Today we have this websites first ever guest post contributor and i’m lucky to have such an awesome person to claim that title. Elena from Elena’s Travelgram will be taking us through how to travel through France on a budget to save a boat load of money so we can spend what we save on delicious wine and cheese! Please be sure to check out her website for tips, advice, city guides and more! Enter Elena.
France – the gorgeous land of Art, cheese, wine, insanely narrow crooked lanes and stylish ladies walking down the streets in a beret with a baguette.
Bet at least once in your life you had thoughts about visiting Paris. Quoting endlessly chic Audrey Hepburn “Paris is always a good idea”…till you see the average hotel price tag and the cost of going up the Eiffel tower.
I may not be Audrey, but I do have a few good ideas for you too. So, here’s how you can make an epic grand voyage around France without breaking the bank.
Reducing Transportation Costs:
Traveling around France is super easy and takes way less time than you think! You can cross the country from North to South for around 8 hours on a high-speed TGV train.
I find French railroad to be super-efficient (unless they are on strike) with numerous routes, allowing you to get to the tiniest villages and remote alpine towns. TGV trains are fast (up to 300 km per hour), so a trip from Paris to Lyon will take just 2 hours!
Now the thing is, train tickets are pretty expensive.
Unless you know a few tricks:
- If you are under 27, get Carte Jeune
It costs 50 euros (ouch!), but believe me it will save you hundreds!
A quick example: one-way ticket Paris to Lyon on Dec, 22th w/o card 64.00 euro. With card – 48€. Return tickets with card – around 40€ in savings.
Carte Jeune is valid for a year, so it’s a great value for money deal if you plan visiting France a few times or seriously roaming around for quite a while.
Discounts also apply to foreign destinations operated by SNCF: Switzerland Eurostar to/from London, The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.
To get the card: locate the nearest SNCF boutique, bring your passport and a passport-sized photo, plus be ready to answer a few simple questions in French like your name, surname and date of birth.
- Opt for low-cost train service
A few years ago SNCF introduced Ouigo – French low-cost, high-speed railway. Now the trains are not as comfy as TGV and you have to pay extra for your big luggage, or a seat near the socket….but who cares?!
You can get from Paris to Marseille for just 10 euros one way!
The only drawback is that Ouigo operates a limited amount of destinations.
Sharing car rides:
The French introduced the world the concept of “covoiturage” and a very popular car sharing service BlaBlaCar.
You register an account, find a driver going to your destination at a suitable time, make all the arrangements and travel together from point A to point B for a really lucrative price.
Say a trip from Paris to Dijon will cost you from 11€ to 20€. That’s 4 euro cents for one kilometer!
Car sharing is cheap, eco-friendly and an awesome way to meet locals or fellow travelers.
Ryanair and EasyJet fly from/to 35 French cities, so if booked in advance (think 3-6 month advance), you can score dirty cheap tickets. Nice to Geneva for 27 euros, anyone?
The only thing, is low-cost carries usually fly to small remote airports. Paris Bauvais is nearly 100 km away from Paris, so mind the adding up transfer costs.
Reducing Your Accommodation Costs:
So as you now know how to get out and around France on cheap, let’s talk about how you can reduce your accommodation costs.
The bad news is – hostels and hotels around France are expensive, comparing to neighboring Spain or Italy.
Min cost of a private hotel room in Paris is €60 and a bunk in a shared hostel suit will start from €30.
Here’s what you can try instead:
Couchsurfing is fun, yet by no means it’s as simple as free accommodation. Rather think of it as a long-term investment.
First you let people sleep on your couch, show them around your city and get sweet things written on your public profile in return. Then start making connections with fellow hosts abroad, asking if they can let you stay for a few days.
Basically, you will spend a lot of time writing messages and looking for a nice reliable host and adjusting your route accordingly.
- Youth hostels
There’s a well-developed chain of youth hostels all around France, where you can crash for the night starting from 6€ in regions and up to 20€ per/night in Paris.
However, you need to be under 26 for discounted stays and a member of the International Youth Hostel Federation (annual fee of €10.70 in France). You can also get one night membership for €2.90, which turns into annual membership once you collect 6 nights.
- Short term rentals
If you are traveling as a group or at least as a pair and plan to chill in one city for a while, I highly suggest renting out a studio. You can look for deals at Airbnb, Gites de France or simply use Google.
A lovely two-bedroom apartment will cost you around 200-400€ per week (outside Paris), that’s just 14€ per night if shared for 4!
