How best can I help a naive teen spend a week in Paris
October 14, 2009 3:57 AM   Subscribe

My baby sister will spend a week in Paris alone and is travelling overseas for the first time. What practical arrangements can I make from a distance to help her have the best time she has ever had?

My 17 year old sister and I were supposed to meet in Paris for her birthday in early November. She's flying from Pakistan, I was taking the train from London. Unfortunately it's looking increasing unlikely that my visa will arrive in time. This is the first time she'll be out of South Asia, let alone travel in a non-English-speaking country by herself. Given this, I am looking for suggestions on the following:

- Good, comfortable friendly B&Bs, centrally located in a safe area, where the owners and staff will take good care of a foreign teenager who doesn't speak French. I'm paying for the holiday as a present, but would prefer it to not bankrupt me (say under 80 euros a night, preferably much less). Ideally it would be a nice little place, very comfortable, with staff whom I can speak to and who will help her navigate the city, keep an eye on her, but not be pushy or enfolding.

- Any long distance arrangements I can make? Eg ensure there is a mobile phone SIM and a guidebook waiting for her? Week-long tickets to public transport?

- How can I ensure she has cash once she's there? I was planning to do all the spending, and her Pakistani card may not work overseas. Is there a way I can make sure there's money waiting for her once she arrives?

- Any tips for a kid in this situation? My own feeling is that a week alone in Paris as your first trip abroad should be a superb adventure. At the same time I don't want her to feel intimidated or nervous alone. Any suggestions on how I can make it easier - or indeed if I should help at all? Any off-the-beaten-track places and events?

- Finally, here's the big sister worrying. I've never been to Paris, and whilst I've been travelling alone since 16, I was the dorky gawky teen, not the one who gets modelling offers. My sister is naive, beautiful and completely lacking in street smarts. In Pakistan there are societal structures (eg chaperonage, class, honour etc) protecting her when she's alone. What sort of warnings should she have about being taken advantage of, sleazy men, mugging, etc?
posted by tavegyl to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not a B&B but these people are wonderful. English speaking, with many Americans on their staff, and the level of service is amongst the best I have encountered anywhere. They are on call the duration of your stay to provide assistance and advice and their apartments are fully equipped right down to maps, guide books and umbrellas. They specialise in more luxurious places but also have several basic studios and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them, especially to a first time traveller to Paris.
posted by fire&wings at 4:28 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

What about a private room in a hostel? She'd have the security of an English-speaking front desk and her own space combined with the camaraderie of fellow guests, laundry facilities, and perhaps free/included breakfast everyday.
posted by mdonley at 4:53 AM on October 14, 2009

If she's into museums, then get her the museum pass. It lets you skip the line when buying tickets (since she'd already have them) and makes it so you're only wasting time if a museum sucks instead of wasting time and money.

The shortest it comes in 2, 4, and 6 day versions. Although when I bought it in late May/early June I got a 3 day pass. Here's a link to the sale's page, but explore the site because it has some other information.

Just a note, it says that it's good only for the permanent collections. And there's plenty of that to see and I still say it's worth it. But when I used it I got into a few temporary collection areas. Not sure if that clause was in the TOS then or not.
posted by theichibun at 5:16 AM on October 14, 2009

Find out if there is a reverse charge english speaking international operator service (something like AMEX which comes with their travel insurance package) which she could use if she needed to call home in an emegency. There are other reverse charge services too.
posted by london302 at 5:30 AM on October 14, 2009

My sister is naive, beautiful and completely lacking in street smarts. In Pakistan there are societal structures (eg chaperonage, class, honour etc) protecting her when she's alone. What sort of warnings should she have about being taken advantage of, sleazy men, mugging, etc?

I'm not sure how it works in Pakistan, but in France making eye contact with a stranger is often taken as a sign of interest. So, avoid that. (This was told more to us Americans, who are apparently all smiles & "howdy!!" to everyone we see.)

Also, sometimes there are ticket inspectors in the metro. Sometimes they're really stupid and will try to catch you unawares, sometimes by basically jumping out around a corner. And by not acting at all in a calm manner. I know they freaked my friends and family out, who had no idea what was going on. They will be wearing a sort of uniform, but that fact might not be apparent if she's too busy going "oh my god oh my god am I being mugged what does this guy want." Just hand them your little metro ticket.

Since she doesn't speak French, a french menu guide should come in handy.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:41 AM on October 14, 2009

Oh also scammers.

At the big metro/train/airport connection stations, there are usually long lines at the machines waiting to get metro tickets. Apparently, there will sometimes be guys walking around trying to prey off of confused tourists - they offer to help you figure out the machines, then essentially work some quick distraction magic (say ordering you a single ticket instead of the week-long-pass you wanted) and walk away with the more expensive pass. Or your money.

Here's a page with instructions on how to use the machines yourself - it's just better to know how to do this yourself or to wait in line for someone in the boothes to help.

