4 Lessons Learned The Hard Way In France

4 Lessons Learned The Hard Way
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Thank goodness time heals because I can now look back on a couple of mistakes I have made and laugh. They certainly weren’t funny at the time and they were lessons I had to learn the hard way but as a result, I’ll never make those mistakes again.  Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and won’t encounter them when you travel to France.

1. Hello! Is Anyone There?

Lessons Learned: View in Biarritz, France
View from my apartment in Biarritz, France

I booked an apartment in Biarritz with a beautiful view of the ocean a few years ago. I arrived on a Sunday at 5 pm and no one was at reception. The place I rented was located in an apartment building with a front desk; however, I was not careful enough to check that reception was only open in the morning, so I had no accommodation for that night. Fortunately, it was mid-September, and I was able to get a reasonably-priced hotel room just 2 minutes away. Had it been high season…..lord knows!  It was a costly mistake.

Lesson Learned: confirm when you are able to check in. Sometimes hotels require you to actually give a time that you will arrive.

2. But I Put The Key In The Mailbox!

I’ve rented apartments in Paris for many years. Most often the keys are mailed to me and when I return home I mail them back (to the company in the US). There was one time, however, when I was given the keys when I arrived and was asked to deposit the keys in the mailbox upon leaving. I swear I put it in the correct mailbox; however, as you might have guessed, they never got the keys back and they also searched the apartment and floor of the mailroom. No luck and I was out my deposit ($150 US).

Lesson Learned: mail back the key with insurance (or deliver the key to the office)

3. Let Us In!!!

Lesson Learned: Gite gate in the Alsace, France
Gite gate in the Alsace, France

A number of years ago, my friend Laurie and I rented a perfect gite in the Alsace. It was spacious, had a pool, two bedrooms, and a modern, fully equipped kitchen and it was located in a town that had a few good restaurants. Our apartment had its own entrance but it was connected to the house, so one had to enter the property to get in.

One night we went for dinner into the town. We didn’t finish too late; however, I guess it was too late for the owners of our gite because when we returned the gate to the property was closed and locked. We went around the gate to see if there was another side entrance. No. We had to find a way to get in….yes, we hopped a high fence and didn’t kill ourselves.

Lesson Learned: confirm with the property owners about getting into the gite after hours, perhaps getting a key to the gate.

4. What Do You Mean I’m On The Wrong Train?

Lesson learned: My letter to SNCF (French rail).
My letter to SNCF (French rail).

I was on a train going from Paris to Barcelona. After I got on, something didn’t feel right. I thought had just gotten in the wrong coach (#1 instead of #11). Some students told me I was going to Perpignan, which is on the way to Barcelona so at least I was going in the right direction: south. But, I was on the entirely wrong train!

Train personnel confirmed my mistake and told me to get off at the next station. I did and had to buy another ticket to continue my journey. That cost me time and $$$. I wrote a lengthy letter in French to SCNF (French rail) to see if they refund part of my ticket. Still haven’t heard back and I don’t think I ever will. (Please don’t laugh at my french translation. It was the best I could do under the circumstances).

When you are on a train platform there are often two trains—-one on each side. Lord knows why I thought my train was on the right.

Lesson Learned: Now when I get on a train, I double check with the conductor which train I should get on.

Have you had any unfortunate lessons (or funny experiences) when you’ve travelled to France?

[The first photo in this post is of a sculpture I saw at Musée Quai Branly in Paris: Papua New Guinea Sculpture Societies Iniet Secret Tolai]

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  1. Thanks for sharing your travel mishaps for the rest of us to learn from. I can just imagine you and your friend hopping the fence. Thank goodness it worked out ok. I once left my laptop in a hotel safe. Fortunately, I realized it relatively quickly and got it back no trouble. I was absolutely panicked when I realized it. It was the only thing I put in there. I now take everything out of the safe the night before I leave the hotel.

    1. You were so lucky! I’ve heard people leaving ONE of their shoes in the safe to help them remember. I just leave a big note by the door to remind myself!

  2. Hi Jan: I could REALLY relate to your points about the trains! When we were in Paris, we were taking a train from the main station out to Aix en Provence. My friend could speak French (not Parisian French, but she was comprehendible.) She asked someone before we boarded the train if this was the right one based on our ticket and he nodded. It wasn’t until the conductor came to punch our ticket that we were told we were on the wrong train. And you know what? The 2 train personal laughed! They didn’t help us find the solution to our problem. A fellow traveller pulled out his cell phone and made a call and search to find out where we should get off and which train we needed to take. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers!

  3. Your travel stories sound very familiar to me. I can imagine how annoying it must have been to arrive in Biarritz and not being able to access your apartment! We had the same in Buenos Aires, where we were standing in the blazing heat in a not very kosher neighborhood with all our luggage for a one months stay and nobody there at the reception! We had to go to a neighboring garage (with little Spanish knowledge as we were there to learn Spanish as a beginner!). But somehow we managed over the school and several hours later to find another stay for the night in another part of the town. At least we didn’t have to pay for it, only the troubles.

  4. I love reading about other travelers minor and major fails and the lessons learned, if only to make me feel somewhat comforted (and not so dumb 🙂 ) whenever we make a mistake. I also think it gives a travel blogger some street cred when they share their blunders – not every trip goes exactly as planned! Even though we’re “well-traveled,” we always find, as mostly independent travelers, that there’s always some new lesson to learn!

    1. Yes I think during every trip I learn something new—-whether it be from a mistake or unfortunate incident or just a new encounter.

    1. I know it seems like a scam, but I have actually used the rental company many times and they’re very good. It was just REALLy bad luck!

  5. Not re-confirming a flight with Egypt Air was the biggest, most expensive and by far the most stressful mistake we have ever made. We had confirmed the flight two weeks earlier but it was cancelled in that two weeks and we were not contacted. We missed our connection to Italy, lost a night’s accommodation there and had to stay an extra night in Cairo. The worst part was that we didn’t know whether our Alitalia flight was a daily service. We spent that extra night in Cairo worrying that it may turn into a week.

    1. That’s pretty stressful. So much work reading the fine print in these bookings, whether it be a hotel or flight. What a shame you encountered all those extra costs and stress, especially when you did confirm beforehand. But, as you say, things changed in the two weeks leading to your departure.

  6. Thanks for sharing your mistakes – some of those are new ones, but most are pretty familiar. . . yeah, I drove around for over an hour, stopping at various businesses and cafes in South Africa trying to figure out where to get the keys for a beach rental! Love your website.

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