Thursday, May 4, 2017

Tips for making a trip to Paris affordable!

Is Paris on your bucket list?  Does it seem like a dream, an impossibility?  Then read on... I'm here to tell you ways to travel to Paris for less money than you think.

Travel is all about 2 things:  Money and Time.  Which do you have more of?

If you have lots of money and not a lot of time, then this article is probably not for you.  

Most of us will find ourselves somewhere in the middle.  We have money, but we're careful with it and want to get the most out of it.  

We have time, but it's even more precious and we don't want to waste it, especially while spending money!  

Here is MY list of money saving tips!

1.  Flights
This will most likely be your largest expense if you're flying from the US.  So, if you can save money here, you're doing GREAT!  I am by no means a flight expert and in fact, I save money here by using points that we accumulate on our credit cards. 

However, I have friends that have found very inexpensive flights to Europe (under $500, almost unheard of), so I know it's possible.

Length of Trip
My biggest tip is Flight-to-length-of-trip ratio.  If you spend $1200 on a flight and only stay 7 days, it works out to $170+ a day.  If you spend 2 weeks, it drops to $85, and 3 weeks to $57 a day.  That is pretty significant savings.  Of course, you're spending more time, which means more daily expense elsewhere, however, save up for the European trip of a lifetime and make it count!

Time of Year, time of week
Rent a bike at Versailles!  The Chateau is 'meh', but the
gardens are spectacular!
My second biggest tip is about what time of year and what time of the week you fly.  Summer is crazy busy in Europe.  It can be very hot, with little or no air conditioning (did it once, won't do it again!)  Spring and Fall are lovely times to visit and prices are generally lower for flights and lodging.  

Flights are typically less expensive when less people are flying, ie: Midweek and Sundays.

Here are some other great tips from the Girls Guide to Paris

2. Lodging

Your next largest expenditure is lodging...or is it?   We've spend more on food on some days that our lodging because of this tip...

My daughters in our 8th arrondissement apartment,
close to Eiffel Tower.
Vacation Apartment Rentals
Not only is this the least expensive way to lodge in Paris (yes, it can be even less expensive that a hostel), it's also the BEST way if you want to experience Paris like a local instead of a tourist. 

This only becomes cost effective when you travel as a group of four or even more.  We're rented apartments for less than $60 US a day per person.  Yes, you won't have a concierge booking your evening dinner.  No one will make your bed and leave a chocolate on your pillow, BUT you'll buy many bars of glorious European chocolate and still save money!  You'll also save with food, but more on that below.

Yup, that's me playing with the pigeons!
Let me just say that some of our best travel experiences have come from the apartments we rented.

Another factor to consider is location.  Paris is divided up into districts, called arrondissements in French.  They are numbered 1 through 20 and move in a spiral starting in the center of Paris, number 1, where the Louvre museum is and part of Ile de la Cite is. (This is an Island in center of Seine River, which bisects Paris).

I've stayed in the 5th, 6th and 7th arrondissement.  My favorite is the 6th, by the Luxembourg Gardens.  The farther out you stay, the less it costs, however, it's less convenient to what you want to see and will cost you more in transport costs.   The 5th and 6th are far enough away from the hype and crowds, yet close enough to get there quickly, plus has many areas I love to explore from gardens, markets and churches.

Here are some websites that offer them. 
  • ·
  • · (now part of Homeaway)
  • · (pricier and nicer than normal)
  • ·
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  • · (Pricier and nicer than normal)
  • ·
  • · (longer term)
Basilica du Sacre-Coeur & Montmartre,  Farther out (18 district), but a
fun place to explore.

3. Food
Paris is a fantasy food destination!  Your third largest expense and the most fun!  And as mentioned above, it can be more or less than you wish.  It really depends on how important food is to you :)  We love a great dining experience, but we still manage to keep our food budget low with the following tips.

Breakfast in your apartment!
It does, after all, have a kitchen.  So it's a good idea to visit (it is actually ALWAYS a good idea to visit local grocers whenever you travel, it's such a great way to understand local people and culture.  Stock on a few basics (oh, even the basics in Paris are divine!), some fruit, cheese, meats and bread...did I say break, I meant "a hot, crusty baguette like only the French can make".

Boulangerie / Pâtisserie

Say what?  Both of these stores are bakeries, but Boulangeries specialize in bread and Pâtisseries in pastries.  However, they will often have the other item to some degree. 

