While Paris’ numerous parks are better known for flowers, statuary and PDA between young lovers than for technology, these days one is as likely to see couples surfing the internet as smooching in public. That’s because the city has taken the lead in internet technology for the masses and two years ago launched a campaign to get free internet hot spots (or wi-fi as the French call it, pronounded “wee-fee”) into parks and other public area in all 20 arrondissements of Paris. Long dotted with pay-as-you-go internet cafes, Paris now offers people all over town places ot get online for free.
This is bad news for the internet cafes, but great news for everyone else in Paris, especially tourists on a budget. For one thing, budget hotels may not have internet access, and some hotels that do still charge for it, profiting on the fact that many tourists don’t yet know about the free hot spots or prefer the convenience of 24/7 access in their rooms (the parks’ service generally runs between the hours of 7 AM and 11 PM).
Of course, being able to check your email while away is the most obvious application of wi-fi for tourists to Paris, but there are others that can both add to the enjoyment of the trip and save money as well. First, if you are staying in a hotel that charges for internet access, hold off paying at first and check the available networks. You may be located close enough to one of the free hot spots to be able to connect that way.
Savvy travellers can use the internet to map out routes to landmarks using Mapquest or Google maps, check the prices or menus at restaurants, double check the opening hours, admission rates and current exhibits of museums, and find out what’s on right now in Paris to make the most of their trip. Also, why wait to share those photos of your vacation until you get home? With free internet access, you can upload photos from your camera during your trip to your blog or email to friends back home (just don’t forget to pack your camera’s USB cable!).
Best of all, free wi-fi can cut your telephone costs to little or nothing. using VOIP services such as Skype, travellers can save big by paying only pennies to call landline phones back home, and zero to call other Skype members. They can even save on local phone calls in France, as well as get a “local” number in any city in the world for incoming calls, so people calling them will not be charged for an overseas call. And since you will not obviously spend all your time in front of your computer taking calls, Skype offers voicemail at a nominal charge. Compared to paying for mobile phone service while travelling, using your laptop to connect for free can save travellers over a dollar per minute.
Naturally, all this will be a lot easier for travellers to France with the right technology. You’ll need an international adapter to charge your laptop, and if you plan to use Skype or another VOIP service, headphones or earbuds are a must (the ones you use for your ipod or even the giveaways from your flight will work) or a headset with microphone if your computer does not have a built-in mike. Lighter laptops such as the Macbook air are obviously easier to carry around with your while touring Paris than a 6-pound or more dead weight. And once again, remember to put any necessary cables that connect to your camera or other devices on your packing list. You may also want to bring a mobile phone that can work overseas so that you can be reached fast in case of emergencies, even if you use a free service like Skype for non-urgent commuication.
If you must be connected to the office while you travel, you could do worse that to be sitting in a lovely park with a view of Ntore Dame as you do it. Thanks to the Mairie de Paris, staying online is easy and free for everyone.