Paris – in 4 days – the simple tourist’s guide to the city of love!

Paris, the city of love, has captured the hearts of millions over hundreds of years. It is visited by hundreds of thousands. It is on the bucket lists of millions. It is dreamed of by billions. My husband and I were lucky enough to live a fantasy and visit this famed city. I don’t know about you; but the expectations of Paris are among the highest when it comes to cities of the world. Hollywood, photographers, writers have all built up the beauty of Paris to its absolute capacity.

I was skyping with an English student from China the other day who said it is common for Chinese people to commit suicide in Paris. They build it up so much in their minds that when they get the chance to visit the place of their dreams, they arrive and realize it is in fact just another city, they feel there is no purpose to life anymore. How sad! While my husband and my’s expectations were definitely not that high; it is still hard not to have a preconceived idea about the place.

But, if you have been to Paris in recent years, you already know; it doesn’t take long to see that Paris is, in fact, just another big city. Yes, it holds beauty, culture, art, monuments, history, life and of course, love! Many of the things everyone loves! But it also holds traffic, crime, homelessness, animal poop on the sidewalks, beggars and so many tourists! Many of peoples not so favorite things.

The point of this isn’t to discourage you but rather to keep your feet on the ground. I find Paris is much more enjoyable if you start your trip with the right mindset!

While 4 days is just longer than a weekend, we found it was plenty of time to see Paris! Of course, you can always go for longer but it isn’t a must.

Our sightseeing list: (in no particular order) The Eiffel Tower, The Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, The Louvre, The Cathedral of Notre-Dame , Sacre-Coeur and Montmartre, The love-lock bridge, and the Palace of Versailles.

We walked and walked and walked the streets of Paris. So naturally, saw many more things than just this. However, these were the ones we made a priority to really see and explore! I will give you some tips and time frames that we used for each place so you can plan accordingly.

The Eiffel Tower – is clearly a must. It doesn’t disappoint. There are several different vantage points to see this amazing monument. There is also an option to go up inside of the massive structure. I don’t recommend going into the tower. I find it overpriced and disappointing because you are inside the main thing you would want to see when DSC_0501 (2)viewing Paris from above. Plus, the lines are crazy long and sometimes there is construction which hinders time-efficiency for the experience. There are some cafes with heated outdoor seating where you can enjoy a coffee or hot chocolate with an amazing view of the romantic tower. I recommend seeing it during the day and then again at night. When it gets dark the entire tower lights up; plus every hour on the hour it sparkles for about 3 minutes. It is absolutely breathtaking. My husband and I enjoyed a hot chocolate at one of the many cafés with a view. It was winter time but they had outdoor heaters plus blankets. It was perfect! Afterwards, we found a street vendor selling the world-famous crepes of Paris; then found a park bench to watch the hourly sparking cuddled up in the fresh air. Those are the moments – I can only describe as magical!

The Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées – are connected. You can’t see one and not the other. Champs-Élysées is the most famous street in Paris and one of the most famous in the world. It is multiple lanes wide going each direction. It is separated DSC_0364 (2)by about a two meter wide median which is almost constantly full of tourists. At one end of this large street is the famous Arc de Triomphe! This monstrous arch stands in the middle of a massive round-a-bout traffic circle. Although traffic doesn’t allow you to make your way to the arch through the traffic circle; there is an underground tunnel which you can use to get underneath the arch itself. The street itself is lined on both sides by some of the best shopping opportunities in Paris. A walk down this amazing avenue is a need-to-experience type of thing. All you have to do is decide whether you do it on the sidewalk or you risk walking dangerous the median listening to exotic car engines roaring on both sides.

The Louvre – is the worlds largest art museum and arguably the most famous in the world. It houses pieces from many different periods of history from many different DSC_0075 (2)places in the world. Most famously, it is the home to the Mona Lisa – the famous painting of a woman by Leonardo da Vinci. There are a few things you should know about the Louvre. I will keep it to four important things. First, this place is HUGE. Bring your walking shoes and plan to spend some serious time. Even if you are like us, “not a museum person”, and don’t plan on reading anything – you will still find yourself walking and seeing things for hours. Second, it is not easy to navigate. There are free maps in pretty much every language available at the information desk in the lobby. Or there are options for audio guides available for sale online or in the lobby for 5 euro. The audio guides are like little smart phone Gameboys which can track you via GPS and guide you to any exhibit or specific piece of art which you are looking for. Thirdly, you might want to buy your tickets online. Depending on the time of year and time of day – the Louvre can get pretty busy. If you want to stay on the safe side; I would save yourself the stress and buy online. Plus, there are a lot of different pricing options you can research beforehand. Fourthly, because of recent attacks of the world be live in. The Louvre, like most places, has majorly updated it’s security. It doesn’t allow large bags and for some travelers that is a problem if you are on the go. So yes, the Louvre is beautiful… inside and out and should definitely be on your list!

