France

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ShermansTravel experts rely on years of collective travel experience to bring you the best money-saving tips for your vacation. We take a discerning look at all the attraction passes, public transportation options, and other local bargains to make sure you get the most bang for your buck while traveling.

France Money-Saving Tips

Car smarts

Reserve rental cars in advance if you require an automatic (or risk ending up with a standard). Budget renters should consider Smart Cars — they’re more affordable and easier to maneuver on city streets. A detailed map is essential.

Getting wine home

Wineries will generally not ship to the U.S. due to complicated state and federal regulations, and you can no longer pack wine in your carry-on. Pad your bottle in a hard-sided suitcase and it will likely survive even the roughest luggage handlers.

Train travel

High-speed TGV trains in France are an incredibly fast and efficient means of navigating the country. Just be sure to double-check departure and arrival stations as many cities have more than one gare (station).

Fly late

France is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and nine hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. The later you leave, the more likely you are to sleep on the flight and wake up rested.

Avoid summer crowds

France is much better appreciated when not inundated with tourists – if you must travel in high season, try to veer from guidebook itineraries and iconic tourist sights during the weekends. Early mornings and dinner hours are the best times to hit the sights.

Hotel alternatives

Renting a gite (bed and breakfast) is a way to get more deeply involved with the locals, avoid tourists, and save money. Two companies that provide exceptional property rentals are Gites De France (www.gites-de-france-rhone.com) and Le Vacances En France (www.les-vacances-en-france.com).

Cycle around

Although it’s impractical to get around solely by bike, many French cities and regions like Bordeaux and the Loire, are ideal for cyclists. Cities like Lyon and Paris also offer affordable, automated bike-rental stations.

Hotel stars

All French hotels are government-rated. One-star hotels often have shared bathrooms and lack A/C, and not all two- and three-star hotels have both a shower and bath; if you prefer one or the other, inquire when booking.

Plat du Jour

You’ll save up to 30% and experience regional specialties by ordering the daily menu at restaurants. You’ll have your choice of starter, but the main course will be the chef’s selection of the day.

Tipping

Restaurants in France are legally required to include service charges – round up to the nearest euro for exceptional service. As a general rule, tip 1 euro per bag for the bellboy and coat check, 1-2 per day for the maid, and 10% for taxi drivers.

Bargain time

Serious shoppers might want to coordinate their visit with the soldes – major biannual sales in January and July which feature savings of 20–50-percent.

Beach etiquette

Leave your inhibitions behind – topless sunbathing is the norm on the beaches of southern France.

Tax break

US citizens are entitled to a sales-tax refund (a substantial 19.6%) on purchases of more than 175€ – be sure to request a "détaxe" form from the store and claim your refund through customs before leaving France.

Strike-out

France’s network of buses, railroads, and subways are clean, fast, and efficient—when not on strike. Most strikes are announced days in advance so ask your concierge to keep you posted, and know that it’s rare that all means of transport are affected.

The French stereotype

Unwelcoming? Anti-American? It’s not true. While Parisians, like New Yorkers, can be “brisk,” outside of Paris the French are warm, welcoming, and friendly, especially if you make an attempt at speaking their language.

Slow down

Don’t rush through your meals or drinks to get to an event or sight. Often times, the meal is the event or sight. Sip your coffee slowly, savor your food, and perfect the art of strolling, and you’ll be one step closer to channeling that je ne sais quais the locals seem to embody.

Parlez-Vous francais?

You'll be amazed at the reception you'll receive with a few French words – a well-placed bonjour and merci works wonders with the French, many of which, at least in well-touristed areas, know enough English to navigate the rest of the conversation.

Meal times

For most establishments, you’ll need to arrive for lunch between 12.30 and 2pm and for dinner between 7.30 and 9.30pm. Outside of those times, your only option is likely to be a (delicious) take-away snack at a boulangerie or charcuterie. Making reservations for dinner is polite – and often essential.

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Karen_dion

“If you have an early flight, choose a hotel close to the airport the night before. Starting a trip on too little sleep is never fun.”

Karen Dion Freelance Editor

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