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Affordable Vacation in France - If that's not an oxymoron!

I'm a fifty-five single man whose midlife crisis is taking the form of an unexplainable desire to visit France. I'm hardly a man of means, so if anyone has tips, guidance or any information that would make a Paris trip affordable, please chime in! Many thanks!

Posted by
11294 posts

First, are you interested in Paris alone, or in other parts of France? One way to save is to get out of Paris for at least part of your trip; as the capital and largest city, it's more expensive. Start by getting Rick Steves France (or his Paris guide, if you're not seeing other parts of the country). He has some tips about inexpensive lodging and meals. You may also want to look at Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, or Let's Go, which are (partly or fully) geared to lower-budgeted travelers. Consider an apartment instead of a hotel. You can make at least some meals, which saves on restaurants. And this needn't involve "cooking" - just like in the US, there's lots of prepared food you can microwave, etc. Consider staying at a hotel or apartment outside the most central parts; not one outside of the city itself, though, but one further away from the Seine, requiring longer Metro rides to reach the sites. The trade off for longer rides is lower costs. Is there someone who wants to go with you? Splitting the room cost saves money. But I travel alone, so I understand this may not work for you. Consider going in the off season (winter and early spring). Yes, the days are shorter, it's colder, and more likely to rain, but the airfares can be much lower (or not, these days). If you're seeing more than a few museums, a museum pass can save a lot. But if you're not, it may not pay off. Do the math before buying. If you are taking trains within France, do book them ahead on-line at http://www.tgv-europe.com, to get huge discounts over last minute fares.

Posted by
4 posts

Many thanks, Harold! I haven't really settled on a plan, although Paris will probably be the center piece. I'll take your advice and get the books to begin researching.

Posted by
11294 posts

If you want to get a look at some French destinations, you can see Rick's TV shows on Hulu or YouTube.

Posted by
10402 posts

If you plan to just stay in Paris you might save some big bucks by booking a vacation package. They are sometimes comparable in price to airfare alone. You could still do day trips from Paris, such as Versailles. If this is of interest to you, check the various airlines websites as well as Expedia, Priceline, etc.

Posted by
4132 posts

Europe Through the Back Door is loaded with travel tips. Not specific to France, but otherwise exactly what you are seeking.

Posted by
1994 posts

I saved by buying a French rail pass to cover the long segments of my trip. The RS office was really helpful in figuring out whether a rail pass would save money, and you can buy it from them. Staying in religious guest houses/convents/monasteries can save a lot, as long as you are OK with curfew, etc. And the RS guides and the website Eurocheapo are also both good sources for budget hotels.

Posted by
693 posts

Brian, check your library for travel books and CDs. If they're not on the shelf, you can probably get them through inter-library loan. A trip to France can snap you right out of your mid-life crisis and can give you an appetite for further travel. Planning and researching a trip is part of the fun!

Posted by
1878 posts

My advice would be to plan ahead far enough so that you can book affordable places in advance i.e. don't try and book hotels two weeks out. Also travel on shoulder season, meaning late September through October, or April-May. Don't focus just on Paris, if you want to make it more affordable. We found Hotel Kensington near Rue Cler to be a great location and very reasonable. You could do a lot worse than Paris and Normandy, or Paris plus Provence. Don't get discouraged, we have found France to be very good value in terms of European travel destinations (last trip was May 2010). One last tip - the museum pass in Paris is a good deal, if you like museums.

Posted by
11507 posts

Avoid June and September, hotels are NOT cheaper then, those are high season months, and september books up way in advance, its trade and fashion show season.. excepting Xmas, November thru March are cheap, then mid july thru August can have deals, with may, june and september being most expensive and having least amount of choices left for late bookers( the good cheap places book months in advance by those in the know) Apartments can be about same price as a nice budget hotel, but the ability to eat in will save you tons , and you can still eat out when so inclined. Staying outside paris and commuting in can add alot in costs,, bettter to stay within ring road( metro zones 1-2) .
Look at Navigo pass,, its a weekly reloadablemetro and bus pass, but runs monday thru sunday so may or may not work for your dates.

Posted by
1530 posts

We visited Paris for 9 days in March 2010. We also visited some towns in Normandy and Brittany). We got our hotel through booking.com by sorting by price and then ing the least costly with a good rating. It included breakfast which with a couple of crepes held us over till dinner. We were also lucky that our hotel was around the corner from a traiteur (deli) where we bought cooked vegetables, meats, etc. for dinner and ate in our hotel. We stayed near the Eiffel Tower near a metro station. We arrived on a Monday and bought a 7 day transit pass which we used several times a day getting more than our money's worth. These passes begin on Monday only so it was just luck that allowed us the savings but you can buy a pass for fewer days or carnet (ten tickets, I think) at a discount. After reading RS book and researching sights we bought a 6 day museum pass which we also used each of the days. There are also museum passes for fewer days. Again we got more than our money's worth from the pass. After the 9 days we were shocked at how little we had spent on food (we did eat in a restaurant one night). If you research ahead and decide what you want to see and do and how long you will be there you can decide whether any passes make sense for you.

