Packing for a trip to France is not all that different than packing for a trip to any other great city, but there are some peculiarities. Most of these are based on the weather and the culture, which we’ll talk about below.
As with most trips, you will want to keep it light, but you needn’t take extraordinary measures here. Most people just check into a hotel and never move, so you don’t need to worry about unpacking and repacking several times, like to might on some other trips. On my tour in particular. we are only moving once, so you don’t need to worry about unpacking and repacking very much.
Overall, I recommend you limit your luggage to one suitcase one one carryon-sized item (for photographers this will usually be their photo backpack). Personally, I limit myself to one carryon item and one small backpack, but many people find this a little extreme. Suit yourself.
You will need to have appropriate clothing, of course, and this is dictated by the weather, the French, and what we will be doing. As to the weather, plan on warm days and cool nights. During May, which is when I like to go to Paris for a lot of different reasons (primarily that it is warm but before the tourist season starts in earnest), plan on the temperature being in the low 70’s during the day, but dropping down into the 50’s at night. You’ll want warm weather clothes for the day, but something warmer at night.
The French tend to be a bit more stylish than Americans, so you’ll be more comfortable in nicer clothes. At the same time, keep in mind that we will be touring all over the city all day, so you’ll want to keep it every comfortable. This is particularly true when it comes to shoes. You will be putting some miles on those shoes, so make sure they are something you will be comfortable walking around in all day.
Speaking of shoes, I recommend putting a lot of thought into them. They take up a lot of room in your suitcase and you cannot smoosh them down, so you will want to limit the amount you bring. I usually go with one pair, but most people find this approach too limiting (and most women find it to be pure madness). Just be sure you have something comfortable for the days and nicer for evenings in the café. When packing, plan to wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane to save room in your suitcase.
When it comes to pants, I prefer travel pants to jeans. They look a little smarter and are easier to clean. They are water resistant. They usually have zippered pockets, which helps keep your things secure. You can get these from Eddie Bauer, REI, or any similar outdoor store. I have yet to find the perfect pair (but I’ll let you know if/when I do). That said, you can wear jeans if you like. Ten or fifteen years ago you would have stood out wearing jeans in Europe, but that appears to have changed considerably and it is now very common to see the French walking around in jeans.
Plan for Laundry and Purchases
You don’t need to bring clothes for each day of the trip. Our hotel will have laundry services. It isn’t cheap, but it is worth taking advantage of.
In addition, you will no doubt buy clothes while you are in France. I do, every time. It might be a souvenir t-shirt or it might be something nicer, but you’ll likely buy something. Plan for this when you pack.
When it comes to keeping your clothes organized for your trip, the best tool I have found is packing cubes. They let you divide up your clothes however you want, and keep you organized. I put pants in one, shirts in another, and socks and underwear in another. They also make unpacking and repacking much easier. It is difficult for me to describe why these are so useful, but trust me they are.
Checklist for Clothes
With these thoughts in mind, here is a checklist of clothing items to bring:
- 4-5 shirts – bring a combination of short and long sleeve shirts for wearing during the day.
- 1-2 buttoned shirts – nicer shirts for evenings and dinners.
- 2-3 pants – I like travel pants, but jeans are ok.
- Socks and underwear – these are small and light so bring however many pairs you want.
- Shorts – these are optional. I typically don’t bring them, but many others do.
- Rain jacket – this will serve as a good outer layer on cool nights as well.
- Fleece/sweater layer – you will wear this at night, so make it something that looks nice in a café.
- Footwear – limit these, but be sure you have comfortable walking shoes for the day and shoes you’ll be comfortable wearing to the café at night.
You probably already know that France uses the Euro as its currency. You don’t need to go to the bank and get a bunch of Euros before the trip though. In fact, the money situation has gotten easier and easier in recent years. It will be even easier for you on my tour, since your hotel, meals, etc. are already covered. But you will still want some walking around money, and you’ll likely want to buy souvenirs and the like.
Of course, you will want to bring your debit card and a credit card. In years past, you had to notify your bank before traveling internationally, but this usually isn’t the case anymore (you might check with yours just to be sure).
When you get to Paris, do two things right away. First, go to an ATM in the airport and get a few Euros (maybe 100) using your debit card. ATMs are very common in Paris, and you should not have trouble finding one, but using the ATM at the airport will get you some cash right away and it will also make sure that your debit card is working.
After that, go to a café or shop within the airport and buy something small using your credit card. This will ensure that card is working as well.
If both cards work, great, you are all set. If they don’t, you can call the bank or credit card company and straighten it out immediately (before you really need them).
It is not uncommon for my first transaction abroad to be declined as a fraud-prevention measure by my bank. Then I will get an automated text message or email (or both) from my bank asking me if I just attempted the transaction at issue. Once I respond “Yes” the card will work and I never have further problems. If your first transaction is declined, wait a second and check your texts and email to see if that is the case for you.
I have two other thoughts on credit cards. The first is that you might want to leave one at the hotel in the safe (with your passport) in case your wallet or purse gets lost or swiped. (That is rare, but it can happen – more on this subject below). That way you won’t be completely shut down if the unthinkable happens. The second is to consider bringing an American Express card. I would not rush out and get one if you don’t already have one, but if you have other reasons for getting one, they make sense when traveling internationally. In particular, they are famous for being able to have a new card in your hands within a day.