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame – doesn’t need an introduction. It is a large catholic cathedral located in central Paris. It is known around the world for many reason and DSC_0343 (2)definitely draws a crowd. You are able to go inside and it does not cost or require a ticket but it only allows entry at certain times on certain days. You can visit the churches website to find those times and plan accordingly. I would plan on waiting in line as well especially if you are there during a busy time of the year. We waited a full hour in a line. The church has a security check which definitely slows things down. But it is a beautiful and massive building that is worth the wait. There is no wonder why people have written about it and it’s mysteriously haunting bell towers for hundreds of years. While we didn’t catch a glimpse of Quasimodo; we were mesmerized when the organs played and the sunset came through the stain-glass windows!

Sacre-Coeur and Montmartre – is a large white church atop a hill overlooking Paris. It is open to the public and like Notre-Dame there is a line because of a security check. Although it generally is a short wait and nothing to worry about it is something to note. Entry times are very normal which can also be found online. The hill which Sacre-Coeur is at the top of can be a little bit of a hike. There is a lift available where you can buy tickets on the spot and be up in no time. While it is an amazing view of the city; DSC_0015 (2)unfortunately, the view doesn’t include the Eiffel Tower. It’s hidden by some high-rise house buildings. The church itself is beautiful and a must see but additionally the surrounding neighborhood is also very beautiful and quaint. This area is called Montmartre! It isn’t the richest area but it shows the face of middle to low-class Paris which is also an experience. You can walk those streets and get away from the tourists and the part of Paris which are on the post-cards. There is one open plaza they call “Artist’s DSC_0031 (2)Corner”. It hides just around the corner from the church. It is filled with artists of Paris painting, drawing, and cartooning. On all sides of the square there are cafés with outdoor seating facing the middle of the plaza. People are able to again sit, curl up with a blanket and hot drink and people watch. I highly recommend spending some time in this area. Find a café; walk the streets; watch the people of Paris live.

The love-lock-bridge – no longer exists. Not the answer you were hoping for? I know; I was bummed out too. Not too long ago they had to remove the locks from the bridgeDSC_0548 (2) because the weight was making the bridge structurally unsound. It’s a shame. I was looking forward to seeing it in its former glory. However, the bridge still stands and has a beautiful view of a split in the river through the middle of the city. I recommend keeping it on your list. There are paths running right along the water where people can walk or sit. There are even still a few light posts that are still covered in locks.

Palace of Versailles – is amazing! I will admit, I am a bit bias – palaces and castles hold a special place in my heart. Versailles is more than a palace. It is an entire area still DSC_0188maintained as if the royal folks are still around. There are a lot of options for tours – all of which can be found online. No matter which package you decide to get. BUY YOUR TICKETS ONLINE! The line is extremely long. If you buy online you can set an entry time and skip the line saving you hours! I recommend going there right away in the morning. The opening times of the gardens, buildings and exhibits change. Be sure to check online and plan accordingly. You can easily spend a full tourist day lost within this beautiful place on the outskirts of Paris. Like most tourist days, bring your walking shoes. The gardens are big! There are golf carts available to rent. But either way, they’re big. If you are unsure which ticket package to buy I would go for the “passport” which allows full access to everything worth seeing.

All of the places I have mentioned can be reached by public transportation. We always do a lot of walking in cities we visit because we like to see the streets and experience life in that city. But we used the metro system whenever our dogs were barking. 🙂

Overall, Paris is a wonderful place. It isn’t heaven on earth. It is just a big city. But it is one filled with life, love and so many cool things to visit! If it isn’t already on your bucket list; put it on there and make it happen!

 

 

 

Traveling is rich in experience but doesn’t have to be an experience only for the rich!

I will tell you right now. You can afford to travel! Don’t believe me? You should – because I do. I make sacrifices, yes. I make it priority, yes. Why? Because I can’t imagine my life without travel.IMG_0116

Whether you are looking to travel regularly or want to take the trip of a lifetime; you can do it. You may just need a bit of advice from someone who is a well seasoned traveler – namely, me. I’m no expert travel agent. But I do have some tricks of the trade which allow for me and my husband to take above average vacations on our average budget

Stalk the system! 

