Time crunch..really need help. TIA

Paris/London questions from a total newbie I've never posted on a forum before but thought I'd start here since I've learned so much while lurking. My son is going to Europe for the first time and neither he nor his travel companion have any experience with this. He's comprised a list of questions I thought I'd venture to ask this community to see if anyone has any information that may help. I realize several of these only he can answer (time to leave for airport, distance questions, et.al.) but I've included the list in it's entirety all the same. Thanks! 1. How to get from London Heathrow to the Crown Moran Hotel when we land at9:00am on Tuesday Oct 8th. 2. Do they generally accept American Dollars in London? Do we need to convert cash to Euros or Pounds before we go? What is the best way to do that and what are the conversion rates? 3. Do we need to conver any dollars to the currency in Paris? How and How much? Conversion rate? 4. How far is the Crown Moran from the places we want to visit. Is there a 3 day pass we can get for city transportation? 5. How do we communicate in Paris. If we visit the Eiffel Tower at night and cannot find our way back, how will we find it? 6. How to Get from Paris Airport to mercure paris Hotel? and The Hotel back to the airport when we leave? 7. Where is our hotel compared to the sites in Paris? How do we get around and is there a pass we can buy? 8. How early do we need to get to the airport before each of our 3 flights? 9. What is protocol if there is an emergency in London or Paris? What are our resources over there?
10. Is your cell coverage good over there - Mine isnt.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
5933 posts

Wow! Quite a laundry list. Just a start. 1. Heathrow Express train to Paddington, Circle tube line to St Pancras, First Captital Connect train to Cricklewood. Walk 4 blocks to hotel. 2. Have money in your US bank account and an ATM card. Go to ATM and withdraw money. Out comes British Pounds. Ditto for Paris, except Euros will come out. The international banking system takes care of the exchange at the best possible rate. Takes 10 milliseconds.
3. See No 2. That's all for now, I'll keep working on it.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
5296 posts

Your son needs to buy a guide book for Paris and one for London. In the meantime, for Paris he should check out the following websites: parisbytrain.com and tomsguidetoparis.com. These two will answer a lot of his questions. American dollars are NOT accepted in London or in Paris. The son & friend should use ATMs to withdraw the local currency as they require it. The conversion rate will be whatever it happens be on the day the withdrawals are made. Son & friend need a good Map of London and one of Paris to see how far their hotel is from the sites they want to visit. How can we answer when we don't know what they want to to see? As for emergencies in either London or Paris, sounds to me like they'll just call dear old Dad.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
5933 posts

While we are working on this, which of the 40 Mercure Hotels in Paris is he staying?

Posted by Lesley
Sidney, BC, Canada
439 posts

Firstly, Dad, run out and buy those boys a copy of Ricks Europe through the back door and guide books to both London and Paris (don't have to be Rick Steves ones there are others, fodors, Lonely Planet etc.). Dollars are not accepted for payment of enough money on arrival at each city to get them a taxi to the hotel and a meal. They should not be taking large amounts of Dollars, they need debit cards - talk to your bank asap about what is needed. Also a credit card for emergencies. In Paris they speak French obviously - though many will speak some English - a good phrase book is essential - and Rick's French covers most contingencies including various illnesses I personally prefer to take a taxi on arrival in a new place - helps get a feel for the place rather than the metro or underground. Hotel Crown Moran is in the north of London, a long way from most of the tourist sites. If they want to see places like the Tower, Westminstr Abbey, Parliament, etc. they should be in an area closer to the west end of London - the RS guidebook is good for recommendations I would think. Can't help you with the Mercure Paris Hotel - there are 39 Mercure Paris hotels in Paris! More information might help. For international flightgs you need to be at airport at least 3 hours prior to flight departure. European flights - 90mins- 2 hours should suffice. Others will be able to give a better idea. Emergencies - First contact Police, then American Embassy. If it is an an incident involving Injury British hospitals are excellent and treatment will be given immediately. Arrangements for payment will be made (hope they have medical insurance). Paris, can't help you but I understand France has a good public health service. Again, payment will be needed at some point. Conversion rates can be found by Google - I assume some form of electronic equipment will acompany them?

