You're planning your first trip to France, and it's something you've dreamed of for years. If you want to make the most of your experience in France, there are several travel mistakes that you should avoid.
Going to Paris, and Only Paris
The overwhelming majority of people who visit France visit Paris, and only Paris. That's borderline tragic because there is so much more to France than one capital city has to offer, however spectacular the City of Light might be. So you like cities. Try Nice, the Queen of the Riviera, a gorgeous historic city with museums, cafes, restaurants, and bars as well as one of the most colorful outdoor fruit and vegetable markets in the south of France.
If you want the glories of the Atlantic Coast, consider Bordeaux, which has undergone a huge renovation in recent years. Or perhaps Nantes to discover the massive mechanical elephant which makes its way slowly around the historic port area, with you perched on top. Then there’s the old town of Aix-en-Provence; sophisticated Lille in northern France which is great for a short break from Paris or the UK; Lyon in central France, the gastronomic capital with restaurants to suit every taste and pocket (and some pretty good sightseeing as well.)
Check out the top French cities for international visitors.
Or fancy going a bit off the beaten track? Then look at some of the less popular cities, all of them beautiful and less crowded.
And think about what you like doing and visiting. France, the biggest country in Europe, has it all: amazing beaches, spa towns, fortified hilltop villages, vineyard-dotted landscapes, you name it. Yes, people should experience the splendor of Paris. But instead of planning your whole trip around it, start and end in Paris (where you're probably flying into and out of anyway). Spend the middle of your vacation exploring the wonders of France the country.
Check out other areas of France:
Not Learning About the French Before Visiting France
The French are very particular about their customs and social behavior. If you go to France without learning anything at all about the French people, a couple of things will occur. You will not understand why certain things are happening, and assume the French are being rude to you. (Just why won't that waiter bring us our check, for crying out loud?). And they will consider your behavior rude, and behave accordingly. You see where this is going, right?
But there are many small things you can do. For instance, every conversation and any meeting whether it’s for business or just buying a baguette in a bakery begins with ‘Bonjour’. Don’t worry if the conversation doesn’t go any further; you’ll have made the effort and the French will appreciate it.
Not Learning About the French Language
You don't speak to foreigners in your country in their language do you? No? Don't expect the French to do it for you. They probably won't, and shouldn't have to. You’ll find that even if the French do speak English, they might not, either because they’re feeling taciturn, or it just might be that like you, they feel shy of trying their English out. If you go off the beaten path, you’ll find that many French have very limited knowledge of English (if at all).
You don't need to learn much, but you should certainly learn the essentials. You should also bring along a French-English dictionary or an electronic translator so that you are prepared to speak with the French.
Not Learning About the French Schedule
So you want to shop, sightsee and taste fab food while you're on vacation in France? Here's the thing. Time it wrong, and you might end up locked out of all those things. Very annoying. There's a rhythm to the French schedule, and you should definitely know it before you visit. That way, you can plan your days in France properly and not miss a thing.
For example, in small towns and villages (though not cities), all shops and businesses, including banks, close for at least 2 hours for lunch. In remote areas, it can be from 1 pm to 4 pm. In the south, people get up and shops and markets open early (markets from around 7 am), so they need the siesta. Get used to the rhythm; it’s much easier and more relaxing.
Spending More Euros Than You Have To
There are dozens of little decisions that can mean your vacation costs twice what it should, maybe even more. What's even better is you don't have to sacrifice the quality of your vacation to save a few euros. For instance, did you know it's probably better to get your euros in France from an ATM than it is to exchange your currency before you leave?
But take note of other small things. It’s much more expensive to order a coffee sitting at a table either on a terrace of a pavement. Either order at the bar and perch on a bar stool, or pay that hidden ‘people-watching’ tax. But waiters won’t try to move you on if there's a little coffee left in that cup.
Not Traveling by Public Transport
Don't stick to taking taxis (which are expensive in France), or guided tours (which can be expensive, and unreliable). Instead, try to travel by train in France; trains are comfortable, reliable and take you everywhere. It’s often cheaper to buy your train ticket in France, so you can suddenly decide to go somewhere on a whim without it costing you an arm and a leg.
Buses are also a great value. In Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, for example, it costs just €2 to go anywhere in the region, and it’s a huge place.
And most cities now have trams that follow the main roads. They're also very cheap.
Not Booking at Smaller Hotels and Bed and Breakfast
Don’t just go for the easy option of an international chain hotel that will be very expensive and probably impersonal. Instead try some of the smaller hotels, particularly the Logis Hotels which are everywhere in France. Or why not go for a bed and breakfast? Many of the owners, particularly in the more popular tourist areas, speak English. Some also offer dinner which is always a much better value than in a restaurant or hotel, and includes wine. You all sit at a communal table (often with other English-speaking guests), so can get great tips about the local area, what to see, etc.
Enjoy your Vacation!
Treat France as you would any foreign country you choose to go to; be polite, curious and interested and you’ll have a fabulous time.