Posted by
3050 posts

Some good advice here, some not so good. It's hard to imagine saving money with train travel in France with a pass these days. You're better off buying regular tickets well in advance. For cheap Paris, as others have said, an apartment is a really smart choice. Also staying in Paris proper, but NOT in a major tourist neighborhood. Cafes, restaurants, bars will ALL be significantly cheaper say, near the Pasteur metro stop (the Montparnasse area in general seemed to be pretty affordable) then in the Latin Quarter. Just make sure you're near a Metro stop, preferably one with one or more lines, or on one of the lines that takes you to places you want to go. As for France in general, as others have said, everywhere but Paris can be surprisingly cheap. And there's places the blue book doesn't cover that are wonderful to visit. We went to Nancy last month, stayed in a 3 star hotel for 75 euro a night in the middle of town, ate wonderful food, the city was just gorgeous, and it was all very reasonable. Nearby you have the birthplace of Joan of Arc and Verdun. I've also done Alsace, Brittany, and the Marsielle area of Provence and found prices really fair. It's really just Paris - and even then, only certain neighborhoods in Paris - that are super expensive.

Posted by
192 posts

We are staying in Alsaces, in a cute little town of Eguisheim, 42 Euros a night with breakfast, nice area easy access to wine route etc, probably need a car though to really enjoy. We have found reasonable places by using Google earth, you can ask it to show dining and accommodations then zoom in to see pictures and get web sites.

Posted by
14580 posts

Hi, If you're not adverse to staying in a hostel in Paris or hotels in the non-tourist, at least for Americans anyway, such as the 10th, 12th, 13th districts, that can reduce some of the expense, if you want to skip the apt option. I agree with July and August as the best months to go, barring the possibility of the heat factor. There are 2 star hotels that cut the rates for these months. Set your priorities in Paris and in the rest of the country, (I like esp the north and the east), depending on the distances covered, don't exclude using a Pass, which has to be used carefully. As suggested use Rough Guide and Let's Go as a basis for researching and setting your priorities.

Posted by
3050 posts

Why are people advocating for a pass all of a sudden? With idTGV tickets as low as 19 Euro for long haul trips from Paris, I really can't imagine a scenario in which a railpass in France would save anyone money, and that's obviously Brian's main concern.

Posted by
28 posts

I have had the same midlife crisis as you!! I just came home from a grand tour of France, Switzerland, and Italy. I followed Rick's books "to a tee" and worked out great! For tours, I downloaded his tours and listened as I walked. I bought a group of subway tickets at the airport and a museum pass and got around Paris with ease. I come from the midwest where everyone must have a car. I found traveling in Europe by train and subways SO easy! I took my teenager with me and we even came home with money! You can do it with lots of reading before hand. I felt I knew exactly where I was at all times by looking at maps over and over. We never felt lost or stranded. My suggestions: don't' see the Louve unless you HAVE to! Not worth it. Climb to the top of the Notre Dame instead of the Eiffel tower...better views! Food is expensive...eat at little food stands along the way. Splurge one night for a nice meal. Remember: their dining experience takes 3 hours. They do not rush through it so plan accordingly! Good luck! And DO IT!!

Posted by
115 posts

Isn't August a bad time to go? Isn't it a time when Lots of Europeans take vacations as a "rule"?

Posted by
4 posts

Sisters and Brothers, Fellow Travelers - Just a quick note to thank you for your informative and inspirational advice; it's much appreciated. I'll try to collate as much as possible. It's going to be a while before I go, so if you are so inclined, keep those cards and letters coming (as Dean Martin might say!) Merci! Brian

Posted by
3551 posts

If you have a travel friend then lodging becomes less costly very quickly if not consider a hostel. Paris and lodging canbe quite costly for a sgle room. Plan on picnics to ease costs for eating out. If your hotel does not have breakfast incl then trip a fast food like MC D's , they have oatmeal now. stay central to reduce your metro costs and walk everywhere and def go shoulder season.

Posted by
28 posts

Hi Brian, I am responding from the Loire Valley right now. I am a 57 year old woman who travels alone. France is very expensive. I bring an averaged size suitcase and pack a tent, tarp, mat and blanket. I rent a car and can only justify the expense by camping. France camping costs around 10 - 20 Euros ($12 - $25) a night. There are always showers and toilets. Sometimes a little store or cafe. This is not rustic. It's like you are pitching your tent in a city park or somebody's back yard. Driving in France is such fun and really would help that midlife thing. I know! If you don't camp, seriously consider hostels, especially the IH hostels. They will cost just a little more than camping and there is always one you can reach from a train station. Have fun!