Got to love the internet. The ability to stalk is unbelievable. I’m not a creep but I stalk on a daily basis. There are companies all over the world selling the same travel products: flights, cruises, all-inclusive vacations, hotels, car rentals, tours, etc. Your job as the consumer is to use that to your advantage.

Sign up for updates and alerts for any price drops on places you want to go. When I fly internationally, I stalk all major airlines from here to Europe from all major airports. I just booked a flight from the Germany to the Midwestern US for $400. That’s crazy good! It might take some time and energy but it does pay off – literally.

Get a travel rewards credit card! Maximize your spending by putting it on a card that gives back for money spent on travel. Plus, no fees on swipes overseas can be a life saver. A lot of credit card companies have bonuses as well, stalk them and take advantage.

Explore every means of transportation. Everyone likes to arrive as fast and as comfortable as possible but traveling on a budget can’t always be like that. Some flights have big layovers. Some distances are cheaper by train, bus, or boat. Explore all your options just to be sure.

Pinch pennies! 

International travel isn’t an expensive as you think. That means, every dollar counts. Keep that in mind while saving up for your big trip. You can sacrifice a few extra splurges a week and save real money to spend while overseas. Don’t believe me? I’ll give you an example.

I live in Germany. Currently, flights from the airport 30 minutes from my house to London England are ten euro. Now, ten euro is about twelve dollars. Twelve dollars is about what you spend on a lunch at Panera, am I right? Lets say you eat at Panera or something similar twice a week. Tell me, if you had the choice between; first option: eating two PB&Js and getting a round trip ticket to London; and second option: eating Panera twice. Which would you choose? Are you catching my drift? I hope so.

I mentioned before something about long layovers. Everyone hates them but you don’t have too! Many times, flights with super long travel times due to super long layovers are cheaper than those without. But think about it, you can save money and explore more cities. Who said you have to stay in the airport? Look into transportation into the closest city from the airport. With a six-hour layover in Finland, you could bus into the city, have a meal, go through a museum and walk the streets aimlessly. Fun, huh?

Get your priorities straight! 

It is important to have a plan. I prefer that plan to be well-organized. You need to know where you are going, how you are getting there and what you want to do and see! Everyone has a different idea of what a vacation is. Some are the lay on the beach and relax type of people. Some are the extreme sports and active type people. Some are the museums and tours type of people. There is no wrong!

I’m just here to be the friendly reminder that you can’t have it all. Okay, maybe your rich and laughing right now because you can have it all. If so, I’m jealous! For the rest of us, we have to get our priorities straight. If you want to relax on the beach; you have to sacrifice on the activities. If you want to do all the activities; you have to sacrifice on the relaxing. It’s simple really.

For my husband and I, we go to tour cities! We hit the major sites and see the most amazing famous things in the world. We prioritize our daily activities over our nightly sleeping arrangements. We pay less for our hotel or hostel in order to experience more within the city. The same concept can be applied to any vacation you take!

What are you waiting for? Stalk the system! Start pinching you pennies! And get your priorities straight! Stop making excuses for why you don’t have a passport; why you haven’t ever flown; why you haven’t done something you’ve always dreamed about!

3 travel tips the average traveler MUST know!

Are you planning to fly overseas?  Are you day dreaming about places mysterious and unknown?  Either way, I’ve been where you are.  I’ve had my fair share of international flights but I’ve had more days spent dreaming about so much more – more trips, more countries, more places, more adventure.

Flights overseas are complicated but don’t have to be confusing.

For many, the mere thought of flying overseas is overwhelming. It is true – international travel can be almost discouraging in nature because of all the possibilities. I want to say this in the nicest way possible – Get over it! The pros will out weigh the cons. I promise you will not regret international travel done right. It is life changing!

Be organized, do your research!

Whether organization is a natural strong suit of yours or not – I suggest you do your best to be organized in this one aspect of your life.

Tip #1: Make a folder in your personal email for travel.

The internet is your best tool for planning this journey. Entire journeys can be planned, bought and booked without ever leaving your couch. It’s a beautiful thing – the internet. Throughout this process you will make many subscriptions to various websites and you will need a folder to organize all the information they send you.

While this might seem unnecessary, companies who send “junk mail” don’t always include only junk. Often times, I receive emails which contain real trips, real deals, and more importantly – real ideas that spark my interest into a new trip idea. Yes, there are times in my life when I delete all those emails. If I’m not traveling or planning a trip they don’t have much value to me. They are truly junk to me, in that moment. But if I am itching for a getaway, it is usually an email ad that inspires my brainstorming!

