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Sunday is Arrival Day in Paris - Money, Meals, etc.

I am planning to bring a group of college freshmen (75) to Paris in March 2015; the flights we were able to get bring us into CDG on Sunday morning. Check-in at the hotel is not until the afternoon. Most establishments, according to what I've read, will be closed. This poses several challenges with which I hope this forum's readers might help. These students, like most of us, will be tired, hungry, cash-less, and potentially cranky.

MONEY: Does anyone have suggestions on where non-ATM and non-credit-card-using students would be able to best get cash on a Sunday? Most of them use cash when we travel.

MEALS: Are there establishments that would willingly set up a large meal banquet/buffet style for a group of 75? Or in smaller groups, suggested places to send them to eat on a Sunday?

ACTIVITIES: What would you suggest college students go see/do on their first day, particularly for free?

Any help you might offer will be much appreciated.

Posted by
8889 posts

MONEY: At the airport.
Banks and Bureaux de Change in Paris will probably be closed on a Sunday. At the airport will probably be with a high %-age cost. Alternative get them to pool the money and do one bulk change at a bank before leaving home. You could ask your local bank what rate they would give for a really big conversion, and organise this yourself.
This is not what is normally recommended, but if they really do not have cash machine (ATM) cards it may be the best available.
Depending on their age, you may want to act as banker and not give them all the money on day 1.

MEALS: 75 people is major catering at any time. You need to book this NOW. Try asking your hotel for recommendations.

ACTIVITIES: Paris is a city for walking around and gawking.
They will probably be jet-lagged and on a high, both at the same time. Depending where your hotel is, go there first, dump your bags (most hotels allow this). Give them a map (free maps are common, most hotels hand them out, or print one off the internet). Print off 75 x slips of paper with the hotel name and address on (plus name of nearest métro station). Point them in the direct of the Champs-Élysées or the river Seine in groups of 2-3+ and tell them to get back to the hotel whenever.
Make sure at least one person in each group has a fully charged mobile phone which works in France, and your number if they get lost.

An important skill you will have to teach them is how to use the métro. Maps to print out 75x and hand out with info before departure (along with the aforementioned hotel address slip) can be found at http://ratp.fr/

Posted by
28145 posts

Have you asked the college what they did with previous groups?

Now, I've not been to to the US for may years, but when I went to college back when chisels were used on stone blocks instead of text messages, I had a bank account and ways to get money before I got on campus.

In 2015 do 18 year olds really not have atm cards?

Posted by
3706 posts

Any hotel big enough to deal with this mob should have staff that will bend over backwards with advice and assistance, which you will need to move around two busloads of young adults.
Here are a few random comments, not necessarily supportive.
ATMs are the way to change currency. Any apprentice adult should have a bank account with appropriate credit and ATM cards already, and I mean two bank accounts each to provide backup if one card refuses to work. You are right that Sunday is fairly dead in Paris although some shopping malls, and most attractions such as museums, will be open.
Many restaurants are closed Monday, too. But for you that is somewhat beside the point because only a limited number of places can handle such a big group any time.
These are problems outside the scope of advice forums like this one. I think you need help from a professional agency in Paris, for which you will have to pay.
The alternative, and I grant it is a radical step, is to provide only the simplest of arrangements and let your scholars break up into groups to make their own plans and go their own way. Then they will have to plan ahead now, which is a good thing too. Treated like grownups, maybe that's how they will behave.

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you both for your suggestions and questions. The students that travel with our group are generally completely novice travelers. Often these students are taking their first plane ride or first steps out of the United States/North America.

I have considered issuing funds as "banker" but would have to acquire the cash and would myself be limited by the bank-machine rules. I don't anticipate having $500 worth of euros being sufficient to properly arm the students for the day, but it may be the best option.

In general our students actually tend to use debit cards more than anything else day-to-day. Although I've encouraged past student travelers to use ATM for a better exchange rate, many are from traditional lower-income families that prefer to send them with traveler's checks many do their banking with companies that charge them a lot to use an ATM and limit their withdrawals significantly. I intend to stress the need to use an ATM, particularly on a Sunday arrival, but anticipate a large portion of them to ignore or fail to absorb the importance of this.

We've brought the students to Paris before, but we've never arrived on a Sunday before, and that is giving me pause. Generally, our first day is spent teaching them to use Metro and trains (and making sure their passes work), taking them to ATMs and banks or bureaux to exchange money, and getting them oriented to the city with a clues-based game in groups of about 10. After checking them into the hotel, they go out and about in groups of 3 minimum and are encouraged to limit their groups to six or so. They build their own itineraries with daily contact with staff members and staff members to help with emergencies (passport loss, medical issues, etc.)

