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  1. #1
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    Need help on first cycling trip.

    I have a gap year now, and want to go cycling through France for at least a month.
    I've been cycling for years, but never been on any long journeys.

    I'm 18, and a relatively strong cyclist, but don't plan on too much effort, (ie, about 30-40 miles a day, taking 1-2 month to reach Southern France).
    I only have a Rockhopper bike -2010- (mtb), and a limited budget. (Prefer to modify bike than buy a new one) and need your advice on a LOAD of questions, so thanks in advance if you bother reading and answering even just 1 or 2 of them.

    1) BIKE? Firstly is the bike alright, personally I think I could make it, with the mtb, its not a lightweight touring bike, but it is quite light and I only plan on cycling 30-40 miles a day.

    2) PANNIERS? It's a hardtail, so I'm sure I can get some panniers to fit on the back, and then I'll stack a little tent above them, so, What panniers to get? Recommendations (Good value for money) and preferably waterproof.

    3) TYRES? It's a mountain bike, but I recently put on these "Panaracer Mach SS" which are semi-slick, so have a bit of both. size 26x1.95. Would these be alright for cycling all the way, or should I get different ones?

    4) TENT? I own a 2 person tent, but the bag is ripped, and really I need a new one, so recommendations on a 1 person tent that is easy to put up and packs down small and light?

    4b) where do you leave the bike when in the tent at night, Just chain it to something close by?

    5) HANDLEBARS? I just have normal stock mtb handlebars on, could/should I get some dropped handlebars fitted, and how would I go about doing this?

    6) SADDLE? The saddle that came with the bike is ridiculously uncomfortable, recommendations?

    7) BIKE TOOLS? pump, puncture repair kit, spare innertubes (I always pop them when blowing them up), oil. Missed anything essential?

    8) SKILLS, I know how to change the innertube and mend a puncture, and thats about it, anything else I really need to learn?

    9) DYNAMO Is it worth getting a dynamo bike charger for my phone, or just getting a hand crank one?

    10) Hitchhiking with bike? Should I just stick to cycling?

    11) Safety tips for France alone?

    12) My aim is to reach South France (Monaco, Montpeiller..) just anywhere along the South coast, so when I get there, is there a train or anything that I can get to bring me back up North? and can anyone one link me to it.

    13) WHEN TO GO? This is my really big decision, I cant decide between going mid-September, or going April. I think it'll take me about 2 months, and I don't want to have to pack winter coats etc.

    14) CLOTHES? I need to get all new biking clothes, currently I cycle in the city and don't own cycling shorts and jerseys etc. But looking through leisure lakes, these things cost loads (£60+ per item.) All I really own are my cycling shoes with clips.

    15) ROUTE? I was planning to basically aim for somewhere S France, possibly a train station to bring me back, and improvise the rest, just travelling South, and seeing what I come across.

    16) Getting to Dover from Oldham, Manchester? None of the trains I've seen will let me on with a bike, and I really imagine the cycling starting in France. Any suggestions?

    Any other useful tips?


    I may well add more questions, and I have searched for this stuff and read a lot of the touring forum already, so thanks for your advice in advance.

    .................................................................
    PS. I'll be taking a bit of cash, and mostly withdrawing from my card as I go. To reduce chance of loss of too much.

    ....................................................................
    For now I have decided to wait until March or April to go, and buy and add things to my bike until then. As well as go on a few week long cycles in to test thing out. Cannot wait until Spring and it's not even winter yet!
    Last edited by rryyaannbb; 08-22-12 at 03:03 PM.

  2. #2
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    DSC04909.jpgDSC04910.jpgDSC04934.jpg

    That's me and my bike.

    .......................
    I'm budgeting about 20 euro a day, (10 for campsite and 10 for food) for the actual journey.

  3. #3
    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    Here's a few thoughts.

    A rockhopper will be fine. Lock out the front suspension. Semi-slick tyres are also fine, no need to change them.

    Personally I use Vaude waterproof panniers. Waterproof panniers do tend to be pricey, though. Some get by OK with their gear inside plastic bags inside non-waterproof panniers. You'll need to fit a rack.

    Yes, just lock the bike to something convenient and close by when you're asleep. If the lock is moderately substantial it will be difficult to steal the bike silently.

    No, don't try to convert the bike to drops unless you are prepared to spend some money. Quite apart from the difficulty of setting it up to get a decent riding position on a bike designed for flat bars, you'd need to replace the brake levers and gear shifters.

