Over the weekend I shared on Instagram a glimpse of my summer travel plans. And yes, after five years, I am excited to be returning to France! As I was sharing how my itinerary was shaping up, I mentioned the railway strikes currently taking place throughout the country, and a handful of readers shared they didn’t know, while many of my French readers and travels to France shared tidbits of information about what to be prepared for and how they were arranging their transportation.
While the strikes are certainly something to be aware of if you are traveling to France in the next few months, even if you are not traveling to France soon, but will be in the future, I wanted to share a list of items to consider prior to arriving in France to help the trip run smoothly. But first, we have to talk about the strikes.
Yes, there is a schedule to the rolling strikes by railway workers (see it here), but at least you know when they will happen. Having begun on April 3 and running through June 28th, two days of every five will be strike days. While there will be some service, there is a great reduction of trains running, and it is causing significant headaches for commuters and tourists as you might imagine.
The strikes are in response to President Macron’s plan to proceed with significant changes to the railway system, pay and pension system to the workers. Learn more details here and how it is being compared to PM Thatcher’s showdown with the coal unions in 1984.
As I am making plans myself for travel in and throughout France that will involve a few days during the strikes, I have learned that while they are still selling tickets for train travel, they are not selling tickets for most of the days in which strikes are scheduled. However, there are still a few trains running on those days. In case you have to travel on a strike day, read and save this article as it explains how you can take the next train after which you were scheduled if you cannot find a seat on your scheduled train. You can also be refunded. One reader shared with me that they are reserving a rental car now to ensure they are able to travel. That is a great idea.
2. Rent a car
Speaking of renting a car, if you are traveling outside of Paris and throughout the countryside, why not rent a car? Even when the trains do resume full service on June 29th, consider reserving a car, and be sure to do so as early as possible to ensure you are able to find a car in your budget and with automatic transmission (manuals are more easy to find).
I have driven in England when I traveled to Devon last fall (see my trip here) and will be driving in France this summer. As I love the countryside, I appreciated the opportunity to stay in a relaxing, quiet vacation rental, but also having the ability to scoot into town for the markets as well as see more sights out and about. I am curious to see how this will be in France.
Now, don’t get me wrong, if I didn’t need a car, if I had a bike guaranteed or the train was nearby, I would just grab a taxi from time to time to get me to the train station, but if you want to see the country – a la Paris Can Wait – the cost is minimal and with GPS options to include with your rental (or just use your phone), the journey is yours to create. I have rented through EuropCar which is one of the companies Rick Steves recommends, but be sure to check out his entire list of recommendations for rentals in Europe here. (An International Driver’s License will cost $20 and you can pick up one quite easily at a nearby AAA branch or other DMV partner.)
3. Avoid travel on Sundays if you need to do business
What I have found, when it comes to returning my rental car, is that Sundays are a day that most rental car companies are closed. While there are some dropbox options, if you are not near Paris, you are going to have a difficult time finding an open business. I ended up changing my itinerary to avoid transitioning on Sunday in order to avoid any headaches. After all, a Sunday relaxing is not a bad idea at all. While the trains still run on Sundays and vacation rentals and B & B chateaus will check you in and out on Sundays, not all other travel businesses are open.
4. Leave the shorts at home
Enjoy wearing your dresses, your skirts, ankle or cropped pants as well as jumpsuits, but leave the shorts at home. While when it comes down to it, we can wear whatever we want as it is important to travel comfortably, I have a feeling many of you are like me and want to blend in with the culture to experience it as fully as possible. After all, choosing a dress is just one decision and oh so comfortable to wear. Bring layers. Scarves are a wonderful accessory that will also serve as a layer of warmth to wrap around your shoulders, and then you can quickly transition loosely around your neck or tucked into your handbag when the temperatures rise. In the coming weeks I will be sharing what I will be packing for France, so be sure to stay tuned.
5. Brush up on your French.
Whether with Babbel, Duolingo or French Today, take some time to polish up the basic French phrases and vocabulary you will want to know to navigate around the country. In 2016 I shared a three-part series about what I learned in my French class which I took at the local community college here in Bend. Be sure to take a look for even more ideas on how to brush up your French.
6. Reserve your vacation rentals as early as possible
Even if you are not traveling to France this spring or summer, but are looking forward to doing so in the future, don’t hesitate to reserve your vacation rentals, chateau bed and breakfasts or hotels well in advance. Most offer full refunds if cancelled within a certain window prior to arrival and you’ll have the opportunity to get exactly the room, house or location you want.
7. Since you will be walking more due to the strikes, pick up the book Paris in Stride
Paris in Stride was just released this past March and was chosen as one of the podcast’s Petit Plaisirs. It offers a intelligent and enjoyable route and itinerary through each of the neighborhoods in Paris. Full of colorful watercolor illustrations, see exactly where you are going next, learn about the destination and what you will find and don’t waste time traveling from one bank to the other all in one day. Save your time and your feet, but rest-assured knowing you will be enjoying the walk through Paris.
8. Reserve a car service to pick you up at the airport (or have your hotel reserve one for you)
If you are traveling from the states or any distant international destination to France, reserve a car before you begin your trip. I am always exhausted when I arrive in France (this will be my fourth trip) as there is not a direct flight from Portland, Oregon, so with one stop, and even minimal wait time to board the final leg, it is usually a 13 hour flight at minimum. Knowing you have transportation arranged reduced the need to make a decision. Simply go to the ATM upon arrive, make a withdrawal so you have cash in Euros to pay the driver as not all will accept credit cards.
9. Make a list of sites, restaurants and experiences to enjoy
Whether it is the days of the week markets will be open in the town you are staying in, the wineries nearby to visit, the museums to tour and especially the restaurants, fine-tuning the list is a sign that you will be enjoying your French experience soon. I am regularly sharing French-inspired posts and articles on Friday’s This & That which include places to see, where to find the winner of the best baguette in Paris in 2018 and everything in between.
Now give yourself permission to feel the excitement. Soon you will be on the terra firma of France.
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~Learn how to Master the Metro from my own personal experience.
~Read more French-Inspired posts here
Image of a lavender field in Drôme, France