Before I moved to New York in 2015, I never left the US. The furthest The Bird had traveled was to Disney World, and that was done in a car 😆. My then-boyfriend turned husband sprang the idea of visiting his family in Montpellier, France sometime in February 2016. Oh goodness… only a few months to get things in order. I never imagined a world in which: 1. I would be on a plane traveling across the Atlantic. 2. In a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. 3. Meeting my potential in-laws! My brain was frantically trying to decipher if this was a fantastic plan or a disaster waiting to unfold. I figured there is nothing better than escaping the frigid cold winter of New York City for the warmer weather of the South of France.
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Looking back on my experience I wish I could have given myself a travel checklist and a few sage words of advice before heading to France for the first time
THE ESSENTIAL BASICS.
This section may seem glaringly obvious; however, you would be surprised how easy it is to leave the house without “the bare bones.”
A. Get your passport (or visa*) ready!
Presuming that you are a U.S. citizen (or non-EU member/non-Schengen Area country), you must have a current passport with at least 3 months of validity from the date of your departure. I also say to play it safe and make sure your passport has 6 months of validity to avoid any eyebrow raises. You’re also going to want to make sure you have at least 1 blank page for stamps.
Keep in mind if you are traveling to France for vacation or business for less than 90 days you don’t have to worry about having a visa. On the off chance you want to extend your travels longer than 90 days, you will want to apply for a visa through the Embassy of France. I made the mistake of waiting until the last minute to get my documents in order. Sadly, I didn’t know what I would need or how long it would take to obtain it. Luckily I was able to get my passport expedited without a worry in the world. Remember, it’s always a great idea to make a copy of your passport cover page.
B. Money, money, money!
Nowadays a lot of banks no longer require you to inform them of your travel, be that as it may, I strongly suggest you going to your local bank (or calling the number on the back of the card) to give notice. When you’re done at the bank, make sure to call your phone provider and inform them of your travel plans. Depending on your carrier, your phone will still work abroad, it just may cost you an arm and a leg.
Plus, wifi, on the other hand, maybe an issue. Think about getting an international SIM card instead. Especially if you plan on using apps for directions etc. Staying for more than a couple weeks? When you get your cards in order, remember to grab some cash to later be exchanged. Depending on the airport you’re traveling from, you can easily exchange your money there before departure. The mom and pop shops or street vendors may not accept cards, so you’ll be thanking yourself later for that one. In a foreign country, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
C. Charger Please! Adapter Needs!
You may be an expert packing, yet I can assure you that even the best of us have forgotten to pack a converter for all of your electronics. Instead of fussing around with determining which charger to get for specific countries, just go ahead and order the Ceptics universal charger for your electronics. I used this for my iPhone and Mac. My husband used the voltage converter for his hair dryers and clippers.
D. Advil, Benadryl, Claritin Oh My!
I remember arriving in Montpellier, France, and thinking, “wow it feels so warm for early February.” Sadly, my next thought was. “Oh crap! I forgot my contact solution and allergy medicine”. About two weeks before you travel, go to your local pharmacy and put together your medications bag. The sooner you do it, the sooner you don’t have to worry about it.
E. Health/Emergency Insurance.
I didn’t have to worry about this thanks to my French in-laws; however, I suggest looking into insurance options if you make a trip longer than a couple weeks.
- Health Insurance: Many foreign medical facilities and providers require cash payment up front and do not accept U.S. insurance plans. Medicare does not provide coverage outside of the United States. Check your U.S. health care policy to see if it will cover you overseas. If not, consider buying supplemental insurance. Make sure the insurance you purchase covers any special medical needs or risks you anticipate on your trip.
- Emergency Evacuation: Evacuation for medical treatment or to leave a crisis area in another country can cost more than $100,000. You should strongly consider purchasing evacuation insurance in case of emergency overseas.
- Unexpected Expenses: Trip interruption or cancellation, flight delays, lost or stolen luggage, and other unforeseen travel costs can add up. Check with your credit card and homeowners insurance companies to see if they provide coverage. If not, consider additional insurance.
Clothes…what to bring or not to bring?
