Travel to Paris on a Budget? Oui, bien sur! (Yes, of course)

 

Image Credit: Lili Rahmati

When it comes to international travel, Paris is consistently mentioned as the top desination (or amongst the top) favored amongst global travelers. Paris means different things to different people as each visitor extracts meaning and value from their own unique experiences in this great city.

Paris is a source of constant artistic inspiration for me given that I've found my creative passion through the pursuit of black & white fine art film photography.  When I need to recharge and renew given the demands of running my core business, my vacation plans always include a stop in this amazing city. Each visit to Paris reveals something to me artistically which had gone unnoticed the time before. Having spent many days and weeks at a time exploring its splendor on foot hoping to capture those special moments on film, I've established an intimate relationship with the city so much so that I feel increasingly at home during each of my visits.

As I have learned first-hand through my own experiences traveling to Paris (and across Europe), despite the strength of the Euro compared with the dollar, it is absolutely possible to enjoy Paris without breaking the bank. One need not stay at Hotel de Crillon nor dine at Le Cinq to experience the magic and charm that Paris has to offer. As long as you do a bit of planning, keep an open attitude and maintain a sense of adventure, you can enjoy every moment of your time in Paris while traveling on a budget.

  •  GETTING THERE: Many travelers flock to Europe during the summer as a result of their children's summer break from school. If you don't have these constrants and can be flexible with your travel schedule, try to travel either in the Spring or the Fall. Not only is the weather much better, the cities aren't nearly as crowded, and the airfares are much more reasonable as both of these seasons are considered to be "low season" as far as travel to Paris is concerned. Also, when booking international airfare, do your research via the aggregator sites (Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, others) as well as with the airlines directly. Often you'll find very attractive deals offered exclusively by the airlines long before that flight inventory is released to the aggregator sites so it can pay to be patient and to shop around. Yapta is a great tool to use since it enables you to monitor price fluctuations in your desired itinerary via instant email notifications once prices have fallen to your desired price level. The site also has deals in place with specific airlines which have agreed to refund customers if the price of the flight falls below what they've already paid. You can usually get the best discounts on international travel if you book at least 21 to 60 days in advance - the early bird definitely gets the airline discount worm.
  • STAYING THERE:Hotels and B&B's are an obvious choice but if you're more of a self-sufficient and adventurous traveler seeking to have a more authentic experience in Paris, apartment rental is the way to go. The best deals are to be had with at least a week's stay, which when compared with the nightly rate at the most moderate level hotel, usually come out way ahead. The best web resources are those inside France though they're published exclusively in French so if you aren't able to read, speak, or write French fluenty, this might not be the best option for you. No need to fear as there are numerous English-language options. VRBO is probably the most popular and most reputable of the English-language sites and the best part about using it is that you deal directly with the owner of the vacation home with respect to availability, price, security deposit, amenities, etc. Each Parisian vacation rental property will be managed differently but usually the rate will include WiFi, free international calling, bedding, bath & kitchen supplies as well as a cleaning (at least 1 time during the week but more depending on the specific conract/property). Imagine walking down to the local boulangerie & fromagerie and coming back to your own apartment each morning to enjoy your breakfast or cook in your own kitchen just as a local Parisian would do. You'll never be able to replicate that experience when you stay in a hotel, no matter how luxurious it might be.
  • GETTING AROUND: As far as European capital cities go, Paris is a reasonably sized city and quite walkable from end to end. When you walk a city on foot, you are able to get to know it in a much more intimate and unique way than you would in a car, etc. Of course the other great part about walking around is that it is free but make sure you invest in proper and comfortable footwear. Luckily given the highly efficient public transportation system in Paris, you can easily supplement walking with a ride on the metro, the bus system or the public bicycle rental system known as Velib. Based on the honor system, you can stop at any Velib kiosk in Paris and rent a Velib bicycle for the day (24 hr period) for just 1.70€. When you've reached your final desination, simply return the Velib bicycle to the next kosk. Et voila! You're done.
