Spending a Month in Paris is Sure to be Decadent, But if Planned Correctly Can be Done on a Small Budget
Your friends at lostinbeautifulplaces.com have just finished spending a month in Paris, France. We thoroughly enjoyed the amazing food, the world-class art museums, the beautiful architecture, and the slower pace of life. We are absolutely in love with Paris after being there for such an extended period of time. Visiting for a month has given us a much different perspective on the “City of Lights” than our shorter trips have. Much to our surprise, being in Paris for a month was actually budget-friendly.
Spending an entire month in different exotic locations around the world has long been a dream of ours and now that we are actually doing it, it has been even more enjoyable than we had imagined it would be. Thanks to such modern travel tools such as Airbnb, and hotel/flight booking websites, as well as money-saving techniques such as cooking for ourselves and taking advantage of free or low-cost activities, we have been able to travel full time for less money than it was costing to live in the United States.
During our month in Paris, our mornings were spent shopping in local boulangeries, picking out the finest pastries and bread or strolling through markets. The rest of the day was often spent sitting in streetside cafes sipping espresso, watching the world go by, walking along the Seine River with no particular place to go, exploring art museums and hiking in parks. Basically just going with the flow. Taking evening walks through historic neighborhoods, admiring the old world charms of Europe, and immersing ourselves in the cultural wonderland that is France has been a life-changing experience for us.
Spending an entire month in Paris allowed us to experience major public events such as Bastille Day, which celebrates the storming of the Bastille Prison and marked the beginning of the French Revolution and the Tour de France, which rolled through town just a few blocks away from our apartment. Witnessing these events with the locals made our time in France seem even more authentic. Since we had such a positive and rewarding experience, we felt compelled to put together this short guide to spending an entire month in Paris and staying on budget.
Myths About Living In Paris
First things first. Let’s address some misconceptions about some of the myths that are thrown around about visiting Paris. Despite what some people may believe, traveling to Paris and living like a local doesn’t have to be expensive. Most Parisians do live a fairly decadent lifestyle, but they do this by managing their priorities. Taking public transportation is far more popular than owning a car, renting an apartment is more common than taking on a mortgage and the maintenance costs the go along with it, and most French citizens are not concerned with owning the newest “fad” products. Instead, the French value quality food and drink, good friends, philosophy, art, nature, and generally taking extra time to “stop and smell the roses”.
Another myth is that the French are rude or snobby. On the contrary, the French people are some of the most polite and down to earth people that we have come across in our travels. We find that the citizens in Paris speak quietly, yet directly, with very little small talk, as they find it to be fake and unnecessary. The French also tend to mind their own business, which some people may take as being rude. In our experience, as soon as we ask for help or strike up a conversation, people are more than willing to explain things to us or take time out of their day to talk about the state of the world.
Since the French priorities are different than many other cultures, their love of quality food, fine wine and art, and leisure time, could come across to some as being snobby, but we don’t see it that way. After being in Paris for just a month, we have grown very accustomed to this lifestyle and see its merits. We could see ourselves spending much more than a month here next time!
The most important technique for keeping your expenses to a minimum while traveling to Paris is to secure low-cost lodging. Staying in hotels can be expensive and they often are not designed to serve long term travelers. Hostels are great for short term stays or for solo travelers, but as a couple, we often find that booking two beds in a dorm or a private room is more expensive than finding other lodgings. There are a few tried and true methods what we use to keep our lodging costs down while staying for a month in an area…
Vacation Rental Companies such as Airbnb
The most common way that we have been able to save money by staying an entire month in a single location is by using Airbnb or one of the other vacation rental websites. Many hosts offer huge discounts for weekly or monthly stays. Since a “month” is a relative term, be sure to play around with the dates when searching for a rental. For example, some cities waive occupancy taxes for stays over 30 days, so booking a place for 31 days will cost less than booking for 30 days. In some locations, reserving for 28 days is sufficient to receive a monthly discount.
The Airbnb that we booked in Paris offered a monthly discount that was 30% off the daily rate. Using the monthly discount, we were able to secure 31 nights of lodging for $1200, out the door. We could have easily spent that much for just a single week in a hotel room, especially after adding in taxes or booking fees. We would be hard-pressed to rent an apartment in any major city for that price. Keep in mind that we aren’t required to put up a deposit, or furnish the place or pay any utilities.
