When my husband and I decided to take a two-week trip to France, most people said we’d love it. But to take our 13-month-old son? We must be crazy.
Turns out a toddler can adjust better than an adult through time changes, long lines and packed trains.
How did we save time, money and our sanity? Here’s our take on traveling to France -- whether with a child in tow, or without children and looking for a little advice.
Where to go
We experienced Paris, Reims in the Champagne region, Provence and the Riviera. The list goes on in terms of places to go in France. But be realistic and don’t jam your plans more than time and travel allows. Two weeks provided enough time to get a taste of these places, and to leave us hungry for more.
When to go
Any time May-September is most popular, but most expensive. We prefer European travel in September when it’s less hot and many Americans have gone home. However, we moved up our trip to late August to take advantage of a $139 per night deal at a Paris hotel. The same 4-star hotel charged $400 per night in September. Be willing to adjust travel dates to take advantage of a deal. Most Parisians are on holiday in August – leaving the city deserted by locals, but still jammed with tourists.
Look for airfare sales every Tuesday. When you like the deal, don’t wait; book it. Use the money saved to splurge on upgraded seats. More personal space makes everyone more comfortable on an eight-hour flight. And try to avoid stop-overs; it’s just more time spent sitting in airports, lugging bags and passing security checks.
Children can travel on parents’ laps until they’re 2 years old. It wasn’t so bad with a bunch of blankets on our laps and on the floor for our son to play or rest. We brought empty bottles we filled with water at the airport, toys, books, snacks, diapers, wipes and a change of clothes. A baby backpack or sling keeps hands free to carry all of that stuff to the plane. Airlines will provide a bassinette upon request for a child up to 25 pounds. Parents will pay airfare taxes for the child -- even if he sits on a lap. Also, passports are required even for the youngest of travelers.
Paris hotel rooms
We expected more from a 4-star hotel than a super-small room. Locals told us real estate is so expensive in Paris, the rooms are tiny -- regardless of hotel, cost or location. Best advice is to ask for an upgraded room, or one that can better accommodate a crib and toys. It can’t hurt, and it might help. We scored a slightly larger room through an e-mail request in advance. We found that a hotel close to the yellow Metro line (line 1) makes it easy to get to most sights.
Planes, trains and automobiles
Don’t bother with a car or cabs in Paris. The Metro takes travelers wherever they want to go. Virtually any attraction is close to a train stop. Buy a carnet (10 pack) of tickets to save money. Elevators and escalators are rare; so if using a stroller, plan to carry it up and down flights of stairs.
Read more about sightseeing and regions outside of Paris in Part Two on Saturday.