Paris is big, old, and full of awesome stuff and awesome people. It also happens to be one of the most expensive cities in Europe. It should come as no surprise to anyone that you are on an ultra-low budget during your travels. 7 euro per day might be reasonable in a small country town, but here that notion is absurd. In fact, you were met with incredulous laughter anytime you told anyone living in Paris about your 7-euro-per-day budget.
Despite this, you managed an incredible week in this grand city and only spent 50 euro. How? Surely you must not have had a very good sampling of all Paris has to offer. Okay, so you didn’t go to the Louvre every day for 3 or 4 days like a real tourist. But the food, the entertainment, there is no way you could have fun every day and spend that little. Impossible.
The key to all of this is deeply rooted within your travel philosophy. Of course values are everything. Some people need those kitchy overpriced souvenirs, and they need to go out to dinner every night, and stay in a hotel, and go to the top of the Eiffel tower, and take taxis everywhere.
You need to have an authentic experience and meet local people and do local people things with them. You need to see things. And thus, your trip went something like this:
You set up a couch-surfing host well in advance and were planning to stay with him for the entire week. Knowing you will be living in someone’s home for a week, it is important that you do not rely on them too much. They are providing you with a place to sleep, access to a bathroom and a kitchen for free. This is more than enough on their part and so you do not expect them to feed you also. According to your travel ethics, you must be prepared to be self-sufficient at all times. This means feeding yourself.
You were conveniently dropped right within the city boundary and the first thing you and Maria did was go to the grocery store. The grocery store is one of your favorite rituals when traveling. It gives you an opportunity to sample local foods without being completely ripped off. Among other things, France is the land of cheese, wine, 50 cent baguettes, and charcuterie. Their grocery stores reflect this in variety and price. Behold:
Due to an exceptionally lucky day of hitch-hiking, you arrived at your host’s apartment about 30 minutes early. This is not usually a problem for those who stay in hotels or hostels. You check in when you arrive. But the money you save waiting around (in your opinion) is well worth it. This is how a traveler on a budget kills time:
When your host finally did arrived home from work, he lead you up to his apartment. Famished and fully stocked from the grocery store, you had a nice get-to-know-you meal together. Vincent graciously contributed a bottle of wine from his own collection. What you spent on the food was given back to you tenfold in Vincent’s generosity and good company. This is how it usually goes.
Your first day out in Paris. Vincent kindly left you a key so you could come and go as you pleased. Today was the day of introduction. The first thing on your list was Notre Dame. You were content to just look at the building, but as luck would have it, entry is free. Score! Little gems like this occasionally present themselves and they are always to be taken advantage of.
Notre Dame was easily within walking distance from your host. About 30 minutes. Now, this is sort of a crucial step because you do realize that you are able and willing to walk much farther than the average person. Blame this on your life in San Francisco, if something is within 2 miles, you will walk. When traveling (especially when you don’t have a backpack) if something is within 5 miles you will walk. You have learned over the short time you’ve spent on the road that nothing compares to what you see and observe while on foot. This is why you decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower.
You suspect most tourists (with the exception of those tourists with children, you certainly have an excuse) would take a taxi to the park and spend a half hour walking around and buy some food nearby. For you and Maria, your idea of an Eiffel Tower outing is to pack a lunch and set off with your day packs.
Many sights and many photos later you arrived here:
You enjoyed your packed lunches on a bench just across from the one in this photo and went on your way. You spent the whole day outside looking at Paris and enjoying the city the way the locals enjoy it – mostly on foot. (Is this perhaps why the French are so thin?)
On your way home you stopped at a farmer’s market and picked up some artisan foods for an excellent price (4 euro for charcuterie which ended up lasting you 4 days and 4 euro for 500 grams of artisan organic cheese. Not bad folks). For dinner that night, you cooked some of your groceries from the previous shopping excursion and called it a day.
Breakfast is served: the charcuterie and cheese you purchased the day before. Yum!
Later that day, you and Maria walked to the movie theater to see Les Miserables. Your ticket cost 4.60 because you are under 25 and her ticket only cost 6.50 because it was a matinee. (Did you hear that America? 11 euro for two people to see a movie).
As an added perk, you were able to walk through a different section of Paris and see even more of the city on foot. It was a relaxing but eventful day.
Your host invited you to an art exhibit by a friend of his that evening. The exhibit was awesome and afterward, he took you and Maria out for drinks. And paid for them. This is not something you rely on your hosts to do, but it is always appreciated when it happens. Thus, you had an authentic outing with a bunch of French people at no cost to you.
You finished the with some quiet down time with your host, reading on the couch. For a traveler, rest is important.
Louvre! You packed a lunch and set off for a wonderful art tour. Of course you had no choice but to pay the 11 euro for the ticket. And of course, you couldn’t imagine anything more worth it if you tried.
The point is, you are selective about what you want to do. Rather than see the entire Louvre because “you must”, you chose the things you wanted to look at and planned the day around that. Even as an artist and an art history major, there is certain art you care about and certain art you don’t (as much). For this trip, you decided to be selective and have a relaxed day in an outstanding museum.
You and Maria followed up the visit with a final run to the grocery store and a nice walk down main street. You went slightly over budget on this day, but not by much, and you still got a lot of sight-seeing in.
But what about other entertainment? The bars? the excitement?
Leave it to your host to cover that one. Vincent was planning a BeWelcome party that night, at his/your apartment. No taxis or metro required and you had a lot of fun and got to meet a bunch of new people and listen to 90’s club music until 4am. Priceless.
Early afternoon when you woke up, Vincent insisted on cooking you a French dish while you stayed with him. This involved a trip to the best farmer’s market you’ve ever seen and some damn-good food. Again, no cost to you.
Vincent was also kind enough to invite you along to play squash with some of his friends and then play board games afterwards. These are the kind of things your method of travel provides that other, more costly, methods do not. You could not pay for a day like this if you tried. These moments are entirely unique to who your host is and what kind of people you meet. They are random but they always happen in some way or another. It turned out to be a wonderful day full of awesome people, fun games, and of course, more delicious food.
You would like to note that you never want to free-load. You contribute when you must and you feed yourself when you must. In this case, you made sure your exchange with them was even. You and Maria purchased your own beer and some other things and only took what was offered to you. Even when you contribute monetarily or otherwise, your cost is almost always less than in a restaurant and always far more interesting and fun.
The hike. In Europe everything is closed on Sunday so there is usually no point in going outside. Also, everyone is recovering from their partying on Saturday. Still, sights are always open, and thus you and Maria embarked on a 17.5 kilometer walk around the city, visiting some less popular spots.
The money you do spend when you go out is selective, and thus, very special when it does occur. You will probably remember that pastry for the rest of your life because it’s not competing with a bunch of other experiences of the same kind. That is the same principle you follow when it comes to most food in foreign countries. Be selective and choose special things.
A few trips to the grocery store to off-set some key splurges is well worth it. Additionally, giving up some privacy to stay with a local comes with its own special benefits. When you stay with a local you meet other locals and make friends. Usually, they invite you to do things that they do on weekends, or suggest good spots for you to go to that would be unknown to you otherwise.
In return, you respect their space, clean up after yourself, and provide them with stimulating conversation and allow them to entertain you when they offer. All it takes to spend a week in Paris for 50 euro is a loose itinerary, selective splurging, and a willingness to share your experience with others. It is a win-win for everyone and you can’t imagine traveling any other way.