Before booking a vacation rental for a month, we always make sure that the accommodation is walking distance to public transportation, as renting a car for a month is prohibitively expensive. Also, we always make sure to be within walking distance or short bus ride away from a supermarket, and if possible, hiking trails or other free activities. We were fortunate enough to find an Airbnb rental in Paris that checked off each of these boxes, saving us hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over a months time.
Another important part of our planning routine is reading and then rereading the provided information given by the host before booking for an entire month. The cancellation and refund policy varies for each host, so finding a rental that offers a flexible policy is your best bet. Flexible cancellation and refund policies allow for changes to be made before and after check-in. After finding a place that may be suitable, we then scour every guest review to find additional clues about the rental and look at each and every photo. If you still have further questions about a place, contacting the host is always a good idea. A month is a long time to stay in a place that isn’t quite what you expected, so some due diligence will save from any headaches in the future.
Work Exchange Websites
While we did not take advantage of this in Paris, work exchanges are a great way to save money, meet new people, experience local cultures and maybe even learn some new skills while traveling. Websites such as workaway.info, helpx.net, or wwoof.net (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) offer free lodging and sometimes food, in exchange for part-time volunteer work. Volunteers may also get benefits such as language or cooking lessons, tours of the area, or opportunities to participate in community events. Volunteer positions cover a wide variety of jobs such as farming, working in a hostel, providing language practice or childcare to families, construction/remodeling, computer work, etc.
We personally use workaway.info due to the fact that it offers the most extensive list of opportunities in countries around the world. The cost to join was $40 US for a couple, and it has been well worth the expense. We have gotten offers to work on Cherry farms and Buddhist monasteries in Japan, vineyards and small farms in France, eco-lodges in Central America, and animal rescue shelters in Cambodia. Opportunities vary in length from a few days to a few months. Some offer private rooms, while others provide dorm-style accommodations. We have met so many amazing people using this service and we are always on the lookout for other unique positions as we make our way around the world.
Staying with Friends or Family
Not to be overlooked (or abused!) is the option of staying with friends or family. If such an opportunity is offered, this is a fantastic way to save money and get to know an area. We tend to keep these visits to less than a week at a time, even if a private apartment or guest house is offered to us. Even our closest of friends and family will only happily tolerate us in their space for short periods of time, so we are careful not to wear out our welcome. In exchange for lodging, we always try to cook meals for our hosts or treat them to restaurants or cafes. We also try to take note of things that they may need to be replaced due to our presence, such as coffee, tea, towels, etc. If the hosts are well prepared and nothing needs to be replaced, we try to find something that they value, such as knick-knacks, art, or other decorations to give as thank you gifts. A thank you card is given at the very least.
While we ourselves have not taken advantage of these, there are services that allow travelers to arrange free lodging with hosts. CouchSurfing.com is a hospitality and social networking service available via a website and mobile app. Members can use the service to arrange homestays, offer lodging and hospitality, and join events called “Couch Crashes”. The platform is part of the “sharing economy” and hosts are not allowed to charge money for lodging. Becoming a member is free and all this is required to join is to create a profile that explains your lifestyle and what is important to you. 15 million people are signed up for the service, with over 500,000 Couch Crash events offered in over 200,000 cities around the world. Similar to work exchange programs, couchsurfing.com offers guests free lodging as well as cultural exchanges and immersion.
Eating while traveling can be a costly endeavor. This is especially true in France, where the temptation to eat yourself into a stupor is a constant test of self-control. To offset some of our food costs in Paris, we booked an apartment through Airbnb, which allowed us to cook as many meals as we liked. Instead of eating out every day, we shopped at local boulangeries, farmer’s markets, and supermarkets to stock our kitchen. This not only saved us money but also gave us the opportunity to interact with the farmers and merchants of Paris, allowed us to mingle with the locals and even helped us learn the French language more than we would have if we had constantly eaten in restaurants.
We love shopping in French supermarkets. Not only are French supermarkets priced quite reasonably, but they also offer a large selection of high-quality products. Shopping at “supermarchés” while in Paris is absolutely essential to staying on a budget if you are spending an extended period of time in the city. We were fortunate to have three supermarkets within walking distance of our apartment. Since most Parisians walk to the store and can only carry a rolling bag full of groceries at a time, shopping on a daily basis is common. We followed suit and made trips to a supermarket almost every day that we were in Paris.
