France And The Internet – Tech Troubleshooting

France and the Internet

This week, an email from a Distant Francophile reader prompted two things:
  1. A smile from me; and
  2. This blog post.
So what was so compelling about this particular email? Well, it reminded me of the challenges travellers face when they try to book almost anything for their visit to France online.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The evolution of the Internet has absolutely made travelling to France easier. I remember us trying to book a train trip over the telephone while we were on our very first trip over a decade ago. The booking agent hung up on us twice due to the fact that our French was so bad! These days, we’d hopefully be able to book that same trip with a few simple clicks of a mouse.
But you’ll note that I chose the word hopefully in the previous sentence. Because while the Internet has delivered many improvements, there are still French quirks that can cause confusion and frustration when you’re planning your trip.
So today I thought I’d take a moment to troubleshoot a few of the issues travel planners might encounter in terms of France and the Internet.

France And The Internet – Tech Troubleshooting

One: Be Aware Of Booking Windows

If you are anything like me, you have no trouble envisaging your trip anything up to a year out. It seems however that the French like to operate in the present rather than months into the future. Restaurant bookings are rarely available more than three months in advance. And the three month window often applies to train travel, tours and attractions also.
To ensure that I can get the availability I want, I play around on the website until I understand the exact length of the booking window. Then I set calendar reminders so that I can make bookings as soon as the window opens. This gives me the best shot of securing my ‘must dos’ on the dates that suit our travel plans best.
Hotel accommodation was one travel aspect that I didn’t expect to have a booking window. However they are very common when it comes to boutique hotels and smaller accommodation options. If, while you are searching online you come across a venue looks fabulous, but that doesn’t have availability for your dates, don’t necessarily assume it’s booked out. It’s more likely that the booking window hasn’t opened. Check back regularly with the site to see if rooms become available.
This scenario occurred when I was trying to book for Nancy last year. I’m so glad I kept checking back, as our accommodation was so lovely, and in the perfect location.

Two: French Websites Can Be Less Than User Friendly

If I’m being honest, I’ve seen big improvements in the quality of French websites in recent times. But you don’t have to dig too far to find websites that are ‘buggy’ or difficult to navigate. (Even if they are in a language you speak.)
The best I can suggest here is patience and perseverance as you deal with websites that are hard to load or that don’t seem to want to take your booking. There are many times I’ve achieved whatever it was I set out to do on the third or fourth try!

Three: Be Ready To Provide Payment Details Via Email

While you might be able to book online, you can’t always pay online. Often you will be asked to provide your payment details via email, which is a practice that isn’t generally recommended (in Australia at least). We’ve had this situation occur when booking tours, spa treatments and even accommodation.
After discussing this issue with colleagues at my day job (I work for a financial institution) I’ve opted for a debit card that I only use in these situations. I load only the funds required for the particular transaction, and the rest of the time maintain a nominal balance. I also keep an eye on the account for unexpected activity.

Four: Expect Dodgy Internet Connections

When you are actually in the country, the Internet can be incredibly patchy. Which makes things very difficult if you are trying to book or confirm activities once you are on the ground in France. Many accommodation providers promote the availability of wi-fi but it may not be what you are used to at home. And sometimes it does not work at all – which has happened to us at least twice over the years. One moment the Internet was working – and then it just gave up the ghost for the rest of our stay. And it seems that French property owners are very much at the mercy of the Internet providers when it comes to getting you reconnected. (A fact I’ve had confirmed by a friend who owns a gorgeous apartment in Paris.)
If Internet and wi-fi issues cause you grief on your travels, the best advice I can give you is to get creative. Free wi-fi is becoming increasingly.common in public spaces. We find that the train stations are an excellent place for downloading email when you are caught without a connection. In fact, while we were in Annecy a few years back we were twice daily visitors to the station – for over a week! And many more cafés seem to be offering wi-fi these days, which can be very helpful.
Do you have any stories or tips to share when it comes to France and the Internet? If you, I’d be very grateful if you’d pop them in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.

About Janelle

I believe that everyone can bring French elegance and inspiration to their life, no matter where they happen to live in the world. They only need to learn a secret or two to be on their way. When you join the Distant Francophile community, you’ll have access to the secrets that allow you to bring the best of the French lifestyle into your everyday life. I’m talking about things like style advice, recipes and book reviews. And you’ll also receive regular doses of French inspiration, as well as travel and packing tips galore.

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4 thoughts on “France And The Internet – Tech Troubleshooting

  • Joanne Long

    I’ve booked long-term apartment rentals well in advance because I needed to provide a residential address to get a French visa. Agencies
    like Paris Address or Paris Attitude will make bookings more than 3 months in advance. With wifi, it is a provider problem. I have always had reliable wifi but I am usually renting someone’s private apartment, not a hotel. There is a lot of public wifi around Paris. In fact, I remember coming home to Canada 15 years ago and asking my husband “what is wee-fee?’ because I had seen signs around the city.

    • Janelle Post author

      Thanks so much for the tips Joanne. And the public wi-fi in Paris just gets better and better. And I must say that our internet issues have always occurred outside Paris – we’ve always had great connectivity in Paris itself.

  • Jan Leishman

    Hi Janelle,
    Just two comments. Free wifi in town centres is okay but it does depend on your own internet security. My Norton security (on my laptop) did not want to allow me to use it, so I had to over-ride its safety warnings in order to go online.
    We also have wifi at our house in Provence. It is supposed to be activated when I phone them 2 weeks before we arrive. This does not always happen, so this year we arrived to find no internet. Despite being customers for quite a few years, it took 2 weeks to hook it up again (why I have no idea – the lady at Orange just shrugs!) so it can be frustrating.
    I used a travel card this year for the first time and found it brilliant – very easy to use and top up if necessary.
    PS: Love your new look!

    • Janelle Post author

      So pleased to hear from you Jan. It really has been too long since we caught up – I hope things are good in your world. We’ve not tried a travel card yet, but is definitely something for francophiles to consider. And you are right about security – that is something that should always be considered before utilising public wi-fi. Xx.