My brother was a college student and my husband and I were saving for our first house at the time that David and I went to Paris so it was important to both of us to be frugal. While there are many ways to do so, these are a few things we implemented to cut costs:
I hate to even list this because we didn’t have a good experience. I don’t want to be a person that trashes a company– there have clearly been a lot of good experiences, otherwise it would not be such a hugely successful company– but it is unfortunate that my first and so far only experience wasn’t great. I have yet to muster up the courage to try it again. There were a few things that happened with this particular property that were not unique to our experience (i.e. a few others reported the same). I’ll just copy and paste my review from that stay here:
This was my first time using AirBNB. The apartment was very clean and conveniently located near the métro. The kitchen allowed us to eat most meals at the apartment which allowed us to save money. My brother and I arrived early and spent a few hours at the restaurant across the street. Thank goodness they were nice because we ended up having to wait about two hours and fifteen minutes past our originally agreed upon time with various reasons along the way as to why Alix herself could not meet us, that the building manager was on his way multiple times, etc. I became worried, thinking we had been scammed, and called AirBNB. The cost of calling AirBNB and texting Alix amounted to $160 in cellular charges. Things seemed fine until the following night when we pulled out the couch to convert it into a bed. It was admittedly a little noisy, but other than that, my brother and I were extremely quiet tenants. Some time after the fact (I had already fallen asleep), there was knocking at the door. I did NOT want to answer but it was persistent for a few minutes. I answered and it was the downstairs neighbor angrily asking about the noise. I explained to him that we had converted the couch into a bed and that we wouldn’t do it again. I was very polite and calm. He asked how many days we were staying, when we would leave, and that there had better be no more noise. We were kind of terrified of being kicked out despite having done nothing wrong. He most certainly overreacted to the situation. Those were the first two days and the remaining three went smoothly. In the end, it worked out fine, but I am less $160 and an evening that could have been spent out exploring the city instead of guarding luggage. I am a little wary of utilizing this service moving forward.
In AirBnB’s defense, I was able to call customer service and they did offer to pay for our dinner at a restaurant while we waited; unfortunately, we had already been waiting for some time at this restaurant where they were very kind about us staying for so long (to be fair, spending hours at a restaurant isn’t as unusual or rude in France as it is in the US). I just want to plug the restaurant here:
At the time, it was Restauraunt Faubourg but is maybe under new management? Either way, they saved us from losing our minds. You can find them at 24 rue du Faubourg in Saint Denis. Now it’s a Turkish restaurant which sounds amazing.
Anyway, the ultimate cost for our stay was $406 including taxes which is amazing. Was it glamorous? No and we were a little scared, actually. My brother begged me to find a hotel at one point because he was worried we would be arrested or evicted but I held on to my cheapness and said no way! It all worked out in the end.
2. Location, location, location
I think something that helped was that this was very much a residential area (10th arrondissement) and it is apparently more of a “working class” neighborhood and it seemed like this particular area had a good Turkish or Middle Eastern community based on some of the restaurants and grocery stores nearby that specialized in that cuisine. Everyone looked like they lived there and that there weren’t too many tourists. There were also a few SDF (homeless individuals) in the area and some garbage in the streets. Once we became accustomed to our surroundings, I can’t say that I felt unsafe. It just wasn’t a fancy, touristy area…and I think there’s something kind of cool about that– like we got the real Parisian experience. In fact, the whole theme of the trip could probably be thought of as a no-glamour Parisian experience! That appeals to some people and others, not. I love the idea of nice accommodations in, say, the 5th or 1st arrondissements but not the cost. If you are out enjoying the city, who cares what your place is like as long as it is clean and safe? You aren’t going to be spending much time there, anyway! Just do your homework ahead of time.
As you can tell from all of my posts, my brother and I exclusively used public transportation and tried to walk as often as we could. Look, Paris is a very walkable city and the métro is super efficient and user-friendly. There is no reason you need an Uber or tourist bus (granted, if you have any physical difficulty or perhaps small children, that is a different story). A lot of the time you can use your ticket for additional transfers between lines provided you do not exit the station and use it within a certain time period. One ticket is about 1,9€ (I think when we went they were each 1,8€) and you get a discount if you buy a book of 10. RATP also offers unlimited passes for a certain amount of days but they are per person and just slips of paper (not cards). I like the t+ passes just fine and they offer a little more flexibility; ultimately, I think it would have cost more to purchase the pass. If you can climb stairs and hills, do it. Don’t pay for the fununculaire if you don’t need to: enjoy Montmartre by walking through it.
