Traveling to Europe. What Do I Need To Know & Consider?
November 26, 2018 10:34 AM   Subscribe

I am traveling to France. I don't do a ton of traveling. What do I need to know/consider/do to prepare? My main concerns are wifi - being able to access e-mail, use apple maps, apple music and podcasts etc money what else do i need to know?
posted by kbbbo to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend buying a local SIM for your phone when you get there. You'll get around 1GB for 10 bucks. Then you're not worried about looking for wifi when you need Maps on the go.

For money, I just use ATMs. Be sure to let your bank know that you'll be using your cards overseas.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:43 AM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

What are your devices and service providers? If possible, I'd consider switching to TMobile; they're the lowest-cost and easiest option for mobile data and texting internationally.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:43 AM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Money: if you want to use credit cards -- look at foreign transaction fees -- see if your card provider offers a chip-and-PIN option for international use. That'll help in situations with unattended kiosks (especially travel ticket machines) that take cards.
posted by holgate at 10:50 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have AT&T and when I'm travelling internationally, I just switch to their International Plan for the month I'm gone, then switch back when I get home. It's like an extra $20? (They have variable rates for how much international data you plan to use.) You do need to keep an eye on data, though -- I wouldn't be counting on streaming all my music/podcasts the whole time.

You can just get cash from an ATM -- I always just do it when I land at the airport. Your credit cards will work in France just the way they do at home, more or less. Just let the bank/credit card companies know that you're going to be out of the country.

Bon voyage!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:57 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Call your bank before you leave and let them know you'll be abroad so they can life your fraud alerts; also ask about fees for using debit and credit cards abroad. I often find it's better to get cash in larger amounts per single transaction and use it to avoid fees. My work email requires me to use a US-based VPN app in order to access it overseas, but everything else works fine. It might be worth downloading and testing a VPN app before you go just in case; there are some decent free ones. Make sure you pack an electrical adapter. Drink lots of water on the plane.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 11:01 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

See if your bank sells Euros. ATMs work well, but it is nice to land with cash already in hand for the transit into town. Use a credit card wherever you can, but have cash on hand in case. If you have them, bring at least one debit and 3 credit cards along. The debit card is for ATM use and the 3 cards are for purchases. If one is declined, ask them to try the other two. Nthing that you need to tell your banks the dates and countries where you will be using your cards. Some let you add a travel plan online and some require you to call them

Data: You can keep your phone in airplane mode and still use downloaded maps from Google and other apps. Turn off data for all your apps before you leave and only turn it on app-by-app.

Scan a copy of your passport and email it to yourself or save it to the cloud.

Do you have adapters for your electronics? As long as they can handle 220 voltage (read the small print on the charger or near the cord), you only need a European adapter. If you have lots of things that need to be charged, get a charger with multiple USB ports and ten you just need an adapter for that. I usually bring 3 adapters along.
posted by soelo at 11:06 AM on November 26, 2018

Get the app, then download the France map before you go.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:14 AM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you belong to AAA you can get a starter pack of Euros ahead of your trip so you don't have to fiddle around with charge card at the airport. Absolutely, go online right now to notify your bank of your travel times out of the country. Make copies of your credit card, passport, etc. and/or write down the numbers someplace.

Can't tell if you're going for tourist or business reasons. It helps to determine ahead of time how you're going to get to your hotel--bus, taxi, train. Have all that printed out. Research a couple walking routes and restaurants right in the neighborhood of your hotel or apartment to get oriented Stick around that area if it's halfway decent for the first day and half of the next day while you recover from the trip. Have a great time!
posted by Elsie at 11:26 AM on November 26, 2018

Get a guidebook to France; I like Lonely Planet (available electronically and on paper), but there are plenty of others. Each book will have a section on "practicalities," which will answer all your questions and many others you might not think to ask. (Yes, there's plenty of free info online, but presumably you're spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on the trip; the $20-$30 for a book will be well worth it.)

And in addition to a detailed listing of sights, it has suggested itineraries, which will help you narrow down the list of places to go.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:28 AM on November 26, 2018

My advice:
- Do not get an international plan on your US provider unless you are expecting critical calls or texts while you are away and can't alert these people ahead of time. Local SIMs are cheap, come with a ton of data (more than you can use on a typical holiday). It will take just a few minutes to swap out sims, pay and be on your merry way. There are several kiosks just outside of arrivals.

