Our trip to Paris was such a blast!
Most people mention Paris as some sort of pipe dream that will never be a reality for them, and I've gotta say- if money is your issue, you can absolutely get to Paris one day while living on a budget, especially if going to Paris is your WHY for sticking to a budget or in your top three money saving priorities.
We were able to take our family of 4 to France, where we stayed in a comfortable Airbnb, ate what we wanted, bought what we wanted, and experienced what we wanted for $3200 total. If our kids were older and we had left them at home, it would have been easily $1200 (at least) less. Of course that's still a big lump sum, but it was significantly cheaper than how much I imagined a trip to France would be.
Before our trip, I asked around to some friends who had previously been to France to get trip tips as well as money saving ideas and I'm so glad we did! Amongst their help we also figured out a few money saving tips ourselves and I thought it'd be helpful to compile it all together and share what we've learned. And now, without further ado, here are 8 tips for traveling to France on budget. :)
1. Buy tickets for Off Season
Flights to Paris for the Winter, leaving from LA, CA were $425 round trip per person for the last week of January. This was not an anomaly, these prices occur every winter! We each wore light coats and were just fine traipsing around France in the winter season. I mean sure, the nature there was not at its peak, but I didn't fly to France to see nature, I went for the historic and beautiful buildings which look the same no matter the weather :) (and I still thought France was gorgeous despite the chill!) If you want to get to France but can't afford the larger ticket prices, Winter is your best friend!
We then purchased another $400 in tickets from Salt Lake City to LA round trip for all of us. Had we driven to California it would have been even cheaper. (And if we didn't have kids in tow, that probably would have been a blast with my husband!) That means our total airfare for three seats to LA and then to France and back was just over $1700 including taxes and fees.
2. Car rentals
We didn't use a car rental in Paris but we did for our 15 hour layover in LA. The tip here is to not use the companies that directly connect with the airport. Their prices are seriously inflated. Instead, we found a van rental 20 minutes away and were able to find buses at the airport to transport us there for free. (The rental company happily told us which bus to take and then picked us up in their shuttle.) We were able to rent a mini van and two car seats for $50 (including taxes and fees) for one day which was pretty amazing considering the size of the vehicle! The cheapest price for a car and two car seats was just under $100 everywhere else, and it would have been a much smaller car.
3. Avoid additional airline fees
Most airlines allow you to take a personal item and a carry on for free, and checked luggage is an additional cost. You often get a diaper bag to use for a baby as well, even if you didn't purchase them a seat. We just took the essentials that fit in those bags and then stopped at a grocery store the day we got to France for things like diapers, snacks, etc. I was nervous to try limited baggage for an international trip (we've done this plenty of times in the States) but it worked out perfectly and we even had extra room in our bags. I honestly prefer this method because not only is it cheaper over all, but you don't have to wait at the baggage claim for your checked items which is awesome!
Also, our flight with Norwegian had you pay an additional $45 per person per flight for any meals on the 11 hour flight. That easily added up to $270! We ended up purchasing just one meal and then packed a lot of snacks/bought food beforehand to take on the plane. I was nervous since I'm nursing and hungry 24/7 that I'd be starving, but honestly I regrettted purchasing the one meal because it was microscopic! We could have just bought multiple "snacks" offered for sale on the plane and that would have fed all of us for under $45 easily. Additionally, I didn't realize how easy it is to bring your own food on the flight and that (at least with the airlines we used) it was NOT considered additional baggage. Lesson learned!
4. Use the Metro
Paris has a wonderful transit system that is definitely easy and safe to use. A friend who lived in Paris for 2 years told us to not even worry about renting a car. He was right- the metro was awesome and worked well for us! And it was SO much cheaper than car rentals, taxis and Ubers. (Plus the driving was a little crazy there in the city and there were few places to park, so I would have been quite nervous driving!)
5. Purchase the Paris Pass
Another friend traveled to France last year and he suggested buying the Paris Pass to save us money on travel and attractions. This tip was invaluable and saved us a lot of money! You purchase this pass and it encompasses the entry fee for most of the huge attractions you'll want to see, plus it gave us passes for the metro and the Tour Guide buses. Plus we were able to save time instead of having to wait in line to purchase tickets at each attraction as well. I'd give the Paris Pass a huge thumbs up! If possible, I'd order this at least a month in advance for your trip. That way they can send it to you and you'll have it the minute you start your trip. We had to pick it up our first day there which wasn't horribly inconvenient, but it would have been nicer to have gotten them in the mail beforehand!
I know there is a also a pass like this for Las Vegas and for London, and there may be even more! You'd have to check their website to see all of the options. :)
6. Credit Card fees
We got a tip to to call ahead of time with your banks and see if they'll waive any fees for using their card internationally. (You should call them ahead anyway and let them know you'll be out of the country so they don't flag your card as fraudulent when you start using it in a foreign land.) We even phrased it in a way that we'd use their card over a competitors card if they waived the fees, and thankfully they did!
7. Use Airbnb
Boy am I glad we did Airbnb! We had our own separate sleeping spaces, a washer to clean our limited amount of clothing, and it only cost us $565 for an entire week stay. As I looked at hotels, even a moderately priced one would have been at least $130 a night, and we would have had a hard time sleeping in the same room together every night. Airbnb was amazing and I'm excited to use it for future trips! Also you can get much smaller, cheaper Airbnb's than ours as well, so keep that in mind!
8. Avoid making life easier for Pick Pockets
Nope, I'm not kidding- this is also something to consider in order to stick to your budget while traveling. :) We had countless people tell us they were pickpocketed while on a tourist trip. It would sure be a bummer to have a plan for that money and then to have it disappear! Anytime you're in a big city or a huge tourist attraction area you'll want to be more aware about how you carry your money, phone, wallet and passport. Don't carry them in your back pockets and when on public transit or in a large, slow moving crowd, move all baggage/backpacks/diaper bags to your front so you can easily see them and so they are less accessible to ol' grabby pickpocketing Joe Shmoe. It would be unfortunate to have money stolen from you so as one fellow budgeter to another, protect that money! ;)
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With all of those money saving little tips, we were able to buy whatever food, treats and services we wanted and we were able to really enjoy ourselves and know we weren't breaking the bank or losing out on any experiences while there. If Paris is your dream, you really can make it a reality in your lifetime with some saving and budgeting techniques! I'm living proof!