To save money while travelling, it pays to plan. Otherwise, you'll find yourself, spent, hungry and paying top dollar for a touristy meal a few paces from the Louvre. And I must confess I've inherited my Dad's penny-wise, pound-no-worries attitude: a grand for airfare, okay, but $6 for a glass of ginger ale, c'mon!
Here's how to keep costs down:
Sleeping: Budget options start at couch-surfing and house-swapping, and climb from apartment rentals with kitchens through to cheap hotels, which cost $115 a night on average. Mark Henshall, editor of Frommer's Paris Free & Dirt Cheap ( frommers.com), suggests B&Bs. “There are an increasing number of wonderful places in the centre and they can work out cheaper than hotels.” If you prefer more privacy, Elodie Berta, who works for Paris Tourism ( parisinfo.com), suggests the Appi hotel ( appihotel.com) starting at $42 a night or Philippe Starck's Mama Shelter ( mamashelter.com) with rates starting at $125 a night. Of course, there are catches – shared bathrooms or less-than-central locales.
Eating: There's always the park picnic. For something less DIY, Henshall, who learned how to live on the cheap as a low-paid intern in the city, says ethnic eateries – including Japanese noodle soups on rue Sainte-Anne or falafels in the Marais – are a good deal. “If you're really hankering after an expensive, Michelin-starred meal, opt for lunchtime, when the menus are always cheaper, but still top-quality.”
Getting around: No need for taxis as public transit is easy to navigate right from the airport. And skip the double-deckers in favour of the city's fleet of Vélib' bikes ( en.velib.paris.fr), which require a minimal membership fee and are free for the first 30 minutes.
Entertainment: Plan around 14 free city museums (Museum of Modern Art, mam.paris.fr, is a favourite), free festivals (La nuit blanche is Oct. 1), and free nightly lightshows on the Eiffel Tower (it sparkles like a diamond at 1 a.m., Berta says). Or just walk around as my daughter and I did on a recent Friday night: We watched a father and son tap dancing near the Centre Pompidou; dug our toes in the sand along the Seine in the Paris Plages festival; navigated through the swarm of tourists snapping photos at the Notre Dame Cathedral and then listened to a busker sing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah on a bridge.
It's one of my favourite memories of Paris. And it was free.
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