- Rather than a guidebook, do your research now on your laptop and star locations on a Google map. Then zoom out to to the full extent of Paris you expect to visit, type in OKMAPS, then save that locally. Now you can freely wander around Paris and then open your map to find delights near where you are. I save restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, book stores, etc and like to surprise myself.

- ATMs are plentiful but if you have Apple Pay (or equivalent on your Android), you can almost just get by with that and nothing else at all.
posted by special-k at 11:33 AM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

Make a paper copy of your passport and keep it with you but separate. Make a scan and email it to yourself, as above.

Depending on where you are from, your bank might have a partner in France. For example, I bank at Bank of American (boo, I know), and I can use Scotia Bank in Central American and the Caribbean and Deutsche Bank in Germany and Czech Republic and pay no fees for using those ATMs.

Google Maps also lets you download maps for offline use. Most hotels and AirBnBs have free wifi, so just use that to download podcasts, music, and email. There might be free wifi in public squares and areas.

Depending on where you are from, your mobile carrier might have an international plan, as above. My provider is Verizon, and as long as I notify them in advance, I can use my phone abroad. It costs $10 a day, and only if you use the data. If I keep my phone on Airplane mode the whole time it doesn't cost me anything. Also, as above, you might be able to buy a SIM card, but again depending on your carrier your phone might be locked and unable to work on any other carrier. has never taken me to a bad restaurant. Buy a book, as above, and get some ideas, and then read their reviews online. Use that book to learn about customs where you are going.

Never exchange money with a random person on the streets. Don't get into an unmarked taxi. Make sure there is a meter and it is running in any taxi. Take public transportation because it is fun. Don't keep your wallet in your back pocket. If you have a purse or pack make sure it is always over your neck and one arm, not just slung on one shoulder. Don't accept offers of people to take your picture for you.

Emergency exit signs in Europe are green, while in the US they are red. Think about that one for a second.
posted by Snowishberlin at 11:38 AM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

> My provider is Verizon, and as long as I notify them in advance, I can use my phone abroad. It costs $10 a day, and only if you use the data. If I keep my phone on Airplane mode the whole time it doesn't cost me anything. Also, as above, you might be able to buy a SIM card, but again depending on your carrier your phone might be locked and unable to work on any other carrier.

10$ a day for 512 mb, after which it goes down to 2G. For a week you are looking to spend $70 to $140 with Verizon compared to $10 for the whole trip with a local SIM card. I'm a Verizon customer who has been burned by this before. I only do this for business trips where my employer will cover the tab.
posted by special-k at 12:08 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you want real turn-by-turn navigation without using phone data, get the HERE WeGo app (available for Android and iOS), download the map of France, and then set it to offline mode.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:09 PM on November 26, 2018

Another bit of small advice on phones and data. As part of my international trip checklist at the departure airport I turn off:

- App updates on cellular data
- Podcast downloads on cellular data
- General software updates on cellular data.
- Dropbox sync on cellular data.

and turn it all back on at the airport on the way back. These will all still update on wifi. Reason for doing this is that some days my app updates along run a few 100 mb and that can eat up precious data.
posted by special-k at 12:29 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you want to use a local sim card, you will need to make sure your phone is unlocked. Talk to your carrier if you are not sure, and if it is not unlocked, they may be able to unlock it for you. Once I had to wait 3-4 days for the phone to unlock, so start that process as soon as you can.
posted by soelo at 12:32 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

What cell carrier do you use? Your phone may not even be able to work in Europe. Mine (Boost Mobile) could not because my carrier and all the phones on my carrier use different technology than is used in Europe. I called my cell provider to confirm this and they said it was not possible to use it outside North America. I bought a burner phone for a European trip but never used it - instead I did everything with wifi using Whatsapp. There were times when I couldn't find any wifi to use, but generally I found wifi to use for most of the trip.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:20 PM on November 26, 2018

Memorize a handful of phrases in French--"hello," "goodbye," "sorry," "excuse me," "please." (Also, "je suis desolee, mais je ne parle pas francais.") It goes a long way when you're asking for help. You should also greet/say farewell to the proprietor upon entering/leaving a small store.