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
5933 posts

Here is the Transport for London website. Info on day tickets, zone system, journey planner etc. http://www.tfl.gov.uk/
I'm afraid he's out of the loop in northeast London and will have to ride the train or Tube everyday to see anything. Kind of like going to visit New York and staying in Secaucus, NJ.

Posted by Sarah
Here and there
87 posts

Wow, they're really starting from scratch. I agree that they should get a good guidebook for each city. Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, Frommer's, etc. would all cover the basics. As for how to get to/from the hotels and airport, contacting the hotel directly might be the best idea. A lot of hotels will have info on their website that explains how to get to the hotel from major airports, sights, etc. They or you need to check their insurance coverage while overseas. In the event of an emergency, they will get treated, but there may be costs involved and it may be worth looking in to some sort of travel emergency insurance in case of a medical emergency that requires special transport home. If something happens and one of them needs to fly home in a medical bed with a nurse, that can be VERY expensive. The Department of State website http://travel.state.gov has a lot of good tips and info for travelers and also has contact info for the U.S. embassies in London and Paris.

Posted by Beth
Boulder, Colorado, USA
215 posts

For #5 : pick up a business card at the check-in desk, or write down the address. Then if they get lost they can ask for help from shop keepers, taxi, or officials. Often you will find someone with a bit of English who can help. Google maps should answer all the locale, proximity, and distance questions. And for #9 be sure they have your contact info written down so anyone could contact you. I think 211 is the emergency number in Europe, it may vary but the info is in the RS backdoor book. Have fun.

Posted by Southam
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
1422 posts

How old are these "Kids"? Do they think going to Europe is as easy as a weekend trip to a university one state over? One of them should carry a small laptop computer, web-capable tablet, smart phone or some other way to link to the Internet so they can do research on the run. Their hostel or hotel may have WiFi, at least in the lobby, or even a free computer station. Being able to boot up to find out answers to questions they should have asked long ago could save their bacon. I guarantee they're going to learn a lot and some of it could be fun.
PS: The biggest going-away present you could give is to tell them not to phone home for advice. Making it on their own will be the best part of the experience.

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

Southampton has the key question: How old are these people?????

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24145 posts

Christopher, It would have been prudent to have researched these questions long ago, since he's leaving NEXT WEEK! A few comments on each of your questions..... 1.) LHR transportation - the others have provided lots of good info on that. 2.) NO, they don't generally accept US dollars in London, and if they do, the exchange rate will be dreadful. I'd suggest getting £50-100 and €50-100 prior to departure and then use ATM's. Note that travel funds must usually be in a chequing account with a four-number PIN. Be sure to notify the Bank that he's travelling so they don't "freeze" the card. Having a backup ATM card is also a good idea, as they can malfunction. The conversion rates vary from hour-to-hour so it's impossible to answer that. Check xe.com for a "ballpark figure". 3.) You'll need to use Euros in Paris. Don't "convert dollars" as the exchange rate won't be as good as with an ATM. How much will depend on what they'll be doing. Same answer as above on the exchange rate. 4.) Not sure. Use Google Maps. 5.) Many people speak English, but it's a good idea to learn some of the basic French greetings - Bonjour, etc. Buy a RS Phrase book before departure. In terms of getting back from the Eiffel Tower, most hotels provide one page Maps that work quite well. 6.) Which Paris Airport? There are two commonly used, CDG and ORY. The hotel website should provide directions on getting there from the airport. 7.) Again, Google Maps. In most cases, the easiest way to "get around" is via the Metro. The simplest "Pass" is a Carnet of 10 tickets. He might find it helpful to have a look at the excellent parisbytrain.com website. Continued.....

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24145 posts

Christopher - Part 2..... 8.) When to arrive prior to flights will depend to some extent on whether it's an international flight or an intra-European flight. What flights are you referring to? For intra-European flights, checking in about two hours prior to flight is usually fine, while international flights usually require at least three hours. 9.) I'm not quite sure how to answer that? What type of "emergency" are you referring to and what type of "resources" did you have in mind? Could you elaborate? 10.) Cell coverage - HUGE red flag! Are they planning to pack along cell phones and if so, which network are they with? More importantly, are they using Smartphones such as iPhone or Android models? Please clarify this as there are some potentially very expensive pitfalls to be aware of! BTW, cell coverage in Europe is exceptional. I've never had any issues with coverage. I'd strongly suggest that your Son visit the nearest Chapters or other large bookstore in your area straight away, to see if he can find either the RS London or Paris Guidebooks or Pocket Guides. They will be a valuable reference source during his trip, and will likely save him from a lot of problems. Some major sightseeing attractions are closed one day a week, so it's important to have information on that. For example, the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays and Versailles is closed on Mondays. The Guidebooks also provide information on how to minimize queues at different attractions. For example, a Paris Museum Pass is often a good investment. Is your Son departing home on 7 October? In many cases, flights arrive in Europe the day after they depart this side of the pond. Happy travels!

