You have probably never had real champagne, since most of what is available around the world is actually sparkling wine. True champagne comes exclusively from the Champagne region in France. France is the capital and origin of many of the world’s greatest wines, greatest cheeses, pastries, and numerous other forms of gustatory delights. It also houses much of the world’s greatest art and museums, as well as other architectural marvels such as the Eiffel Tower and numerous castles throughout the countryside. With both mountains for skiing and beaches for sunbathing, France boasts numerous options for activities at all times during the year, making it the world’s most popular vacation get away.
What do I need to get into France?
For stays within France for fewer than 90 days, a passport with at least six-months left of validity is acceptable. For stays longer than 90 days or for purposes other than short term business or tourism, you can apply for a visa specialized for your purpose, but you must do so while not in France, where it is impossible to change your visa status once you are there.
France is part of the Schengen Group, which includes many of the countries in Europe. Their agreement allows you to cross borders into other Schengen countries without applying for a visa first. France also has an open border with Monaco as well.
Depending on what region of France you plan on traveling in, and what time of year should determine what types of clothes you will need, although err on the side of formality and style, two things the French appreciate. The French climate can range widely from the cold snowy climate of the Alps, Auverne, and the Pyrenees to the hot summers in Southern France along the Mediterranean.
You do not need any special vaccinations to get into France. Nor do you have to carry a minimum amount of money, although a cash amount of 10,000 euros or the equivalent is the maximum amount of cash that you can bring into the country.
While the stereotype of the snooty French waiter might suggest otherwise, the French are big on courteous behavior and abhor breaches of decorum. Etiquette is a French word, after all. Polite and respectful behavior will not only counteract the French stereotype of the ugly American, it will open doors for you. Here are some suggestions:
The traveler’s tongue
French is the official language of France, and the French are quite proud of their language. English has been taught regularly in public schools, so many French people can speak English and will do so if necessary. It’s customary to ask politely in French if someone can converse with you (parlez vous Anglais) before proceeding in English. In some of the more tourist-frequented areas, people may automatically switch to English for you, although they appreciate your attempt to speak their language. Keep in mind that native French speakers find it difficult to understand French spoken with some thick North American accents. If they don’t understand you, this isn’t meant as a slight. You may try speaking more slowly or be more attentive to your accent. At any rate, do not try speaking more loudly because this would be considered quite rude.
The measurement system in France is metric rather than the standard system used in the United States. Consequently, all measurements are in metric terms. Distances are in kilometers rather than miles. Temperatures are in degrees Celsius rather than Fahrenheit, and weights are in grams and kilograms rather than ounces and pounds. While this is the case in Europe for the most part, in France it is especially and more strictly so, since France is where the metric system was invented.
How much should I save up?
France uses the euro as its form of currency like many others in the Schengen Group. The euro is worth a bit more than the US dollar, currently $1.35 equals €1.00, where it has remained stable for approximately the past nine months. You can find the best service charge rates on cash conversion inside the country, typically at post offices or at exchange bureaus. It is advisable, however, to carry a small amount of converted cash into the country with you. Another excellent option is to purchase traveler’s checks, which charge much lower service charges for conversion into cash. Keep in mind that most businesses will not accept traveler’s checks directly and that you would need to convert them into euros in order to spend them.
If you are getting by frugally, with limited resources and an intention to camp or stay in hostels, expect to spend about €50 a day. However about €200-250 a day can be expected for a midrange comfortable vacation, which would include lodging in three star hotels and two moderate and one large meal a day. France offers a wealth of amazing food and wine, which can quickly get expensive, so budgeting higher if possible will enable you to have a richer vacation experience.
Expenses and accommodations tend to be less costly outside of the larger cities and tourist areas such as Bordeaux, Lyon, Paris, and in the towns along the French Riviera.
When should I not visit France?
It is inadvisable to visit some parts of France during certain times of the year because it can coincide with school holidays or French vacation times leading either to extreme traffic or to nothing being open. The times of these holidays may vary from region to region, so it’s best to plan your travel in advance and look up regional holiday schedules.
Paris in the summertime can be a challenging experience, too. It gets extremely hot in the city and there is very little air conditioning, so that many residents leave the city. Even though many tourists do come to Paris in the summer, many shops and restaurants remain closed or open at much later hours.
By the same token, other popular tourist areas during the high summer months can get extremely crowded, such as many of the more popular French Riviera destinations. While some places shut down during various times of year, France has a wealth of activity year-round and with a little planning you can make the most of your vacation experience.
C.W. Garay is an alumnus from the University of North Texas, where he received both his BA in psychology and an MA in English, specializing in creative writing, fiction. When not traveling he resides in Denton, TX, rated as the number one small town in which to live in the US according to Business Insider’s 2013 survey. In addition to writing articles on traveling, he also writes fiction under a pseudonym. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.