My sister and I are taking our very first trip to France in August. Has anyone had any experience with air B and B places there and do you have any tips for first time travelers to France? Safety tips? Money tips? Railway? Thanks in advance!
I 've never used AirB&B, and frankly, I'm a little Leary of them. However, I have successfully rented several B&Bs in France using Rick's recommendations well as several villas/houses using Homeway and VRBO.
Invest in some good Guidebooks - Rick's is a good place to start and I also recommend the Michelin Green Guide, also some good maps. Do your research and rough out an itinerary. If you are using the train, you want to stick to the larger cities and towns with good public transportation option. Rick's guidebook will be a great help as he also has suggested itineraries that you can adapt to your interests.
Once you have some idea of where you want to go, you can figure out where you want to stay. Try not to make too many moves. Try to stay a minimum of 2 nights in each place, with at least 4 nights in Paris.
Once you have roughed out an itinerary, come back to this forum with specific questions. Enjoy the planning process. It is half the fun.
Read the Travel Tips right on this website (panel to the left).
I use airbnb now for about 80% of our stays - on our upcoming trip to NL/Belgium/Paris and London, we have 5 different accoms - 4 are at airbnb's and one is with couchsurfing friends who we've stayed with multiple times.
We host couchsurfers, so are comfortable hosting, staying with and interacting with strangers (it's half the fun - and we have made some great friends - like the couple in London who will be hosting us for the 6th time). So we generally will stay in a room with owner present as opposed to a whole apartment when we airbnb (generally a room is cheaper). I can understand the animosity towards airbnb apartment rentals in big cities taking the market away from renters, which is why we almost always choose a room - I figure we are helping someone who has the extra space perhaps stay in their home/apartment.
For trains - if you are doing long distance trains, the sooner you can buy a ticket, the cheaper, but that does lock you into a certain day and time. Say you are taking the high speed from Paris to Avignon - buy the tix as soon as they go on sale for substantial savings. Most tickets go on sale 3-4 mos in advance, but if people know your schedule, they can tell you the best time to buy.
There is a forum on here about tourist scams and what to watch out for, so give that a read thru - don't let it scare you tho, just practice safety with your money/credit cards/belongings and learn what some of the more common scams are (the 'gold ring' scam; the 'petition girls' scam; the 'friendship bracelet' scam). You will make mistakes (yes, we fell for the petition scam...TWICE!!) but that is what makes you a better, more knowledgeable traveler in the future.
If this is your first time to Europe, maybe pick up Rick Steves Europe thru the Back Door - bookstore, iTunes or your local library - for lots of tips and hints and what to know. When you have a firm set of plans, fellow travelers on the Travel Forum will be more than happy to give you ideas and let you know if what you want to do is feasible or not...come back with a timeline and what you want to see/do. Seriously, it is tempting to try and squeeze in what you can, but that can make your holiday a blur (just ask my husband, who totally forgot we were in Munich after our whirlwind tour in 2010).
My airbnb tips - always read thru the reviews - if there are 40, I'll read them all. If I see one complaint about noise/dirt, I may shrug it off to someone who is never happy, but if I see a few mentions about noisy area, dirty room/apartment/neighbourhood, I'll move on - there are plenty more airbnb's out there. Look at the photos. Make sure it has the amenities you want - air con in the summer, kitchen, private or shared bathroom (I always try and get one with a nice bathroom and have had some beauties!), good wifi, free parking if you have a car, access to public transport, smoking or non, pets in the house or not (in case of allergies). Make sure to check their cancellation policy (some are more lenient that others) in case you have to cancel. Check their check in/check out policies - maybe they work and you can't go until after 6pm, which won't work if you are arriving at noon. Can you leave your bags if you are checking out but not leaving until later in the evening? If they seem to have a lot of cancellations (there is an automated post in the reviews if the owner cancels) I pass - I don't want last minute cancellations ruining things. I make a wishlist and put potential stays in it (eg - I have a Paris wishlist, an Amsterdam wishlist...etc)...then I'll go back thru and look more closely and make my decision. We've used airbnb over 25 times since 2011. A few have been not so great, but many were lovely.
