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Budget France

Vacation on a Cheapskate's Budget

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The euro seems to just keep getting stronger and stronger, especially against weakening currencies like the dollar. If you are planning a trip and don't want to take too big a hit, use these budget France tips to save a euro here and there. Yes, it's true, you can afford a trip to France.

The budget tips are categorized according to the major expenses incurred during a typical trip to France, to Paris and the rest of Europe. Still, remember this is a vacation, so don't make any cuts that will ruin the trip or just make it hard to enjoy your time in France. You only live once, and you may only visit Europe once, too!

Lodging

  • Consider staying in a smaller town, where lodging is sure to be cheaper. If you plan to visit Paris, for instance, find a suburb well served by the Metro or the RER (the suburban train lines), or even stay in a nearby city like Chartres that is a short train ride away. This change alone could save hundreds.
  • Downgrade to cheaper, less sumptuous digs. The French star-rating system is a good one. Perhaps you could stand a drop down by one star level. If you are thrilled to stay in a four-star, you probably won't be miserable in a three-star. Sometimes these lesser-rated hotels are even nicer than their peers a notch up. The French rating system does not take into account things like ambience and friendly, helpful staffs.
  • If you will be visiting one town for at least a week, consider a vacation rental instead of a hotel. You will probably pay less than the price of a hotel. You will surely have a kitchen, so you can save cash on meals out. You will be living more like a local, and the vacation will feel more authentic. The downside is you won't get the handholding and personal service that a hotel provides.
  • Prefer to pay nothing for your lodging? You actually can do that with a home exchange. This is especially great if you live in a big city that is a popular destination. You stay in a French couple's Paris apartment while they visit your New York City apartment.
  • Even if you've always been the hotel type, consider camping in France. With France's government-regulated star rating system, a four-star campground can even be more luxurious than a more pricy two-star hotel.

Rail

  • This one is a no-brainer. If you will be traveling long distances or for a few days of rail travel, get a rail pass. These passes can be a great budget deal versus the point-to-point ticket prices found in France, so long as your trips cover long distances.

Getting Cash

  • Only get a handful of bills in your home country. When you arrive in Europe, do NOT visit those money exchange companies. The rates are terrible, and the commissions are high. The best budget ways to get euros are by withdrawal at an ATM in France or charging on a credit card. For more tips on getting cash, see my article, Getting Euros in France - DOs and DON'Ts.

Dining

  • Instead of wasting excessive euros getting your hotel breakfast, which is probably way overpriced and consists of just a couple pastries and coffee, start your dining day like the French. Visit a local cafe and spend half or a quarter the price for a croissant or pastry and cafe au lait. Several French hotels I've visited have charged upwards or 20 euros per person for a very mediocre breakfast. Also, be sure you are not automatically being charged for breakfast, which is quite common. When you book your room or check in, inform them you do not want their breakfast. Or opt for just coffee in the room, typically much cheaper than full breakfast.
  • Indulge in one great big French meal a day, instead of spending cash on all three and cringing at your daily spending. Choose to have it at lunchtime as often as possible. You will usually get the same food served for dinner, but for less money. Get the prix fixe menu, which usually consists of a starter, main dish and dessert, sometimes also wine, for a low price.
  • Since you are already pretty stuffed from lunch, save cash by having a cheap sandwich and pastry for dinner. (Likewise, you can have the sandwich lunch and big three-course dinner instead). Sandwiches are very good, and usually cost around 3.5 euros almost anywhere in France. The chain of bakeries Le Brioche Doree, for instance, sells a sandwich, drink and a dessert for 5.5 euros. (Try their wonderful banana-chocolate tart!).

Getting Around

  • Unless you plan to wander about the countryside visiting tiny villages or circling the country with loads of luggage, you probably do not need the extra expense of a rental car. You also should try to avoid taking taxis if at all possible. Even smaller cities in France have wonderful public transit systems, and you can easily get from town to town by rail. If you aren't sure about your specific destination, e-mail the tourism office to ask about their transportation system.

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