    Saddles are a pretty personal choice. I suggest you ask your LBS if you can try before you buy.

    As far as I know, you won't be able to charge your phone direct from a dynamo without a gadget like an e-werk. Not cheap. Others might know better. Take a power monkey, would be my advice.

    It's worth knowing how to fix a chain (and to carry a few spare links) and replace and/or tension spokes. That would add a chain tool and a spoke key to your list of tools. You should also carry some tyre levers and a set of allen keys.

    Hitch-hiking with a bike is pretty difficult. I'd just ride, if I were you, and put the bike on a train if required. And on that subject almost all the UK train companies allow bikes, usually subject to booking in advance, so there's nothing to stop you travelling by train from Manchester to the South Coast. But there's nothing to stop you riding it, either.

    No special safety tips for France except keep right. In general, you'll find French drivers more considerate of cyclists than English ones.

    Don't worry about planning the route too carefully. There are lots of municipal campsites and international hostels that are of good quality. But if you are riding between September and November, more and more campsites will be closing as you go along. Best to check in advance. If it were me, I'd go April-June rather than September- November.

    You don't really need special clothing for touring, especially if you're only planning on 30-40 miles per day. Some baggy shorts with padded undershorts would be a decent investment, though.

    A budget of €20 per day will be tight, even if you camp virtually every night.

  4. #4
    Member RyleyinSTL's Avatar
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    The last time I was in France 10 euro might have been enough for a half dozen croissants or a bag of gougère. You're going to be biking and will need plenty of calories every day....good, full of good stuff kind of calories (ie. not bangers and mash). Might want to consider upping the food budget.

    Tent - if you want to keep it really light go this direction: http://www.thenorthface.com/catalog/...010-_-Deeplink

    Train - There are trains that can easily accommodate you (same general idea as in the UK). Go here for all info: http://www.sncf.co.uk/ Similar to the UK you can just buy your ticket at the station.

    Panaracer Mach SS - these will not do, way to much tread. Go this direction: http://www.biketiresdirect.com/produ...t-tire-26-inch

    If the train will not accommodate a bike consider bus service.

    Sounds like a fun trip. Have fun!
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  5. #5
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    Thanks for the advice.

    I'm thinking I may wait until next year, March/April-June, instead then.
    Give me time to get a job and earn a bit more money, I just have nothing to do all year though.

    Those thin tyres scare me, are they actually a lot quicker/ easier to ride on?

  6. #6
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    rryyaannbb, I used my mountain bike before the touring bike. Bar ends are a definate plus. I also used similar tires (photo) at 65 PSI. Anyway, no doubt you can use what you already have.

    Brad

    2011 bike updates 006.jpg

  7. #7
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    And thanks for the rail link, Thats seriously helpful.

  8. #8
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    Great idea! Don't know why I didn't think of bar ends! Quite cheap and simple too. Thanks.

  9. #9
    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post

    Those thin tyres scare me, are they actually a lot quicker/ easier to ride on?
    Yes. They aren't thin. And Riley is right about the Mach SS, when I said they would be OK I was relying on your descrption of them as semi-slick instead of actually looking at them. They're more semi than slick, in my opinion.

  10. #10
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    OKay then, if I am waiting until March/April to go, then I'll buy some slicks a bit before and get used to them. Leave these on for winter here though.

  11. #11
    Garlic
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    Try some "shake-down" weekend trips this year, and you'll figure out what works and what's worth upgrading.

    Look on maps.google.com and push the bicycle button for suggested bike routes to Dover.

    Join warmshowers.com for possible hosts on your route, too.

    I would not enjoy touring on a mountain bike or with those tires, but plenty do.

    I just finished a long tour (7100 km) in the States and spend less than US$25 per day, and I'm an old guy with a credit card. You might do OK on 20 Euros. Don't eat at restaurants and camp a lot.

