Last minute advice for solo trip to Paris?
October 9, 2009 12:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm heading off to Paris for four days, and I'm starting to get a bit nervous that I'll forget something important. I've never been to Paris, and I haven't been to Europe for fifteen years. I'll be staying by myself in a hotel in Arondissement 7. I'm wondering if you can help me out with any last-minute tips or things I'm likely to have forgotten.

Here are the types of questions that I suddenly find myself asking:

Will I need an adapter of some sort in order to charge my camera or ipod?

Am I required to carry my passport with me, and if so, should I get some sort of money belt? (I believe my hotel room has a safe deposit box -- is it better to leave it there?)

I'm assuming that I can get Euros out of a bank machine with my regular (Bank of America) card. (That's what I did in Germany years ago.) Is this true?

Will I generally be safe walking around at night? I'm a woman who will be travelling by herself; are there areas I should avoid?

I hate not having access to internet in case I want to look up directions, print tickets, or other computer-based tasks. I have an iPod touch -- is there likely to be free wi-fi around? Are internet cafes common in Paris?

Is there anything else that I'm forgetting?

Thanks so much!
posted by cider to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Definitely call up your bank and tell them you are traveling to Europe, that way they won't put a hold on your account for "suspicious withdrawal attempts" or anything, and you won't have to worry about your card not working.
posted by Grither at 12:25 PM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Will I need an adapter of some sort in order to charge my camera or ipod?

Yes, a standard European adapter. You can find these pretty easily.

Am I required to carry my passport with me, and if so, should I get some sort of money belt? (I believe my hotel room has a safe deposit box -- is it better to leave it there?)

Up to you. I usually keep mine on me when I'm traveling, but I also never leave my bags unattended or walk alone at night, so I'm not too worried about being targeted for theft. Lots of people prefer to lock everything up in hotel safe deposit boxes.

I'm assuming that I can get Euros out of a bank machine with my regular (Bank of America) card. (That's what I did in Germany years ago.) Is this true?

Yes. Go to BNP Paribas ATMs (they're everywhere). There will be a charge, though.

Will I generally be safe walking around at night? I'm a woman who will be travelling by herself; are there areas I should avoid?

Generally, yes, you'll be fine. Treat it like any other big city: stick to well-lit roads, don't look nervous or lost, walk briskly. The 7ème is pretty touristy, so you should be okay as long as you don't look like an easy target.

I hate not having access to internet in case I want to look up directions, print tickets, or other computer-based tasks. I have an iPod touch -- is there likely to be free wi-fi around? Are internet cafes common in Paris?

I'm not sure about free wifi, but yes, there are internet cafés, and I believe the computers at the Centre Pompidou library are free to use (although you have to wait in line).

Is there anything else that I'm forgetting?

Don't worry too much and have fun :)
Thanks so much!
posted by oinopaponton at 12:30 PM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


you'll need an adaptor for your chargers so that the US plugs will fit in the Parisian wall sockets, but both your camera and ipod chargers should be usable, provided they are mulitvoltage (which they should be in this day and age. I know mine are). Something like this.

you are not required to carry your passport with you, and provided you are staying in a reputable hotel, you should be fine to leave your passport there. it's always a good idea to leave a photocopy of your travel documents at home in a safe place where someone could retrieve them on your behalf should something happen to your originals.
posted by netsirk at 12:33 PM on October 9, 2009


Free wifi? Trouvez-vous un Staarbeux. Find a Starbucks. There's bound to be other places where you can find free wifi. By the way,I always take a laptop when travelling, especially on city trips, and I'm invariably happy I did (to find restaurants, phone numbers of cab companies, opening hours of museums and restaurants, ticket booths for shows and theatre,...) but YMMV.
posted by NekulturnY at 12:35 PM on October 9, 2009