Other groups from our campus, generally smaller in number, tend to keep the students together for a large part of their adventure; I prefer that the students experience things more personally, choose their experiences, and learn greater self-sufficiency. This method is more challenging when arriving on Sunday.

The need to set up catering is clear. I've done that before for London, but haven't had to do that before in Paris, so while large-scale events are normal to me, the location is not. So, I'm approaching this with some trepidation.

Posted by
5 posts

We don't move them in the large group except from the airport to the hotel and back again. Our aim is to actually teach them to travel as people on this forum choose to travel. It's a challenge, but as you suggest, they learn a lot and do achieve a lot as young adults as a result.

Posted by
2349 posts

If you're one of the leaders, you set the rules. One rule is that they do NOT bring traveler's checks, but an ATM card. No matter what their parents think. If you put that in The Rules, there's no debate.

Posted by
436 posts

For Money, I bet most students have an ATM card, survey your group to see if this is a real problem. For those that do not have ATM cards, you could purchase Euros before you leave. Wells Fargo has an excellent service but most credit unions and banks can get foreign currency if given advance notice. Pool the funds for those that want Euro in advance and they can arrive with cash in hand.

I like the idea of small groups - eating on Sunday will not be a problem for small groups. These are not children, they can find a grocery store or food court, McDonalds, etc. without any problem.

What to do? so many options, have them do research to identify what they want to do. For free: walk along the river, see the Eiffel, see the Louvre - the building and courtyard are amazing, visit Notre Dame, Luxembourg Gardens. With a bit of money the options are endless - this is Paris!

My daughter handled Paris alone at 18, I'm sure your students will be fine.

Enjoy the trip!

Posted by
74 posts

You can get Euros before you leave the United States through showing up at AAA and writing a check. The only problem is that you will have to come back a few days later to get the actual Euros.

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you for the suggestions on AAA and Wells Fargo. Polling the students is a good idea, too.

I asked this forum these questions because I am actually trying to decide if the trip will make. Based on previous experiences (a decade plus) of taking students on trips, I know the importance of the arrival day being as smooth as possible (not problem free, but workable) so that they can move forward on their own itineraries (and not impact other student travelers).

If I can troubleshoot the Sunday arrival, the staff will announce and take student applications to go. If not, we will cancel.

Posted by
1783 posts

I don't think a Sunday arrival is a deal-breaker at all. Many museums are free on the first Sunday of the month - does this apply to your group? There are also student discounts that you may be able to take advantage of. For example, the Louvre is free on Fridays after 6 p.m. for those under 26 years of age. Check the museum websites. Check the Paris Museum Pass. Make sure they have student IDs. I bet you can negotiate a group rate for 75 entry tickets.

Money -- they are adults and have plenty of time to get a debit or ATM card. They may also want to get some euros from a US bank before they depart. Nobody uses travelers checks anymore. If someone does bring them, they may have a problem getting rid of them.

Meals -- I'd let them break into groups for meals. Find a location with several options and let them go out on their own.

I chaperoned a group of high school students to Paris-Nice a few years ago. They were 16-17 years old, we discussed the "rules" in advance and had no problems. Good luck!

Posted by
8515 posts

Change bureaus will be open. Why don't you consult with a Rick Steves expert on setting uo meals for this group. They get groups fed all the time.

You can also look into the cafeterias spcifically for French college students in Paris.

Finally, there are dining halls that cater to large groups. In French large groups are called collectivities. So you are looking for catering for a collectivite of American students.

Edit. I found the info for the student cafeterias: en.parisinfo.com
Look for University Refectories. I used to eat in them, and then my kids did too when they studied in France.

Also go to the website crouse-paris.fr they run dorms and these giant student cafeterias. They are opening a student cafeteria on a boat on the Seine at the beginning of the year. That would be a hoot.

Edit: I just read where you send them out in groups instead of meals for 75. They may still want to take advantage of the 3 euro university meals.

Posted by
1818 posts

Would it be possible to collect approx. $40 (+or-) from each student and then go to AAA. If you buy over $1,000, there is no fee. That way they should have enough to make it through the first day and then they'll be a little less jet lagged on Monday. Any chance there is Carrefors near where you're staying? They used to close on Sunday, but more things are changing, as long as it's not a holiday.