There are apps now that will speak common phrases for you at a touch of the screen. This can be helpful if you are anxious. Many French people speak English, but not at the level of near-universal competence you get in, say, Germany.

I personally like using the Moleskine City Notebooks (there's one for Paris), which are largely blank but include A-Z city maps and subways routes. You can look up and fill in your own desired destinations. The advantages: no Internet connection required, no looking blatantly like a lost tourist as you stare at Maps, filled in with your notes as you go it becomes a nice souvenir on its own, cool analog feel. The disadvantages: pretty obvious. Maybe take one as a backup in case you have connectivity issues?

Paris is basically safe for the tourist, but somewhat pickpockety (much more so than any U.S. city). Bag cross-body on lap with arm over it when seated, in front when walking. If you are suddenly surrounded by a swirl of people, clamp down hard on bag, stride forward, ignore. However, a good pickpocket can get almost anybody, so the key protective measure is not to be carrying a lot of money or other valuables at any given time. Use your hotel safe--leave your passport and at least one credit card in it when you go out. Don't hand your phone to anybody.
posted by praemunire at 1:27 PM on November 26, 2018

Oh, and 112 is the all-emergency number that you can call from your mobile and get directed to the appropriate actual emergency number (France for some reason doesn't have a single unified number for all emergency services like our 911.) English language operators will be available.
posted by praemunire at 1:30 PM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you plan to use a credit card, it must have a chip. Make sure you know what the foreign transaction rate is and what your PIN is. It's not your ATM pin. (Kiosks and automatic machines will be chip and pin, manned booths will allow chip and sign.)

If you are flying into CDG, you can take the RER train straight into Paris, and connect at Gare du Nord or Gare de Lyon to TGV high speed trains to the rest of France.

Wi-Fi is not plentiful, but your hotel should have it. When I was there a couple years ago there was a network called Free, and I was like woo hoo Free Wi-Fi! But alas, it cost several euros for a day pass. Whatsapp is useful for messaging while abroad (uses wifi/data rather than SMS, like iMessage but works even if the other person has android).

Bon voyage !
posted by basalganglia at 6:24 PM on November 26, 2018

what else do i need to know?

You’ll want to know how to say "Yes", "No", "Please", and "Thank You" in the native language of every place you’ll be visiting. "I’m sorry" is also good and if you’re up to it "I’m sorry but I don’t speak _____.”

All of that is about being polite though. There are usually plenty of English speakers around and even if there aren’t, Europe runs on pictographs.

That said I highly recommend Google’s Translate app in live camera mode. It can add a nice layer of depth by allowing you to (sort of) read posters, etc. aimed at the locals. It will eat into your data plan a bit though.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:56 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can catch the TGV *at* CDG T2 if you are not going into Paris. There is some intricacy re buying a ticket on the spot from the ticket office *if* the train is originating elsewhere and has already departed that station. In which case, you can go down to the platform when the train arrives, search for a uniformed conductor on the platform and ask if there is space. It might be a jump seat or it might be a seat in the snack bar. You can buy the ticket (with an on-train surcharge) from him, using your card and he will find you a seat and then he will also bring you your iPad that you left on the floor when you were putting your ATM card back in your wallet.

Trains have free wifi and power outlets. Train stations have free wifi. A TGV ticket will list your train car number and seat number. On the platform look for the (electronic) display board that shows a diagram of the train and tells you where to stand for your car. Local intercity trains (TER) don't have assigned seats.

An *much* cheaper alternative to trains are the local intercity busses. They run less frequently but more scenic-ly, in and out of tiny villages. Bus stations (gare routiere) are usually situated near the train stations. You buy a ticket from the driver and he will give you change. The Rome2Rio website will give you a rundown of trains and busses going to your destination. If you are running late and see your bus leaving while you are still a block away, don't be too embarrassed to flag it down because they will stop for you (💓).

All the ATMs at CDG are TravelEx. I believe there is a bank ATM at the train station but I didn't see it.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:05 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

112 is specifically the single unified emergency number for the EU. It's the "European 911". See here.

(((it's a damn shame/incredible that emergency numbers are not unified everywhere, but they're not -- it's also incredible that you need to know/remember which number applies to where you are... don't get me started. sorry. I digress. stay safe everyone)))
posted by vert canard at 8:08 PM on November 26, 2018

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