We've used AirBB, as well as VRBO/Homeaway, successfully in France and elsewhere. We pay particular attention to reviews looking for: (i) number of reviews, as well as ratings -- if no reviews, we pass; (ii) comments regarding accuracy of photos and descriptions; (iii) location, especially proximity to public transportation if that's an issue; (iv) length of time in the program, and whether the owner includes English as a language -- not necessarily a deal-breaker, but often helpful. Speed and responsiveness of replies can also be an indication of the professionalism of the owner/agent. We've not rented mere rooms, but rather seek out stand-alone studios or 1 BR apartments. Sometimes inclusion of washer/drier is a factor. In 2016 we had more than satisfactory lodging in Paris, Normandy (Bayeux), and Provence (L'Isle sur la Sorgue.) (If those places are on your itinerary and you'd like more info, send a PM and we can send links.) As retirees, these rentals have enabled us to save considerably on the lodging component of the shrinking travel budget. Good luck.
PS - I somehow overlooked Nicole's excellent response before writing this; sorry for the duplications.
My husband and I spent five months traveling in Europe in 2015-2016 (lucky us, I know!). We spent one month in France, truly a gorgeous country. We stayed in 20+ Airbnb's (5 in France) and had a variety of experiences, mostly positive. As Nicole P. says, definitely read every review. We found one of the challenges was coordinating your arrival with the host. Make sure you store contact info and directions in more than one place on your phone. Even with a good phone plan, we still did not always have internet connectivity, and if all this info was available only in an email we were pretty screwed. Copy and paste it into 'notes' or something similar on your phone that doesn't require internet. I also liked to text the host the day before arrival to confirm arrival details.
We had an unfortunate communication glitch in France. The posting was in English, but the details were in French, so we did not know that we were required to clean the apartment before we left (we always straightened up, did the dishes, emptied the trash, etc; but this was a scrub-the-toilet kind of required cleaning). There was a conflict with the owner and Airbnb needed to step in to resolve it.
Overall, however, we were pleased with the extra space, the locations, the kitchen/cooking capabilities, and the overall value Airbnb's afforded us. There's no way we would have lasted five months if we stayed exclusively in small hotel rooms, eating out every meal!
In terms of safety, we did not encounter one issue during our trip. I'll attribute this to several factors: good luck; traveling during the off-season; only using cross-body messenger purses; and always being aware of our surroundings.
Get out into the French countryside, it is heavenly. Enjoy your trip!
You'll have much better luck if you concentrate on using "gites" instead of AirBnB apartments.
These are located outside of major cities and are normally accessible by rail or bus connections.
First time travellers might want to consider using hotels - simply because you will have access to a 24/7 desk staff which speaks English, and hotels always have air-conditioning.
It can be difficult and time-consuming to determine whether an apartment in Paris is legal or not. Apartments in Paris do not have air-conditioning, and you will certainly need this in August.
There are also legal apart'hotels, which have kitchens and maid service:
No particular safety tips, except that you should take normal precautions to protect your valuables and always pay attention to them - and should leave your good jewelry at home.
Chexbres, have the French not yet worked out a system to identify legal apartments? Last time this came up I think you said only a few hundred out of the thousands and thousands wereblegal. Has that improved?
^ ^ No and no.
Ellen - I kind of know what you mean about the cleaning one - I had been looking at one stay I think in Italy, but when I delved a little deeper - they expected you to basically be a maid service upon leaving. Now, we've stayed in a few apartments where they asked you to take the garbage and toss it in a bin when you leave, but never one asking you to clean the toilets and whatnot - so def read thru the 'house rules'.
One other thing that can add up - some do charge a cleaning fee - from $5 on up. If you are only staying somewhere one night, a $20 cleaning fee can make a good deal not so great. I don't mind so much if we are staying somewhere 3 nights or more, but def keep an eye on cleaning fees (you'd see that in the total before you sent a request to stay).
One other thing...airbnb does charge you upfront for your stay, as opposed to a hotel where you may be able to book and pay on arriving. The renter doesn't get the money until a day or two after your stay, to make sure there are no issues where you may demand a partial or full refund. The great thing is - you pay ahead, and if you pay your credit card bill every month, that is one less expense to worry about when you get home...but if something happens and you have to cancel, airbnb still keeps the booking fee, and depending on the cancellation fee that the renter charges - you may not get anything back (again - watch the cancellation policy!!).