Packing for an international trip makes it so easy to overpack while simultaneously under-packing what’s honestly needed for the destination. When traveling in New York in the dead of winter, I would suggest packing your heaviest jacket, long johns, and a prayer. Luckily the South of France, Montpellier in particular, is a sauna compared to the harsh North East in the States. When we left New York, there was snow everywhere, and I was shaking in my boots. Once we arrived at MPT airport, there was a sigh of relief to be able to wear a leather jacket, scarf, and jeans and not freeze to death. Anything you forget buy locally 🙂
Winter/Fall items: In General, the winter weather in the South of France ranges between 2°C (35°F) and 7°C (45°F). We traveled at the beginning of February 2016, and it was about 10°C – 15°C (50°F – 60°F).
- Long Sleeve Shirts
- Thick Dress
- Layering tops
- Thick Leggings
- Winter Jacket
- Winter boots
- Bootie Heels
- Jewelry: only bring 1-2 pieces that can go with all your outfits
- Travel size teeth product
- Travel size hair product
- Hair ties
- Bobby pins
Summer/Spring items: In General, the summer/spring weather in the South of France ranges between 20°C (68°F) and 30°C (86°F). We traveled at the beginning of August 2017. and it was about 23°C.
- Tank Tops
- Short Sleeve Shirts
- Casual/ Formal Dress
- Rain Coat
- Beach Cover
- Jewelry: only bring 1-2 pieces that can go with all your outfits
- Casual Hat
- Bathing Suit
- Beach Towel
- travel size teeth product
- travel size hair product
- hair ties
- bobby pins
Learning the French language basics
Whether you are planning on traveling to France, or any foreign country for that matter, start working on your language skills now. The sooner you begin the journey, the more comfortable you will be when you have to put that knowledge to the test. There is nothing worse than arriving in a foreign country and being at a complete loss of words. Just by knowing how to say a simple greeting, state your name, or ask how someone is doing goes a long way. You don’t have to be perfect. It’s the effort that counts.
My experience with the french language surprisingly did not come from Yannick (my then-boyfriend turned French husband). Today that is still the case. The French that I have learned up until this point have come from taking Coucou French Classes combined with practicing daily with the Duolingo app. Yannick corrects me on phrases and pronunciations, but the majority of it is rial and error.
Not an app or class type of person. No problem. He would describe the plethora of American movies/T.V. shows he watched to help improve his English language skills, which prompted me to do the same. I watched the movies Un Peu, Beaucoup, Aveuglément (Blind Date), and Marguerite about one too many times before the adventure. Leaving in a hurry with no time to learn? Not to fear. Google is here. Do yourself a favor and download the google translate app. The app is magical. I would never travel internationally without. My in-laws use it as well when they visit the U.S. Be sure to check out “Learning French: Beginners Guide” for more language learning tips
Hotel, Hotel, wherefore art thou hotel?
When in France do as the French do. Stay local and enjoy your vacation in an Airbnb or HomeAway rental. Fortunately, whenever I’ve traveled to France, I had the pleasure of staying in Yannick’s family home. Unless you plan on staying in the city (i.e.Montpellier), you will probably not find a hotel. To be fair, this is a good thing! France is known for its old history and vast architectural beauty, so why not soak it in. I have used Airbnb more times than I can count; however, my mother-in-law uses HomeAway for all of her holiday adventures. Check out my blog post: “Top 10 Airbnb & HomeAway places to stay in Montpellier, France” for the full breakdown of places to stay.
Safety First, Best for last
Reminiscing on my time in the south of France, I’ve noticed that there are seemingly more strikes, riots, and petty crimes now than when I first visited. My husband and in-laws always said to remember to keep your guard up when traveling as a tourist. People can smell a tourist from a while away. It’s like having a sign that says, please steal from me.
Significant Tips: For life or death emergencies, dial 112 for immediate medical assistance.
- Call 15 for medical emergencies: this is the national medical emergency number and will get you the SAMU service, with an ambulance (Service d’Aide Médical d’Urgence – or Medical Emergency Aid Service). Be prepared to indicate precisely where you are located, and the circumstances of the incident.
- Call 18 for general emergency (i.e., 999- UK or 911-USA)
- Medical Professionals English-Speaking Doctors and Hospitals
- Contact the U.S. Embassy in a Serious Emergency Situation
- Enroll in STEP before leaving your home country. This program will subscribe you to get up-to-date safety and security information and help us reach you in an emergency abroad
- Full list of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Quick Tips for Tourist in Montpellier France
- Keep your personal belongs close
- Don’t flaunt your cash or cards
- Avoid the prominent tourist places on the weekend due to the protests still going on. During the week, there is not much of an issue. See Travel Advisory for the latest updates
- Use your best judgment and trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t!