4. Skip the tours and audioguides
It isn’t that I don’t think they are useful services; I do. But many sights have written information. If your vision allows it, read. I think the one time we used an audioguide was at Versailles because it was included with our pass (this actually was useful because it was often too crowded with other guests to get close enough to read the placards). My brother really wanted to visit the D-Day Beaches in Normandy and I will always regret not being able to make that happen. However, Normandy is more rural and, while it is possible to access it by public transportation, the only real way to get access to the beaches seemed to be either by renting a car or going on a group tour. The group tours would have been more money than either David or I wanted to spend. I even considered renting bikes and riding for hours to get to the beaches! Haha. We just couldn’t make it happen.
5. Eat two meals
How DARE I suggest such a thing! This actually did much for our budget. We went to a nearby bodega and bought breakfast items (you HAVE to get French yogurt…so amazing and so many calories) and other foods items. We purchased what was essentially small packaged sliced toast, cherry jam, coconut yogurts, and a package of 2 litres of drinking water. I also bought one very cheap and disgusting wine…that I drank entirely. So our breakfast consisted of a few bits of toast with jam and one coconut yogurt (this doesn’t sound like much but the yogurts themselves were about 300 calories for about 4 oz with a high fat content which created a feeling of satiety). If we got hungry throughout the day, my brother had a sleeve of cookies from Germany that we snacked on an as needed basis. We would eat at around 7 or 8 am and then journey out. At some point, I would get a small café au lait mid-morning. We would wait to eat our next meal until around 2 pm typically at a restaurant or café (this would be out only “eating out” meal for the day) and we would choose a brasserie or café that typically had a prix fixe menu that included an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Doing prix fixe rather than à la carte typically saves you a few euros. We ate at very casual locations which also helped the price. We would then continue to sight see and return back to the flat and have a small “home-cooked” small meal or snack. This usually involved more of the toast and jam or some small items we bought at Monoprix (I recall buying individual pizzas that we heated in the microwave). France has a lot of amazing food and eating at more gastro places might be your priority…that’s ok. Our priority was more about history and experience. Eating at lower-cost, casual places still afforded us some delicious food that we continue to talk about. Nothing will ever come close to the amazing yogurt that I think about all the time (Noosa Coconut is close, I guess). It’s like that episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where Dee and Charlie eat what they believe to be human meat and they thereafter have such a strong taste for it that they can think of nothing else and can never go back.
6. Don’t buy a ton of souvenirs
We did buy practical gifts (Maille mustard coffrets–YES I said coffret!, a Calvin & Hobbes book in French for my husband, a functional purse for myself, a beret for my niece, and treats for my family). I bought a bunch of small chocolates and jams that came in coffrets to take out and combine into goody bags for my family. When I went in high school I was consumed with getting the perfect gift for everyone but not everyone needs a Paris shirt. Food is always appreciated and I can know that it isn’t something that is taking up space on someone’s shelf or in someone’s drawer.
7. Go to museums, parks, and historical sites
These locations are very cost effective because they are either free or inexpensive. The museums are very affordable because many are funded by donations and/or taxes. No location was more than 20€. That’s pretty phenomenal.
8. Just be present
Leave time in your day that you aren’t at a paid experience. Just sit on a park bench and people watch, walk in a park, sit next to the Seine. This is free and it gives you space to relax and let go of your stress about the trip. Your body is taxed from the travel, the jet-lag, the change in routine, and the worry over something going wrong (or having gone wrong! Seriously, this trip confused my body so much that my menstrual cycle was delayed by over a week). When your brain’s resources are consumed by all of the above, it’s hard to form memories. I had a wonderful time when I went in high school but it was such a shock to my system that I don’t remember a lot firsthand (although I remembered enough to help me through this trip!). Your experience is so much richer when you can sit, relax, and not have your senses bombarded by the hustle and bustle of busy tourist locations. There isn’t a hurry to leave your table at a restaurant so that your server can make more tips from someone else (in fact, tipping in included in the final bill so there is no pressure). You can sit and focus on the present and the tastes, smells, sights, and sounds. Being present is a gift but sometimes such an elusive state of being. Plan to have no plans.