On the other hand, when trips become real and you are booking travel you need an organized place in your inbox to keep all of your travel times, destinations addresses, and confirmation codes. Additionally, it keeps all the receipts in one place so I can budget my trips and know exactly how much I spent and on what I spent it.

I challenge you to add the folder on your inbox now! Even if you have nothing planned, it will stare at you and maybe one day you will finally have the courage to take the trip of your dreams.

Tip #2: Know where you want to go and what you want to see. 

Many people want to see the world but when I ask them – where they want to go and what they want to see, more often than not the answer is something like “Rome, London, Paris, everything!” The reality is: Those places aren’t neighboring cities. You must pass language, country borders, and bodies of water to achieve such a trip. Are you prepared?

I suggest lists! I love lists but especially when traveling. I make lists of cities and countries, sites within cities and countries, travel between cities and countries, and travel between sites within those cities and countries. I have lists created of road trips across the US, backpacking trips through Europe, island hoping in Indonesia, and cruises through the Caribbean. Some of which are ridiculously far-fetched but until I plan them I will never know where my limit of possibilities are.

I recommend a few websites I use to aid me in making these lists. I wish they were like this cute little secret websites that contain hidden places that no one has ever visited but frankly, those don’t exist. These are all pretty popular but also very helpful!

  • Google – I use google maps and googles top sights to inspire my travel in some of the most beautiful places in the world. It rarely forgets a top sight and always contains information about the surrounding area not to mention the travel between areas.
  • TripAdvisor – I like the ranking system that TripAdvisor uses to rank the top sights to see in a given city. I usually cross reference their “sights to see” with googles “top sights”. They balance each other to give me an idea on what is really worth my time.
  • Lonely Planet – I use Lonely Planet for more of the off-the-beaten-path type of activities. They suggest restaurants, festivals, and tours that are top notch.
  • Afar – I use Afar much like Lonely Planet! And, bonus, it is updated by real people on what they real did while in a country.

Tip #3: Print or screen shot everything.

Call me old school but before my husband and I travel, I print everything! I’ve been in a situation one to many times where technology failed me; I was left helpless – a slave to data service or wifi. Once you have booked each step of your journey, it is more than likely you have an email, a URL, and maybe even an app all with the information you need for your trip. How exciting! Now, it’s time to actually travel!

I hope you have planned ahead and taken the time to check what kind of international data your cell phone company offers during international travel. But regardless, I recommend to print or at least write down all of your confirmation codes, addresses, and travel plans so you don’t have to rely on 2G data speeds or finding a wifi cafe to try and figure out train schedules, directions, or confirmation codes.

Another more technology friendly idea is to screen shot all the information so it saves on your camera roll instead of having to load the email or internet page. It’s faster and more reliable. Plus, if you are like me – a control freak, reliable puts your mind at ease so you can actually enjoy yourself during the journey – knowing you are prepared.

Here are some examples of things I screen shot, print or write down before I travel.

  • Travel dates and times – This may seem like a no-brainer but a lot of people rely on the technology at the location of travel to know when they are supposed to be where. Often, bus and train stations have travel times posts online but then on-site they don’t have live screens updating you on when they next train, bus, or boat leaves. Save yourself from the stress by making a note about timetables of transportation you are planning on using.
  • Lodging information – I highly recommend writing down the name and address of the place you are staying! In additional, include your confirmation code, the price you paid when you booked it online, the check-in and check-out times, and the contact information in case you have trouble finding it.
  • Keywords – If traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language, I recommend jotting down a few common phrases. Yes, while almost everyone in the world speaks English nowadays; I find that it greatly enhances the experience of travel if you have a few words or phrases ready to whip out and surprise the natives. Words like: Hello, Goodbye, Excuse me, Thank you, Please – go a long way when trying to get the help or attention of those around you.
  • Maps – Pretty much everywhere in the world now has some form of public transportation. It might not be stellar but they do have something! If you are like me, you don’t have a private driver picking you up from the airport. Rather, you have to catch a bus, train or taxi. Don’t rely on your phone to load the information for what train line or subway station or bus number you are suppose to take next. Document the routes of public transportations and maybe add notes about which lines take you where – lodging, city center, airport, bus station, car rental property, etc.

I challenges you to fight through the complications – it’s worth it. There may be times of confusion but following these simple tips will help you a bit along the way. Best of luck as you plan your adventure.