France uses different power outlets and a different power voltage than the US, so you’ll need to take steps to make sure your devices work. The outlets just have two round prongs that go into the wall. The electricity is 220-volts, as opposed to 110 volts in the US.
Power Adapters Required (but not Converters)
The good news is that, for most devices, you will only need an adapter. These are small, cheap devices you can get on Amazon or any travel store or at the airport that let you plug into European outlets. Here is a link to one, although there are many others as well.
For items like your phone (whether iPhone or Android), laptop, tablet, and camera batteries, these are all “dual-voltage” meaning they will run on European or American power voltages. You don’t need a converter for these. You just need the little adapter mentioned above. Once you have that, you are all set.
Other household electronics might require a converter. You usually run into this with hair driers and curling irons. If you are bringing an appliance like this, you’ll need to convert the power to 110 volts or it will fry your device. This is a separate device that typically costs about $50. Here is one on Amazon, although I haven’t actually used this one (nothing I bring ever needs a converter).
Consider a Small Power Strip
Sometimes, power outlets can be limited in French hotel rooms. I recommend you consider buying a small power strip (make sure it says it is dual-voltage). If you get one of these, then all you need to do is get an adapter for it. You just plug the power strip into the wall using the adapter, then plug your devices into the power strip just like usual. If you think you might be charging a lot of devices at once, this can be very helpful.
Just bring your usual toiletries bag to France. You don’t need anything special. In any case, if you forget anything there will be pharmacies and other stores nearby. They will have everything you need.
One thing I recommend is that you use little ziplock baggies for individual items. That way if something in your toiletries bag leaks it won’t get all over everything else.
You will need an international plan for your cell phone for our trip to Paris. I will be sending messages on activities as we go and if you don’t have this you’ll miss them. Obviously we may need to place calls and send other texts as well. And you’ll be amazed at how many times you use your phone to look up something about a place where we are, or check our location on a map, etc. These plans are typically $10 a day. Here is a separate article about that.
You can use wifi at the hotel and some other places even without a plan, but not when we are out and about. All communications away from the hotel require a plan. Just consider it a cost of travel. You’ll be glad you did.
One bit of good news is that there are no requirements or regulations regarding Covid at present. You don’t need a vaccination card or a negative test result to enter France (or to return to the US). Neither will you need these at any time during out trip. Of course, this is subject to change, and I will let you know if that happens, but at present there is nothing required.
You should not need a mask for this trip, but of course you are free to wear one if you like. I recommend bringing one just in case we run into anyplace that requires it. Last year, some trains still required masks. The plane ride to France might be a good time to take measures to ensure you don’t contract anything just before our tour. Once you are in France, there should not be any mask requirements, but it is best to be ready.
Travel within France
It is a good idea to think about how you will carry things around with you while in France. If you are staying the same hotel the whole time, this is easy. In that case, you might just need a small backpack or a large purse for your daily needs. You will be out and about for much of the day and there might be various things you want with you.
If you are changing hotels and/or going to other cities, it pays to give this some additional thought. In the case of our tour, we will be going to Mont Saint Michel for a night. You could bring all your luggage with you, but that isn’t necessary. We will be going back to the same hotel and you can leave your bags there. If you choose that route, you will just want a small bag for your overnight clothes and items.
Lost or Stolen Items
Theft is not a bigger problem in France than it is at home, but it can happen. Crowded areas can attract pickpockets. I have never been a victim of theft in France, and neither has anyone I know, but you should always be careful. Here are some tips for doing so:
- Keep your passport locked in the safe at the hotel when out and about during the day.
- Lock up any electronics or photography equipment your aren’t taking with you.
- As mentioned previously, keep a credit card locked in the safe at the hotel with your passport.
- Men, keep your wallet in your front pocket or a zippered pocket.
- Ladies, keep your purse under control at all times.
- Ignore anyone who “found” a ring on the ground just in front of you or is taking a survey.
- Make a copy of your passport, credit cards, drivers license, and other important documents and keep it back at the hotel.
Far more likely than theft is the prospect of leaving something in a cab or a café. Anytime you leave a place, take a second and make sure you have your most important items with you (wallet, phone, camera, and passport if you are carrying it).
When packing, also plan for the plane trip. Obviously you’ll want something to read or watch on the plane, but also think about how you might be able to get some sleep. Consider a neck pillow, eye shades, and/or ear plugs. In recent years, I started taking Ambien on the flights to France, and have found that it works for me really well. You’ll need to get this from your doctor, if you choose to take it.
Just remember the more you sleep on the plane, the better you will feel when you arrive. If you arrive rested and ready to get out and see Paris, it is like adding a day to your trip.
I am a big proponent of packing light for trips. If you are familiar with my Ireland tours, packing light is essential there because we are moving around so much. For a Paris/France trip, however, it is not so essential because we are staying in one place most of the time. Still, I find that packing light makes the trip more enjoyable. Obviously it makes the travel process simpler and easier, but it also reduces background stresses in that there is less stuff to keep track of.
Overall, just remember that you are going to Paris, so if you forget something, they will have it there. If you are packing a bunch of items you “might” need, consider getting rid of them and just picking one up if you need it. An umbrella is a good example of this approach. They sell them everywhere in Paris so if you need one you can just buy one (and they are usually cheap).
I hope you have found this useful. If you have any questions about any items, feel free to ask anytime.