Saving Time and Money in France

Baguette lunches: Between driving 6600 km (4125 miles) in 3 weeks and hiking where the shops don't shine, our lunches tended to be on-the-go. A couple of baguettes, ranging in cost at 0.48 EU to 1.10 EU with soft creamy cheeses of 1.10 EU to 3.50 EU (Camembert, Brie, Chevre, Roquefort etc), and/or a spread (ham, duck pates, sausages, pepper, aubergine spreads) made for quick lunches. Burgundy raisins went well on top of the baguette and cheese. We carried along with us an insulated bag that we got for $1 purchased back home to keep cold our cheeses when placed with frozen bottles of water. We gladly consumed the cold water afterwards.

Grocery Store Exploring: This is one of our favorite past times when arriving in a new place. Local specialties, pastries, desserts, sauces (strong mustards, bourguignonne sauce, aubergine pepper aoli) and in the case of France, baguettes and soft cheeses. We tend to rent apartments (Airbnb mostly in France) with a kitchen, so we take advantage of it by cooking dinners and enjoying yogurts (yaourt sucre, yaourt brasse, yaourt natural, frommage blanc, petit suisse) and pastries (kroug amand, cannale, pain du chocolate, croissants, crepes) in the mornings. Peaches, raspberries and juicy Burgundy raisins made good sides for our morning meals too. Dinners I made with pork belly (I love pork belly) with some herbes-du-Provence seasoning and of course some cayenne pepper (I can't really truly love something if it is not spicy; one of the reasons why eating out doesn't appeal to me as much as it should a person who loves to eat), or some braised beef bourguignonne style with a side of creamy mustard mashed potatoes or pasta sauced up with Aubergine pepper aoli mixed with Tomato sauce a la Provencal. In Toulouse, we sampled some escargot. In Meribel, we made do with noisette (the potato balls we got in the frozen section of the grocery stores that cooks up easily in the oven). All dinner cooking were done while the kids showered, so when they're done with showering, dinner is ready. And they are ready for bed after dessert. Dinner takes anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour to prepare along with a salad. There were many different vinaigrettes to try out, and my mustard-loving husband made vinaigrettes with the different types of mustards he found topped with some very economical mozarella cheese balls (0.48 EU to 0.70 EU).

Each night, we sampled a wine bottle or two from each of the different regions. Sometimes, back home, when we purchase inexpensive wine, we paid for it the next morning with a headache. Not in France. Wines we got ranged from 3-6EU and none of them gave us headaches, and I always managed to get a really good night's sleep with them. I worked in France while in college for a summer, and had learned that the French in Lyon drank their wine with cassis (black currant) syrup . As someone who doesn't always like the taste of wine (but appreciate the effect), this was a perfect solution. Some cassis syrup made everything more palatable. In Dijon, we tried Creme of Cassis, which is a liquer of the currant cassis. It tasted strong (16% alcohol) but went well diluted with some water or some ice. To be clear, I am not against eating in restaurants when there is something special to be had but we save (time and money) on not eating out for each and every meal.

Escargot de Carrefour
Escargot de Carrefour

We picked up the rental car from CDG airport after reserving and paying via AutoEurope online a few days earlier. The cost was $683 paid in full for the smallest 5-seater car I could find, including super coverage insurance ($0 deductible for any damage to the car) for 20 days. It was a petrol fueled (essence) car. It fit us comfortably, along with our 5 backpacks, tightly with the addition of 2-3 reusable bags of clothing, and 1-2 bags of food. The car was from Hertz, whose rate was $1500 if reserved directly. You could reserve ahead of time (a few months ahead) directly with a car rental company as a backup, choose to pay at the counter which allowed for free cancellation should a more desirable car rental price attract your attention. You could also reserve with AutoEurope a few months in advance, but last I checked they required immediate payment. We opted to return the car the day we got into Paris and explore Paris by foot and public transport. I am glad we did after seeing 6 to 8 roads converging onto a roundabout fairly regularly.

