How to make your money go further in France
In today's money markets, the euro goes up and down, like the dollar and the pound. So you never quite know where you are when budgeting and can’t guarantee that you’ll get a good rate of exchange when you are actually in France. So if you’re planning a trip, it’s a good idea to use these tips to save a few euros here and there.
The budget tips are categorized according to the major expenses incurred during a typical trip to France.
But remember this is a vacation, so don't make any cuts that will ruin the trip or just make it hard to enjoy your time in France. You only live once, and you may only visit Europe once and it is a really great place!
Location: You might have booked some of your vacation in advance in the most popular cities, which are generally Paris and Nice, Cannes (and try to avoid the annual mayhem during the May International Film Festival) and some of the Atlantic west coast cities such as Bordeaux and Biarritz.
TIP: Consider staying in a smaller town, where lodging is cheaper. If you plan to visit Paris, for instance, find a suburb well served by the Metro or the RER (the suburban train lines), or even stay in a nearby city like Chartres that is a short train ride away. This change alone could save hundreds.
Class of Accommodation: You might have booked some rooms in 4 or 5-star hotels.
TIP: Downgrade to cheaper, less sumptuous digs. The French star-rating system is a good one. Perhaps you could stand a drop down by one star level. If you are thrilled to stay in a four-star, you probably won't be too miserable in a three-star. Sometimes lesser-rated hotels are even nicer than their peers a notch up. The French rating system doesn't take into account things like ambience and friendly, helpful staff except in the top range of Palace Hotels.
So you're travelling through France, taking your time and going where the road takes you. However, even the most casual wanderer should at check which village, town or city you plan to spend the night in beforehand or you may pay full price if you just turn up.
TIP: Get to a town or city early enough to stop at the Tourist Office and ask them for hotel recommendations. They will know the right prices, and and many will book for you, so you can pick according to your budget.
TIP No. 2: Consider a bed and breakfast (chambre d’hôte). The French have embraced the bed and breakfast option with huge enthusiasm and you can stay in everything from a small gypsy caravan to a castle. It's best to book in advance if you can, even if you just telephone ahead that day as they can get very booked up. They are terrific value, most owners speak English and you get local knowledge as well. Many also provide dinner which again are the best value around.
How long are you staying?
So you’re considering staying in town for a week.
TIP: If you’re visiting one town or area for at least a week, consider a vacation rental instead of a hotel. You will probably pay less than the price of a hotel. You’ll surely have a kitchen, so you can save cash on meals out. You’ll be living more like a local, and the vacation will feel more authentic. You can shop in the local markets and try out the local specialities. The downside is you won't get the hand holding and personal service that a hotel provides.
TIP No. 2: If you have a week or longer, or even a long weekend, consider taking a gîte (holiday cottage). Gites are everywhere and can be small, large, sleep two or 12, are located in remote areas and in towns…in fact you can get a gite almost anywhere in France. And you’ll find that a week in a gîte works out cheaper than a hotel room. Book a gite here.
TIP No. 3: Prefer to pay nothing for your lodging? You actually can do that with a home exchange. This is especially great if you live in a big city that is a popular destination. You stay in a French couple's Paris apartment while they visit your New York City apartment.
TIP No. 4: Even if you've always been the hotel type, consider camping in France. With France's government-regulated star rating system, a four-star camp ground can even be more luxurious than a more pricy two-star hotel. There are many organisations offering top camping sites like Canvas holidays.
TIP no. 5: If you’re a student or a backpacker then you’ll know all about hostels and there’s this type of accommodation in most French cities. Try some of these organisations:
Travel by Rail
This one is a no-brainer. If you're traveling long distances or for a few days of rail travel, get a rail pass. These passes can be a great budget deal versus the point-to-point ticket prices found in France, so long as your trips cover long distances. Read more about Train Travel in France and particularly the TGV Express Train map and information.
Only get a handful of bills in your home country. When you arrive in Europe, do NOT visit money exchange companies. The rates are terrible, and the commissions are high. The best budget ways to get euros are by withdrawal at an ATM in France or charging on a credit card. For more tips on getting cash, see my article, Getting Euros in France - DOs and DON'Ts.
Meals in France
Check your hotel breakfast; some hotels give a huge spread which is worth the price. This is a relatively new phenomenon and the petit dejeuner often will include charcuterie meats, cheeses, yoghurts and fruit and possibly cooked items (and most places include boiled eggs) as well as an astonishing array of jams.
Very few hotels included breakfast in the price so be sure you are not automatically being charged for breakfast, which is quite common. When you book your room or check in, inform them you do not want their breakfast. However, remember that all bed and breakfasts include breakfast (though this is usually just fruit, yoghurt, coffee, bread and pastries and often home-made jams).
TIP: Consider going into town and do what the locals do. Sit in a little cafe, outside if it's sunny and warm, and spend half or a quarter the price for a croissant or pastry and cafe au lait.
TIP: Indulge in one great big French meal a day, instead of spending cash on all three and cringing at your daily spending. Choose to have it at lunchtime as often as possible. You will usually get the same food served at dinner, but for less money. Get the prix fixe menu, which usually consists of a starter, main dish and dessert, sometimes also wine, for a low price. This is a good way to enjoy top Michelin-starred meals at a fraction of the price.
Tip No. 2: Consider a picnic or a snack. Go to the local boulangerie for excellent bread and pastries, and look out the chains that produce top sandwiches like Paul, le Pain Quotidien, and Le Brioche Dorée.
Check out more about Restaurants in France (like how and when to tip!)
If you’re in the country for a long time (17 days) consider taking out a buy-back lease program like the one operated by Renault. It will save you a lot of money.
Otherwise unless you plan to wander about the countryside visiting tiny villages or circling the country with loads of luggage, you probably do not need the extra expense of a rental car.
TIP: Take public transport instead. It’s usually very good even in smaller cities in France. Many have invested in tramways with cities like Nice taking the tram through the main tourist areas. And public transport is very cheap. In PACA (Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur) the bus fares are €1 euro to go anywhere though it’s a bit more expensive (€1.50) from Antibes to Nice airport for instance.
TIP No. 2: If you’re staying in town, consider buying a City Pass, available in all major cities like. The 24-, 36- or 48- hour pass gives you free entrance to most of the museums, except the private ones, discounts on bus tours and le petit train tours and free public transport.
You also should try to avoid taking taxis if at all possible.
Visiting Museums and Attractions
TIP: The City Pass mentioned above is a god-send if you’re taking in lots of attractions and museums.
Tip No. 2: Check opening times for whichever museum you’re interested in. Note that many of them have free opening on the 1st Sunday of the month, and some evenings.
With all this money saved, splash out on something you’ve always wanted. Perhaps a superb meal, or that luxury item of clothing (and remember the annual government-controlled sales, and check out the budget shopping.)
Have a great, and good value holiday!