Where Do We Start?

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Aug 20th, 2003, 05:41 PM
  #1
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Where Do We Start?

I would like to plan a two week trip to France for May or June 2004 for my wife, 15 year old son and I. I am overwhelmed by the possibilities. We are not experienced overseas travelers (we are from the US). I would like some advice about how to begin planning this trip.
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Aug 20th, 2003, 05:48 PM
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Begin in a library or book store, with a stack of travel guides and maps. Look for Michelin Guides, Cadogan guides, Eyewitness guides, Lonely Planet Guides, and Let's Go guides. Among the three of you, as you read about different regions, you can narrow down what you want to see and do.

Key questions:

1. How long do you have?
2. What time of year are you going?
3. What is your budget?
4. Do you prefer cities or countryside?
5. If countryside, beaches or mountains or just beautiful scenery?
6. Any particular interests such as sports or art or music or history or film or whatever that would fit into the equation?

France has everything a vacationer could want, but you DO need to narrow your own interests down in order to plan a trip that will suit you.
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Aug 20th, 2003, 05:53 PM
  #3
sjk
 
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Start by doing a search on this board on France, and also by heading to your local library or bookstore and look thruogh some guidebooks that give you itineraries. Try to come up with some kind of an itinerary that appeals to you. Look at fodor's choices and also look at www.ricksteves.com for more choices.

For a first timer to France, Paris is a must. Then I would recommend spending a few days in the Loire valley. You could head south to the Cote d'Azur for a few days, or to Lyon, Dijon and the Alps. A lot would depend on your interests. Plan to spend at least 2-3 days in each area or you'll just be running from place to place and not have enough time to take in the sights. Once you have some kind of an itinerary in mind, you could try posting again and seeing what the critiques are. It's a lot easier to decide on accommodations, etc. when you know where you'd like to go. Good luck!
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Aug 20th, 2003, 06:08 PM
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Some people first pick the city/cities that they want to visit, and then they try to find things to do and see in those specific cities.

However, others prefer to work from the angle of what activities they are interested in (great shopping, or museums, or hiking, or time on the beach, or historical sites, etc), and THEN find a location/locations that fit those interests.

Either way, as StCirq suggests, I would suggest that you, your wife, and your son each make a list of interests and then compare notes. It should help you narrow down your choices.
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Aug 20th, 2003, 06:42 PM
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Well, you've decided where in the world to go, how long, and when.

Sounds to me like you've already started! Now all you need are passports and euros.
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Aug 20th, 2003, 06:59 PM
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Flip,

Frnce was my first trip to Europe. While I don't presume to think my way of planning is the best, it worked well for me. Our trip was for 12 days in the year 2000, and the total cost was $1,648, including airfare from Spokane to Seattle for the main legs across the country and to Paris. This is what we did:

1. Decide we wanted to go to France and start investigating what it might cost to visit the cities we'd choose, following the steps below:

2. Buy Rick Steves book about France, and read it from cover to cover, highlighting special points of interest. At this point, we had not bought any other books, which we thought might overwhelm us.

2. Look at Steves suggested itinerary, but then shorten and adapt it as we become clearer about our must-see, within the time we had available, roughing out a day by day schedule, little detail, just the cities. Steves' suggested itineraries were really helpful in that regard.

3. Get an idea from Steves' recommended hotel accommodations about the probable cost of the lodgings in each of the cities we wanted to visit.

4. Start searching for airfares early, and keep checking often...like daily. Check the major three - Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. After we'd been around long enough to get a good feel for the going rates, we jumped on a good one. $607 from Seattle to Paris. This part is "art," torture in trying to decide whether we might find something better, or if we should lock in a good rate while we still could.

5. Decide on the transportation we'd be happiest with, based on our itinerary. We decided we would train from Paris to Rouen, where we would pick up our rental car, dropping it off as soon as we returned to Paris at the end of a loop through Normandy, the Loire, and back to Paris. That decided, we booked the cheapest car rental rates we could find on the net.

6. Make reservations for our first night and last nights in Paris. As for the middle, we booked one special place in advance, but the rest we booked on the fly at the TI's as we were leaving one destination for another. With your wife and son along, perhaps you'd prefer to have all your accommodations booked in advance. This is the time to load up on Frommer's, Fodors, and all those other wonderful books that will help you find the best accommodations and sights to see on your itinerary.

7. Start fine-tuning your days - deciding your priority sight-seeing ops in each place. Don't try to schedule too much.

8. Read one of the travelers histories of France. Also read some evocative French fiction, to set the mood.

9. Put aside your expectations and preconceived notions, and just GO! Stay flexible and open to the unexpected.

10. Add up the trip costs and decide whether you can afford it. I know that's nuts and probably irresponsible, but if I had started with "What can I afford????" I never would have started!

Boy, am I going to get nailed for such a long post! Blame it on that second Shiraz!
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Aug 20th, 2003, 11:26 PM
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Start by deciding exactly when you can go, then start looking for flights. Do you want to fly directly to/from Paris or is a stopover in London intriguing, for example? When you have an idea of rates you can start seriously shopping and if you find a good deal, nab it immediately.

