how to plan a trip to France

driving route from Cap Ferrat to Castellan, Menton and Monte Carlo

Planning a major trip is a pleasurable endeavor as anticipation is such a huge part of the joy of travel. At the same time, detailed planning can be complicated, time-consuming, and frustrating. Travelers are so very different in how they plan. Some prefer total spontaneity — they rent a car and drive off into the sunset with no reservations but only a sense of adventure — not recommended! Other travelers are totally structured, every day organized down to the hour with spreadsheets detailing each element of the trip.

How do I plan my own travel? The intent of this article is to describe what works for me. Here's the story of how I'm planning our upcoming trip to France.

Step one: grab that great fare (or those award tickets). Back in May, British Airways had a three day business class sale, and the deal was matched by other carriers. I grabbed a great fare I found on United, nonstops from SFO to CDG. The same tickets are 400% higher today, so I saved 75%!

On other occasions, I've found availability for Saver Awards and grabbed those seats with miles. Moral: if you hesitate, you lose.

Step two: grasp the big picture of your trip. I knew I wanted to visit Paris + Something Else, and I had 20 nights to play with. As I haven't been to the Riviera since 1969 and am frequently asked about hotels in that part of France, I knew I wanted to end the trip on the Riviera. My big question: where to spend the 7 nights between Paris and the Riviera?

Step three: research a broad, day-by-day itinerary. While many travelers prefer to do all the research themselves, I know from my work as a luxury travel advisor that you're typically better served by enlisting the support of local experts. I hired W Travel France, one of our preferred travel partners in France, to assist with itinerary suggestions. They recommended we focus on the Luberon area of Provence (where I'd never been) and helped me fill in the broad outline of my trip with a "first draft" itinerary. After a couple of back-and-forth emails, we had a full 20-page itinerary in hand.

Step four: book hotels and arrange your logistics. We reserved train tickets from Paris to Avignon, rented a car from Avignon to the Nice airport, booked our hotels, got our flight back to Paris, and booked our final night using Starwood points at the Sheraton CDG.

Step five: tweak the details and perfect the itinerary. Finally, I turned to Google Maps to familiarize myself with the trip and flesh it out. As I'm a very visual person, I find it very helpful to see everything graphically displayed. Google Maps, a powerful (though frustrating) tool, is one way to visualize each day of your trip.

There's a big difference between having a 20-page printed itinerary ... and seeing each of your 13 driving days on a map. Working off Google maps, we were able to fill in the details and add ideas and notes about what to see in the various villages. If we hear about a must-see attraction in the Luberon, our map will show the ideal day to include that village (if we have the time and energy).

And when we get there, Google maps will even provide spoken driving directions on my iPhone!

Step six: share your trip. I've provided the link to the two google maps of our driving tour of Southern France. Your feedback is welcome ... crowd-sourcing in action!

From Avignon to Aix-en-Provence

from Aix-en-Provence to Nice Airport

bonus: map of some recommended restaurants in Paris
... http://tinyurl.com/par-rest

copyright (c) 2016 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or

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