As many of you know, for my birthday present this year, I took a much needed vacation to Paris & London. I have been planning it since March and this was my first time traveling to Europe since living in Germany as a child, so I was extremely excited. Let me just start out by saying this , traveling to Europe is not cheap.
- The flights aren’t cheap although you can find discounts at times
- Converting U. S dollars or anything weaker than the Euro or Pound aren’t cheap,
- If you plan to stay at a hotel within city limits, that is not cheap.
So while I did Paris and London on a budget, this trip might not fit into everyones budget.There are cost effective ways to do it, but it will not be cheap.
1.My biggest advice is to do things in advance.
- For instance, purchase your ticket 6 months in advance (I was able to secure buddy passes for my trip saving me almost $1,000 USD),
- Pay for your hotel 3-4 months in advance. If you plan to country hop, look into purchasing these tickets this at the time. If you can choose a hotel thats nicely situated near public transportation and away from tourist areas.
- 1 month in advance, figure out what you want to do and purchase these tickets online. For instance, I did not have a clue what I wanted to do before I arrived. I ended up buying attraction and tour tickets on the ground only to find I could’ve saved 3-5 pounds on them had I bought the tickets online. This also helps you create an itinerary before hand and once you have an itinerary before hand, it is more discouraging to deviate from this itinerary and frivolously spend.
2. I recommend purchasing a pass for the Hop on Hop Off bus. After living in NY for 5 years I have become damn near intolerant of those double decker bus tours that invade Mid-Town and as of late, Brooklyn. However, this truly is one of the best ways to see the city. It’s honestly a great value for tourist who are concerned with getting lost or do not feel confident enough on trying out the local public transportation system. You learn a lot about the city and its a wonderful way to catch your bearings. Plus you know, no matter what, as long as you return to the place that you were dropped off at, you can get back to where you started. As mentioned in the previous point, buy these tickets online before you go. Here is a link to the company I used in London.
3. The next is ride public transportation. the price of Cabs rack up. While public transportation in these cities was not as affordable as it is in NYC, there are passes you can buy for a specified amount of days. I did not ride the bus, only the train, so I made sure that almost all of my activities were accesible by train. In Paris we picked up a Navigo Pass and in London we picked up an Oyster Card. I found utilizing both of these systems fairly easy and quite and enjoyable experience. However, I do live in NYC and travel by subway daily. I did take a few more cabs in London because of the location of my hotel.
4. Eat Local. Do not estimate how much this will be of your budget. You are away from home and most likely wont do much cooking. Both Paris and London are tourist hotspots. We saved money by eating at spots the locals ate rather than where the tourist ate. Every single meal doesn’t have to be an amazing experience, because guess what, vacationing in Europe is an amazing experience in itself. My hotel was located in St. Germain/ Latin Quarters of Paris and there had to be around 65 restaurants in the area. Because there were so many prices were competitive. But we also went to the grocery store and picked up items we could prepare in our room such as cereals, pastries, salads. For the price of one entree, my mother sister and I all shared a meal. I personally fell in love with Waitrose in London. And at least 5 of our meals were enjoyed at places that are probably the European equivalent to TGIF or Applebee’s.
5. Find out whats Free! A few of my most memorable experiences were free. The changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace is daily, free, and impressive. Have a picnic on the Eiffel Tower Lawn instead of going up. Take advantage of Englands semi-socialist system and visit the Museum of London which is FREE. I’m sure there are several other free attractions. I happened to have friends in Paris and having them show me parts of Paris that were similar to NYC was free and stands out as one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Other notes, do not convert money at the airport. I learned the hard way and watched my 300 USD turn into 180 Euros. The exchange rates are terrible. I recommend having a decent amount of money exchanged at your bank before you leave so that you will have something when you get there. For everything else, you can withdraw money from the BANK ATMs. Not the corner store ATMs, but the HSBC or Barclay’s ATMs. these machines will also inform you of the conversion amount giving you the option to reduce how much you would like to take out.
Do not buy souvenirs near tourist attractions. Everyone will ask you for a souvenir before you go and if you are so kind to consider these requests buy them from shops that are away form the major tourist attractions. And do not do what I did and wait to buy them Gare du Nord in Paris. I learned my lesson and bought my London souvenirs from a shop in Picadilly Circus which was about 40 Pounds cheaper for about the same amount of stuff.
And last, do not underestimate your network As I said, I was able to fly using my GodFathers buddy passes. He had so many left over last year that they expired since he and his immediate family travel free, so he was happy to give them to us. (Please do not randomly contact me asking for my Godfathers info) Also, after we booked our hotels I found out that a friend of my mother’s works at the Marriott part time and she gets significant discounts on hotel room. Ask around, you might be surprised.
Also, I have begun really taking advantage of my Citibank credit card rewards program and the rewards program on my USAA Mastercard. I am purposely using them as charge cards on everyday items and them paying them off immediately (3-5 days) so that I can wrack up extra points that will be used towards future travel.
Overall, this trip was amazing. I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity and I now have a major travel bug. My family and I have decided to travel to Hawaii next year for our family trip. For my 30th birthday trip I will be going to Ghana. So of course I will take these lessons learned, and apply them to my trip planning as well as share the progress on MyFabFico.
It feels bloody good to be home.