Can you give us a general idea of where you might be staying?

Posted by
9363 posts

I strongly disagree with the suggestion to buy euro at AAA. They have some of the worst exchange rates around. They may not charge a "fee" if you exchange more than $1000, but be assured, you are paying for it in their lousy exchange rate. I once checked with them about their "tip paks" which cost about $100 (can't remember exactly). The going rate at the time was about $1.32 per euro. Their rate computed to $1.58. When I asked them when their rate might change, they said they have to sell the supply they have before they get more, so it would stay the same until then. When I have purchased euro ahead of time, I have gone through Wells Fargo online (my own credit union does not get involved in ordering foreign currency, and other banks only do so for customers).

Posted by
8515 posts

The suggestion to go to a Carrfour market on a Sunday or near the large department stores such as Galeries Lafayette is misleading. By law these large stores are closed on Sundays, while food stores are open only in the morning on Sundays, if at all. In a few designated tourist areas, such as the Champs Elysee, retail shops have a dispensation to stay open on Sundays.

Posted by
784 posts

At AAA the "Trip Paks" are expensive, but that's the cost of convenience, personally, I don't use them. The AAA I use in the Seattle area uses TravelX for currency exchange and the rate is the current rate charged by TravelX. There is a service charge, but it is flat, so it is the same no matter the amount. There is no shipping charge if you pick them up at AAA - it usually takes about three days. They want cash and don't accept checks or credit cards for payment. I usually get 300€ which gets me through the first few days and gives me great peace of mind as I don't have to add worry about finding an ATM as soon as I step off the plane to the usual stress of travel. This also gives me time to deal with any issues I might have with my ATM/debit card before I am strapped for cash. BTW, a debit card works in ATMs and is preferable to an ATM card, which does not work as a debit card. Be sure everyone calls their bank to let them know they will be in Europe and they should also ask to have their daily withdrawl limit increased. The kids should also have moneybelts and carry only 50 or so euros accessible for their daily needs.

Posted by
8293 posts

One Sunday activity that may be fun for a bunch of American kids is a visit to a street market. There is a really large one on Sundays at Place de la Bastille. Maybe that could be followed by a boat trip on Canal St. Martin, as Bastille is the starting point.

Posted by
3336 posts

"8 a Huit" is a chain of small supermarkets in France that is open for limited hours on Sunday. Not sure about the branches in Paris but in smaller towns where I have used them they are open on weekends. Here is the website that lists all of the 8 a Huit stores in Paris so you can check their hours...8 a Huit

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you all so much for the suggestions. I am going to pursue some of these.

I am sure the students will especially like the idea of the university meals during their visit. That would be a neat cultural, local-life experience in and of itself.

Posted by
215 posts

My brother and parents just had a Sunday arrival in Paris. My brother uses cash and was able to change money on Sunday. Sorry I can't remember the exact place but it was a money exchange place on St Germain not far from our apartment which was 7 Blvd St Germain. Monday was the day he couldn't find a place that was open. ATM's are definitely the way to go if possible. The few banks he went into during the week wouldn't change money at all.

Posted by
295 posts

To answer your questions one can always exchange cash into euros at the airport. Yes, the exchange rate will not be the best but if you arrive on a Sunday they could exchange enough to get them started. Then exchange more on Mon. or Tuesday once they are settled.

One idea for the meal would be to eat at the food court at the Louvre. There are lots of affordable options and ton of seating. You would have to divide up but 75 is a lot for a restaurant.

Free ideas; visit Notre Dame/Deportation memorial, Sacre Coeur, see the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero, walk under the Arc de Triomphe or walk around the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Or take one of Rick's guided walking tours. He has several for Paris and they are all free from iTunes or on our website.

If the kids are under the age of 18 then most museums are free.

Posted by
6818 posts

If they are averse to using ATMs, what are they going to do for cash for the rest of the trip? Travelers checks are welcome just about nowhere these days.

Posted by
8515 posts

Not using an ATM card can be an expensive way to go. A friend who doesn't use an ATM card just returned from Paris. He was getting 68 euros per $100 at a change bureau, while the ATMs were changing at 78 euros per $100. Multiplied by 75, that's a lot of lost cash.

Posted by
28145 posts

educator has said that these kids are from deprived backgrounds. It may not be possible for their families to get bank accounts or accounts which allow atm cards or atm cards which work overseas. So when educator says that they won't have atm cards we should believe him or her.

