How to Travel Paris on a Budget PLUS My #1 Hotel Hack
So you want to travel, but you just don’t know how you can travel Paris on a budget? One of the questions I get asked the most is: “how can you travel so much? are you rich?”
Well, my friends, I have a secret to tell you: I’m not rich. But I do have some tricks up my sleeve after over a decade of travelling regularly and living abroad. Plus, my #1 hack I use to stay in luxury hotels for WAY LESS.
Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, and if you’ve been following along on my adventures for a while, you know I blog about it often because:
a. I love it
b. I used to live there and know it well
c. I go back almost every year
If you’ve been wanting to make a stop in the city of lights, but think its too expensive, think again! I’m here to share all the tips on how to travel Paris on a budget, so get that passport ready!
I live in California, so this post is going to be written from the perspective of somebody traveling from the USA to Paris, but the tips should work no matter where you’re flying from. Obviously, if you’re already in Europe, a lot of the costs would be even lower, since you’re closer.
These are the areas we will cover to help you learn how to travel Paris on a budget:
- Transportation around the city
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In my case, coming from California, flights are usually going to be one of the larger costs in my trip, but the good news is there are ways to help reduce these costs!
Book Smarter: There are a lot of ways to do this (many of which are broken down in my post about flying tips) but some of my favorite hacks are: consider visiting in the off-season (for Paris that means not summer), search for fares in ‘incognito’ mode on your computer, and use price monitoring sites to get alerts when prices drop. My favorite site to search for flights is SkyScanner.
Use Miles: I love using my American Express Membership Reward Points to fly. How? I use my AmEx for almost every business expense and earn points for every dollar (plus bonus points!) AmEx lets me transfer those points to DOZENS of travel partners, where I can redeem using their loyalty programs. Want proof? I recently shared how I used these membership rewards points from my favorite credit card to book a round trip, non-stop flight from LA to Paris in Business Class, for less than the cost of economy. I only had to pay taxes and fees, instead of the nearly $6,000 the flight normally costs.
Consider Discount Airlines: If you live in a major city (or can get to one easily) you may be able to fly with international discount airlines, like Norwegian, for less than you thought! The one thing to remember is that these are USUALLY pretty basic, super economy fares. Baggage will cost extra, meals are often not provided, but they are a wonderful option for those on a budget.
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Depending on how long you want to visit, accommodations are likely to be the next largest expense after travel. Again, considering I’m usually coming in from the states, its unlikely I want to go to Europe for less than a week, since the flights are quite long from the west coast. There are a lot of options to keep costs down when you are trying to travel Paris on a budget!
Hostels: When I first started traveling, hostels were my best friend. Not only are they more affordable than your average hotel, they are a great way to meet people (which is a real plus if you’re traveling solo, too!). I can’t tell you how many times I booked hostels either for me or with groups of friends and we never had an issue. Hostels get a reputation for only being for the college crowd, but now-a-days you can find hostels for anybody! While some may be youth hostels, others have visitors of all ages, sometimes even families. If you’re on a really tight budget, this is a great option.
Home Rentals: Whether you’re looking to rent just a room for yourself or as a couple, or want a whole apartment to yourself, often times home rentals, like Airbnb, are less expensive than hotels. I’ve used both Airbnb and VRBO and had great experiences. Do your research and make sure to book through a reputable company, and you can be in for a treat! A lot of times you will also get some local’s tips from your host that can give you a really unique experience.
One of my FAVORITE websites EVER for booking hotels is Hotwire. I use them ALL THE TIME. Honestly, I cannot speak highly enough about how much they have helped me travel more and stay on budget. In a nutshell, you enter in your dates and where you want to stay, and you get insanely good hotel prices. The catch? You don’t see the name of the hotel until after you’ve booked. But don’t worry! You can see things like star ratings, neighborhoods, types of hotels in that category, and even overall recommendations from past visitors. I took my mom to Paris a few years ago (it happened to be during fashion week) and we used Hotwire. We got the most LUXE room ever at a hotel that would have been well over 1000 Euros a night for about $200. If you scroll to the bottom of this page, you can search directly for hotel deals for your destination!
Direct Booking Specials: If you’re not open to being surprised, and you find a hotel you love during your search, make sure to check out their website. We recently stayed an an amazing hotel I had my heart set on in Paris, and by booking directly with them, we were able to take advantage of a special they had for 15% off the lowest published price if you spent 5 or more days with them. It was a little more luxurious than budget friendly, BUT, we split the cost between the two of us, AND saved about 40% overall from the highest prices I had seen for that property.
Couch surfing: This is the one I can’t speak to from personal experience, so please take this information and do your own research. Many people I know have used and loved the couch surfing site, especially when they are solo and/or on a really tight budget. This site links you with locals who have ‘couches’ (sometimes guest rooms, etc) that you can crash on. If you are on an extreme budget, and comfortable doing this, it’s an option.
Transportation in Paris
Paris is a relatively compact city. I don’t say this lightly, or as a tourist who has been once. I lived there for over two years and walked A LOT. The city is very walkable, but depending on many factors, it’s likely you’ll want to have some transport options available besides your own two feet. Luckily, Paris is one of the best cities in the world for public transportation.