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1697 posts

One of the best pieces of advice in my opinion is to get a card from your hotel in case you get lost.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
3553 posts

Give them some maps, money (if need be) and let them work it out. They have a lot to learn, but the best way is to jump in. If they figure it out for themselves it will be a more valuable experience. ETBD would be the best thing for them to take and read on the plane. They will have a few glitches, but I am sure they are in for the trip of a lifetime.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
5052 posts

Hi, In addition those guides already suggested above, I would also suggest Rough Guide: First Time Europe. As for US dollars being accepted, I know of only one place in Paris that did that...prior to the Euro, the Monoprix near the L'Opera. No idea if it still does. But change was given in the local currency and forget about the exchange rate.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
9472 posts

Christopher., I normally don't bring this up,but my goodness it sounds like these kids have done ZERO research and are pretty naive ( who booked the hotels,, you, or a Travel Agent, because none of you seem to know where they are located!!). WEAR a moneybelt(under clothes!!)while travelling.. keep cc, debit card, and passport in the moneybelt. If they withdraw large sums of cash ( euros or GBP, dollars are useless) keep bulk of cash in hotel safe or in moneybelt. Carry only one days cash about in wallet and NEVER keep wallet in back pocket,, it will likely disappear, keep it inside a zipped, buttoned shirt pocket, but all sealed up.Do not go in moneybelt in public.. ever.
There are pickpockets. They are flying to Paris ( eurostar generally cheaper and much easier) well then they can take RER ( local train ) to Paris for 9.5 euros each, or take a taxi(45-55 euros). Taxi is easier.Take taxi from proper taxi stand only, not from some guy that approaches you . Many hotel websites will outline how to get to them from airport etc.. have they looked at website yet? I don't travel with a cell phone.. I manage fine. They can always get a phone card from a Tabac and use them in a booth if they really need to phone home. There are millions of tourists managing in Paris every year without french , learn how to say , hello, thank you, please for a start,that is important. Tell them to remember to ALWAYS say "bonjour monsieur or madame" BEFORE they ask any question or make a request,, not to do so make them look abrupt and rude to the french,even buying a ticket, asking the time, anything, always greet first ask second. Good luck to them,, sounds like too many people "helped" them arrange this trip and they did very little research of their own.. a shame, I made my own 11 yr old and 13 yr olds do some pre trip research..

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24145 posts

Christopher, I'm assuming from your last post, that your Son lives in another city? Is there any reason that he can't read the information posted here on the HelpLine and reply directly? As there's a "time crunch", that might be a faster solution. He could also answer some of the questions posed here, such as how old he and his travel companion are, and whether they currently have Passports. Cheers!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
13875 posts

Christopher, Be sure to tell the kids not to just get the guidebooks but also they need to read them. I sometimes try the osmosis principles with my exercise equipment but have found that just owning, as I do, a rowing machine and bicycles doesn't work. grrr. How are they getting from London to Paris? Do they need to return to London to come home? The Crown Moran isn't on the tourist trail. It might be helpful if the guys get on the helpline themselves to get answers directly given, as you say, the time crunch. Christopher, if you can come back with some of the answers to our questions we can help more.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
3278 posts

Answers to questions are well covered here. I just want to add that bank and credit card providers need to be notified in advance that travel will take place. Check the websites of the hotels. Most will have instructions for travel. Please, don't rely solely on help from this Helpline. Read a guidebook such as Rick Steve's Europe Through The Backdoor. In the back of his guidebooks you will find practical info about making phone calls, weather, etc. Your library probably has some of these books.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7334 posts

If they have an iPad or similar, buy the electronic version of guidebooks- Lonely Planet is good. In addition to hotel business card, necessary advice is to call the bank immediately to let them know travel dates and cities so their debit/credit cards won't be blocked for international transactions.