  12. #12
    Member RyleyinSTL's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    Those thin tyres scare me, are they actually a lot quicker/ easier to ride on?
    They will be lighter, quicker and easier. In fact, with the right air pressure, they will be good for 5kmph to your top speed I suspect. The first time you ride with them you will feel like the wind is pushing you along.
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  13. #13
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    Rockhopper is good for touring, semi slick tyres are ideal. Add a decent rear rack, bar ends and some mudguards for wet days. The default replacement saddle is Charge Spoon, most people like it; I use a very old, beat up Specialized one.
    Mid Sept-Oct is a good time for France, probably dryer than March/April. S of France is OK for touring quite late into the season. Some campsites close for winter.
    Consider travel to France by a budget airline to a regional airport in Brittany, it will be cheaper and quicker than rail/ferry/chunnel. Same for the return journey. Put all of your bags inside one package to minimize costs.
    I have toured for a couple of weeks using a Gelhert Solo tent. Once you replace the steel pegs with aluminium, it is compact and lightweight and should last. It is quite small but at that price, you can't complain. Combine with a 3/4 length inflatable mat and a 3 season bag and you should be set.
    You will need to cook on something, gas canister is easiest, alcohol the cheapest.
    You could manage with 2 large panniers and a barbag. Altura is good; look for locking quick-release mounts, heel cutout profile, a flap or roll top (not zippers) and 1 external pocket. You may have to pile stuff on the rear rack. I use nylon drybags on the rack and inside one panniers.
    The brand-name camping kit is expensive compared to discount stores like Go Outdoors or those mil-surplus places. Aldi and Lidl sometimes do good cycling gear at stupid prices. You will need shorts, helmet and gloves and lights. Cycling jersey is nice to have but you can use wicking T shirts. In France , Decathlon has good value cycling gear.
    You can recharge at campsites. I have dynamo lighting but since LEDs came along, battery lights are good for touring.

  14. #14
    Senior Member DanBell's Avatar
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    1) Your bike is fine. Lots of people tour on hardtail mountain bikes with racks.
    3) I second the recommendations for thinner slick tires (tyres!!). If you'll be on roads most of the time, they'll be faster, roll better, and be just as comfortable.
    4) Here's a link to a pretty well-reviewed, inexpensive tent. It goes for about $100 on Amazon in the US.
    4b) Yep, just lock it up. Sometimes I'll tie one of my tent or hammock lines to it for added security. If someone moves it, I should notice it.
    5) I don't think a drop bar conversion will be necessary or effective (plus you'll also have to spring for new shifters and brake levers). Bar ends and locking ergo grips will give you enough hand positions.
    6 & 14) I've done plenty of touring in regular shorts with padded undershorts on a Brooks saddle. I know Brooks saddles aren't for everyone, and they're expensive, but I love my B17. I also recently bought a couple pair of these undershorts. Very comfy so far. Just make sure that your outer shorts don't have baggy pockets or thick seams in places that will rub between your legs/butt and the saddle. Casual shorts of a thinner material work well, and you don't have to bring on type of shorts for on the bike, and another for when you're off the bike.
    9) I don't know much about hand crank chargers, but the ones I've seen have been garbage. The new Shimano dynamo hubs are great, and not that expensive. You can power the lights on your bike and charge your phone while riding.

    Check out crazyguyonabike.com. Heaps of good touring information there. Sounds like it's going to be an awesome trip! I look forward to hearing more about it.

  15. #15
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    Is it really necessary to take a stove/ cooking set. I'm pretty sure I can live off cold food for a month or two, and clean water isn't really an issue if I can carry 2 litres just in bottle holders on the bike?(Oh and yeah I agree, I have boosted the food budget to at least 20 euro a day)

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    Is it really necessary to take a stove/ cooking set. I'm pretty sure I can live off cold food for a month or two, and clean water isn't really an issue if I can carry 2 litres just in bottle holders on the bike?(Oh and yeah I agree, I have boosted the food budget to at least 20 euro a day)
    No, it's absolutely not necessary to cook on a tour. It goes against the grain, but I haven't carried a stove or cookset on a tour or hike for many seasons. It doesn't give you a huge weight advantage because there are many very good light-weight stoves, and you have to carry more water weight in the food. But it does make things simpler and easier to resupply. Another advantage is pack space--I dropped an entire front pack from my set-up when I stopped carrying a stove. (The other front pack got dropped when I found a decent single-wall tent (Henry Shires Tarptent).)

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    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    Is it really necessary to take a stove/ cooking set. I'm pretty sure I can live off cold food for a month or two, and clean water isn't really an issue if I can carry 2 litres just in bottle holders on the bike?(Oh and yeah I agree, I have boosted the food budget to at least 20 euro a day)
    I would bring a small butane type stove and buy cartridges as needed. And I would bring a pot about one liter in size with a long handled spoon. That means that you would also need some soap and a cleaning pad. This way you can fix a warm drink such as coffee or tea or hot chocolate in the morning or evening, have soup on occasion for a meal, maybe a stew or rice meal occasionally too. Cost for this is not very much and it packs down small. You could buy this gear once you get to France, as then you would find out what fuel cartridges are most prevalent.

