After all, I don't want to find myself alone in the naughty district after dark—or stranded friendless on the shores of Normandy when I was meant to debark in Giverny.
My most recent independent adventure was a five-day trip to Paris, which, as you might guess, was heavily researched. The idea of visiting Paris may seem daunting, whether you're a group of one or 15. Let my planning be your planning, with these six tips.
1. Where to stay (and how to leave). Staying just a little outside of Paris can spare you extra cash to spend on crepes, pastries, cafés and bibelots. At a friend's recommendation, I picked a cute hotel in Montmartre, about a 20-minute metro ride into most parts of the city center. The metros are remarkably straightforward, leaving little question of which direction to take. I found the Paris Metro Map app to be far superior to Google Maps. It's free and it's the official map of the RATP system. (However, Next Stop Paris also claims to be the official app.) The pro hack here is to change the keyboard on your mobile device to French. No matter which app you use, you'll get more accurate results by typing the location name in French and letting predictive text do the rest.
2. More ways to get from here to there. Another recommendation from a friend, the Batobus is an efficient and scenic way to get from one attraction to another. A one-day pass allows unlimited offs and ons during hours of operation. I started at the Eiffel Tower and made stops at Notre Dame (to visit Shakespeare and Company), the Jardin Des Plantes and the Louvre (to ride the Ferris wheel). Other popular stops are the Musée d'Orsay and Champs-Élysées. There are nine stops in total, and the service runs year-round.
3. To Louvre or not to Louvre? When I was planning my trip, there was no question I'd visit the Louvre. Because of its schedule and my desire to soak up the beautiful 70-degree weather, I finally went on my last afternoon there. After four and a half days of travel bliss and serenity, I was transformed into a merde-spewing philistine within 30 minutes of making my entry. I took the advice of the travel pages, so I didn't experience large crowds, but the wayfinding was confounding. To this day, I can't look at a bent arrow without getting hot around the ears. My advice? Skip it. The Mona Lisa looks exactly like you'd expect, only much, much smaller. Instead, walk to the pyramid, take a pic, and keep going until you get to the Grande Roue de Paris, a 65-meter tall Ferris wheel that overlooks the city. Now that was at thrill. And, as far as taking in famous artworks, the Musée d'Orsay, the Musée Picasso and Espace Dalí easily satisfied my cultural needs.
4. Who to follow. Speaking of travel pages, I started following them on Facebook about six weeks in advance of my trip. Bonjour Paris, Americans in France, Paris Unlocked and Paris Je T'Aime were the most helpful to me. In addition to learning the best days and times to visit popular attractions and getting inside advice on the musts and must-nots, I also was introduced to L'As du Fallafel, which requires a visit—if you're into that kind of thing. I got the Israeli Plate and fresh carrot juice. Between the Musée Picasso and L'As (The Ace), both in the Marais area, I was sufficiently replete.
5. Where to recharge. Unless your hotel (or the company you're keeping) is really fabulous, you're probably not going to spend much time in your room. That means extended periods without an easy way to charge your device—which you'll likely be using to navigate and, of course, take photos. Some smart Parisian thought of this and outfitted many of the bus stops with USB ports. Just remember to bring your charger. And when you or your battery start to lose steam, plug in, take a seat, and settle in for a 30-minute people-watching pause.
6. What to say. Whether you're fluent or, like me, only speak a few words and phrases with confidence, try to communicate in French as much as possible. It might seem obvious, but—in watching other tourists—it clearly is not. I found Parisians to be much more accommodating if I started every interaction with "Parlez-vous anglais?" The answer was almost always "Yes," but it was apparent to me that the effort was appreciated. "Bon jour" on entering an establishment and "Merci" when departing are cultural expectations. "Excusez-moi, s'il vous plait" will buy you some grace if you accidentally mash a toe on the metro.
Traveling to any foreign destination takes a little more preparation and foresight—and, of course, precaution. If you're planning a trip to Paris, keep these tips in mind to make the most of your stay.
Written by Allison Kay Bannister, a West Michigan resident since 1987 and 1993 GVSU alumna. A professional writer since 2002, she recently launched her own freelance writing business. Allison enjoys travel, art, dance, food and exploring world cultures—and, of course, writing about all of these and more.