1. Pack Light! It’s hard to be adventurous when you’re bogged down. Plus, everything’s smaller in France (elevators, car trunks, closets…). And, the walks are longer. You can’t catch a train on the fly if you’re lugging around everything you own!
2.Think local! Sure, you should read some guide books or talk to a travel pro about what to see, but don’t miss out on the “real” sites by keeping your head in the book. Look up! Get off the main arteries and find local haunts and authentic experiences.
3. Talk it up! Find someone who has actually (and recently) been to France. Ask them where they went and what they liked and why!
4. Eat authentically! Before picking a restaurant, walk the area. Don’t go before 8pm (the start of the French dinner hour). Look and listen. Read menus. Avoid menus with long lists of dishes and translations into many languages. Those places are for tourists. Look for small menus, specialty places and market fresh blackboard specials. Then listen to the patrons (if there aren’t any patrons, keep walking). Are many of the diners speaking French or are they tourists? The best food and the best deals are found in places that specialize in market fresh meals designed for locals.
5. Drink local wines! Don’t order a bottle just because you recognize the name. Once upon a time, food was local, as was wine. They matched perfectly because of this. Order what’s local to match your market fresh meal. That might mean ordering a carafe of local wine or a bottle from a nearby vineyard.
6. Travel “off the beaten track”! Find towns and villages that aren’t on the major tour routes. Spend some time wandering through their streets, sipping a drink at the local cafe, or watching the locals play “boules”. Really soak in the experience of being in France.
7.Slow Down! Some Americans arrive wanting to go, go, go! They want to grab a quick sandwich at lunch so they can visit more sites, or they want to start each day at 7am so they can pack it all in. But life in France has a different rhythm. Many businesses don’t open until 9-10am (especially in the countryside), and most businesses close for a couple hours during lunch. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy your time in France. Linger over your meals. Take an aimless stroll after lunch. And try to mimic the rhythm of a real French day. After all, you traveled many thousands of miles to be there!