How to survive a trip to Paris with just an iPhone

We have recently spent a week in Paris, more on the trip itself will follow when time permits.

I decided to take full advantage of the iPhone on this trip and so instead of carrying around an assortment of paper-based media like guide books, maps, print-outs of points of interest, the only thing I had with me was the iPhone. (also the Blackberry but that was only for work mail, despite being on holiday yes yes I know!)

It worked surprisingly well so in case anyone else is thinking of doing something similar, here are my tips on what works and what does not.

By far the most used app was “RATP Premium”. This app provides maps and guidance to all transport in Paris, primarily in our case this was the RER and Metro systems but also covers trams, buses and other stuff.

What was invaluable was the ‘route’ function. You simply enter where your journey will start and where you want it to end and the app works out which lines to catch in which direction, where to change and when you’ll arrive at your destination. There are various options to limit selection to certain modes of transport, or choose ‘minimum walking’, ‘minimum changes’ or ‘fastest’. It works a treat and really does make getting around considerably easier than it would be using paper maps or those on the walls of the platform.

Combine this app with a ‘Paris Visite’ pass to allow travel on all systems for as many days as you like (max of five days at a time) and your transport is sorted. We resorted to taxis only twice in our seven days and that was only because we were too shagged out to do anything else.

A five day Paris Visite pass for all three of us for maximum range (zone 6 which includes Disneyland and Versailles) cost €128.00. A one day pass just for the city limits (zone 3) for all three of us cost something like €15.00 on a weekend.

Unless you are already adept at parlez vousing po francusku you’re going to need a language app. We found the language pack from Accio worked very well. This combines the dictionary and the phrase book into one app. I think there was only one instance when this app was not able to help us out although it should be said we were not trying to discuss quantum mechanics nor did we get into lengthy conversations about anything else.

It was particularly useful at helping me work out that the place next door that looked like a funeral parlour was in fact a plumber’s office & workshop. Are all Parisian plumbers so morbid?

When you’re not on the train you’ll be walking around and when you’re walking around it always helps to know where you are and where you should be heading. That’s when the standard iPhone map application takes over.

Press the paper dart button and it will show you exactly where you are, more or less, it tended to be a few metres out when you zoomed in. Enter any address or landmark in the search bar and it shows you where it is.

This was probably the second most used application after the RATP one.

Is a trip worth making without a guide book? I think it certainly is, but, if you’re a guidebook freak then you’ll know they can get to be quite big and heavy to carry around.

We tried the Lonely Planet Paris City Guide app and found it averagely useful. As a general comment it gave too much information we didn’t need or want and not enough about the things we were interested in. Too much general information about Paris, shopping, transport, hotels and so on and not enough about the places we were visiting. We did use it but I think you can live without it.

A good alternative to a guide book is using something like Evernote although this requires more effort before you arrive.

Evernote is essentially a better version of ‘notes’ that allows you to either type your own notes or to cut and paste sections from web pages and turn them into notes. It synchronises the notes between your mobile and your desktop and also allows you to encrypt any data that is slightly more sensitive, passwords and so on. The encryption is not as strong as ‘Dropbox’ but it is easier and more flexible to use.

Examples of how we used Evernote on this trip were a webpage clip of where to catch the bus for getting back to the airport, typed notes on expenditure as a guide to how the finances were flowing, clips of information about places we wanted to visit and so on. What I could have done that would have been very helpful would be to make a note of a map of Pere Lachais cemetery but I didn’t, so we wandered around in the rain looking for Jim Morrison!

The award for least useful, verging on utterly useless app goes to Disneyland.

It had a lot of promise, maps of the parks, details of the attractions, real-time queuing times and so much more. In practice you were better off with a paper map of the park and take your chances with the queues. This app therefore follows the example of their website of being all fluff and little substance. This app is free, thank goodness, but takes up a fair bit of memory, my advice is not to bother downloading it.

I’m sure there are many other useful apps out there for a Paris visit, there are certainly plenty to choose from. No doubt many of these, or similar, are available for android phones too. Whichever way you do it I think the message is that it most definitely is possible to spend a week in Paris without packing reams of paper to help you get around.

Of course, the iPhone doesn’t have the same ‘feel’ as a well worn guide book, it won’t pick up the souvenir boeuf bourguignon stain from that great little restaurant on Ile St-Louis but it equally won’t pick up the Eau De Tramp’s Piss that is so hard to avoid on the streets of Paris these days (and ruined Zosia’s handbag!)!

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