Just got back from a week in Paris last month, hopefully some of my experiences can help.
  • Many, many ATMs want a smart chip, or something like that, for your card to work. Some banks supply cards with them, others don't. One of my cards only worked in ONE of the ATMs that I found because of that problem, another worked everywhere. Shops and cafes seemed to have no problem, it was just the ATMs. Definitely call your bank and ask.
  • I stayed to some specific areas in Paris (a mile or so radius around Notre Dame) and I'm a guy. I wandered around into the wee hours and didn't feel in danger at all -- I ran across some homeless people in alleyways and a couple of trashed friends pissing off of a balcony onto the street at 2am on a Friday night, but that was about as bad as it got. It might be worth asking someone with more experience, but I strongly suspect that it's neighborhood-dependent, and no worse than any other large city. I have the feeling that this is where individual experiences may vary wildly.
  • There is no free wifi anywhere, and wifi sucks. The hotel we were in had free wifi, but it was metered via access cards that had a 120 minute time limit. Some cafes advertised free wifi ("Skype friendly!" was on one sign), but there was no info on the actual connection details, so Iwould've had to ask them directly.
  • You will need an adapter for the power charging. Some devices (my MacBook, say) can charge with nothing but a *wall adapter*, while others require an actual power converter to step from European power to US power. The hotel I was in had wall adapters in the room already, but no power converters. My wife and I took both to be safe and I didn't regret it.
  • You didn't mention it, but if you're planning on bopping around the city, you will NOT regret picking up a carne of ten metro tickets. It's handy and a bit cheaper than getting them ad-hoc.
It's not comprehensive or anything ,but I hope it helps.
posted by verb at 12:37 PM on October 9, 2009


The BNP ATMs will work fine with your BofA debit card and there will not be a charge.
posted by :-) at 12:40 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


You'll be fine at night.
posted by fire&wings at 12:48 PM on October 9, 2009


Plenty of good comments here. I was recently in France for work and had no trouble with any of the ATMs I tried with my US bank card. Everything other than an ATM (gas pumps, transit tickets) that is unattended and takes cards usually requires a chip 'n PIN card, which no US banks/CC companies issue to the best of my knowledge. (If someone knows one that does, please MeFiMail me. I have been looking for one every few months for the last year.)

As a more general tip to happy traveling: I travel a lot for work. To keep myself from freaking out every time I leave the house, I identify 2 or 3 things that are critical to my trip (laptop, ATM card, passport) and freak out only about those. Everything else I assure myself I can do without or buy when I get there.
posted by chiefthe at 1:04 PM on October 9, 2009


Yeah, I was just in France. BNP Paribas (and various other banks in Europe) have an association that includes Bank of America so ATMs are no trouble.

The chip and pin business *can* be a problem though. The Velib system seems to require that style of card so unless you have a credit card with a chip/pin you probably can't use the awesome bike system (practically free as long as you return within half an hour as it's only 1 euro a day ).
posted by R343L at 1:08 PM on October 9, 2009


Lots of good advice above so I'll just say this:

Relax.

Paris is one of only a handful of the world's great cities, with every possible service you could ever need. (For example, the cafes have wifi, yes.) If you forget anything at all, it will be easy to fix that. And yes, it's quite safe by US standards: after all, there are few metropolises in the world that are dangerous when compared to American cities.
posted by rokusan at 1:09 PM on October 9, 2009


You guys are so great. Thank you -- I'm feeling calmer already!
posted by cider at 1:11 PM on October 9, 2009


There is no free wifi anywhere...Some cafes advertised free wifi ("Skype friendly!" was on one sign), but there was no info on the actual connection details, so Iwould've had to ask them directly.

so .. it sounds like there is wifi? I think you just have to be willing to actually communicate with people.

I don't know if the French are like the Germans in this respect, but my experience in Berlin last year was that wifi is typically referred to as wlan in regular conversation, though most people will know what you mean by wifi.
posted by mannequito at 1:26 PM on October 9, 2009


I was in Paris for a few days in September. Based on my experiences:

Will I need an adapter of some sort in order to charge my camera or ipod?

Check the small print on your power cords/devices. As long as they can handle 220v power (most can), all you'll need is a wall adapter. Usually, this will look something like "100-240v" on your devices.


Am I required to carry my passport with me, and if so, should I get some sort of money belt? (I believe my hotel room has a safe deposit box -- is it better to leave it there?)

I'm a fan of keeping the passport on my person, and keeping photocopies of all my stuff in the hotel.


