How I Arranged a Free Trip to Paris

Despite its being consistently ranked as one of the top 10 most expensive travel destinations in the world, most people yearn to wander the streets and museums of Paris.  And why not?  Its colorful culture, heroic history, amazing architecture, famous food, iconic Eiffel Tower and lovely language are enough to seduce most of us into wanting to go for a gander.

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At night, the Eiffel Tower sparkles with lights for five minutes every hour on the hour.

Unfortunately, with the average hotel around $200 per night and the average dinner out at over $50 per person, Paris may dissuade those of us with smaller incomes from ever seeing its beauty firsthand.

And yet…I arrived–and stayed–in Paris for free.  My miscellaneous expenses were small.  It is possible to see this beautiful city on a tiny budget.  How?  I’ll explain how I kept my expenses to a minimum, and hopefully you’ll be able to apply the principles toward a trip of your own–to Paris or somewhere else!  It’s just another example proving that you don’t have to have a lot of money to travel.

The Principles of an Ultra-Cheap Vacation

1.  Creative Flying

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Photo credit: Angelo DeSantis

To get to Paris, I did two things that made my trip super cheap.

First of all, Paris was a stopover on my way home from a trip to West Africa.  A stopover is a layover of more than 24 hours on an international itinerary.

In many cases, if you have a layover in a particular city, you can arrange to spend extra days there at no additional expense. This means you can basically get two vacations for the price of one!

So if you are flying to New Zealand, you might be able to arrange a stopover in Australia.  If flying to Kenya, you might be able to arrange a stopover in London.  In my case, I had a layover in Paris, so I arranged to spend three days there on the way home!

Secondly, my flight was paid for with frequent flyer miles.  So for a grand total of $86 in fees and taxes, I was able to visit not only Africa, but Europe as well–so I kind of got two vacations for the price of NONE!

 

2.  Alternative Lodging

Newsflash: hotels aren’t the only lodging option!  Fortunately for me, several months before this trip a friend made me aware of a website called globalfreeloaders.com.

It’s a community of travelers and hosts who let these travelers stay in their homes…for free.  This practice, commonly called “Couchsurfing” (thanks to the very popular and much larger website which I now use most often, couchsurfing.com) is an amazing way to get to know locals and experience a new place on an extremely low budget.

The first thing that jumps to mind for most people is the safety aspect of this type of lodging, but having done it all over the world, I can honestly say I have never had a problem nor felt threatened in any way.  I’ve even met families with children who are traveling or hosting via couchsurfing.  People are amazing and kind, and couchsurfing just reaffirms my faith in humanity again and again.  Granted, I don’t stay with just anyone.  Use common sense and check out the profile and references carefully, and if there is any hint of a red flag, avoid contact!  For more information, check out my other post on couchsurfing.

Another amazing free lodging option is house sitting.  Arrange to take care of someone’s home for them while they are away on vacation–and get a free place to stay while you visit a new city! There are many house sitting opportunities in Europe and other parts of the world at TrustedHousesitters.com.

In short, it is possible to find free lodging when you travel.  Look into couchsurfing and/or house sitting! 

 

3.  Free and Cheap Activities

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Sacre Coeur Cathedral is free to visit!

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Notre Dame Cathedral: another free attraction!

Just because you’re in a tourist city doesn’t mean you have to do all the tourist things.  Seek out things you can do for free and splurge on just one or two bigger attractions that really interest you.

One of the cool things about traveling is that when you’re in a new place, everything is a new experience!

The sounds of people walking around you, speaking their native language.

The birds flying around in the trees.

The sights and smells in the shops and marketplaces.

Even the bathrooms!

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Public bathroom on a Paris street. A new experience!

The beauty of travel is that you don’t have to spend a fortune for new and unique experiences; the mere fact that you are in a new place gives you that.  Take time to experience it!

Stroll down the streets and through the parks.

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I saw my very first Smart Fortwo in Paris! (This was 2006; the Smart Fortwo didn’t sell in the US until 2008.)

Visit the big attractions, but don’t spend the money to go inside or to the top unless it’s a big bucket list thing for you.  There are other experiences to be had!

I didn’t go up the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe…but I walked around them and admired their beauty (the Eiffel Tower at night is stunning).

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Enjoying the nighttime views of the Eiffel Tower.

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Arc de Triomphe–an impressive monument! (But very expensive to go to the top!)

I didn’t go into the Louvre Museum.  I’d like to see it someday, but with the amount of time and money I had, I decided there were other things I would rather do then.  I went into the lobby, though…

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The lobby in the Louvre Museum…made famous by Dan Brown’s novel, “The Da Vinci Code.”

I also admired the massive building from the outside.

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The Louvre is HUGE! I definitely want to see it when I have more time.

So what did I splurge on?  Well, I love trains, and Monet is one of my favorite artists (I love Impressionism), so my friend and I decided to ride the train 75 kilometers northwest to Giverny and visit Monet’s home and gardens.   We got to see some sights beyond the city and experience something we were truly interested in.  That was a good use of our euros!

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Monet’s gardens inspired many of his paintings.

4.  Picnics

Food can be terribly expensive in Paris if you eat like a tourist.  It’s not so bad, though, if you eat like a local.  For most of our meals, we shopped in the same local grocery store where our host shopped and made ourselves picnic meals.

If you’re house sitting or staying somewhere with a kitchen, you can save even more money by cooking at least some of your own meals.

 

The Last Word…

Most people don’t travel as much as they would like because they feel they can’t afford it.  However, if you’re willing to be adventurous and experience a different type of travel, it is quite easy to go almost anywhere in the world for much less than what the average tourist pays.

Do you really want to travel?  There are ways to do it!   Maybe you’ll experience things differently than the average tourist, but that doesn’t mean your experience will be any less rich.  In fact, you may have a more authentic experience than they, and come home having done and learned more than you would have thought possible.

Are you ready to try it?

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About the Author

I spent 5 years of my childhood in Mexico, became a teacher, traveled the world, married a nomad, and now run some websites and write books!