That's a I'm eating a French Crepe kind of smile!
Picking up something to eat here must happen every day, kind of like you must eat a gelato in Italy every day.   Some things you just don't mess with.

Slept in, want to head out without making breakfast...just grab a fresh out of the oven croissant or Pain au Chocolat or one of the other delicacies they offer.  If not for breakfast, how about lunch?  It's never a bad time.

Markets / Street Food
There are plenty of outdoor markets in Paris and they are great way to experience the people and culture of this city, as well as a great opportunity to eat fresh produce and  artisanal food creations.

As well, there are always small vendors on streets (and even food trucks are becoming popular) ready to sell you a divine crepe, a baguette sandwich, a kebab, falafel and even tacos and burgers!

These are all great ways to grab lunch while spending very little.

Prix Fixe (Pronounced Pri fix)
This simply means a fixed price 3 course meal in a restaurant.  The same food would cost much more a la carte during the dinner hours.  By eating your main meal of the day at lunch and eating something lighter (see above) for dinner you could save considerably.  Prix Fixe meals usually run between 10 and 20 Euros (see money below).

Lots of stairs...making up for the pastries!
Water / Ice
Oh dear, where do I start.  As North Americans we cannot truly appreciate how lucky we are to have the water we have until we travel outside of our countries (US & Canada).  Our restaurants dispense water!  Free, easy, endless.  Which for me, a water in that is ALL I drink, it's heaven.

Tap water is not typically offered in European restaurants.  Neither is Ice.  You must ask for it and then don't be surprised to get the 'look'.  One of our favorite Ice stories is from a nice restaurant in Ronda, Spain.  It was brought out to us in a silver chalice with silver tongs.  There were about 7 cubes of ice.  Europeans do not consume water or ice like we do, therefore, it's just not that accessible.  Here's how to get around it.

Stay at an American style hotel.  Use their ice machine.  Hah!

Ask for tap water and ice.  They will give it to you, they just don't want to typically.  If you're not a water kind of person, then buy your drinks!

Bottled water on the other hand is incredibly expensive in Europe.  Every time I get a 25 cent bottle of water in Costco, I remember the 20 Euros + I would lay down every time all six of us needed a drink... I still remember buying water at Charles De Gaulle Airport right before we left to go home and thinking "NEVER AGAIN".

When you're walking all over Paris you'll want to carry bottled water.   Keep the bottle and refill when you're at your apartment or at the 800+ water fountains all over Paris!

Last couple of thoughts about dining in Paris.
Tipping is included in the price, however you could leave a few additional Euros as a nice gesture, but is not necessary.

Prepare to wait and have patience.  The dining experience in Paris (and in Europe in general) is a much more leisurely affair.  They are not in a hurry and do not expect you to be.  Plan on 2 hours at least!  This is one of the reasons we enjoy saving our main meal for the evening, even if it does cost more.  We have enjoyed a full day of Paris, we're tired, our feet are burning and sitting in a nice restaurant, chatting or planning our next day, while being served, is a great way to end a day.

Timing is also a bit different in Paris.  Lunches usually go from noon until 2:30pm.  Restaurants rarely serve dinner before 7pm.  Bistros and cafes will serve food day.

4. Transport
We took 4 of our children to Europe in 2008.  We rented a van and stayed outside of Paris.  We drove into Paris twice.  I still can't believe we did that, but we did.  We lucked out our first day and found parking near the Eiffel tower.  Our second day was not as easy.  We found a parking garage, drove down, only to discover it wasn't high enough for our van...backed out and kept looking.  It was an fun adventure but one I'm not willing to create again. :)  Stay in the city.  Take the Métro!

Fourteen lines, 380 stations and 131 miles of track, Paris Métro is Europe's second largest subway system and that is without including the RER, a commuter-rail network that is integrated with the Métro.

If you're not used to using a subway, it may seem daunting, but it is doable with some help from the internet (, Metro app on your phone and asking friendly Parisians for help.

You can take a taxi, but it is very expensive.  Fares start at 7 Euros.  You can also take the bus, but the Metro is the way to go.  Buy tickets in packs (Carnet) of 10 to save even more money.

RER: (Regional Express Network) Train
Take the RER from the Airport or out to Versailles.  Despite being a bit grim, it will save you a lot of money.

Tip:  Hold on to your tickets for Metro or Train.  You'll need it to check out after you arrive at your destination.

Paris has a bike sharing system (we even have this in Salt Lake City now) that is awesome!  It's called Vélib’.  20,000 bikes at 1800 stations.  It's a fun way to get around and only costs a few dollars a day.


