I've received a few questions about French vacation time. France's minimum vacation allowance per year is five weeks, plus réduction du temps de travail- additional leave for employees working more than 35 hours a week, capped at 39 hours weekly. There are 12 bank holidays sprinkled throughout the year, several in the month of May. Some get a month or more RTT, which is why I have friends with a solid three months of holidays.
Despite the sustainability concerns, I won't stop flying- family visits are non-negotiable. I also think people need to leave Paris sometimes, or they'll burn out. Instead, I reduce my footprint by buying secondhand, walking or biking everywhere, taking the stairs, and not eating meat or dairy. Our carbon footprint was an estimated 4.93 metric tons last year- huge, but I'm trying to improve (the global average is 4. The US average is 20.40).
Here's what I do before traveling:
- Clean the apartment and refrigerator. I like coming back to a fresh bed and tidy home, and I LOVE unplugging the refrigerator. What this says about me, I don't know.
- Do the laundry. I hate the idea of clothes festering while we're gone.
- Make sure passports are updated with plenty of pages. French customs frequently forget entry and exit stamps, so I pack copies of our marriage certificate, tickets, and each passport.
- Stock up on plastic-free, package-free snacks at Causses- almonds, chips, apples, goji berries. It's rewarding, eating without having to throw something away afterward, and a lifesaver when I can't find gluten-free food. I carry everything in small drawstring linen or cotton tote bags.
- Call bank / credit card / utility companies to give travel dates. I don't bother telling the gardienne because she told me she doesn't care.
- Take the cats to the cat hotel, or my brother-in-law's. If staying with family, I pre-measure their food into a glass jar and clean and empty their litter box, scoop, and bowls for the ride. I also carry a bucket of litter and line their carrier with a towel for easy clean-up on arrival.
- Pack reading material, and a pen for customs forms.
- Turn off modem and lights and unplug TV, phone, chargers, etc.
During the trip, I check online to make sure nobody's stealing from our bank account. I don't have a "travel essentials" list, except baking soda, a toothbrush, socks for the plane, my hairbrush, and an empty canteen to refill at a water fountain post-security. I've had two Klean Kanteens stolen though :( In all the long haul flights I've been on, I never used a neck pillow. A bunched-up sweater does the same job.
- Before doing anything else, I empty the suitcase, stick everything in the laundry, and wipe the suitcase with white vinegar. Then I shake it out on the balcony, leaving in the sun for awhile (you can also vacuum the inside).
- Air out the apartment. Paris is so polluted, though, I'm probably doing myself a disservice by flinging every window and door open.
- Try not to nap. I adjust better to the time change if I sleep at a normal hour.
- Get the cats. They love my brother-in-law, but they're always happy to come home and often unzip the carrier in the hallway to walk into the apartment autonomously. We have a strange dynamic.
- Change money. Unless visiting a country with closed currency, I prefer doing this at the bank instead of airports. It takes longer, but is typically cheaper.
A couple of times (well, seven), I've heard French people make fun of Americans for wearing giant hats- not the cute, flat-brimmed panamas but those fashion blogger floppy ones, you know the type-and not taking their sunglasses off in the airport. To get through TSA quickly, I don't wear scarves, zippered clothing, or difficult-to-remove shoes. No need to take my watch or ring off for security, but it's better to not wear accessories that could easily be damaged or lost.
As for getting money in France, when I lived in the US, I changed money at my bank and used a debit card to withdraw from ATMs. Travelex exchange rates are a ripoff, in my opinion, and banks here won't change money without an account. I read you can exchange money at post offices, but every La Poste employee I've ever spoken to says that isn't true. There are often signs on the doors saying just that!
Another question I get about traveling to Paris is how to leave the airports. Depending on the hour, the train is fastest, but the bus is cheaper. If you must take a taxi, do NOT go downstairs, where scam artists park. Here are the only authorized transport areas from CDG and here are Orly instructions. Uber is preferable to taxi- if you're traveling with two or more people, it's more economical than the train. Lastly, the shuttle is the best way to get to and from Beauvais. Bienvenue à Paris!