Posted by Nestor
116 posts

Check if your son will need a chip & pin CC for either city. Last year my regular swipe and pin card worked in Europe (Germany, Austria, Czech R). Get a CC that does not charge you Foreign Transaction fees for big purchases. Carry a small amount of dollars just for an emergency but get euros/pounds from the ATM and don't worry about the ATM fees since they are relatively small. Both cities have excellent subway system to move around but keep in mind that the Metro in Paris stops running at 1:00 (?) or so in the morning and I mean literally stops no matter what station the train is at.
Check the other blogs for other experiences with US cell phones in Europe.

Posted by Richard
Los Angeles
998 posts

It really seems odd that Christopher is posting this for his son? I can understand if it was the other way around but what kid these days doesn't go on the Internet and let's Dad do it for them? If this is for real I hope we get a trip report because it will be a hoot. I'd also recommend that Christopher not bother because if he has to spoon feed this info it will not be digested. The whole thing begs more questions than answers like how did they get this far into their planning and how do they make it through day to day living being this naive?

Posted by Margaret
san diego, california, us
149 posts

1. If they can cancel the Crown Moran Hotel reservation without penalty, I suggest they do so ASAP. This is not a convenient location for first-time visitors, particularly ones who have done no research and are pretty clueless. Look for something in Bloomsbury or near Victoria Station, 2 areas that have reasonably priced hotels and are walking distance to many tourist sites. I realize it's late, but it's worth a try. 2. IMO the Heathrow Express is a ripoff. Way overpriced. A cab is also very expensive. He's a young healthy male...let him hoist their bags and get on the tube. Take the tube all the way from Heathrow to the nearest stop by their hotel. (Just curious, if they don't know where the hotels are in relation to the places they want to visit, how and why did they choose those particular hotels?) 3. If they haven't read any guidebooks by now, they're not going to. They're young, so they should be internet savvy and also know how to download the apps they need. Tell them to start googling. For example, in London, take a look at the Timeout websites for London and Paris: http://www.timeout.com/london http://www.timeout.com/paris/en 4. Since they have done no preparation and only have a few days in each place, I suggest they book some escorted tours once they get to their hotel. This will relieve much of the stress of trying to navigate around. For example, in London, they can pick up some cheap walking tours: http://www.walks.com/ Actually, they might be better off getting a private room in a high-end hostel. There they could meet other young people, socialize, and go on activities organized by the hostel. 5. "How do we communicate in Paris?" Dad, you know the answer to that. Is this post legit, or are you pulling our leg?

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
5933 posts

@ Margaret I agree. They should take the Picadilly line to St Pancras and then change to the First Capital Connect to Cricklewood. Less money, less transfers, not much more time. If we don't hear back from Christopher with some answers to our numerous questions (like which of the 40 or so Mercure hotels in Paris they are staying), then we just drop the whole thing.

Posted by Joan
Gettysburg, PA, USA
399 posts

I think a word of thanks is in order to all of you who have responded so generously to a father making inquiries on behalf of a son, who is obviously completely inexperienced as far as European travel is concerned and who also seems incapable of researching or asking these questions himself.
It demonstrates a very high level of helpfulness and concern and you should all be commended. Too bad that Dad hasn't had the time to thank you for the enormous amount of information you all have provided.

Posted by Christopher
South Bend, Indiana, United States
2 posts

Thanks so much to all who replied. I've sent along all your helpful information and hope to hear back from him regarding specifics (which hotel, airport, etc.)
Again, so very grateful to the generous posters who took the time to share their knowledge.

Posted by Susan
Columbus, USA
145 posts

Also don't forget to call his cell phone carrier and make sure that his phone has what it needs to make international calls. I would recommend using the wifi at the hotel, to email instead of call. Or using facetime or skype. He doesn't want to rack up a hefty phone bill while being over there. It is really expensive to call home. Also alert your bank that you will be traveling internationally so they don't freeze the account.

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
1290 posts

The question that Margaret asked still goes unanswered: "(Just curious, if they don't know where the hotels are in relation to the places they want to visit, how and why did they choose those particular hotels?)" Christopher, if they decide to cancel the out-of-the-way London hotel, let us know, and we can offer suggestions for hostels, hotels, or B&B's.