I booked accommodations early. I believe that booking early will allow me to book the less expensive accommodations with good ratings before they are gone. But that could be my non-spontaneous self talking (Hubby calls me a pre-crastinator). The apartments we stayed in were mostly through Airbnb and on average came to less than $90 per night. In France, more so than in other places, there is an expectation that the guest will do some work to help clean up after themselves in exchange for no cleaning charges (even in the timeshare property we stayed in). There is usually an instruction sheet telling you what to do before you leave. Like taking out the garbage, vacuuming, removing the sheets/towels and placing in a pile, pretty much leaving the place in the same state as you found it. Another difference with airbnbs in France vs other places is that little supplies are provided (i.e. dish soap, toilet paper, paper towel). Usually if it is provided, only one small roll of it will be provided. I also found that French hosts are not always willing to wait for you. Given that we were driving and we didn't know what challenges the road may hold for us, I gave our hosts an hour time range that we would arrive. Most times, they would arrive somewhere in the middle of the time requested or be there but leave before the time period is over. I appreciate that it's not fun to wait, but being a host, I would think that it is part of the job. As hosts, you're better equipped to wait either in your car or in the apartment than your guests who have travelled long and far to arrive only to have to wait on the street with all their bags. Or better still, have a lockbox so that check-in can be done without you being there in person. Anyway, that is my rant about French Airbnb hosts. Once there, they're usually quite personable. As for prices of accommodations, I did have one instance where the price went down (a timeshare in Meribel booked via but I managed to get the difference refunded due to their Low Price Guarantee policy.

A gite in the Loire Valley
A gite in the Loire Valley

I pre-purchased tickets anytime i could. Probably the pre-crastinator in me talking again. Sometimes it did cost $1-2 more for a convenience fee, but the time it saved us from standing in line made it worth the trouble. Like the Louvre where the line was easily double our reserved tickets line, but did not move when the museum opened, as ours did. At the caves of ancient art, many do Not allow same day ticket purchases. Of course pre-purchased tickets also locks you into the time slot that you choose. So you will have to find a happy balance between planning, spontaneity and saving time.

Cash: We exchanged some money before leaving home at the bank so we would have something to fall back on, should something come up that required cash. I have found that the exchange rates we got back home at a bank was not as good as the rates we got when we used our credit card (one that did not charge foreign transaction fees - Capital One and Costco Citi cards are two that did not charge a foreign transaction fee when we used it in summer of 2018). We also opened a no-fee account with Charles Schwab to get a debit card that did not charge use fees, and reimbursed any ATM fees charged by the other bank. The rates on the Charles Schwab were also better than the rate we got exchanging money at the bank back home.

For those who are budget conscious, as we are, our trip came to just about USD$9,000, including airline tickets, car rental for 20 days, fuel, tolls, 23 nights of accommodations, food, public transport to/from Paris airport, tickets to attractions, and anything else I may have forgotten to mention. If you have been reading my blog, you'll notice that our travel style is usually very budget conscious, eating mostly home cooked meals (though we splurge on grocery shopping, spending on wines, desserts, pastries, cheeses and any other specialty items I can lay my eyes on), and walking whenever possible (mostly to get a feel of a place first hand, but to be completely honest, sometimes so I don't have to figure out the inner workings of the local transit).

The total cost for our 23 day trip for our family of five, 6600 km (4125 miles), 10 stops along the way, came to:

$3650 for 5 return airline tickets on budget airline Norwegian Airlines
$2100 including local taxes paid onsite
Car rental:
$683 plus $90 local tax
550 EU
214 EU
33 EU
532 EU + $56 (meal at airport)
Tickets to attractions:
211 EU (same day tickets)+ USD$312 (prepurchased tickets)
65 EU (mostly for magnets to add to my collection)
Train tickets to and from airports:
116EU + $45
USD$6936 + 1721 EU (about USD$2152) = USD$9088