If you ask me, a truly spectacular visit to France requires more than a little forethought. If you want to experience the best France has to offer and avoid disappointment when it comes to things like accommodation and restaurant reservations, you’ll want to do some planning.
We covered all the reasons trip planning is important right here. But for first time travellers, or for those who are used to tour buses (or cruises) and who are new to independent travel, the big question is how do you actually plan your trip.
There are many, many ways to go about organising your travel plans. For instance, you could enlist the assistance of an agent. Alternatively, there are numerous tools and apps that can help you out. Or you can do what I do and adopt an old school method.
I’m guessing trip planning might seem daunting to some but it needn’t be. Personally I find it great fun and it really helps me to start getting excited about our travels. Somehow the planning phase – with all of its yummy anticipation – is one of the sweetest parts of the whole experience.
How I Plan For A Trip To France
Now before we get into my planning method, in the interests of transparency I have to let you know that one thing we don’t plan that well is when we actually travel to France. I keep a careful eye on flight specials and in all honesty, if we can get good a deal at a time when we will both be able to take leave, then we’ll take it. We often purchase our flights nine or ten months ahead of time to take advantage of these deals. However that gives us the added benefit of having plenty of time to plan.
- Once our flights are booked, the next thing I do is purchase a lined notebook – French themed of course. I make sure it isn’t too big so that it can fit in my handbag while we are travelling. I immediately start capturing every single idea – no matter how trivial – in the notebook. From recommendations from friends on new places to check out through to potential dining options and things I think I might like to buy…everything gets recorded in the book. If you are a little more tech savvy than me, you might like to capture your research on your phone, iPad or laptop.
- Eventually, we start to get a feel for the parts of France we’d really like to incorporate into the trip. But before we make any final decisions on the cities or towns we’ll visit we double check that the things we want to do while we are there are actually open. We’ve been caught out before by closed attractions on earlier visits and we really try to avoid that now.
- As things start to come together, I list the dates we will be away in my notebook. Next to each date I note the town or village where we are thinking of staying. That way I start to get a picture of how long we will be in each destination and how long I will need to book accommodation for.
- But before I start booking anything I check that we can actually get to where we want to go. We think about whether we will fly, take a train or hire a car – and if we are taking transport, we check the general travel times to make sure we can get where we need to go in a decent time frame. Sometimes you can’t get where you want to go in one day, depending on travel times, connections and what not and need to pop in an extra night as a stop over.
- Once we know where we want to go, and how we are going to get there we can start researching accommodation. We are a bit fickle when it comes to accommodation – we stay in a real mix of hotels and apartments. If we are planning to stay in a location for more than a week we will usually opt to stay in an apartment. But we do like to mix it up by staying in hotels here and there along the way too.
- When it comes to choosing where we will stay, we’re real fans of both Booking.com and Trip Advisor. While some of the reviews can be a bit ridiculous, generally speaking they give you an excellent idea of whether the accommodation will be a good fit.
- We prefer to book our accommodation early for two main reasons. Firstly, we know we have somewhere to stay. Many parts of France are extremely popular, and the best accommodation choices often book out very early. Secondly, it allows us to know exactly how much you need to save – it makes it easy to budget (more on that in an upcoming post). We tend to go with ‘pay later’ options unless the prepay deal is spectacular simply because it delivers greater flexibility in the event we need to change our plans.
- While I’m on the topics of accommodation and flexibility, if there is an apartment or a hotel you really, really want to stay in, book that one in first. If it turns out you can’t get your first choice of dates, you might decide to change your dates or plans so you can get your choice of accommodation. We did this when we wanted to stay at Vicki Archer’s Le Petit Bijou in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The dates we wanted to stay were booked out (even though we were inquiring about eight months ahead of time) so we altered our travel plans to allow us to stay in a place I’d been promising myself I’d stay in for years.
- At some point in your organisational experience you need to consider booking your transport. Internal flights are relatively straightforward however if we are travelling by French rail, we start booking our travel about three months before we travel to take advantage of better prices. You can read more of our rail travel tips here. If we are hiring a car, we generally leave this until closer to our travel time.
- Usually about a month before our trip, we start to book in any of our ‘must go to’ restaurants. If you are looking to do a Michelin starred experience you might want to book that about three months ahead, particularly if you are looking for something special like a window seat.
- There are a number of reasons that we choose book activities prior to our trips. Sometimes it is because we (I) don’t want to miss a high end spa experience but mainly it’s because standing in queues seems like a dreadful waste of precious travel time! Many attractions in France allow you to book and pay online for a window of travel dates which still allows some room for spontaneity while you are travelling.
- Before you leave make sure you take copies of all of your bookings or confirmations. It doesn’t matter if you do this electronically or on paper. We also take a copy of our important documents, just in case something goes missing. But we follow some advice we received years ago and don’t email those documents to ourselves, just in case our email is compromised.
How do you plan for a trip to France? Do you have any favourite travel planning tips? Advice that would absolutely help your fellow travellers? If so, we’d love for you to share it in the comments section below. And a big thank you in advance.
Until next time – au revoir.
P.S. If you are looking for an active community to support your travel planning activities, make sure you head over to frugal first class travel. Creator Jo has recently announced the creation of a brand new Facebook group named France Travel Planning. It is a lively group and it’s providing me with stacks of inspiration. If you’re planning a trip to France – whether it is your fifteenth or your first – I highly recommend you search it out.