A lot of what I love to do in Paris is FREE!
I love parks, Luxembourg is my favorite...easy to spend half a day strolling, exploring, eating, boule (a ball rolling game older Frenchmen love to play) watching and even napping!

I also love Tuileries Garden across the river from the D'Orsay Museum and next to the Louvre.   It houses one of my favorite smaller art museums, the Orangerie.  Also next to Place Concord, with beautiful views of Champs -Elysees, the Eiffel Tower, the Seine, oh my, just so many things to see and do around this area.  Or just park yourself on a bench by one of the many fountains and relax.

Museums are free on the first weekend of the month, so that might be worth arranging if you're a museum fan.  Paris Museum Pass is a great deal, but only if you use it!

Churches are free and there are some truly stunning churches in Paris.  First and foremost, Notre Dame on Île de la Cite.  Breath taking!  The audio costs, but is well worth it.  To climb the towers also costs, but is a fun adventure just climbing the stairs!

This may seem like the antithesis of saving money, but it's always nice to bring a memento home and if you shop correctly, it can be a culturally fascinating experience.

Marche de Puce (Flea Market)
Flea Markets
The most interesting place to shop is at Paris's famous flea markets.  Maches aux Puces is the largest and most famous, but there are several smaller ones around the city.  You can learn more about them here.

A Guide to Paris Flea Markets


Grocery Store

The best place to buy chocolate is at a large grocery store.  We always take the Metro to it on our last day to stock up.

Parisians love their thrift shops and so should we.  You'll save money and find treasures!  Many of these shops specialize in vintage clothes!
Visit this website to read more about them.

Tip: Sales tax is always included in Paris.

Money, Internet & Mood
This may seem like the antithesis of saving money, but it's always nice to bring a memento home and if you shop correctly, it can be a culturally fascinating experience.

Exchange rate
When we took the kids in 2008, the exchange rate was a whopping 1.5!  It was dreadful.  Today we have a much more favorable exchange rate of 1.1.  Your money will go much's a great time to visit Paris or other European countries.

Credit cards
Europe only takes chip and pin credit cards.  We learned this hard way in 2012 when we tried to use our card to buy metro tickets from the kiosk.  We had to rely on our Canadian friends that whole trip.  By now, however, we should all have chipped cards.

It's always a good idea to bring a few cards though, in case they don't take one.  Visa and Mastercard are commonly used, American Express rarely, mostly in Hotels and restaurants.

Call your credit card company and let them know your travel plans.
Check your statements carefully after any kind of travel, this is often a time when fraud occurs.

We all know that Wifi is free at Mcdonalds but you can access Paris's Hotspots.  They are only available during the day and have a 2 hour limit but then you can log in again after that.

Look for apartments that have free wifi.

Data plans have become more affordable.  Verizon international plan is $10 a day for 24 hour data and all other services you use, like phone and texting.  This could add up over the course of a few weeks, but if you use it strategically it's a good option.

My little article is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are endless websites, articles, blog posts, travel forums that will keep you busy for days and days and days.  But I'm a big believer in being prepared.

I don't want to spend my precious vacation time learning or figuring things out.  My motto is "Be prepared & then prepare to be spontaneous!"

Keep a word doc handy to copy info to, organize it and save them as PDFs and save on your phone in a PDF reader.  This way you'll have information available without using data.

I won't share the gazillion links you could visit except for one two.
·         Rick Steves (great website and even greater travel books)
·         David Lebovitz "Living the sweet life in Paris"

It's always a good idea to pick up a few common phrases to the place you are travelling.  Bonjour! (Hello), Merci!  (Thank you).  S'il vous plait (please).  Bon soir (Good night). Etc...  A great little free app called Duolingo will help you learn in a few easy lessons.

I'm going to leave you with some movies and music to watch and listen to get you into the Paris mood.

Ahhhh, a list of our favorites.  We watch Midnight in Paris, then gaze into each other's eyes and say "let's go to Paris...right now".  We never do go right away, but we always manage to go eventually. :)


One of our favorite music groups; Pink Martini is a musical group that was formed in 1994 by pianist Thomas Lauderdale in Portland, Oregon. Describing itself as a "little orchestra," its music crosses genres such as classical, Latin, jazz and classic pop and encompasses languages from all over the world.  They have a spattering of French songs in their albums, but their latest release is called "Je Dis Oui!", which means "I say yes" in French...and I concur.  Say YES to French and say YES to Paris!

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