Question: A romantic, couples-only jaunt to Paris—what’s not to love?
Answer: The prepwork!
It was now or never—and I knew it. I had been craving a trip to Paris ever since my ninth-grade French teacher introduced us to tempting nuggets of French culture—the pastries, the romantic outdoor cafés, the chic Parisian women—but for one reason or another, it was always out of reach. There were financial reasons (the pathetically plunging dollar and, um, $1,200 for just the flight?!?), political reasons (red terror alerts plus my husband’s aversion to France’s attitude toward Americans) and family reasons (Was it wrong to have the entire Atlantic Ocean between me and my kids? Then again, what sort of travel companions would they make?).
And now I was staring down my biggest hurdle yet—I had just discovered that I was pregnant with my third child. Hmphhh! Either my first trip to Paris would be with three kids in tow (yikes) or it would have to wait until my third was old enough to deal with a week of separation anxiety (another three years, minimum). Unless, that is, we go NOW.
So without further ado, my husband and I booked a two-person jaunt to Paris. That part, naturally, was a breeze. Two flights, a tiny hotel room with one double bed and a brief shopping spree to load up on Paris-worthy attire.
Hooray—we were finally getting to France and it would be hassle-free because it was adults only. But then, a week before takeoff, I was bombarded with details I hadn’t anticipated. Not only would I be way too far to jump right back on a plane if they needed me, but with the time change and language barrier, it seemed questionable that my parents—who’d be staying with the kids—would be able to reach me. Would my technically challenged dad be able to pull off the international dialing instructions to reach the hotel? How would the desk clerk, whose English was limited, even know what he was saying? What if we were out and about all day with no way to retrieve messages? Would my cell phone work?
Then there were the non-urgent situations that were complicated by the time difference (Paris = New York + 6 hours). If my daughter’s allergies suddenly broke out, how would my mom know how to treat it? What about if my son had a moment of sadness that could only be remedied by hearing mommy and daddy’s voices? If it happened at bedtime, that would mean a 2 a.m. wake-up call for us.
I quickly realized that crossing the Atlantic meant I’d have to cover all bases and prepare for just about anything to come up, so that’s just what I did. When you’re ready for a Parisian jaunt, I hope that my preplanning will save you hours of research. Here goes:
Prepping yourselves for international travel
• Cell phones. Not only is it très expensive to use your cell phone (about $1.49 a minute for Verizon Wireless customers) but you can’t count on it. I told my folks they should call me on my cell phone in an emergency but when I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, I had no signal. No matter where I tried, still nothing.
• Land lines. I didn’t want to hit my parents up with ginormous international phone bills, so I bought a prepaid international calling card for them to use any time they dialed our hotel. For about $10, the Sprint card I scored at my local grocery store had about 150 minutes of talk time. When in Paris, I discovered that the best way to communicate was for us to call them. We could avoid school or t-ball practice times plus it was so cheap that I had no qualms about checking in once—or even twice—every day. Avoid purchasing cards in the U.S.; they’re a total rip-off. Wait until you arrive and purchase a telecarte at a local post office. For €12 (about $18), we had about 150 minutes of talk time and we could use the card at any public telephone or our hotel room.
• Money. The thought of going to Europe with no foreign currency stressed me out, so I tried to get a few hundred Euros before leaving the States. What I learned: Don’t bother. The hassle of having your bank order Euros or the ridiculous exchange rate you’ll get when loading up at the airport isn’t worth it. The simplest—and cheapest—way to get Euros is to use ATMs in Paris. They’re practically on every corner, the fees are minimal and the exchange rate is usually the best around.
• Credit cards. Most cards charge a fee for every transaction (about 2-3%), so call each company ahead of time. Compare the charges and take the card with the best value. But don’t get worked up about these costs. Even if you plunk down $1,000, it’ll cost you only $30, not a bad deal for convenience.
• Transportation. Don’t rent a car. The Metro subway system is safe, clean and simple to navigate. Buy un cachet at the ticket booth and you’ll get 10 one-way tickets for €12. Most maps include Metro routes and are easy to read. There are also maps posted at every station. Locate your Metro line (usually a number), find the last stop in your direction (the name of a neighborhood or plaza) and follow the signs toward the platform. Transfers are also clearly marked on maps, as well as inside each Metro car.