- Overnight trains
Now, not all trains in France are TGV-fast and some voyages may take up to 14-16 hours. Sleeper trains run in slow pace from one end of the country to another without any night stops.
Compartments are mildly comfortable with 3 bunks at each side and small overhead lights. Clean sheets and a blanket included.
So, if a slow train goes to the place you need, why can’t you sleep there?
Enjoying Awesome French Food:
Now, food in France is one the inevitable spending’s that will make a huge hole in your budget. However, you can’t leave France without trying at least a few traditional dishes!
Here are a few tips on cutting down your food costs without cutting down the pleasure:
- Boulangeries are your best friends
Even in Paris you can have amazing breakfast for 3-5 euros of café au lait and a pair of croissants, crunchy tarts or a sandwich.
Most boulangeries have one or two tiny tables where you can sit down and enjoy the French bread and pastry in all their glory!
- Look for prix fixe menus and ask for plate du jour
Prix fixe offer is a special menu served during lunch time (12 to 14 pm) and dinner (19.00 to 21 pm). For a flat rate of 15-20€ you can choose a number of dishes – a small entrée of salad, generous main course, small desert or coffee + a glass of wine.
Plat du jour is a similar offer of one huge dish served for 10-14€. Sometimes, small entrée also included.
Note: Always ask for “Carafe d’eau” – water is served for free in France.
- Go out on picnics
You need to locate the nearest chain supermarket and buy:
- a bottle of wine (good ones can be bought for just 3-5€)
- a baguette
- cheese (obvs). I’d recommend trying Morbier, Camembert de Normandie or Mont d’or.
- a bunch of Saucisson
- Green salad leaves and a ripe avocado.
Expect to pay around 10€ for everything.
Now, find a lovely park and some spare space among the local picnickers. The French love having picnics and hanging outside on a sunny day.
- Eat out at campus
That is my personal favorite.
Do you want a three-course delicious meal for just 3.20€? Check out a student’s canteen at the Campus.
I live close to the University in Besancon and often see no point in cooking my dinner when I can have a super delicious meal for that cheap (or I’m just lazy).
Nearly each city in France has a bus stop Crous Université – that’s where you should travel and sneak around a bit before you can find the student resto. They typically serve lunch from 11.30 till 13.00 and dinner from 18.30 till 20.00.
No one’s going to ask you for your student id or whatsoever if you look youngish enough. In Paris I was once asked to pay with Moneo card (a special student card where you put money for food and laundry), instead of cash…but you can always say you lost it J
A few last words and tips:
It’s awesome to be young in France
The best time to travel to France is when you are still under 25. The amount of perks and discounts you get is mind blowing.
- Free entrance to Louvre, d’Orsay and most art museums around France.
Technically, you have to be a student or a EU-national under 25 to get the free entrance. However, if you present an ISIC card or any other card with your photo subtly suggesting you are a student (I got mine for 5€ at an Erasmus party, saying I’m an exchange student), you won’t need to pay a penny.
- Discounted public transport passes (discounted train travel).
- Discounts at movies, theaters and some clothes shop.
- Reduced rates to most attractions and some museums.
Always ask if there’s “réduction pour les étudiants” or “réduction pour les jeunes”.
You’d be genuinely amazed by the amount of discounts and free stuff available.
France is not only Paris
Well, yes, Paris is gorgeous.
Paris may be your dream city to visit…along with another few million people who visit the City of Lights annually. You’ll have hard times escaping the crowds and waiting in lines, but if you just take a few turns off the tourist track, you’d probably end up in a truly wonderful serene neighborhood.
To tell the truth, Paris is not my favorite city in France…I like it, but I’m not in love with it.
There are much more intriguing and unknown places to visit in France. Say, Corsica or Alsace vine trails, Jura Mounts national park or Gorges du Tarn in Midi-Pyrénées.
I’m not sure how much time you need to travel to France to see all the amazing attractions the country has to offer you!
Clay: I just want to give a quick thanks to Elena for writing that informative piece, I know I learned a lot! Please follow Elena on social media with the following links below.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://headedabroad.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/France.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Elena is a twenty-something girl from Ukraine, who once ditched all the common sense and followed her heart to France. Now she’s an expat based in Besancon, French food junky and avid explorer. Check out her blog for more tips like: what to do when you got lost in the jungles or how to have awesome adventures on a shoestring budget. Or simply click some beautiful pictures of France.