It is often the case that deprived people have to over pay for things, it is a shame that the people least able to pay have to pay more.

educator, congratulations on getting these kids a very special experience. I hope it works out well for you and them....

Posted by
8293 posts

There is a free museum at Bastille called Pavillon de l'Arsenal. When I was in Paris once with an urban planner friend, it was a must-see for her. The City of Paris, its origins, its architecture, etc, is the theme. Did I mention it's free? Hardly anyone in the place when I was there.

Posted by
3714 posts

I'm a little confused. At one point you say the kids use debit cards to pay for most things. At another you say they don't use ATMs or credit cards but rather cash. If they pay for things using a debit card, doesn't that pull money from the same place as it would getting cash from a cash machine? If they use cash, how do they get that cash?

If they are low income, this trip must be subsidized somehow. Perhaps additional funds can be found to help them with walking around money.

Finally...75 college freshmen...to Paris...where the legal drinking age is 18? You are a saint.

Posted by
1 posts

For those without ATM cards, perhaps they can pool between $25-$50 each before departure and change the lump sum in the USA at either a bank or money change depending on the best rate and fees. Then redistribute equally so they have enough to see them through the Sunday. Alternatively, that amount can be put in a separate bank account which you administer, and you take it out via ATM when you arrive, and distribute it among those who chipped in. On my trip, I was the banker and had a notebook where each student had a page, with the money amount they gave me listed. Each time they "withdrew" money it was recorded and initialled by the student. In effect, I was the bank. I was "open for business" daily after dinner, and the money was kept in the hotel safe in each city we went to. (My group was aged 14-19 so parents wanted their spending monitored.) it worked well. I don't necessarily think that first time overseas in a non-English speaking country, where they have to constantly calculate In their heads what they are paying for something, is the best time or place to try to teach them to be financially independent. At least not for the first few days.

Check also with your bank - in Australia we have preloaded cards - you can put in money and withdraw from bank ATMs overseas and even used in some stores. They can be topped up by someone back home if necessary, and are safer than credit cards as if stolen or lost, you can't lose more than is on the card. See if you have something similar in the US. In a predeparture meeting, go through the currency with them so they are familiar with what it looks like, and maybe give them some rough calculations of the exchange in case they are not good at math. I made my students a little card to fit into their purse/wallets with approx values for each note or large coin (€1, €5, €10, etc) as some of mine were hopeless at math. Having taken my students to the USA I know just how naive some of them can be and how easily they can get confused and can overspend, and they didn't even have to contend with a foreign language.

I agree with previous advice that they should not carry much cash on them, just enough for each day. Warn them also of pick pockets in busy tourist areas and markets, although Paris is not as bad as some other cities. So no full wallets in back pockets. Good luck!

Posted by
650 posts

A couple of thoughts on the money issue:

1) I get 500 euro from AAA prior to my trips. I pick it up in the office about 2-3 days after ordering and don't mind the fees as this is a convenience I am willing to pay for. Last month, 500 euro lasted for 4 days in Paris before I made my first ATM withdrawal.

2) AAA also has a Visa money card that can be preloaded. The cost of the card that i purchased was about $2.50 if I remember correctly. I bought an additional one for $1.50. The cards use the same pin and are tied to the same account but have different account #s on the front. So if one card is lost/stolen/eaten by a machine, the second card has access to the same funds. Money can be added from home if need be while the student is overseas. I had no problem using these in machines.

I did also use two debit cards from my bank, but I am glad that I used the AAA options as well.

I don't see any reason why the trip needs to be cancelled. It is not as difficult as it seems, and those that cannot afford the trip will not be going.

Enjoy!!

Posted by
25 posts

We arrived in Paris on Sunday morning 3 weeks ago. We got to our hotel and they were happy to store our bags until check-in time. We found a "tabac" shop and bought a "carnet" (10 pack) of metro tickets for 13.70 euros. We walked along the Seine to orient to the major sites, then hopped the #69 bus to Pere Lachaise Cemetery (Free). Your students could easily pass a few hours on the "treasure hunt" for famous people, plus see the sights from the meandering bus #69. One correction to the RS Paris book. He has you ride the bus all the way to the end (Gambetta station) then walk across the cemetery and hop back on the bus at the other side. The problem was that you get on the bus and in two stops you get to the end of the line, everybody out....a waste of a ticket. the westbound bus back to center city follows a different route and leaves from Gambetta. Just get off at the first Pere Lachaise stop (Porte Principale) and walk the RS tour in reverse.

Ed in Seattle