After that you can decide your itinerary and how much flexibility you will allow yourselves. As for euros, don't worry about it...you can use an ATM at the airport, or anywhere, when you arrive. You might enjoy changing some money in advance, though, just to get used to the look of it.
Finally, try to bring your son into the planning as son as possible. What are his interests? History? Skateboarding? Hiking? Caves? Music? Plan in his preferences from the start so his enthusiasm will make the trip even more enjoyable for you.
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Aug 21st, 2003, 12:21 AM
  #8
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As ridiculous as this might sound, the first thing I think you should do is ask yourself WHY you've decided to go to France rather than any other country? I assume there are reasons you want to visit that particular country, other than because everybody seems to be going there or it sounds like as good a place as any (if the answer is any of these two then there could be problems later).
Seriously, the reasons you want to visit France probably already include various places or sights you've heard about or want to see...so now you know the specific things you might want to research.
Next, get a guidebook..on-line or at the library or buy one in a bookstore and read about those particular things and/or locations. If after that they still seem worthwhile only then would I start considering how long you want to spend or how long it might TAKE to visit and then consider booking tickets, etc. Enjoy your trip.
 
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Aug 21st, 2003, 12:34 AM
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For a trip of only two weeks, I would recommend booking all hotels in advance. The other posters had some great tips, particularly with using Rick Steves books (and also his web site at http://www.ricksteves.com). The Frommers web site and books are also very helpful for finding practical information- http://www.frommers.com.

As a general rule, I would plan to stay at least 3 nights in every spot you go to. That's my preference anyway.

I find it comforting to plan in such detail that it looked like every hour was accounted for - but when I actually arrive I never follow this plan. But the plan is there so I can refer to it.

I also like looking at the maps of all the places ahead of time. Of course it doesn't mean much until you're there, but it helps get some names in your mind.

Would you want your son to have a chance to explore on his own? (Undoubtedly he wants that.) Maybe you can think of how you would want to arrange that.

Unless you have a large budget, I would suggest avoiding more than one major restaurant meal per day. But of course it is France after all, so you do not want to miss out on the food .

While in Paris, I doubt you would want to have a car. But you would want a central, convenient location to maximize your time there.

I know you said you are overwhelmed by the possibilities, which is natural. So keep in mind that it's perfectly all right if you don't make the perfect choice every single time. You will still have a great trip. I take it for granted that I will accidentally purchase the wrong transit ticket or something silly at least once during my trip. A $2 or $10 mistake or a wrong dinner entree is nothing to get upset about, if you have planned carefully in general to maximize your budget.

You definitely won't see everything, which is fine too. Just focus on enjoying the moment!
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Aug 21st, 2003, 02:49 AM
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Let me make one small suggestion: Start in Paris and, after time in the countryside, plan to spend at least 2 or 3 more nights there at trip's end.

During the time away from Paris you will remember things you meant to see and you'll settle on some things you want to do again. Frankly, we became so anxious to get back to Paris, we cut our regional trip short and returned for 3 nights before flying home.
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Aug 21st, 2003, 04:07 AM
  #11
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Hi flip,

You have 2 weeks. I suggest that one week be devoted to Paris.

Have you considered doing 1 week Paris, one week London? This is a popular itinerary.

If this is not what you would like, mid-May - mid-June is a good time for touring the French countryside. Perhaps the area around Dijon.
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Aug 21st, 2003, 04:59 AM
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Another suggestion:

Fly to Nice, explore the city, go to Monaco, Eze, etc. Maybe take a day's train ride to the Italian villages just across the border.

Train to Avignon area, rent a car,
see some of Provence.

Train to Loire Valley, rent a car, see some of the chateaux and countryside.

Then to Paris for several days.

Something for everyone!

Byrd
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Aug 21st, 2003, 05:57 AM
  #13
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You've already gotten some really thoughtful responses here. I do all of the above, pretty much, in choosing where I want to go. Then I get on the internet and type in something like "Paris travel photos." Sometimes you come up with professional photos, sometimes people's personal trip photos, and sometimes there are even notes, observations, and recollections to go with the photos. You can find out quite a bit about a place when you veer away from professional guidebook boilerplate and delve into the travel world of the every day Joe.
 
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Aug 27th, 2003, 09:05 AM
  #14
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Thanks to everyone for their responses. We picked up Rick Steve's book this past weekend, and are "on our way."
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Aug 27th, 2003, 05:46 PM
  #15
 
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You will find Rick Steves empowers you to "just do it". They are good, basic ideas and the itineraries he suggests can be adapted. He has done a lot of the legwork and you will be able to build on it. Then you add another guide book or two once you have confidence. The really big & best part is this travel board. Good luck !!!
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Aug 27th, 2003, 06:01 PM
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My suggestions: what type of terrain do you like, beaches? mountains? plains?
Food? So different in each region.
I love Provence because of the wondeful vegetables and olives and fruit,
Normandy for the seafood and calvados and hard cider, far supperior to anything you'll find here.
Brittany also for crepes and seafood and so much more. I left out differnt areas but they also have their beauty and food. As a first timer, I doubt you could go wrong. Some of the Bed&Breakfasts are nicer than hotels.
Fermes-auberge, farms where they have rooms and serve dinners are wonderful options. Whatever you chose, I know the feeling as a first timer and hope you'll love France as I do.
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Aug 28th, 2003, 04:47 AM
  #17
 
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One more tip...don't try to cram everything into this one trip. Part of the joys of travelling is slowing down to enjoy the food, the people, the atmosphere. France will always be there and you can always go back (god willing).
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Aug 28th, 2003, 09:51 PM
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I agree with everyone's suggestions re getting guide books and narrowing your interests. Of course, Paris. If you don't know the language, and don't feel comfortable renting/driving cars or training around in a foreign country, I would suggest a tour group. I'm not a fan of tours because you are limited, but its a good way to see a lot in a comfortable setting if you're not a traveler!
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