French supermarkets are not as large as in many other countries, as fruits, vegetables, meat, and bread are most often purchased at markets or small specialty merchants. Why buy bread that is a few days old when fresh loaves are available fresh out of the oven, for the same or lower price? We primarily used the supermarkets to stock up on prepackaged products such as beer, wine, coffee, tea, sparkling water, eggs, salad dressing, pasta, crackers, salami, cheese, and yogurt. We also took advantage of the wide variety of premade foods that are also available. Cucumber or carrot gazpacho, couscous, hummus, tabouli, prepackaged sandwiches, and many other take-out foods are available in the refrigerated sections.
In order to save even more money, we applied for a discount card at our favorite local supermarket. We bought items that were on sale and kept our eyes out for good deals. “Happy Hour” specials were offered each day between 11
Some things to consider: Supermarkets in Paris close by 8 pm each evening and by noon on Sundays. Medicine and related products are not sold at supermarkets. Pharmacies are found on almost every corner and are the only place to get such things as contact lens solution and Ibuprofin or Acetaminophen. All product labels will be in French only, making shopping a great way to learn some basic French words. Often times, one person will run an entire supermarket, so finding help in the aisles is not always an option.
The French Boulangerie
The French love their bread. How much do they love their bread? So much that the French Revolution was started due to a bread shortage. In 1789, the price of bread rose so dramatically that the people of France revolted against the king and his government. Today, the love of bread continues. There are “Bread Laws” that limit the ingredients in baguettes to water, wheat, yeast, and salt. The laws also state that baguettes can not be frozen at any point in the process of making them and absolutely no preservatives are allowed to be added. As decadent as the products in these establishments look and taste, the prices are surprisingly low. During our month in Paris, shopping at boulangeries helped to keep our daily food costs down and made us huge fans of French bread and
Modern boulangeries can be found on almost every street corner in France today, offering freshly made baguettes, pastries, quiches, and other types of bread. Picking up a warm baguette, croissant or quiche is part of daily life in France for people of every income and class. One Euro buys a standard traditional baguette and two Euros buys the more flavorful “cereal” baguettes. Some bakeries offer specials such as “buy 3, get 1 free”. Since there are just two of us and the bread gets stale quickly, we did not take advantage of such offers on baguettes, although we did buy our fair share of chocolate croissants on such specials. Four chocolate croissants fresh out of the oven and two delicious French espressos for just 6 Euros was a deal that we often couldn’t refuse!
One of the best things about being in Paris for a month is being able to explore the different street markets and farmer’s markets that cover the entire metropolitan area. Not only does shopping at markets save money, but it also gives a glimpse into how the French obtain their food on a day to day basis. Since most Parisians have small refrigerators and walk to get their groceries, it is possible to find a market every day of the week. Over 80 markets exist in Paris, many
Markets are great places to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, meats, bread, pastries, and fish. Farmers and food producers from all over France come to these markets to sell their goods. The origin and quality of the food are often labeled and merchants are there to answer any questions or give free samples. Shopping for lunch or dinner at the markets is something that should not be missed while visiting Paris, regardless of the length of stay.
Eating at Restaurants
Experiencing the French dining is a must while in Paris. We won’t spend any more time explaining how amazing the food is or make any restaurant recommendations in this article, but you can be assured that finding high-quality restaurants is not difficult anywhere in France. With all of the money that is saved by eating out of supermarkets and boulangeries, splurging for a good meal every few days is well worth it. Luckily, finding good deals at restaurants in Paris is not as difficult as one would think. With some research, low to mid-priced meals can be found in every neighborhood. Most establishments offer specials of the day that include “set meals” of an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. These can be surprisingly affordable and are no less quality than a full-priced meal. Remember that taxes are included and tipping is not common in Paris.
Drinking alcohol at restaurants can be prohibitively expensive in our experience. Often a multi-course, gourmet meal can be had for 12 Euros, while a small glass of beer or wine at the same establishment costs 8 Euros. We got into the habit of drinking tap water with our meals and drinking alcohol at lower-priced bars before or after dining. Happy hour specials can be found at most bars. Skipping bars and restaurants and drinking out of supermarkets is even less expensive, but sometimes sitting in a bar and meeting some locals is worth the extra cost.
