Living in France 101

by EmilyEsposito


In the spring of 2010, I spent six months studying in Aix-en-Provence. It is a picturesque city with Paul Cezanne’s Mount Saint Victoire cascading in the distance and is bustling with students from all over the world. In many ways, Aix was my crash course on how to live abroad; Living in France 101. I kept a journal during those six months and would jot down tips that I learned along the way. Here are some of the most important lessons:

On Packing:

Here are some items that literally did not exist in Aix. You may be able to find these things in different areas of France, but I’m not taking any chances.

  • Peanut Butter: If you know me at all, you know that I love peanut butter. I went through three jars of PB in 10 months last year. I have seen peanut butter in some grocery stores, like Monoprix or Carrefour, but it is overpriced, in a tiny jar, and does not taste the same. If you are a PB snob like me, make sure to pack a large jar. This time, I’m bringing two!
  • Extra Mascara/Nail Polish: Here in the states, drugstore cosmetics are cheap. But in Aix, they ranged from 15-25 euros! The Maybelline mascara I usually use cost about $20 in France and the same with nail polish! This time, I’m stocking up on both.
  • Carmex:  I found Carmex in Paris, but I could not find it for the life of me anywhere else. If your lips get easily chapped like mine, make sure to bring a lot of it. My parents had to send me some Carmex during the winter months!
  • Heels?: I brought two pairs of heels last time and didn’t wear them once. The cobblestone roads are not conducive to high heels, especially if you rarely wear them (like me). On the other hand, my good friend wore them very often. But on the walk back home, she was always barefoot. If you can walk long distances on an uneven road, then you should probably pack a pair of heels. But be careful!

On Traveling:

There are endless tips and tricks to have a fun and affordable vacation in Europe, but here are the big ones:

  • Fly RyanAir or EasyJet: I’ve found flights for as little as 30 euros roundtrip. Granted, these are budget airlines, so don’t expect to be flying in the lap of luxury. These airlines have strict baggage policies and usually don’t give free snacks.
  • Use Hostels are a great way to meet other travelers from around the world. They are very affordable and full of young people. They often have organized tours and events for guests. Use HostelBookers to find your hostel and read hundreds of reviews from previous guests to find the best hostel for you.
  • Go on a Free Walking Tour: When you arrive in a new city, find out if there is a walking tour offered (your hostel or hotel could tell you). These walking tours are free (you are encouraged to tip your tour guide) and take you around the city on foot. The tours are super educational and interesting and you learn all the fun facts about your new city!