One thing that is nice about a website like booking.com is many accoms you can book but not pay for in advance, and they offer free cancellation up to a few days before your stay. I have a hotel booked in Paris, as I didn't think our previous airbnb host could take us - she has a roommate now...but she checked and her roommate is going to be away, so we'll be her last airbnb guests...but just in case, I kept the hotel booked in case her roommate changes their plans, so I can cancel 2 days before our stay with no penalty.
And again - you can filter for things like air con. Just put it in the amenities you want when doing your search. The room we stayed at previously in Paris had a window ac unit; we stayed in some rooms/in law apartments in the south of France that had ac units as well...barring that, check reviews - if people complain about the heat, then move on. If you end up in a room in an attic - whew! But having shuttered windows that you can keep closed during the day if the room gets the sun really helps keep things cool (learned that in Italy!)
Thank you all for your amazing advice. It has been super helpful!
I thought I'd toss in my experience -- my wife and I used Airbnb a few times while on house hunting tours through Bretagne and Bourgogne. We stayed in a mix of small towns (one a medieval hilltop town) and mid-sized cities. The overall experience was positive. The worst was probably the place we stayed at south of Paimpol, which was a nice apartment with a weird smell and some exposed wiring in some of the outlets in the kitchen. The owner was in the process of painting and, in my opinion, should not have been renting the place until it was fully ready. We tracked down the source of the smell to the finishing treatment for the nautical-style wooden floor in the bathroom. Looked great. Smelled terrible. It was probably more suitable for a dock out by the ocean than an enclosed bathroom.
I personally prefer hotels but my wife prefers apartments. We were pretty careful about reading terms and reviews, but as with any online review, take them with a spoonful or two of salt. Some people write reviews with stars in their eyes and (perhaps) too much Champagne in their veins, and everything is absolutely wonderful. Others write reviews from a dark place, with too much bile in their throat, and everything is absolutely horrible.
As others have noted, pay particular attention to supplemental charges such as cleaning fees. They can tip the balance once added into the total cost of the stay.
My personal advice would be to follow the suggestion above from chexbres. If it's your first time in France, hotels might be a better choice. Consider apartment or house rentals after you're more familiar with the place and some of its idiosyncrasies.
My last solo trip to France, September 2016, I stayed at either Hostels or AirBnBs for 17 nights.
The AirBnBs were all fine as far as I'm concerned. I think you need to read the descriptions carefully. Everywhere I stayed was fine for me but these are regular homes, not hotels, so it's more like visiting relatives and using a guest room.
One place in Amboise was in an attic/loft with very steep stairs and low ceilings. The bathroom was downstairs. I didn't mind stooping a little, climbing the steep (and a little wobbly) stairs. Nor did I mind taking the trip downstairs to use the bathroom. I could see how it wouldn't be for everyone though. Someone with mobility or vertigo issues would need to stay elsewhere.
In Chinon, I had a nice large room to myself off the family living room. The only bathroom was shared with the host, a single man, and his three daughters, elementary to high school age, of whom he has partial custody. Again, it wasn't a big deal for me but many Americans don't want a shared bath at all, even if it's only shared with one other room and you never have to wait to use it.
In Vannes, I had a whole building to myself. It could have been shared with the hosts' college age daughter but she was studying in the UK - so I had a room and bathroom to myself. The other room wasn't in use and the hosts were in the main house. The only possible downside was a step down in the hallway going to the bathroom that someone might have trouble with if they forgot it was there.
In Paris, however, there is a move to rein in short term rentals, which I don't believe are legal. This applies to people looking to rent an entire apartment for a week rather than a room in a home for a couple of nights. I think I'd use some caution there because you may have your reservation canceled at the last minute.
Tips for first time travelers: Be polite. Always, always, begin a conversation with hello. It's considered the height of rudeness to start speaking to someone without beginning the conversation with a polite greeting. Bonjour Monsieur or Bonjour Madame will buy you more good will than any other single thing you can do. Learn the polite words, Merci, Sil Vous Plait, Au Revoir, etc. I found most French were perfectly polite, many more went out of their way to be helpful than the occasional jerk I ran into.
Safety Tips: Use common sense. In general it's safer there than here but, like here, it's important to keep an eye on your surroundings. Avoid anything you would avoid here.
Use a neck wallet, money belt or similar. If you carry a purse, daypack, shopping bag, etc. don't put anything in it that would be a major problem to lose.
