I have had some requests for budget travel guides so this is the first of hopefully many. I am currently traveling full time and it is crucial for me to keep a tight budget. Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world which can be offputting for nomads like me. Yet, as I discovered, it is possible to make a trip completely affordable. Indeed, with more planning I could have further reduced the cost. By contrast, last time I visited for a week I spent something like €1000.
Here is exactly how I spent under €400 in 17 days with a full breakdown of costs.
- This is usually the biggest cost when traveling. Hotels are obviously out of the question on this kind of budget. I couchsurfed for 14 days and stayed in a cheap hostel (€15-20 a night) for the other three. If you are traveling in a group, Airbnb can work out to be inexpensive. For a solo traveler, not so much.
- I was very lucky to find a host on CouchSurfing who let me stay for 2 weeks. The normal offer is 1-4 nights. If you choose to do this, find a few people who are willing to host you. There is a right way and a wrong way to couch surf, however. Never treat it like a free hotel. You are staying in someone's home for free, so be a good guest, spend time with them and share your skills.
- When it comes to finding hosts, a detailed profile goes a long way. Make it more interesting than 'I want to travel and meet new people!' Write about what you have studied, your work, interests, hobbies and so on. Post the dates you will be traveling publicly in advance. When sending requests to people, make them personalized and interesting. No one wants a copy and paste request. Mention any mutual interests, what you can offer and why they should host you. I had around 15 offers from people I didn't even contact on the basis of my profile.
Total cost: €45
- Taxis and tour buses are a no. The Metro is by far the cheapest way to travel within Paris. Buy tickets in bulk to save on them- ask for a carnet (a book of 10.) I also walked whenever possible. Paris is the perfect city to spend a lot of time walking around. There are fascinating sights everywhere which you miss by taking too many buses and trains. Metro tickets cost me €28 in total. If you get lost, ask a member of staff for directions to avoid taking more trains than necessary.
- I got to Paris via the Eurostar which cost €45 from London. Flights from elsewhere will naturally cost more so I cannot comment on that. However, remember to book in advance and set up a price alert to get the cheapest one possible. When flying, I skip the reserved seats, check in luggage and in-flight meals. These costs add up quickly. My flight out to Verona was booked last minute for €30.
Total cost: €103
- Again, I was very lucky that my host gave me lessons in French and Spanish cooking which was a lot of fun. Otherwise, I went supermarkets rather than eating out. Prices tend to be high near popular areas, so I was careful to always pack in the morning. I have a slight addiction to coconut water which is where most of this expenditure went.
- Many cafes/bars offer reduced prices if you stand at the bar rather than sitting. I always opt for this- it's also a fun way to eavesdrop on conversations and practice my French.
Total cost: € 120
- Whilst in Paris, I brought my quota of books from second-hand stands for €1-7 each. These have an enormous range of books of all genres, languages, and conditions. It is possible to sell the books back to stalls once you are done, but I did not have time and ended up leaving them in a hostel for other people to enjoy. I do not spend money on magazines, cinema tickets, films etc. I also downloaded a bunch of free public domain ebooks. Total cost of books was around €20.
- Avoid expensive entrance fees and tickets. There are enough free places to visit to last a lifetime, let alone a few days. Most galleries and museums are free if you are under 27 and an EU resident or on certain dates. Atlas Obscura is an excellent resource for finding them. Some places I recommend are:
- 59 Rue Rivoli
This is an old squat turned artist studio. On certain days you can visit and see dozens of artists at work, buy their original pieces, see live performances and absorb the vibe. The building itself is fascinating, with endless spiral stairs, peeling walls, plants, grafiti everywhere and interesting characters.
- The Museum of Hunting and Nature
This was the only place I paid for, but it was more than worth the €6 entrance fee. The museum is dedicated to the relationship between humans and nature, combining taxidermy with modern art, sculptures and live performances. It's not very well known and is quiet - a plus as I hate crowds. There are quirky details everywhere; a ceiling made of feathers, chandeliers made of antlers, a talking taxidermy pig. The museum also has a large collection of antique guns- not my thing, though probably of interest to some.
- Pere Lachaise cemetery
Whenever I visit a city, I like to see the largest cemetery. It's a perfect way to learn about the history and Pere Lachaise is without a doubt the most beautiful one I have ever seen. For starters, it's vast- almost a city in its own right. A number of famous people are buried there, notably Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde.
- Notre Dame
Obligatory viewing for all tourists. I recommend arriving a few minutes before opening to avoid the crowds. I have been to Notre Dame at least 10 times and could never tire of it. As a child, I went to mass there (despite not being religious) and the experience was magical. I always light a candle in memory of someone I have lost. An underappreciated spot just outside the main door is Point Zero- the official center of Paris. Something about standing on it makes me happy.
Total cost: €26
- As you might guess, I do not shop for anything not essential. I spent €4 on postcards and €45 on toiletries and random stuff (which was stupid because I had to throw them at the airport when leaving for Verona.) Note to female bodied readers: tampons are crazily expensive in Paris. I would have saved €15 if I had known to bring them.
Total cost: €49
- Don't get scammed. Research popular scams before going. If someone approaches you in a crowded area asking questions or offering to give you something, ignore them. Keep a close eye on your possessions, especially on transport or outside areas popular with tourists. If you stay in a hostel, be sure to bring a padlock and keep everything locked up at all times. Travel light to make this easier. I left my headphones under my pillow for a couple of hours and they got stolen.
- Use an app or spreadsheet to track expenses throughout the trip. I use Spendee (not affiliated in any way.) I like that you can use it to set a monthly budget and it tells you what percentage you have used and how much you can spend per day. It is easy to forget where money has gone, so I enter my expenses the second they are paid.
- Use cash whenever possible to avoid card charges and fees. The exchange rate is terrible at the moment (looking at you Brexit.)
- Before leaving, I canceled my phone contract and did not get a local SIM. I used WiFi for communication and as a consequence spent nothing on phone bills.
Total cost for the trip: around €350-400.
Despite spending less than 99% of people who visit Paris, I enjoyed every minute and never felt deprived. It's a beautiful city and one of my favorite places in the world.