Indulging France on a Budget
Europe is expensive! Or if you are a backpacker you can go ultra cheap and experience the delights. But what if you like to indulge but want to keep a leash on those purse strings. Well you can! Just needs a bit of planning.
We travelled to France this January and we were able to indulge in the experiences on a rather reasonable budget. Our itinerary included: Paris, Annecy & Chamonix. We wanted a taste of the winter in the alps.
The point is to plan smart. Look for cheap in the right places, so you can splurge where it matters.
Here is where you can look to save some bucks:
Booking the air-tickets! Nowadays with all the sales and offers it is easy to get a good deal if you book early. So plan well in advance.
- Use the airline website to check for super saver deals which may not be available on aggregator sites.
- Check fares from other cities. Fares from major hubs like Delhi, Mumbai are way cheaper than from other cities.
- Domestic airlines like Vistara, Indigo have special luggage allowances if you are traveling internationally later on. (I took my flights from Delhi and saved 7K on my flights)
Use public transportation
In major European cities including Paris, the public transportation is well developed and can best serve your purpose to travel fast and cheap.
Paris has an excellent metro and train system connecting the all parts of the city with lines to the Airport, Disneyland and Versailles. This way you avoid the traffic and travel fast.
- Avoid taking the metro pass unless you are planning to make more than 10 trips in a day.(It’s highly unlikely) Buy a carnet instead(Set of 10 tickets).
- You can use the same ticket if you are taking the next trip within 2 hours of the first check-in.
- You can use a single ticket for a bus transfer too.
- It’s safe too with the police patrolling but stay aware and alert during night times.
So instead of paying 27 Eur/person for a 3 day metro pass, I ended up buying a carnet for 14 Eur and that lasted both of us for 3 days :D
This extra savings made me even more happy splurging at the happiest place on earth
Accommodation & Food
You will mostly book your stay before you think of transportation, but I am adding this second as the point above factors in here.
Try booking your stay near a metro station. This will help you travel faster and also it’s safe if you arrive back late at night as it will be a short walk to your hotel.
Based on what I saw, Paris has lots of restaurants and cafes, but they don’t open very early in the morning. It’s important to pick a stay which provides you with breakfast. (Tip: Book a hotel with breakfast included, it is usually cheaper than paying for the breakfast at the hotel) Having a good full breakfast helps as it will allow you to opt for a light lunch and avoid paying a premium for food at tourist places.
Also, when you venture to places like Chamonix, which is essentially a small ski town, and damn cold in the winters, it’s good to stay in a place which provides warm food and drinks in the morning, before you venture out. As you can be sure that eating at 12000 ft will cost more(but totally worth it). So you can splurge if you have budgeted before :P
- Book an accommodation near a metro.
- Book an accommodation near a market/restaurant place rather than a museum. As the markets stay open late and you won’t find a deserted road if you come back late.
- Look for special services with chain hotels. Example: I stayed in an Asotel hotel. They provide an option to have drinks & snacks at any of their hotels in Paris.
- Almost all Hotels provide complimentary baggage storage services. So if you are arriving early or have a late evening train don’t spend extra on booking that room for an extra day.
- Buy 6 packs of water from supermarket. They cost 1.2EUR for 6 bottles. Outside you will end up paying 1EUR for 1 bottle.
- Book hotels with breakfast included.
- Food at tourist places are easily 1.5–2 X priced. So plan meals accordingly.
- Install food delivery apps like Uber Eats which work in the city you are visiting. You can enjoy a meal in your room rather than venturing out after a day’s of walking around the city.
Long Distance Travels
France has an excellent train network with trains to all popular places and is an excellent option to travel between your destinations. The trains are comfortable, fast and importantly easy to handle with luggage.
This an area where again research and planning will help you save. The train ticket prices in France are dynamic. Many places will advice you to buy a Euro rail pass or a France SNCF pass. But it doesn’t make sense if you only have a couple of point to point journeys to make.
In my case I had to travel from Paris to Chamonix and back. A bit of surfing the web showed me that SNCF(the French Train Network) website put the tickets on sale about 3–4 months before the journey. If you book early-on you can avail the super saver fare which is 3X cheaper
Apart from trains, you can also opt for buses. Which despite being counter-intuitive can be a cheaper and better option. In my case, instead of booking the complete journey to Chamonix via train, I broke it into 2 parts:
The 2nd part via train would have cost me 25Eur/person and also would have involved a change of train whereas the bus was direct.
So instead of paying about 100 Eur/person one way I completed the journey in 35Eur/person one way and used the 65 Eur saving to book a ski lesson in Chamonix.
How to plan?
Well I highlighted most of the major portions of a trip where you can plan and save. There are other misc places which can help you save more. It’s also depends on the kind of holiday you want. For people looking at a more leisurely stay can opt for a higher budget hotel and can look to save at food and transportation. There are lots of resources available on the internet. The trick is to scourge the lots and lots of information to get what you want.
I found Tripadvisor a great place to plan. The information is awesome and the forums are an ask-all place. Kudos to the folks who take time and answer all your queries. I will encourage you to not shy away from asking even the smallest of doubts there. You get answers for everything.
A few things which I found from TripAdvisior:
- Every 1st Sunday of the month in Paris, entry to museum’s is free!
- Secret entrance to Louvre with smaller lines :D
- Metro carnets instead of pass.
- Free local transport in Chamonix!
With so many bookings it’s difficult to keep track of everything. I personally used Google Trips (Confession! I am biased!) It gets your reservations and suggests you day itineraries and discounts. It also has a page with all helpline numbers listed.
A few general tips for visiting France during winters:
- It’s cold! Pack sweater and jackets.
- Smaller lines. Do not pay for fast track tickets. Not much use.
- Chamonix has lots of snow. Take waterproof boots.
- Drink lots of water. You don’t get much thirsty as it’s cold and you can get dehydrated.
- After returning to your room, give a hot shower to your feet. Helps them get refreshed after too much walking.
So you can save and splurge if you plan well. I will do another post on my trip with pics and places to see. Hope this will help people.