I just got back from my first trip to Paris- it was 7 days, it was epic and most of all, it was cheap. I enjoyed the whole trip for less than $1000 for EVERYTHING. And when I say everything, I mean everything. I know what you’re thinking… No, I didn’t book my flight with points- I actually paid money for it. And no, I didn’t crash with a friend- I rented an apartment! At this point, you have to be dying to know, so keep reading to find out exactly how I was able to travel to Paris for cheap.
Round trip basic economy ticket – Iowa (MLI) to Paris (CDG)
$592 is an unbelievable price to fly internationally from my local airport. To give you some context, a normal round trip ticket for me to go home to California is ~$500 and that’s flying within the same country! If you’re near a major airport, I am certain that with some digging, you can get an even cheaper flight. (My sister booked her ticket from SFO for about $300!)
Here are some tips on finding cheap flights:
1. Plan and book strategically
- Book during the off-season and after the holidays – For traveling, the off-season falls during the wintertime (about November through March). However, keep in mind that flights around the holiday season are often inflated. That being said, experience has taught me that January through March are the best months to find cheap flights. My trip to Paris took place in early February. Yes, it was cold, BUT I thoroughly enjoyed saving hundreds of dollars on my ticket AND the opportunity to interact with more locals and avoid crowds of tourists. (To stay warm (and stylish) despite the cold, I came up with this packing list which you can use if you plan to travel in the winter).
- Travel on the right days – In case you haven’t noticed, prices are cheaper when there is less demand. For that reason, you should consider traveling on weekdays instead of on the weekend. I always see delicious routes/deals that fly out on a Thursday and return on a Monday. If your schedule is flexible, try it out!
2. Use the right search tools
- Google Flights – by far my FAVORITE tool when planning trips. Why? Because it’s extremely user-friendly and allows you to easily try out multiple different possibilities. Using google flights, you can do things like search from multiple airports at the same time or use the calendar function to identify what date changes can get you a cheaper ticket. Just remember that there are a few airlines (like Southwest) which Google Flights cannot pull up (so you will have to search those separately).
- Momondo – lesser known but also user-friendly and somehow always finds the cheapest flights. While planning this trip, my sister found her $300 ticket using Google Flights but when she was ready to book, the ticket disappeared (or ran out we don’t know). We panicked and jumped on Momondo and actually found a ticket with a better itinerary and a similar price!
3. Stay flexible & Pack light
- Consider traveling from nearby airports. In the case that you live closer to a small or regional airport like me, you should consider looking for flights coming from your nearest major airport. If the ticket from my home airport hadn’t been so cheap, I could have considered driving 2-3 hours to Chicago to catch a flight (which I have done before for amazing savings).
- If you can learn to pack light, you can save a lot of money. Several airlines have introduced the “basic economy ticket” with which you can fly internationally on a deep discount. One of the catches is that you may only be allowed a personal item (like a handbag). I booked United’s basic economy ticket and for Transatlantic flights, they allow you to bring a carry-on for free. I planned carefully and fit everything I needed (and more) into a carry on and handbag. Check out my packing lists here to see how I did it!
- The other catch to the basic economy ticket is that you can’t pick your own seat ahead of time. If you can be flexible and endure this inconvenience, you can save some money. Luckily, not being able to pick my seat wasn’t a big deal this time around. There was hardly anyone on my flight due to the time of year I was flying! I had a window seat with no one sitting next to me on the way there and an aisle seat with no one sitting next to me coming back! I got to lay down and watch movies- it was absolutely glorious.
4. Stay on the lookout (aka Have someone else do the work)
Sign up for newsletters and groups that will automatically alert you about cheap flights (or traveling tips). My top 3 travel newsletters/groups are:
- Scott’s Cheap Flights – Scott and his team search the web 24/7 for deeply discounted international deals and then send out free flight alerts. Recently, they sent an email about a flight to Nigeria for 600-ish bucks! I could hardly believe my eyes.
- “Travel Community” Facebook group – outstanding travel tips and advice
Four person capacity AirBnb = $716 / 4 = $180
My general philosophy regarding accommodations while traveling is: I DON’T need it to be luxurious, but I DO need it to be comfortable, clean and cheap (the three C’s ha!) I will also add that I need it to be very safe. I’m not the type of girl that’s going to couch surf or camp. To be honest, I think hostels are kind of sketchy too! I like to save money but I like being alive more- sorry not sorry!
All of these things considered, my usual strategy is to rent an apartment.
For this trip, I booked a four bed apartment on Airbnb, with three of my friends/family. The apartment consisted of a queen sized bed and queen sized sofa bed, bathroom, kitchen, tv and heat. It was in a safe neighborhood in one of the arrondisements and located right in front of a tram stop. Conveniently, it was also next door to a small grocery store and short walking distance from bakeries, bars, cafes and restaurants.
Tips on booking affordable accommodation:
- While I do enjoy the occasional hotel rendezvous, apartments have almost always been cheaper for me to book than hotels. My go to for booking apartments are: AirBnb and Booking.com. Booking.com has a neat tool where you can select “star rating and price” and it will show you the properties in order of highest star rating + lowest price combo.
