ELECTRONICS FOR YOUR TRIP
I give this advice as a self-proclaimed gadget geek!
It used to be simple - pack a hair dryer, maybe an iron, and a camera. Now, in the internet/cell phone/digital camera age, there are more options. Nowadays, most apartments you can rent will have free wi-fi but hotels still often charge dearly for it, so you should check.
You can get chargers, etc. there, but expect to pay a lot. For one last trip, I didn't pack the laptop charger (and really, it was the ONLY thing I forgot!) I found a universal kit, but it was at least $70 and took valuable time away from my fun - I won't make that mistake again!
ELECTRICITY VOLTAGE IN FRANCE
If you plan on bringing anything electrical, there are two important issues to understand.
1. Basically, North America's voltage is 120 volts while France is 220 volts. If you plug in an American appliance into a French outlet - ZAP! You will have fried your appliance.
Now-a-days, many personal appliances (such as your hair dryer) have dual voltage already. This means that there is a little switch somewhere on the appliance that allows you to switch to 220 volts. Don't forget to switch it back to 120 volts when you get home!
Many chargers for cameras, computers, etc. are dual voltage and will switch automatically based on the voltage it receives.
For everything else, you will need to buy a voltage adapter.
2. The sockets in France have a different shape - older sockets have two round holes while newer sockets have three fat round holes.
To properly run your electrical devices, you must have the proper voltage as well as a proper plug shape!
You can buy adapters for each situation or all in one adapters. Read carefully, though, when you buy that they are for the correct country and voltage.
Being the geek that I am, during my last trip where I had a laptop and other devices to plug in, I bought a five-outlet strip. This worked very well but was a bit bulky to carry.
Of course you can't leave home without one. Unless you're old school and prefer the quality of film, the digital camera is the tourist's best friend. The "film", SD cards are inexpensive and hold A LOT of pictures. The prices for the cameras are low enough now that everyone can carry one. This might seem excessive, but it's amazing what different people see through that lens. My husband and I and two daughters all captured different things on our trip. Sometimes we split up, so it was great to trade experiences at the end of the day. And when we got home, we had a much richer collection of photos than if we'd only had one camera and one point of view for the trip.
I kept also kept a blog for friends and family during our last trip so they could come along too. Blogs are easy and a fun way to share. I even had some video. So having the digital camera made it easy and nearly instantaneous to share.
I vote for camera's that take batteries as it's easy to buy them in France (or carry the from the States) and there is no need for power/plug adapters.
It's hard to leave home and completely disconnect from everything we left behind. In this modern life, many of us want to check and send email - at the very least. I personally do that as well as maintain my blog and check my bank account balances. But I applaud anyone who makes that commitment to completely get away!
Cyber cafes are available all over Paris. They are fairly expensive and you pay for them by the hour. However, if you are traveling lite, it's a great alternative to dragging your laptop or netbook along. It's very important to do your browsing in the "private" mode that is available in browsers now so that you don't leave your password, cookies, account numbers, etc. for the person who uses the computer after you.
Being a gadget geek, I have used a Nokia internet tablet (N810). It was sort of the pre-curser to the iTouch and was a great alternative to a large device. Now I own an Android tablet that was great to bring my reading and music with me.
Laptops are wonderful for people who need to do more than just check the occasional email. If you write, blog, or need to do work (aaack!), then you probably want bring one. I also like that you can "back up" your photos into an online album like Flicker - in case your camera is lost or stolen. You can also Skype which is so much cheaper than calling. Just remember the time difference!
There are definite downsides though. Laptops are heavy, require special power/plug adapters, and are a target for thieves. If stolen, your private information - passwords, account numbers, etc. - are at risk. The laptop may also be vulnerable to the rough handling that's a part of traveling. So if you do bring a laptop, be sure to protect your personal information (back up before you leave and then be sure to use "private browsing", run a robust antivirus and security program) and keep it safe. Always pack it in your carry-on baggage.
Most American cell phones do not work in Europe as they use a different mobile phone standard called GSM. Unless you absolutely need to use your phone and receive every call made to your number, this is the least convenient and most expensive way to have a cell phone.
First, you should consider the phone situation where you will be staying. If you are at a hotel, you will have a number where people can reach you if there is an emergency. If you rent an apartment, you will most likely have a phone for your personal use. You might have one that is available for local calls but needs a calling card for anything else. Sometimes, calling to North America and other places is free.
Another way to call home is to get a France Telecom calling card which is available at most Tabacs and at the Poste. These work at the telephone booths found all over the city. They are easy to use. Until my last trip in 2010, that is how I called home if I needed to check in, although email was still my primary way to communicate (since the internet.)
During one trip with my family, I decided to get two cell phones. I did not have a GSM compatible phone and although I could rent one from my cell phone provider, this seemed expensive! So, I found a company with which I could buy two inexpensive GSM compatible phones - so I would own them for my subsequent trips - and pay for the service just while I was there. This worked great. It was nice to have two phones so that my husband and I could split up with the kids and then update each other with plans. My teen, whose boyfriend was back in the States, was able to get Skype calls during the three weeks we were away. And my husband was able to check back with his family as we'd left during an illness. The phones were very basic but worked all over France. And I really liked getting them before I left on our trip. They came with easy directions to activate and had the appropriate current/plug for France.
*Note: the company I used in the above situation changed and I did not use them for my 2012 trip. Since I'd bought the phones, I used them and bought new SIM cards. When you do that, you must register with France. Like the US, there are several mobile companies and you can buy and register the cards there. We used Orange Mobile but there are others. They were very nice and made the process easy. After that, you can replace the minutes just about anywhere.
If you don't already have a phone, it's easy to buy a pay-as-you-go phone and renew the minutes as you need to.
Don't forget your chargers. If you do, you can find them in Paris (most likely) but they will be expensive and will take time away from your fun. I had to buy a Universal Laptop charger kit for $70+.
If you need electronics, there is a large store called DARTY where I got my charger. They are all over the city and sort of like Best Buy.
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