Earlier this year, my sister asked me if I wanted to go to Paris. As I’m not an insane person, I immediately said yes even without knowing any details. Having never been to Paris, I imagined leisurely strolls with a baguette in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other, visiting the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Musée D’Orsay. Oh, and we had to shop at Galleries Lafayette and take the train to the world-famous Paris flea markets outside the city. And spend an afternoon in Montmartre. And walk through the Tuileries Garden. And go to a wine tasting and a cheese tasting and a pastry tasting and experience an authentic Parisian bistro dinner with French onion soup and steak frites and tarte tatin.

Reality set in when my sister explained that she could only get away for four days total, which left us with about three full days in Paris after travel time on each end. Being the type-A daughters our mother raised us to be, we immediately shared Google maps with pinpointed locations, roundup articles with the best restaurant and shopping recommendations and lists upon lists of our must-dos. We realized pretty quickly that we weren’t going to be able to do it all. But what were we to do? So many things to see in so little time! My brilliant sister devised the following strategy for our whirlwind three-day trip that can apply to any large city you’re visiting.

River Seine bridge

One of the 37 bridges that spans the River Seine.

A bridge over the River Seine.

Another bridge over the River Seine — they’re all stunning, and you’ll want to take pictures of each and every one!

How to Spend 72 Hours Abroad

1. Pack light and carry on.

You barely need a change of clothing for three days (said someone, not me – I need approximately 12 changes of clothing for three days)! Realistically, one pair of jeans, two pairs of shoes (one comfy, one comfy-fancy), three tops, a scarf and a jacket. Done. Of course, while I did abide by the carry on only regulation, I did not follow my own above advice. I packed an obscene amount of clothes and never once did I change my outfit from day to night time.

Hotel Résidence des Arts in Paris

We stayed at the Hotel Résidence des Arts, located between the Latin Quarter and Saint Germain des Prés, in the historical heart of Paris.

2. Choose your Airbnb or hotel room based on location, location, location.

If you want to really immerse yourself in a city, you’ll need to be where the locals hang and within walking distance of the neighborhoods you want to visit. When you only have 72 hours, you will only be sleeping and not hanging out in your hotel room, so there’s no need for anything fancy. You’re better off selecting a comfortable apartment or hotel in a great location where you can come and go easily.

3. Plan only one activity for each day.

The basic premise is to pick only one thing to do each day and to leave the rest of the time open to the long-lost art of wandering. Pick one cultural activity (food tour, concert, performance), one major monument (church or statue) and one museum.

We indulged in a delightful food and wine tour with Paris by Mouth — and there are many other companies offering similar services. Context Tours offers guided small group affairs in several European cities, and Fodor’s Travel is a comprehensive resource for extensive travel advice and city guides. We selected the Notre-Dame Cathedral as our “monument,” and our museum selection was a private evening tour at the Louvre. You can customize your itinerary and get the most out of your one activity each day by booking through a recommended tour company.

Our time in between tours was spent walking (and walking and walking and walking), stopping frequently for sips of champagne and Eric Keyser lemon tarts, popping into shops with no agenda or schedule and picking out dinner restaurants based on their curb appeal and availability.

Just a cute little car we stumbled upon while wandering.

Parisian charcuterie shop

Parisians really like their cured meats. We toured this shop and picked up a few bites on our Taste of Saint-Germain tour.

Fromagerie in Paris

Not to be outdone by the charcuterie shop next store, this fromagerie took cheese shopping to a whole new level!

Patrick Roger chocolates in Paris

If you’re more sweet than salty, stop by the world-famous Patrick Roger for artisan chocolates.

Alley archway in Paris

Similar architecture and charming ambiance is around every corner in Paris.

4. Talk to the locals.

Contrary to popular belief, most people are beyond friendly and helpful to tourists. They’re proud of their city and want you to experience the best it has to offer! Don’t be afraid to chat up your tour guides, servers, shop owners and fellow patrons while out and about. We didn’t have time to visit Les Puces de Saint-Ouen (the most famous Parisian flea market) because it was too far outside the city, but thanks to a local we found a charming flea market within the city limits!

Parisian flea market

We purchased art, alligator-shaped nutcrackers, antique copper pieces and more at this flea market near the Catacombs. The vendors were very friendly, especially the ones drinking red wine at 7:30 a.m.

5. Make notes for what you want to do when you come back.

Take note of each restaurant, shop and locale that piques your interest, but you don’t have time to explore. This will give you even more motivation to come back when you have more time.

This five-step process can be applied to any major city with an abundance of significant sights and activities. Choose your planned activities wisely and sparingly, and interact with the city around you to create your most memorable trip!

Two sisters enjoying an action-packed 72 hours in Paris.

Parting Words

I’ll leave you with this – the most frightening array of goods seen at the local Parisian flea market. Naked baby dolls with makeup aside, the bear to the left is truly the most terrifying … until you notice Chuckie’s baby sister with a machine gun rubber-banded to her arm. Ah, Paris!

The stuff of nightmares.

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