In popular tourist areas, some women in long skirts or children will be walking around asking "Do you speak English?" They're not asking for help, they're begging and will follow you. Your sister should just ignore them and not say anything, they'll move on to the next person right away.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:47 AM on October 14, 2009

Dumb question from me: why does she have to be in Paris? Why can't she spend some of the week alone in London with you, given it's her first time out of South Asia and everything will be exciting and new? It's an easy 3hr train ride away, and there are still some dirt cheap Eurostar deals available for travel in November.

If it has to be Paris, then the preparation she could do with:

1) A decent base with friendly, helpful people
2) Foolproof access to cash
3) Some language skills - could you get her a 2 hour French lesson before her departure to learn the basics?
4) A decent travel guide

But, over and above that, the best thing you can get her is some company. If you don't know anyone in Paris, call in favours from friends and friends of friends. She can do museums and stuff on her own, but a guide to show her how to use the metro, or how to order coffee, or any of the myriad quirks that are different from Pakistan is invaluble.

Plus, a week is a long time to be on your own. It's a quick way to turn a great city into a lonely, miserable one. Failing all other options, you can hire a personal tour guide for a day - but it's expensive.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:47 AM on October 14, 2009

Most of the questions have already been answered above. Here's some additional tips:

- First of all I recommend you focus on ensuring she has hassle-free access to money. I assume she has a debit card that she uses to access a local Pakistani bank account. If it's a Visa/MasterCard debit card she should be fine, else you will need to contact the bank for more information.

- Like any big city, there are many scam artists and hustlers on the streets--if she doesn't talk to any strangers she will be fine. Otherwise she should be as safe as she is in Pakistan.

- Guidebooks can be found easily. For example any large tourist attraction will have touristy shops in the area, which will sell a wide variety of maps (for public transport etc) & guidebooks. This information will be available on the internet as well. I don't really recommend off-the-beaten-track stuff for a first visit to a place because you'll end up missing all the big major stuff that you always hear about :)
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 5:53 AM on October 14, 2009

Staying a hostel will be cheaper, and she might be able to meet other traveller's she can partner up with (not that she should trust these people 100%, but I've never had any issues).

It was 5 years ago, but I stayed at Absolute Paris and was pretty happy with the location and the staff/rooms, etc. Might be worth checking recent reviews, though.

I think a big help will just be to stay sober - as often drinking + naivety = trouble.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:01 AM on October 14, 2009

What sort of warnings should she have about being taken advantage of, sleazy men, mugging, etc?

Generally, she should ignore people who approach her on the street and start talking to her. Women might go up to her and ask "Do you speak English?" These are beggars, sadly.

Paradoxically your sister may escape much of this because, being from Pakistan, she will likely look different than your average naive American tourist - who are usually the biggest targets.
posted by vacapinta at 6:03 AM on October 14, 2009

Thanks for the input, everyone. Keep the tips coming; I'm forwarding these messages to sisters (editing out references to her naivete). It's looking a little less impossible now.

MuffinMan, sadly it's even trickier for a Pakistani to come to Britain for a holiday than to arrange a long distance week in Paris. (My mum is somewhere in the 14,000 strong backlog; she was supposed to visit in July.)
posted by tavegyl at 6:25 AM on October 14, 2009

I feel your pain, tavegyl.

A similar thing happened to me last year when one of my best friends who lives in China came to Paris to celebrate his Birthday. They couldn't come up to London because his Chinese wife couldn't get a visa in time. I couldn't go to Paris because I was waiting for my Residence Card. Home Office to me: No, you can't have fun!

All this is to say that I live in London and will be in Paris for the weekend in about 10 days - before your sister arrives there I suppose. Still, let me know if there is anyway I can help including checking out something on your behalf etc.
posted by vacapinta at 7:06 AM on October 14, 2009

I highly recommend using over all other booking sites, because will give you the hostel's phone number, email, url, and address up front, while other sites will only give you information after you pay them. So she can write down the contact information for a couple back up places in case she dislikes the first choice.

Oops! is not quite so centrally located, but they are much cleaner than more central places. Oops! is also very near numerous cheap hotels. So she could start out at say Young & Happy, which has an ideal location, but then move further out to Oops! if she finds them too dirty for her tastes.

Btw, if she's looking for a party, there is always Peace & Love, or 3 Ducks for a nice compromise between partying and relaxing.

I recommend that she eat a meal in Chez Gladines, which is reasonably priced, offers plentiful portions, and is extremely tasty.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:09 AM on October 14, 2009

Oh,, not
posted by jeffburdges at 8:11 AM on October 14, 2009

If you decide on a hostel then St Christophers is one of the best in Paris. Huge, modern, clean and she'll meet lots of cool people.
posted by fire&wings at 9:38 AM on October 14, 2009

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