The Cost of Our France Travels
Sometimes I get emails or comments talking about how lucky we are to be able to make two or three trips a year around France experiencing the diversity and beauty of this lovely country. And usually there’s a statement in there about how it would be nice to have the disposable income to do so much traveling. I always have to laugh at that part of the comment because one thing is for sure – I have NO disposable income. When I lived in California, I had a thriving business and a six-figure income. But since my move to France, I lost most of my contracts due to the problems of time zones and communication breakdowns, and am as poor as a church mouse these days. In fact, I can’t ever remember being this poor as an adult. My husband retires this month with a reduced income, adding to the challenges.
So how is it we can travel? Well, fortunately, my husband has worked for SNCF (the national train system in France) for his entire life. That entitles us to virtually free train travel throughout France, and at a discounted rate in other countries. That means we never fly unless we can get one of those Easy Jet deals for 29 Euros. Another benefit is that he has access to the resorts that SNCF owns throughout France. For instance, we stayed a week in Sete on the coast in a one-bedroom apartment for 200 Euros (that’s the entire week!). Since it was a fully equipped apartment, we ate our breakfasts and cooked our dinners there, and ate lightly and cheaply at bistros for lunch. In fact, we virtually ate for the same it would have cost us to eat at home. If we don’t stay at the SNCF apartments then we stay at very inexpensive hotels – 1 or 2 stars. My requirements are a private bathroom with hot water and a clean bed. I don’t care about anything else. So, depending on the city, we spend 30 to 60 Euros per night for two people. We’re also looking into the online Home Exchange programs for the future so that we can visit other countries and stay for longer periods of time without having to pay for accommodations. We have also rented inexpensive gites in the countryside for what averages out to 20 euros per night. We never buy anything when we travel with the exception of a refrigerator magnet from each region we visit. We look for restaurants with specials or with low cost ‘menus or formulas.’ Sometimes we’ll just stop at a grocery store and pick up some items such as smoked pork deli meats, cheese, drinks or wine, yogurt, fruit, and bread and do a picnic. We often walk or else take metros or buses and never use taxis. We pack lightly so we don’t have to drag a lot of stuff with us and deal with big suitcases. If I don’t take my laptop with me (when a hotel or SNCF apartment has free WiFi), then I’ll use an internet café to check emails and monitor my work, which is very inexpensive in France. I have a credit card that does not charge commissions or transaction fees for use overseas (they are hard to find but it is possible – Capital One is one option). Since we travel for free on trains, it’s usually cheaper to rent a car for a few days at our destination than to drive, especially if it’s a full day drive just to get to the destination. Our car is old so we don’t like putting too many miles on it. Bernard’s daughter takes care of the cats for free so we don’t have pet sitter costs either.
So what did 5 days in Marseille, Toulon and the coast cost us this summer?
160 euros for hotels
129 euros for car rental for three days (drop off at different location than pick up)
50 euros for gas
15 euros for my train reservations, roundtrip
247 euros for eating out (we splurged a little more than usual)
3 euros for my magnet
601 euros Grand Total (120 euros per day for two people)
Subtract what we would have spent if we had stayed at home: 125 euros
601 minus 125 = 476 euros for five days for two people (47.5 euros per person per day)
Here’s another example:
Sete and Languedoc for one week:
200 euros for SNCF accommodations
89 euros for groceries (breakfasts and dinners and travel snacks)
179 euros for car rental
65 euros for gas
13 euros for my train reservations
156 euros for eating out
4 euros for my magnet
706 euros Grand Total Subtract what we would have spent if we stayed at home: 175 euros
706 minus 175 = 531 euros for seven days for two people (38 euros per person per day)
So there it is. These were some of our more luxurious trips. We have traveled often for much less – using the motorbike, staying at gites in the country and cooking all our meals, staying with family or friends, and just staying in cities so we didn’t need a car rental. When we go to festivals they are almost always in our region so we can do it in one day and just pay for our motorbike gas or travel free on the trains to the events. Since my income is almost existent now, I’m lucky in that my husband has been picking up most of the costs of our trips for the past year, so I’m basically traveling for free. Sometimes I feel guilty about that since I’ve totally supported myself my entire life, but there’s really nothing I can do about it until I can find additional income.
Perhaps you have found some ways to save money on your travels. Please share them in the comments. Bottom line? You don’t have to have a lot of money to travel – at least not the way we do it.