    When traveling alone, besides coffee in the morning, I often have a small pot of Ramen soup in the morning. It is fast, filling, warm on cool mornings and costs almost nothing. I don't carry a bowl when traveling alone, eat it out of the pot.

    A pack of rice and a can of stew can make a pretty filling meal. May not win any gourmet awards, but it is fast, cheap and filling. Plus, for many meals you can use non-perishables such as this, so you can keep a few meals worth of food in your pack without worrying about it going bad.

    20IMGP3440.jpg

    The trip that produced this photo, I carried a liquid fuel stove but if I was going on your trip to France, I would use a butane stove as it is smaller and lighter.

    Some people rely on alcohol stoves for a trip like yours but I have never used one so I have no opinion on them.

  18. #18
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    take a bunch of weekend overnights, loops from home ,
    see what is useful and what's ballast.

  19. #19
    http://www.538.nl acidfast7's Avatar
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    personally, i think that a food budget of 20€/day for a single person is quite large.

    i live in frankfurt and i'd eat cold the whole way...

    i break it down like this (at Frankfurt inner city prices/countryside would be much less)...

    3 fresh baguettes @ 0.99€
    1 loaf fresh bread @ 1.99€
    150g pre-sliced pepper cover salami @ 1.29€
    150g sliced and smoked ham @ 1.29€
    100g spreadable cheese w/herbs @ 0.99€
    250g Emmentaler cheese (Swiss mountain cheese) @ 2.49€
    200g Saint Agur or Gorgonzola @ 1.99€
    6 large tomatoes @ 0.99€
    fresh rosemary @ 0.30€
    balsamic vinegar @ 0.50€
    1 package field salad @ 0.99€
    0.7L bottle Crémant @ 3.50€
    a metal tube of mustard @ 1.49€ and some spiciness would be nice for the salad as well.

    that doesn't include any water, but you could easily substitute the Crémant for water.

    to be honest, most students I know who don't get paid tend to live on between 5-10€/day for food. 5€ is they only eat cold and 10€ if they want one warm decent meal per day.

    also, I'm not sure where you're headed in France but in central Germany, you'll pass through tiny towns on the bike paths/tours and can easily pick up stuff on a daily basis (if you so desire.) even the bakeries are open on Sunday if you want bread/pastries (however, nothing else will be open on Sundays.)
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  20. #20
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    Is it really necessary to take a stove/ cooking set. I'm pretty sure I can live off cold food for a month or two, and clean water isn't really an issue if I can carry 2 litres just in bottle holders on the bike?(Oh and yeah I agree, I have boosted the food budget to at least 20 euro a day)
    No not necessary, but...

    My cooking/eating kit weighs anywhere from 9-11 ounces depending on choices for that trip and some of that would be carried if not cooking. Also it could be trimmed further if you really wanted to. Some of the SUL backpacking guys get their cooking/eating kit down to 3 ounces or so. Add some fuel (Yellow Heet 12 ounces for a full bottle) and the weight goes up some though.

    I find that worth carrying even when I am in full gram counting mode and am carrying less than 14 pounds of gear including bags.

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    I'm currently debating whether to carry a cooking kit for a short Euro tour. Normally I would eat out in the evenings (or on the campsite) and carry some sardines or something as emergency rations. Funds are tighter than normal and I can slim down my Trangia 27 to one pot and a (DIY) supercat burner with a foil lid and shield.
    Brew-kits like this are good for noodles, couscous with sausage, veg, tinned stew, sardines etc . Rice and pasta are a bit harder to do on a brew kit but possible. Carrying oil is tricky but pesto or sausage do the job. Salt, pepper, sugar, milk powder, coffee tea, quicksoup, herbs, they soon start to mount up. Carry them in a reliable tupperware box.
    If you decide to go stove-less, do take a spork for eating out of tins and a small plastic cup (even coffee machine cups) in case someone offers you a brew. Cups can protect soft fruit from crushing. Tupperware boxes keep cheese smells in their place.

  22. #22
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    Hey Micheal, where are you going, and are you going this year or waiting until spring?
    I'm holding off on the full France tour until next spring, so I can spend longer and it'll only get warmer as I go along, instead of rushing into it now and coming back freezing.

