Enjoy France on a budget!

It's hard to believe that only a decade ago France was a budget holiday destination. At the moment, the cost of living makes it hard to get by on any budget at all! Having lived here for a while now though, I'm getting used to finding ways of keeping costs down. It's possible to have a good time on a tight budget if you know where to look. Here are a few pieces of advice people have given me since I arrived in France. I have found them useful, I hope you do too!

 

Free cultural things to see and do: In France, there are huge amounts of cultural things that you can do for free. For young people under 25 and from the EU, museum entry is often free – all you need to do is show your ID. Sometimes this even means you don't have to queue for tickets inside! Its also well worth noting that although it can sometimes mean places are crowded, on the first Sunday of every month many museums give free entry to all visitors.

 

Make the most of good internet deals! Groupon is a French website where you can find great deals all over France. They give reductions on tickets to plays, concerts, sports events, tourist attractions and shows. There are discounts to restaurants, spas, hotels, hairdressers, extreme sports – all kinds of services and activities imaginable. Another website which offers great restaurant deals is lafourchette.com. You'll find significant reductions for restaurants all over France, all you need to do is book in advance via the website.

 

Eating and Drinking: Eating out is something the French like to do properly, and at lunch time arguably more than dinner! Do as they do and make the most of great value lunch time menus which are often far cheaper than the evening ones. Find the restaurants in slightly less obvious places. It's always a good idea asking locals for ideas – most will be glad to share their personal favourites with you! If you're looking to save money, what could be nicer than a fresh baguette and some cheese from the supermarket to be enjoyed in a park or jardin. If you want to be a little more adventurous, boulangeries always offer other delicious things you can't buy at home at small prices.

In bars and restaurants, there is also a suprising amount of money to be saved on your choice of drink! Again, follow the locals' example: drink wine! Wine in France is a lot cheaper than elsewhere, especially the UK – you'll be suprised that its almost the cheapest drink behind the bar. It's also worth noting that if you're drinking beer, of course a pression is cheaper than the bottled stuff.

Spending a nice evening chez soi with some friends is also an option to be seriously considered. Booze is far cheaper in the French supermarkets than it is in the UK, so why not make the most of it. In the supermarkets you can get lovely bottles of wine for well under €5, and with a couple of cheeses, a pâté and a sauccison, you'll be set to have a great time on the cheap! Do as the French do and get everyone to bring something along – it'll soon be un vrai apéro-dînatoire!

If you're in rural France, there's no nicer experience than buying wine direct from the vineyard. To find the best quality wine for the best value, avoid the roadside stores but go directly to the domains of smaller vineyards.

 

A final note on food shopping: If you want to save money on your groceries, notice that in France it's all about finding what's in season!

 

Accomodation and the CAF Finding any accomodation in France can be a nightmare, let alone finding a place with good rent! (If you need advice on how to go about looking for somewhere read our 'Guide to getting set up in Paris'). However, it's well worth considering a flatshare (or colocation) if you want to get more for your money! In a colocation, for the same price as you would have paid for a 9 metres squared attic studio, you can find yourself in a shared flat with a kitchen, sitting room and proper bathroom, all in addition to your own bedroom. Flat sharing is also a great way to meet people. When I moved to Paris, I knew almost no one, but once I found a colocation with a lovely French girl, (on appartager.com), I quickly started to feel more at home, meeting her friends and other people through a gym class she took me along to. It's a great way to immerse yourself.

 

The CAF (Caisses d'Allocations Familiales) is also something to sort out straight away if you are a student. Its a significant grant which the French government gives to to all students to help fund their accomodation. The amount depends on your income, but as long as you are a contracted tenant, you should be eligable with any type of rented accomodation – including flat shares, student residences, rented rooms and private studios. The application process can be complicated and administration in France can be painfully slow, but if you are planning on renting accomodation in France for an extended period of time, it's well worth the effort, the sums are significant! You need a French bank account though, so arranging that is the first step to getting it sorted. Here's a blog which gives a few useful tips. Here is a link to the website where you can apply online.

 

Getting around the city: If you're living in a big city, find out about local travel options. It may well be worth investing in a bus or metro pass. In Paris, this comes in the form of a Navigo. If you're in Paris for over two months, it's definitely worth getting one (a ticket is only valid until the end of the month, at whatever point you buy it). You can buy a Navigo pass in any large metro station with an office. If you have proof of residence in Paris you can get the card itself for free and then pay for the month's pass, they will take a photo for you on the spot! If you don't have proof residence, you will also need to bring your own identity photo and pay about €5 for the card itself. If you're a student and staying in Paris for over six months, the Imagin R pass will help you save a lot on transport, but also on other things. It offers discounts on events and restaurants. Find out more at imagine-r.com

 

Travelling around France for less: If you are planning on travelling by train, make sure you buy tickets in advance: like everywhere, they're cheap if you book them months in advance but really expensive if you do it last minute! If you want a cheaper alternative, why not try out France's huge car-sharing network. The biggest and most user friendly website is probably carpooling.fr, but 'Bla bla car' also has cheap journeys to offer at covoiturage.fr.

Destinations: If you're looking to travel around France, trying regions a little off the beaten track is a great way to see the country for less. If you're tempted by Normandy or Brittany, this area of France can still be relatively good value – it has seen a decline of holiday-makers from the UK as a result of the growing popularity of the Mediterranean. (However, choose carefully – iconic places like Deauville where I found myself this summer continue to be hors de prix! Places further south which are less frequented offer equally wonderful landscapes without the extortionate rates found in the most popular spots. A beautiful alternative to the Luberon or the Var can be found in the Languedoc, or just north in the Drome. The countryside of this area is beautiful, characterised by its striking lavander fields and hilly landscapes; it is hardly visited by tourists at all. The Lot is another hidden gem – a great alternative to the Dordogne (much cheaper), and if it's the coast you're drawn to, there are hoards of great alternatives to the expensive Cote d'Azur! Less well known destinations include the west coast of the Vendée and even some of the areas further south around Biarritz.


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