Eating dessert at a restaurant is similar to alcohol as it can be very expensive. Unless it is included in a set menu, dessert can cost up to 8 Euros per item. The same, if not better, treats can be found at boulangeries for between 2 and 4 Euros. Most boulangeries close by dinner time, so purchasing dessert beforehand is required. This presents another problem as the
The public transportation in Paris is world-renowned. Between the Metro system, the RER trains and public buses, getting around is easy and affordable. Paris is not a very large city, but the main attractions can be far away from each other. Luckily, Metro stations and bus stops are distributed through the city and waits are never long. The Metro picks up at stations every four minutes. Buses pick up every 15 minutes on average. For the Metro and RER lines, single trip tickets within the city cost 1.90 Euro, per person, one way. Tickets to the outlying zones cost 3.65 Euros per person one way. Bus tickets cost 2 Euros if purchased on the bus or 1.90 Euros if purchased in a train station.
There are some money-saving techniques that can be used in order to save on transportation costs. Since we planned to use either the bus, Metro or RER lines on a daily basis, we took advantage of the month-long Navigo Pass that is offered. It includes unlimited Metro and RER rides to every section of Paris, including the suburbs, and all bus lines for a low price of 75 Euros per person. Even lower prices are offered for passengers that plan to stay within certain zones in the city. Weekly passes are also sold. 10 packs of tickets are available at a discount of 20% and work on the RER and Metro lines.
Experiencing Paris on a budget does not have to mean sacrificing seeing the major attractions. Being in Paris for one month gives visitors the opportunity to take advantage of many money-saving techniques. These are some of the ways that we were able to enjoy many of the famous Parisian sites on a budget…
Visiting Paris would be incomplete without seeing at least a few art museums. Fortunately for budget travelers, many museums are free to the public or offer free days. Even the major art museums such as the Louvre, the d’Orsay and the Rodin offer a free day on the first Sunday of each month. Some of the smaller, less-known museums such as the Museum of Modern Art de la Ville de Paris, the Maison de Victor Hugo, and the Petit Palais are free every day. Normal admission to museums is not prohibitively expensive, either. Mixing free visits with paid admissions allowed us to experience a half dozen museums for very little money. In our opinion, the museum passes that are offered are not worth the cost if staying in Paris for a month. For one, trying to fit more than one museum a day into a schedule is too exhausting and two, for less than the price of a two-day pass, we were able to see six museums over the course of a month.
Paris offers some major historic attractions that are on many people’s “bucket list” such as the Eiffel Tower and The Palace of Versailles. Many of these attractions can be experienced at low cost or free. For example, the Eiffel Tower offers low price tickets for visitors willing to walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator to the first promenade. The tower can also be experienced for free by walking in the park below or finding a spot to admire it from afar. The Palace of Versailles and its grand gardens can be viewed for free by skipping going inside. We paid for a two-day pass to Versailles and personally were a bit underwhelmed by its interior. We did enjoy The Hamlet of Marie Antoinette, but for the price, we would not do it again. Also, many historic ruins, monuments, and parks are found throughout the city and are free to admire.
Walking and Hiking
Walking and hiking are two of our favorite activities to do while traveling. Paris is a perfect place for this, as it offers both beautiful neighborhoods and parks to walk in. Many people are surprised to learn that Paris and the surrounding area has regional and national parks that are free and full of great hiking trails. Taking a train or bus to a park outside of Paris after gathering supplies for a picnic at a local market and then going on a hike through the forests is a great way to spend a day and is very budget-friendly. The parks in the Viroflay/Sevres/Chaville area are especially nice and easily accessible. In Paris proper, there are many free walking tours through historic neighborhoods that are available via apps or travel publications. Other urban walking choices includes strolling around markets, churches, gardens, parks, and cemeteries, which are all free.
Other Money Saving Tips
Finding low priced airfare makes a trip to Paris even more affordable. We happened to be visiting family and friends in California for a month before heading out for our next series of destinations. After doing exhaustive searches for low airfares from Los Angeles, we found that Paris was one of the lowest destinations available in the world, with one-way tickets from LAX to Paris costing just $220 per person. After searching for lodging and realizing that we could also secure an apartment on Airbnb for a low price, we purchased our tickets. From Paris, we will overland to our next destinations.
Another way to save money while in Paris is by using an ATM card that does not charge fees for withdrawing cash and using credit cards that do not charge international fees. Taking advantage of these two services can save hundreds of dollars during a month-long trip. We use a Charles Schwab debit card for ATM transactions and a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card for purchases.
That concludes our guide to visiting Paris for a month and staying on budget. We had such a woderful time in this beautiful city that we cannot wait to return! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below…
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Looking for more budget travel destinations? Check out our article about Sri Lanka.