Metro: The Paris metro is one of the most extensive in the world, and can get you just about anywhere, especially when you are trying to travel Paris on a budget. One way (aller simple, in French) tickets for the metro system (including the RER and bus) are 1,80 Euros (at time of writing). If you are going to be in Paris for a few days and want to explore more extensively, I suggest the “Paris Visite” pass. It allows for unlimited access to public transport for 1,3, or 5 days. You can also choose between the geographic zones 1-3 (central Paris), or include all of the greater Paris area (think Versailles and Paris Disney) for a little more.
At time of writing, the 5 day zone 1-3 pass is less than 40 euros. That means that you can use all buses, metros, trams, night buses, and RER trains for less than 10 euros per day! You can look at all the options and prices online and purchase them before you go. However, buying them at the station is very easy. The machines work in multiple languages and take cash and cards.
Uber: If you have the Uber app downloaded, it will work seamlessly when you arrive in Paris. If you don’t need to move around enough to justify a metro ticket, OR if mobility issues are a concern and you want to avoid the stairs in some metros, you can use the uber app.
Velib: The city’s public bike share program is an option, especially if you enjoy cycling. This option makes the most sense if you will be in the city a little longer, as you’ll need to create an account to unlock and ride the bikes. Bike stations are location all throughout the city and you can return the rented bike at any open slot.
Scooters: Just like in San Diego and San Francisco, Lime and Bird scooters have arrived in Paris. Depending on where you want to go, you can use them relatively cheaply. Be cautious of traffic and rules when visiting another country!
Activities and Sightseeing
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Part 1: Official Sights
There is SO MUCH to see and do when in Paris, that the options alone can be overwhelming. Visiting every single museum and doing all the things can also do a number on your wallet when you trying to travel Paris on a budget! Luckily there are a ton of secret insider tips that can keep you busy without going broke.
Free Walking Tours: Believe it or not, in many cities around the world you can find AMAZING walking tours that are FREE*. Ok, well, almost free. They are led by guides that depend on gratuities for leading the group tours. However, giving them 5-10 euros for a couple solid hours of sightseeing, stories, and tips, is way less than most tours that charge up front. You can often find themed tours, of specific areas, or about food, art, churches, etc.
Free Museum Days: Certain days of the month/year, access to museums is free! These days can be really crowded, but if your budget is tight and you have the time, it can save you money for sure. The first Sunday of the month, most museums are free to the public. There are also other ones that are free in general, and there is an awesome post about them with the full list.
Discount Passes: If you are going to be doing some SERIOUS sightseeing, you may want to consider the Paris Pass. We have used the London version and because of all the things we wanted to do, it was a great deal for us. It’s not cheap, but it includes access to a ton of things and even a hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
Part 2: Local’s Faves
Picnics: One of my favorite things to do while in Paris is have a picnic (or five). I love going into a shop, or strolling through a market, finding some amazing treats, a bottle of wine, and heading for the park. Its also one way to pass a day spending very little! People watching is free, and if you go with friends, or make some at your hotel/hostel, you can split food costs. A few of my favorite places to picnic are Place des Vosges, Parc Monceau, and Champs de Mars (right in front of the Eiffel tower).
Markets: Open air markets are one of the coolest things about Paris, and you can use them as entertainment, even if you aren’t shopping. Check out some of the best markets, grab some snacks and try new foods! The prices are usually better than anywhere you will find that is catering to tourists, so its perfect if you want to travel Paris on a budget!
Photo safari: I love taking pictures, even just on my iphone. Check out my favorite instagrammable places in Paris, and then take some snacks and head out on a day-long photo safari to capture images at these iconic spots.
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I think one of the biggest misconceptions about going to Paris is that the food is wildly expensive, you know, since it’s so good. Well it’s half true: it’s good. But there is NO reason to spend all your money on food unless you want to. You can eat some of the best food you’ve ever had, all while staying on budget!
Breakfast: French breakfasts at cafes are usually pretty light, and if you walk a little off the beaten path, away from touristy areas, they aren’t very expensive. You can find a lot of great ones 8 euros or less. This will usually include a hot beverage, juice, and toast or a croissant. You can also pop into a bakery (boulangerie) and grab an amazing pastry to go for about 2 euros. Want an espresso? Another 2 euros.
If big breakfasts aren’t your thing you can save even more by shopping yourself. Head to a local grocery store, grab some essentials, and keep them in your room. Granola bars, bottled water, whatever tickles your fancy!
Lunch/Dinner: As with most places, to save some money you’ll want to try to walk away from ‘touristy’ spots. Just a couple blocks (literally) can make all the difference. Lots of cafes or brasseries close in the afternoon, between lunch and dinner. If you see ‘service continu’ that means they are open all day and you can dine whenever. Small cafes are a great place to try some more authentic French options like locals would eat. You can order a la carte or from a ‘formule’ or prix fixe menu. I can usually find great little cafes to have light meals for 10-15 euros.
TIP: More ‘local’ cafes may or may not have English menus, so download the Google translate app before you go. You can use the camera function to translate the words on the menu into your language.
Snacks: don’t be tempted to blow your budget on tons of expensive snacks and treats designed to lure tourists. Yes, they are tasty, but if you’re on a budget, I suggest going to a grocery store (common ones you’ll see are Monop’/ Monoprix, Carrefour, and Franprix). Pick up some portable snacks to keep on you and keep you on track!
Was this helpful? Do you feel more confident that you can travel Paris on a budget? I hope so! If you have questions, ask! I’m happy to help any way I can!
What tips and tricks to you use to travel on a budget? Share in the comments!
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