I'm assuming that I can get Euros out of a bank machine with my regular (Bank of America) card. (That's what I did in Germany years ago.) Is this true?

Yes, and they'll charge you something like a 3% conversion fee. If you have (or can quickly get) a Capital One credit card, they don't charge any conversion fees, which can be a huge money-saver. You're still going to need some cash though, as credit cards aren't universally accepted for small purchases, like they are in the US.


Will I generally be safe walking around at night? I'm a woman who will be travelling by herself; are there areas I should avoid?

Don't worry, especially in the well-travelled, touristy part of town that you'll be staying in.


I hate not having access to internet in case I want to look up directions, print tickets, or other computer-based tasks. I have an iPod touch -- is there likely to be free wi-fi around? Are internet cafes common in Paris?

Probably not a lot of free wifi, but there are lots of pay-as-you-go networks that you'll be able to access. These feel like kind of a rip-off, but hey, internet is internet.
posted by chrisamiller at 1:41 PM on October 9, 2009


As a France newbie (who'll also be in Paris for a solo stay in the coming weeks, incidentally), I understand wifi is still wifi here, just pronounced wee-fee.
posted by nicoleincanada at 1:42 PM on October 9, 2009


I'm heading off to Paris for four days, and I'm starting to get a bit nervous that I'll forget something important.

As rokusan says: Relax

The most important things you need are:
- Your passport
- Credit/Debit Card to be able to get money

Everything else is easily fixable. There's free wi-fi at McDonalds (NOT that I recommend you eat there) and in many public parks and museums (such as Pompidou). There are English language bookstores. Adapters can be gotten at the airport or your hotel will help you out.

Paris is a big city with a lot of other tourists wandering around. You'll be fine and safe. The 7th is actually a nice upscale-ish part of town. Thats where one of my favorite lunch places is - La Fontaine de Mars. Have a good trip!
posted by vacapinta at 1:49 PM on October 9, 2009


Just to let you know about the wifi (yep, wee-fee): Starbucks, at least a couple of months back, only offered paid wi-fi. Other cafés offer free limited wi-fi, though. But there is free public wi-fi in gardens and other places all around town. Look for the Paris wi-fi logo on benches or just look out for a lot of people using laptops in parks! The hotspots are also on this map. Instructions on how to connect are here (French only). A quick translation of the important steps:

- Select the network called Orange.
- Open your web browser and try to visit a URL.
- An authentication screen is going to open. Select "Paris wi-Fi 2h".

I think you then have 2 hours a day of free internet. But try not to spend that much time browsing the web, wnjoy the city instead! :)
posted by natalinha at 3:09 PM on October 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


The Velib system seems to require that style of card so unless you have a credit card with a chip/pin you probably can't use the awesome bike system

American Express cards work fine with Velib'. But you're right that other cards without a chip will not work.

Also, your credit card will not work at the metro and train stations (even AmEx), so be prepared to wait in line at the counter to get tickets.

In addition to parks and McDonalds, you can find free wifi at "Indiana Café" restaurants, which are everywhere. The password is always "indiana". Also, any hotspot named "adael-gratuit" is free for 20 minutes. Between these 4 options, it should be very easy to find free wi-fi.
posted by helios at 4:28 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Many cafés offer free Wifi (with a registration screen to jump through) and all city of Paris libraries have free Wifi.
posted by Dick Paris at 7:35 PM on October 9, 2009


I stayed here in Paris, and one night, after shopping, myself and my other two female companions came out of the Metro station to find three men standing around in different places who then gathered together to enclose around us, attempting to assault and/or rob us. Luckily, the hotel is a short distance from the hotel, and we were able to run to safety on adrenaline. It wasn't that late, I'd say around 11.

Other than that, we didn't have much trouble in Paris. It's a beautiful place. I even traveled around alone a bit and encountered nothing else bad.

As for the adapters, be aware that sometimes the current doesn't run sufficiently. During my time living abroad, I had a clock radio that was rendered half useless because the clock sucked enough power to run the radio, but the clock kept losing time.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:36 PM on October 9, 2009


Following from netsirks suggestion of photocopying passport & travel documents, for extra peace of mind you could scan them and email a copy to your webmail account and perhaps carry a [pdf/jpg] version on a little USB flash key. Maybe add a list of important contacts phone numbers, and anything else you might need reminding of.

