirty clothes on the way back.

3. Budget for extra time at French Airports

especially if you have connecting flights

We bought our flights through Delta and had a stop in Paris De Gaulle before catching a connecting flight to Nice. They gave us one hour to get to our connecting flight. While this seemed like enough time at first glance, we learned the hard way that this was far from the truth. Deplaning, going through security, customs and then sprinting to our next gate took 55 minutes resulting in us just missing our flight and suffering an unplanned 5-hour layover. We talked to many other American travelers in line at the customer service desk who said that they were going to miss their flights as well. Sadly, this was not our last bad experience at PDG. When we returned to Paris after spending our 4-days in Nice, it took us 2 full hours to get our baggage from the baggage claim due to the sheer volume of flights and lack of baggage claim ports in the airport. It’s a good thing we didn’t plan anything in Paris that day because we definitely would’ve been late!

4. Utilize a sling or pouch to keep your pockets clear when traveling and on day-trips

I never went without my Nomatic Access Sling, so I can’t speak to the rumors of rampant pick-pockets in Europe. Nothing of mine was ever stolen during my time in France. However, it was awesome to keep my pockets clean and have all my daily carry items organized and at the ready moving through the airport. The RFID safe pocket on the back of the sling held our passports and wallets, and I utilized the interior organization pockets for my Airpods, phone, snacks, eye mask and charger cable. All my items were organized and where I could access them at a moment's notice giving me the confidence I needed for a stress-free experience.

5. Create a loose itinerary

prioritize any “can’t-miss” sightseeing, activities and excursions

Whether you’re planning a day-trip to the Louvre in Paris, or an eBike wine tour in Nice, you’ll need to schedule that well ahead of time to avoid missing out. The reason I say “loose” here is because you need to be adaptable when traveling abroad. Leaving free-time in your travel itinerary can leave room for relaxation and breaks to recharge your batteries and enjoy your vacation more in the long run. Have a few ideas of spontaneous activities in mind that you can do in that time if you feel like it. For example, we walked up to the ​​Parc du Mont Boron in Nice and watched the ships, and spent a couple hours trying to find the best croissant in the city in Paris. These activities are not time permissive and can be done at any point as you have time and energy.

6. Take the train in the South of France

Traveling by train is not only a cheap option, but includes some breathtaking views of the French Riviera mountains en route to popular locations like Cannes, Saint Tropex, Marseille, Monte Carlo and more! Be sure to allow yourself a little extra time to purchase your tickets (the ticket booths are all in French), and find your train for the most stress-free experience. Also, avoid rush hour unless you like feeling like a canned sardine.

7. Come prepared

Bring an outlet adapter, exchange USD for Euros ahead of time, and have at least one phone with access to data. I live by the motto it’s better to have it and not need it than need it any not have it (within reason of course).

8. Be flexible, curious and spontaneous

Don’t create a tight itinerary that is too restrictive and leads to stress. Allow time to explore that awesome street market you pass, or sit at the quaint coffee shop on the corner. These moments of discovery are memories that you will remember long after the vacation has ended.

8 Don'ts

1. Go exclusively off Tripadvisor or social media

for restaurant recommendations

While these sites are super helpful for getting a sense of a hotel, restaurant or location as a whole, it’s important to blaze your own trail. Travel is meant to be a unique and spontaneous experience and you shouldn’t go into it trying to recreate someone else's vacation. You don’t need to eat at the same restaurant as your favorite online influencer. Chances are if the influencer is big enough, or the restaurant is popular enough on review sites, it will be super busy, overhyped and lead to a dissatisfactory experience. Take it from me, we ate at some of these spots and we walked away thinking they didn’t stand apart from some of the random places we chose on a whim. Conversely, some of the best restaurants we went to were the ones that we passed on the street and looked good. When in doubt, follow the locals. If a restaurant is super busy, chances are it’s because the food is really good and you’d be lucky to get a table there. We walked past this really cool French Indian restaurant once night with awesome outdoor eating and cool lighting. Not only was the ambiance super fun, but the food was great.

2. Be afraid of the
tourist buses

save time and money

We bought a 48-hour pass on “Big Bus Tours'' in Paris and used it as our glorified Uber. We paid €46 each and were able to use this system to get everywhere we wanted to go. They have stops all over the city at some of the most popular spots like The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and more. If your desired destination is not on the list, chances are there is a stop within walking distance. Buses that arrive every ten minutes so you’ll save time and money avoiding Ubers.

3. Get stopped by any of the street vendors around the popular areas in Paris

Street vendors are extremely aggressive with Americans around the popular tourist attractions. I was stopped by a man in front of the Eiffel Tower who put his hands on me and physically tried to stop me and tie a bracelet around my wrist and charge me for it. I saw other people who were more timid pay €20 per bracelet for something they didn’t even want. Don’t be afraid to be assertive and get away if this happens to you. 

4. Forget to pack comfortable walking shoes

My wife and I hit over 25,000 steps every single day of our vacation. For context, I am a marathon runner who regularly goes on training runs over 10 miles. Generally, a 10 mile run for me is around 17,000 steps. Walking to and from day-trips, shopping, to restaurants and all around town racks up a big step count, so be sure to wear comfy shoes to avoid overuse injuries.

5. Go to any single destination for less than 3 nights

We found that 3 days and 3 nights was enough time to get a sense of a place and experience enough to feel satisfied. Anything less than that and you’ll leave a lot to be desired, and likely not experience everything you came to see. We almost added a stop in Chamonix to our 7-day vacation and were so glad we didn’t. Looking back, we wouldn’t have had enough time in Nice or Paris to get the full experience.

6. Try to eat how you eat at home

...When in France

Part of the travel experience is taking in all aspects of a culture, including the food! The French are known for their cheeses, breads, pastries, pastas and wines. When in France, take advantage and enjoy these delicious foods in abundance! I learned the hard way that trying to deviate from this leads only to disappointment. The French diet and supply chain is much different than it is in America. There isn’t a ton of meat on restaurant menus outside of cold cuts, lamb and the occasional cut of beef. When I saw Chicken on a random restaurant menu, I jumped at the chance to eat something closer to what I eat at home on my regular diet. This ended up being a big mistake. It was a dry, boney, skinny half-chicken and I can’t express enough how bad it was. When in France, eat the French diet.

7. Skip the water when flying.

Little known fact: dehydration is the number one cause of jet lag while traveling. Flight attendants generally serve liquids in small portions to limit bathroom usage while flying. However, I recommend picking up a big water bottle at the airport or bringing an empty bottle with you through security. In this latest trip I experienced way less jet lag than I expected by placing an emphasis on staying hydrated.

8. Forget that travel is a reward.

Chances are you spent a lot of time and money planning this vacation. In the later days of a trip people tend to get tired and homesick. It’s important to remember that in the days, years and months that follow you won’t remember how tired you were. You’ll only remember the places, food and memories you made on your trip. So, on your last day, when you’re laying in your hotel room after taking 25,000 steps and regretting your big bowl of pasta for dinner, remember this blog. Put your shoes back on and go see the Eiffel Tower one more time. Who knows when you’ll be back next!