Paris Holds the Key to My Heart Part 2: Covering Our Bases
Before we set off on our adventure for real for real, it’s important and super helpful to get some of the housekeeping out of the way, like figuring out transportation routes and options, and logistics to make the trip run more smoothly, especially the day you land to reduce possible confusion and frustration.
Getting through Customs
When you land into Charles de Gaulle and you’re making your way to customs, just follow the crowd. There are also plenty of signs and I quickly learned one of my favorite signage words “Sortie” which helped a lot throughout the trip.
Let it be known that customs getting into Paris is quite a mess. I don’t know if this is everyone’s experience or if this is always the case, but when we got to the customs line, there were no lines...because it was just one big mob. There was no distinction between who was waiting for which attendant window, and even though there were airport employees standing by, they weren’t doing anything to manage the crowd. People basically shuffled and shoved their way to the front where there were some vague semblances of lines. The attendant at the front who would tell people when they could move forward to the next available window wasn’t even directing people from one line to one window, so one line would be waiting forever while another would continue filing people through because the attendant was propelling them forward to every window. It was confusing and messy and a bit of a frustrating start to the morning. But after what felt like an unnecessarily long and confusing wait, we were finally through and officially in France!
Paris Museum Pass
I talk about this in my other blog post that goes into detail about the Paris Museum Pass (how to get, how to use it, etc.), but we basically made sure to get ours as soon as we landed so that we wouldn’t have to worry about purchasing them when we actually needed them. As soon as we were through customs, we headed to the Tourist Information point at the arrivals level to purchase these. The attendants were nice and helpful and spoke English! This would also be the place where you would purchase a data hotspot if you needed. We spent a bit of time going back and forth deciding whether or not we’d need it, but we ultimately decided not to because we had a Google Fi at our disposal.
Leaving Charles de Gaulle
There are different ways you can get to the city from Charles de Gaulle. Taxis and ride share options are definitely available, and are likely the more costly options. Other options include a shuttle van or a bus known as the Roissybus which travels to and from the airport to multiple stops in the city. And of course, the most cost-effective route, would be to take the trains (you'll take the RER out of the airport and likely transfer to the Metro when you're in the city). Travel time will vary depending on what mode of transportation you're using and whether or not you're traveling during rush hour, so the right method for you might depend on whether you're trying to save on time or money.
If you're taking the trains, there’s a large sign at the arrivals terminal that indicates the proper elevators to take that will bring you to the station; keep in mind there is only one set of elevators that will bring you to the right level. The line for the elevators might be long, but they move pretty quickly! Be sure to take the express train otherwise you'll be making many stops and it can just as well double your travel time. I made the rookie mistake of directing my family to a local train and didn't think to ask the attendant standing on the platform about the express train. Don't make the same mistake!
Getting Around Paris
There are multiple ways to get around Paris on the Metro. You can purchase single-use metro tickets either in single tickets or a booklet of tickets (you get a bit of savings when buying them in sets). You can also buy Day tickets that are sectioned off in zones which you can figure out using a subway map. This might save you some money if you only plan to travel within a specific zone in a given day. Or you can purchase a Weekly Pass, which is valid for spans of Monday-Sunday and gives you access to the Metro and RER trains through all zones. This can also be reloaded.
Be aware there are a couple of caveats that you need to know if you're going to use a Navigo Weekly Pass (Navigo Découverte). These weekly passes are not valid for 7-day units, but are based on the calendar dates. So if you’re traveling Thursday-Thursday, for example, you’ll need to buy two Weekly Passes if you go this route. Another thing you'll need to bring with you if you buy these passes is a small ID photo of you (similar to your passport photo) to adhere to the card, otherwise it will not be valid. There are photobooth kiosks available in some stations and some markets, but if you bring your own you'll save time and money. I've read that some attendants may discourage tourists from purchasing these passes, but I didn't experience this and as a tourist you are allowed to purchase these. There is a separate kind of Navigo Weekly Pass that is reserved for locals, however, so be sure to distinguish between them. I did some calculations based on our itinerary to determine which method of purchase would give us the highest cost savings and it turned out that two Navigo Week Passes were right for us, so as soon as we got to the first Metro station we purchased our passes.
At any Metro station, you can purchase/reload these cards either with an attendant or at a machine if available.
We had an early morning arrival to Paris, which was great because it meant we would have more time to sightsee, but not so great because our Airbnb didn’t have an early check-in or early bag drop-off option (we asked before the trip; they had guests staying up to our arrival and needed time to clean, so the room wouldn’t be available earlier than our check-in time). But there was nothing to fear! There were plenty of luggage storage options around the city. I used Stasher and we were able to drop off all of our bags for the whole day at a nearby hotel that supported this service. They have a convenient website and app where you can submit your bag storage request, which you’ll need to do before you drop your bags off so the location can ensure they have the space for you. It was super convenient, the price was pretty affordable for a full day, and it was easy to drop off and pick up! Their cancellation policy is also really flexible, so you can cancel up until your reservation time which is nice! Remember not to leave any super important personal belongings in the bags you leave behind if you want to be extra cautious.
A good amount of places in and around Paris accept credit cards, and if you have a travel credit card you’re likely to be able to avoid transaction fees. I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers tons of great travel benefits, one being $0 foreign transaction fees, so I had very little worries about using it wherever I went. (Don’t forget to submit your travel plans to your respective banks before your trip!) But of course it’s always a good idea to keep some cash on you in the event that you do happen on a place that doesn’t accept card or requires a minimum purchase to use a card. We had some euros on us, but I also had a Charles Schwab debit card with me that I like to have for travel because it refunds you ATM fees and also doesn’t charge an international transaction fee (referral link here if you'd like a bonus!)! I’d highly recommend finding yourself one of these as well if you like to travel internationally since those fees could rack up and it’s just another thing you don’t have to worry about. The city is replete with ATMs so finding access to cash should be of little concern. You could also go the route of a handy dandy money belt (which we also used) to store cash we didn’t plan on using that day safely on our persons to protect ourselves from pickpockets.
Well that’s it! Now that we’ve covered our bases, let’s head off on our great big wonderful adventure!