  • WHAT TO DO & SEE: Many people travel to Paris to see the sights and there are many of them to see. In fact many Parisians who've lived there all their lives haven't yet had a chance to take in all that this amazing city has to offer. I am often puzzled when I see visitors (from the U.S and other countries) rushing about Paris trying to see every single monument and museum as if their lives depend upon it. I wish I could just tell them to relax and take their time getting to know the city and just focus on trying to get a feel for the history and the culture. You can get so much out of just sitting at a coffee shop or sitting on a bench in one of Paris' many public parks and squares for an hour than you can by running around aimlessly inside the gargantuan Louvre complex for the same amount of time. My advice is to slow down, look around, look up and truly observe all that is around you. The reason why the city of Paris inspires me so much artistically is that there is so much external beauty by way of the light from the sky, the clouds, the buildings, fountains, people...the whole city is a work of art before you even step foot inside of a single museum. There is art all around the city as well as within it. Especially if you have a short visit planned, you're far better off getting to know one or two neighborhoods very well than you are trying to run around the city checking off the list of possible monuments, museums, etc. Paris is full of amazing museums and the best approach is to figure out what type of art or which specific artist interests you before selecting which one to visit. Luckily for the budget traveler, there are plenty of museums in Paris which are free every day and all year round. If you plan to visit many museums and monuments, the most economical option for you is to consider purchasing the Paris Museum Pass. Once activated for 2, 4, or 6 consecutive days, the pass will grant you free entry to over 60 museums and monuments. Certain monuments are not covered by the pass but you will be eligible for a reduced entry fee if you are a pass-holder.
  • EATING THERE: Regardless of which arrondissement you happen to be staying in, almost at every single corner you will run into a boulangerie, fromagerie, charcuterie, patisserie or marche/supermarche. Be bold and explore these great local resources. Stand in line and pick your own bread and cheese. If you don't speak French very well, don't worry because most French people speak much better English than you would ever expect. Start out by attempting to speak the language of your host country as a sign of respect but after just a few words spoken you'll see that you will get the help (in English) which you very much needed and hoped for. Of course Paris has amazing restaurants and you should sample them at your leisure however if you're on a budget, the best and most economical way to experience the culture is by following the example of the locals. If you do happen to rent an apartment, search for the nearest grocer and stock up on some of the basics. You can stretch your budget by enjoying some of your meals in the comfort of your own Parisian pied-a-terre rental while still having enough money left over to sit outside at a local bistro or restaurant.
  • EXCHANGE RATE: You should keep an eye on the exchange rate as it is constantly in flux. The best resource for global currency exchange rates is XE.com. Also, when traveling from the U.S. to Europe, there really is no need to covert dollars to Euros before you go. You will lose money on the transaction due to the broker fees and the less favorable basis used by the currency broker when calculating the exchange rate. The best way to go if you need cash when you arrive in Europe is to use your US bank debit card to access an ATM which belongs to a large European bank featuring a logo from Cirrus, PLUS, Visa, or Mastercard. In Paris, there are numerous such banks to choose from, both at the airports as well as all over the city. Some of the most popular French banks are Societe Generale, BNP Paribas, although there are many others to choose from. Getting cash from an ATM while in Paris is the safest way to go (as opposed to traveling with Euros or travelers checks) and also provides you with a more favorable exchange rate, however you will likely be charged foreign ATM access fees by your U.S. bank. Regardless of whether you plan to use your debit or credit cards overseas, make sure you call the card issuers prior to your trip to inform them of the dates of your trip and the countries you'll be visiting. This will make sure that your bank doesn't flag the overseas transactions as being possibly fraudulent, which can create headaches and a great amount of inconvenience during your vacation.

Traveling is one of the great joys in life. Every opportunity to explore a new destination or to become better acquainted with an already familiar destination helps us to better appreciate the majesty of this world, the richness of the cultures in it and the diversity of the people who inhabit it. As a result of the global financial crisis, many people are finding themselves being more frugal than they once used to be but frugailty doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. You can penny pinch your way through Paris and enjoy every moment of your trip. Like anything, it just takes some patience, some imagination and some practice! Bon Voyage!

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