Money Tips: Use cash machines, never money change booths. In the airport, money change booths are starting to look like cash machines - but they charge big fees. Look for Banc, Bank, Banco or something similar in the name on the machine and avoid the ones with Forex, Ex, Tel, etc. In addition to common sense safety, above, always cover your hand when entering your pin. One scam is to put a reader on a machine to get your card's information. They still need your PIN so scammers will either put a pin size camera above the keyboard, look over your shoulder or find a place nearby to observe. If anyone tries to "help" with your transaction, it's best to cancel, grab your card and try another machine elsewhere. I try to use indoor ATMs in places that aren't open 24 hours (banks, grocery stores, etc.) because there is less chance the machine has been messed with.
I found my credit cards were hit and miss. I never had a problem at lodging or car rental but restaurants and toll booths seemed to get regular declines. My theory is the transaction timed out before they got approval from my overseas bank. Try more than once and/or try another card - one of the two worked for me everywhere but one toll booth, where I ended up using cash.
One thing about taking money out with your debit card (try not to do cash advances with credit card as they start charging interest the moment you get that cash in your mitts)....your bank may have partner banks overseas that you can take money out without incurring the $5 (or whatever ) fee that banks charge for using other bank machines. EG - we use Scotiabank, and we can use BNP Paribas in France, Barclays in the UK, Bank of America in the USA...called Global ATM Alliance - check into it.
Excuse me for my long-winded replies, but...I also want to mention packing. I'm not sure your packing philosophy, but if you are going to be picking up every few days and using trains/buses, you really do want to travel light. My husband and I have taken up to 23 night vacays and have gone with a carry on size and personal items. Others here have travelled for more time and take even less. I have a hard time keeping things out, but do it anyways. If you are trying to schlep 2-3 suitcases on and off trains and buses, or up and down to metros, you'll be cursing a lot of luggage fast. You can do it!
My eyes were really opened to how nice it is to travel light in two instances.
One - we were staying in Cinque Terre in the village that you have to either catch a shuttle bus to or walk many stairs from the train stn. The day we were leaving, there was an issue with the shuttle bus, so we had to walk down (thankfully it was down) hundreds of stairs to the train stn. If we had been trying to do it with more than one bag each, or larger bags, we'd probably have killed each other, because it was bad enough with the carry on.
Two - my mom came to Italy with me and my husband in 2014. She had been visiting with my sister in the UK beforehand for 3 weeks, so she had a carry on and a larger suitcase (something like a 30 inch maybe). I have never cursed so much in my head than when we had to drag those bags on subways, trains, on the waterbus in Venice, up stairs, down stairs...and it reinforced our belief in travelling light. Hindsight - we should have left her larger bag in the UK, as we were going back for a day before going home, and had one of the grandkids come to London with it instead of dragging it around Italy for 2 horrendous weeks.
Look for a lightweight suitcase (there are some good threads on here about suitcases if you are in the market for one). If you want room for souvenirs, get one that expands and you can always check it on the way home. The four wheel ones are nice in idea - and lovely in an airport, but on cobblestones...ugh. We have the two wheelers. If you are young, perhaps your back can hack a backpack (oh, I made a rhyme...lol)...but if you do take a backpack, please be aware of how much those darn things stick out from your back and try not to hit anyone in the head with it.
Somewhere under travel tips on this site is a good basic packing list.
Always, always look at all the photos available and read all the reviews, whether you're booking through Airbnb, a hotel website like booking.com or directly with a hotel. If there are only two or three pictures, that's a red flag. Ditto if there are virtually no reviews.
I have never made an Airbnb reservation, but I've gotten places on booking.com that could very well have also been listed on Airbnb. I've had no problems. But out of curiosity I've occasionally looked at Airbnb listings for major cities like Paris, and I was struck by how many of the lower-priced stand-alone rentals (not single rooms in occupied apartments) seemed to offer only a futon or a convertible sofa bed to sleep on. In a pinch I might accept a futon, but a sofa-bed for more than a one-night emergency? No way.
Many residents are satisfied with (or just can't afford a real bed) a futon or will sleep on a "clic-clac" - a fold-down sofa bed. Kitchens aren't generally well-equipped, and the apartments generally have a washer which just spin-dries your clothes.
If this doesn't appeal to you, you should book a hotel with a real bed.
If you need laundry facilities, there are cheap, efficient coin laundries - "laveries" - which do the job better than any apartment machine.