I recently traveled out of the country for the first time with my school. We took a nine-day trip all around France, spending time in Paris, Loire Valley and Normandy. I learned everything from what NOT to do in the airport to how to respond when a protest breaks out in the streets of Paris. In an attempt to make your next trip smoother, I’d like to share my newfound knowledge.
Show. No. Fear. Customs is not as big of a deal as it’s made out to be. They took us aside to ask a lot more questions and then let us go back to our group and that was it.
I was also separated from my group on our 10-hour flight back to the U.S., so I didn’t know if I needed to fill out a customs form or not. When the flight attendants go around and ask if anyone needs one, my advice would be to take one even if you don’t know. By the time I found out I needed one, they only had foreign language forms left so I had to fill out the French form, and I am nowhere near fluent. They ended up making us redo our forms at a kiosk in the customs office so it didn’t matter too much, but to avoid the stress, I would just take the form.
With long flights, overnight is definitely the way to go. It helps to eliminate jet lag and you can pass most of the time sleeping. If possible, I’d also recommend sitting with someone you know for the sole purpose of having someone who will wake you up when meals are served. On my flight, I slept through the meals and only got to eat ice cream.
Four sophomores on our trip either got money taken out of their wallets or just taken advantage of. A big piece of advice I’d give is to try to pay in as close to exact change as you can get. Doing this eliminates the stress of whether or not employees give you correct change or not (it’s common for people to hold out on tourists since they’re not regulars). In addition, when paying for something, it proved to be a bad idea to pull out and open up your wallet to look through bills. Using a card or carrying small bills is a good way to avoid too much trouble if someone grabs some cash out of your hands and runs.
We traveled to a lot of touristy parts of France where most people spoke French and English. However, just because most people working in these areas speak English, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to speak French (or the language of wherever you travel). I found personally that people were very patient with me when I tried to speak French and tended to be a lot more tolerant of us Americans when we at least made an effort to respect their language.
Our tour guide explained to us how often protests take place in and around Paris and how normalized they are by locals. It is much more accepted as a part of their culture to where people don’t think much of them anymore. While I was there, there were three protests in action and they were interesting to learn about and intriguing to see. However, it is good to know that they really affect the metro lines and shut down a lot of parts of the city. My advice would be to research what is going on in the areas you’re visiting so you can be ready for a change of plans.