You might like to peruse onebag.com even if you're not ready to take it all on board yet (forgive the pun). Also www.artoftravel.com -- hasn't changed much in the last 10 years, but still contains useful information, despite being aimed at backpackers.

Most of all, enjoy your trip :)
posted by dirm at 9:58 PM on October 9, 2009


One thing that hasn't come up is cell phones. If you have a T-Mobile or AT&T phone, you can arrange for international roaming, since those carriers use the GSM system that is also used in France. (You also need a multi-band phone, but if your phone is recent it's almost certainly multi-band.) Roaming charges are high (AT&T charges $1.25/minute to make and receive calls unless you sign up for a special plan), and data roaming is outrageous. But if it gives you peace of mind to have a cell phone, it might be worth it. The number for emergency calls (police, fire, ambulance) is 112--worth memorizing even if you don't take a cell phone.

A couple other comments:

Technically, in France you are required to carry identity papers (national ID card or passport). In reality, if you are white and well dressed, you will rarely be asked to produce them, and a photocopy should be fine. If you're of African or Arab ancestry, the odds of being stopped for an identity check go up; in that case you might want to carry your passport. I've spent over two years, all told, living in Paris and I've always left my passport in my apartment unless I needed it for a specific purpose. I figure the risk of a pickpocket stealing it is much greater than the risk of needing it for an identity check.

Seconding helios: the Vélib' bike system works with American Express cards, but not with other US credit cards.

If you verify that your electronic gadgets work on 220V current, all you'll need is a plug adapter. I usually just take one adapter and a very short, heavy duty extension cord, so I can plug that into the outlet and then plug my gadgets into the extension cord. That way I can recharge everything at once without needing multiple plug adapters.

As several posters have said, free WiFi is fairly easy to find in Paris, especially with the new Pass Paris Wifi service (info in French). Your hotel will almost certainly have WiFi or a desktop computer connected to the Internet for customers to use.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:53 AM on October 10, 2009


Will I generally be safe walking around at night? I'm a woman who will be travelling by herself; are there areas I should avoid?

The only time I felt uncomfortable was coming out of a club at 2am in the 17e arr. I was dressed in an attention-attracting way, and I got catcalled by a group of guys, who did not approach me. I was also drunk and not really sure how to get back to my hotel, which had a lot to do with my discomfort. Everyone else's answers to your other questions are consistent with my experience, and I would definitely feel safe walking around the single-digit arrondissements late at night.
posted by desjardins at 8:33 AM on October 10, 2009


I'm back, and I had a great trip! Some details for anyone looking at this thread in the future:

1) My bank card worked fine to withdraw money, but as a couple of people mentioned, it didn't work in other kinds of machines. In particular, I had some trouble getting my Metro tickets at Gare de Nord, since the machines don't take bills (only coins) and my bank card didn't work. It took me a while to find the ticket counter, but I found it eventually.

2) The wifi Orange worked the couple of times that I tried it; my hotel also sold me wifi for a Euro an hour. (But don't worry -- I didn't use it too much!)

3) I bought an adapter for charging my iPod, which was very useful.

4) I always felt safe walking around -- and I wound up going all over the city -- but I didn't venture too far after dark. Luckily, it stayed light until 7 or so and I'm an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of person.

5) I left my passport in my hotel safety deposit box and carried a copy with me, though I was never required to produce it.

6) The Metro was easy to use and the city as a whole was really walkable.

7) My favorite part was going on the Notre Dame tower tour -- fantastic views. I ate lots of good food, but the absolute best was the five-Euro falafel from L'As de Falafel -- it sounds crazy, but it was delicious.
posted by cider at 1:22 PM on October 27, 2009


Hooray, Cider! Glad to hear that your trip went so smashingly.
posted by verb at 12:43 PM on October 29, 2009


I ate lots of good food, but the absolute best was the five-Euro falafel from L'As de Falafel -- it sounds crazy, but it was delicious.

Everybody raves about that place. I'll have to check out it out, thanks!
posted by vacapinta at 12:52 PM on October 29, 2009


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