Posted by
87 posts

Hi Brian. I think your mid-life inspiration is a fabulous idea. Do it! But please tell us a little more about where you are thinking of going in France, if you know. Like many said, Paris can be very expensive. But there are always hotels and other spots to stay that can be very inexpensive. As a very rough first step, try Tripadvisor and search for Paris hotels within the budget range you're thinking of. Also narrow the search to some of the outer neighborhoods. The 20th and 13th are two that spring to mind. So what if you ned to ride the Metro for 20 minutes or so to get to a "hot" area in Paris? There are also B&Bs in Paris, some of which are very reasonable. You can also definitely rent an apartment for no more than 500 to 600 Euros for one week. They are there, you just have to look a bit more thoroughly.

Posted by
87 posts

More... More than in Paris, there are many fine B&B's throughout France. I just returned yesterday after about 20 days. I saw this book at one place I stayed and it's totally terrific: http://www.amazon.com/Special-Places-Stay-French-Breakfast/dp/1906136408/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1342875458&sr=1-1&keywords=Sawday%27s+Special+Places+to+Stay%3B+French+Bed+and+Breakfast Many places under 60 Euros a night for one person or less. Karen Brown's guide is also widely trusted and respected: http://www.amazon.com/Karen-Browns-France-2010-Itineraries/dp/1933810718/ref=pd_sim_b_21 This new book looks interesting, too: http://www.amazon.com/Europe-Dime-Five-Star-One-Star-Tightwad/dp/1470172526/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1342877201&sr=1-9&keywords=gites+france Don't be afraid to just visit a small town and look for a room. Ask at a bar or the local tourism office. There are many, unless you're in the thick of tourist season at a highly popular place. I highly suggest visiting between November and early April. For food, there are most always restaurants offering prix fix menus for 15 Euros or less; often 9, though I don't know what such meals would be like. Or skip restaurants and buy bread, cheese, finished meats and veggies from street markets or local shops. Or just a French supermarket. Less romantic, but still good and lots cheaper.

Posted by
173 posts

Hi Brian, Everyone has a different idea of traveling, so people have varying options of what is "expensive" when it comes to travel. The best advice is to research and figure out why you are drawn to France; what are you hoping to see and do. I'm a budget traveler myself and when I was in Paris 2 years ago I stayed in a budget hotel in the 15th, which is primarily a working district. But it was clean, had a great breakfast, close to the metro and only a 15-20 minute walk to the Eiffel Tower. http://www.pacific-hotel-paris.com/ I didn't buy a rail pass because it didn't work out to be less expensive for me and there were parameters that limited what I could use it for. I spent some time in Normandy (loved it) and it was evident that having a car would be really the best option for seeing everything that I wanted to see in the area. When I was in Paris there was the threat of terrorist attacks so the top of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame were closed. Alas, sometimes there are unforeseen circumstances that you just can't plan for! Once you start your research you'll have more specific questions which your pals here at RS will gladly try to answer!
Happy Planning!

Posted by
165 posts

Brian, what's your idea of affordable? What are your minimum requirements? To what have you become accustomed? My sister in law feels she's slumming it at a three star hotel, me, I settle for clean sheets and an on-suite bath. We found wine in a discount store for a € a bottle, not great but drinkable, add a baguette and cheese, et voila, thrifty option. Many museums have free entry times, check on line before you go. We wandered the streets looked at the buildings, the squares, and saw places where history happened. The scale of the Eiffel tower wowed me more the view from the top, and that was great. My point being, Paris is expensive if you make it so. What intrests do you have? How easily are you entertained? Are you a got to see the sites or a just being there is great type of guy? What are your expectations?
If you have the itch to go than make it happen, save your coin, stretch your card, travel off season, lower your standards, do lots of research, do what you have to do you won't be disappointed.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks again to all who have been sharing. I'm not at all averse to camping, and am at the moment reserving as many travel books about France as possible. I'm also learning some basic French via the Coffeebreak French podcast, some Pimsleur recordings, and Margarita Madrigal's "Magic Key to French." I'm also going to start watching the online videos of "French in Action." (Come to think of it, THAT series may well have planted one of the seeds!) As far as a dollar amount, I'm guessing that that's kind of a moving target these days. Would two thousand work for a ten day visit? I'm looking at late winter or early spring 2013. Merci beaucoup!

Posted by
10402 posts

For late winter/early spring I would give up any idea of camping. The weather would be too bad. Plus, why carry camping stuff around with you when you could probably spend less at a hostel? As far as your budget, keep in mind that the more you move from location to location the more it will cost you for transportation.

Posted by
2916 posts

I was going to include a long response, but I read Harold's first one, and he said most of what I would have said. One way my wife and I have cut our costs dramatically traveling to France over the last 25 or so years is by renting houses and apartments (almost always through Gites de France) for a week at a time whenever possible. The per day cost is a big saving over a hotel, you have a lot more space, plus cooking and storage facilities.