- If you don’t mind sharing your space, you can save money by traveling with other people you trust and dividing your accommodation costs.
- Read Reviews (which seems to be my motto for everything). People usually comment on the value of the property (its cleanliness, the area, the host, etc). If you use AirBnb, look for a property posted by a “Super Host”. Super hosts tend to have a long-standing reputation for superior accommodation and hosting.
Carnet (Set of 10 Tickets) – €14.90 + Cab From the Airport (split between 3) – €17 + Uber to the Airport (split between 2) – €16
Paris runs on public transportation and it is by far the cheapest way to get around. We exclusively used public transportation except in two instances: taking a cab from the airport (expensive) and an Uber on our way back, for convenience sake.
There are four types of public transports: the metro, tram, buses and RERs. There are also many types of tickets you can buy, all of which you can learn about at THIS blog.
At the advice of our airbnb host, we purchased a Carnet, which is a book of ten transport tickets. It is super flexible and can be used for all types of transport. It is also easy to purchase and very reasonably priced at 14.90 euros.
Combined with a lot of walking, I only purchased one carnet for the trip.
(approx) Breakfast – €12 + Lunch – €40 + Dinner – €55 + Snacks/Coffee – €20
We did not eat luxuriously, but we did eat a lot. My goal was to spend about 10-15 euros per day on food. The second goal was to indulge in a really nice meal only twice.
To accomplish this, our breakfasts were made at home or consisted of 1-2 euros worth of pastries. We bought fresh eggs which we cooked and ate with croissants (which are 1 euro or less) or with baguettes (which are less than 2 euros and can be shared by the entire group over two days if need be).
For lunch, we stuck with local eateries. You can find “French tacos” or “sandwiches” for about 5-7 euros almost everywhere and they are very filling. On multiple occasions, we actually shared a single entree (like a local pizza) for lunch (we all felt that the portions in Paris were very reasonable).
For dinner, we did different things based on our appetite or cravings. On one occasion, my sister and I just decided to take ourselves on a Boulangerie (bakery) tour and just ate a different pastry from each bakery we passed. (I’m surprised I haven’t turned into a pastry myself already). On another occasion, we craved a taste of home and bought groceries like the locals and cooked at our airbnb. On two occasions as planned, we splurged and ate out at nice sit down restaurants in fun neighborhoods we found!
(For beverages, I don’t drink anything but water and the occasional coffee).
- Baguettes, croissants and other breakfast foods are very cheap
- French “tacos” and sandwiches are very cheap and under 10 euros- popular local food
- Share large entrees
- Stick to water (more hydrating and you can bring and refill your own bottle)
- Cook and eat at least one meal at your place of residence
- Leave buffer room in your food budget to enjoy crepes, teas, coffees, macarons- all the yummy things that you will encounter
Ticket to the Louvre – €17
There is LOTS to do in Paris on the cheap! You don’t even have to be that creative- many of Paris’ attractions can be enjoyed without paying.
For example, we enjoyed all of the following activities (and more) for free:
- The Eiffel Tower (we didn’t climb it and frankly, weren’t interested)
- The Arc de Triomphe
- Champs de Elysees
- Passage de Panorama
- The nightlife of Montmartre Boulevard
- Fontaine Saint-Michel and the bookstores and nightlife of the 5th arrondisement
- The flea market at Porte de Clignancourt (Les Puces de Saint-Ouen)
- Chatelet (and pop up shops nearby)
- Notre Dame (our free tour inside is one of my favorite trip memories)
The only thing that we paid for was entrance into the Louvre and to be honest, if we planned more meticulously, WE WOULDN’T HAVE HAD TO PAY! Let me explain…
On the first Saturday of every month, the Louvre opens its doors for free from 6pm – 9:45pm (arrive early and double check with the Louvre website). Unfortunately for us, we had thought the free entrance was Sunday (which it was right up until the month before we got to Paris) and by the time we realized the change, it was too late. The price is still very reasonable though; I’d pay 17 euros to enter again in a heartbeat.
Magnet: €3.50 + Beret: €5
You don’t have to go on a shopping spree just to commemorate your travel to Paris. There are a ton of affordable things that you can buy to remind you of the good times you had. Try picking just one or two items because let’s face it, you have your pictures and memories which will outlast all of the materialistic things.
I chose to buy a magnet because I collect them. I also bought a beret because isn’t there something just so Parisian about a beret? I’m going to have an epic story to tell whenever I wear it.
GRAND TOTAL: $997.60
That’s it ladies and gentleguys! That is how I was able to travel to Paris on the cheap!
After I booked my plane ticket, I was inspired to design this trip specifically to show anyone reading that you don’t need an exorbitant budget to travel to Paris. Traveling and connecting with different cultures is so important and I hope everyone can partake in some way or another.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below! I’ve saved my receipts(!) and I’d love to hear from you guys!
And as always, if you like this post, share, share & share!