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelW View Post
    Normally I would eat out in the evenings
    That reminds me... I failed to mention that if I planned to eat evening meals in a diner or other restaurant, and if such services were readily available where I would be, I doubt that I would bother with a stove for just breakfast or lunch. I am more inclined to eat breakfast or lunch out whne I have that choice and do dinner in camp though.

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    i have to be a snob here for a second...

    gastronomy is one of the reasons to come to Europe for touring.

    given that, I can understand if you don't want to spend 50-100€/night on dining ... however eating sardines or Dinty Moore "beef"-stew out of the can, is slightly missing the point, is it not? the prices I posted are for quality foods and a discount market.
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    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    1) BIKE? Firstly is the bike alright, personally I think I could make it, with the mtb, its not a lightweight touring bike, but it is quite light and I only plan on cycling 30-40 miles a day.
    Touring bikes aren't really all that light. Your mountain bike, if it fits you and is comfortable for you to ride over distance, should be fine. Thirty to forty miles per day spread out over, say, six hours, is very manageable. I tour on a mountain bike and it works just fine. The frame is nice and tough and has a very similar geometry to a touring bike. Yeah, if my wife hits the lottery I'll got get a dedicated touring bike, but until then...


    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    2) PANNIERS?
    One possible hitch with mtb frames is that sometimes the combination of chainstay length and where the back of your heels hits makes panniers difficult to mount. I have this problem with mine, and looking at more than just a couple nights touring coming up next season when I plan on taking a week-long trip I am looking at other options, including trying a longer rack so the panniers can sit further back or using a Bob Yak trailer or similar. (There's a can of worms right there. Step back fast.)

    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    3) TYRES? It's a mountain bike, but I recently put on these "Panaracer Mach SS" which are semi-slick, so have a bit of both. size 26x1.95. Would these be alright for cycling all the way, or should I get different ones?
    I don't know the specific tire, but I ride Continental Semi-Slicks of a similar size and they work out great for my purposes. The first couple times I toured I did it on knobblies, which wasn't perhaps the best option but the tires were still fairly new then and I hadn't worn them to threads and I didn't want to spend money on new tires. Once I wore them out, however, I got after it with the semi-slicks and they've been great.

    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    4b) where do you leave the bike when in the tent at night, Just chain it to something close by?
    Yup. I have chained it to trees, picnic tables, sign-posts, car bumpers (with permission of the owner).

    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    5) HANDLEBARS? I just have normal stock mtb handlebars on, could/should I get some dropped handlebars fitted, and how would I go about doing this?
    It can be involved since you'll likely need then knew brake levers and shift levers, and possibly a new stem. To this I have a question. Are you able to ride over the distances you propose with your current handlebars? If you can do it, and do it even with a dummy load in some panniers, I think you're fine. I got to where I wanted another position so I got some bar-ends to give me another riding position and that's worked well.

    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    6) SADDLE? The saddle that came with the bike is ridiculously uncomfortable, recommendations?
    If it's uncomfortable, chuck it and get something else, but do it early enough that you can try it out before you go on a tour with it. I have settled on a Brooks B135, which a lot of people would think ridiculous overkill but it fits the bill for me. Since we're all a little different physically I strongly recommend visiting a well-stocked shop with your bike and getting some consultation. If they won't let you try sitting on it before you buy you should probably leave.

    Anyway, the "what saddle?" question is another can of worms. I would recommend thinking beyond just the uber-plush padded options as those can get hot and cause a lot of chafing, but then again for some people they are the best option. If you have a bit of, err, male numbness, you may want to consider getting one with a center slot cut out of it.


    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    7) BIKE TOOLS? pump, puncture repair kit, spare innertubes (I always pop them when blowing them up), oil. Missed anything essential?
    I would add a compact spoke wrench, a small screwdriver or two, and a set of the essential Allen wrenches for your bike, probably 4mm, 5mm, 6mm and maybe one or two more. I am sure I am leaving out something that someone else feels essential.

    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    8) SKILLS, I know how to change the innertube and mend a puncture, and thats about it, anything else I really need to learn?
    You aren't likely to be doing overhauls of bearings en route, but I would recommend skimming a book on bike repair just so at least you are aware of potential issues.

    Quote Originally Posted by rryyaannbb View Post
    11) Safety tips for France alone?
    Your biggest threat in France is probably petty crime, like pickpocketing, but then again I am saying this while living in a country where people regularly shoot each other with guns over petty disagreements. (Oops, opened another can of worms.)


    Happy touring!

    Adam

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