A smile from me; and
This blog post.
This week, an email from a Distant Francophile reader prompted two things:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.