9 Ways to Save Money while Traveling in France
A trip to France may not immediately sound like a cost-saving opportunity, but there are always ways to make your dollar go further, and without sacrificing any must-have experiences. With the money you save you could spend more time traveling and make the most of your trip. Read on to learn 9 tips to save money while traveling in France.
1. Visit France during the off-season
Flights and accommodations are substantially less expensive during “shoulder season”- the months just before and just after peak tourist season in July/August. Not only will you save on travel costs during May/June and September/October, but you will avoid hoards of tourists and there are plenty of activities one can do should the weather choose not to cooperate. Click here to read more about what you can do on a rainy day in France. Being somewhat flexible in your arrival and departure dates can also help save money on airfare, and sites like Google Flights can help you find the lowest fare for a range of dates.
2. Drive instead of taking a train or plane
Especially if you are traveling as a group or family, driving yourself in Europe can be much more cost-efficient than purchasing train tickets for airfare for a number of individuals. Not to mention, transportation to and from an airport or train station can add up. A single taxi ride in a major city in Europe can equal what it would cost to rent your own car for a whole day.
Flights within Europe sometimes advertise extra-low prices but oftentimes those fares won’t even include overhead space for your carry-on baggage. Some trains don’t offer secure storage for large baggage, leaving you to personally guard your belongings in the aisle for what could be multiple hours. If you are driving your own car, you are free to pack as much as can fit, and you have the freedom to re-configure your seats if you have oversized items. Click here for more on why it's better to drive than take a train.
3. Choose a short-term car lease instead of a long-term rental
Travelers visiting Europe from the US can save considerably when choosing a tax-free short-term lease over a traditional long-term car rental, especially for reservations longer than 10 days. Traditional car rental agencies tend to advertise low fares to get you in the door, but will upsell you required extras like inadequate insurance coverage and will surprise you with additional fees for multiple drivers, airport locations, and one-way drop offs. With Auto France, the quote you see is the price you pay, and the all-inclusive rate is exactly that. Each Auto France lease includes a brand-new Peugeot direct from the factory with full insurance coverage, 24-hour roadside assistance, unlimited mileage, and no hidden fees for airport pick-up or additional drivers. In France, there are no additional fees for one-way drop offs.
4. Stay in an Airbnb instead of a hotel
Live the real French experience by staying in a local’s home or apartment in a residential neighborhood. Staying in an Airbnb is especially cost-efficient for groups, because instead of paying for multiple hotel rooms you can save by sharing one large apartment or house. Airbnb even offers helpful in-platform tools for splitting the costs and adding additional guests to a reservation. An Airbnb host can also give you great insider tips for interesting locals-only spots, saving you money on a traditional tour guide that may have only taken you to overpriced places on the beaten path.
5. Avoid unexpected expenses by being prepared
When choosing a hotel or an Airbnb, make sure your nightly rate includes parking or that they offer parking for free. Having to pay a daily rate for parking at a hotel or a public parking lot can add up. Be aware of where you park your car, as many city streets in Europe require that you show proof of payment from a nearby meter to avoid a citation. Parking at major attractions may carry a nominal fee but will still be worth it for the freedom of visiting as you please, which could be before or after crowds of tour groups come and go.
Additionally, you can avoid fines from traffic citations by following road signs and stay within the speed limit. Many roads, highways, and city streets are monitored by camera, and traffic citations are issued to you via the car-hire company. Google maps and Waze can help show you where some speed-cameras are located so you can be prepared on your drive. Prior to hitting the road, get familiar with French road sign meanings so you don’t get cited for accidentally entering an area where vehicles are prohibited.
6. Use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or bank card that doesn’t charge ATM withdrawal fees
When traveling abroad, purchases made on credit will likely be converted to the card company’s exchange rate for that day, and additionally subject to a foreign transaction fee which usually ranges from 1% to 3% of the purchase amount. US bank cards typically charge anywhere from $3 to $8 USD for ATM withdrawals, and the ATM itself will often charge an additional fee within the same range. If making a large purchase or a number of small purchases, you can calculate if you will get a better rate including fees if you use a credit card or if you withdraw the local currency. Keep in mind that a credit card will likely offer better consumer protection benefits and it can be cancelled if lost, whereas lost cash is almost never recoverable. If you prefer to carry and spend cash while traveling, remember that an ATM will almost always charge you less in fees than an airport or in-town currency exchange, which will often hide their additional service fees in their already unfavorable rates.
7. Shop at markets or grocery stores instead of dining in restaurants
Not only is shopping at local markets and preparing your own meals a great opportunity to save money, but you will also reward yourself with the experience of interacting with locals, contributing directly to their economy, and experimenting with ingredients you might not have readily available at home. Smaller markets will typically carry local products and ingredients that are not subject to import fees. Do keep in mind that when shopping for groceries in France or other European countries, food does not last as long due to restrictions on preservatives and other artificial additives that can be common in American foods. Buy only what you would need for a few days to avoid spending money on food that will perish and be wasted.
8. Take advantage of the tax return system if you shop
Upon leaving Europe, Non-EU residents can claim a VAT (value-added tax) refund for many purchases over 175 euros. The standard VAT rate is between 12% and 20% for commercial goods, so receiving a refund can prove as an opportunity for considerable savings. Every time you make a single purchase over the qualifying amount, be sure to ask the sales clerk for the paperwork necessary to obtain your refund, and he or she will be happy to provide it as long as the store participates in the tax refund program. The paperwork is typically valid up to three months, and can be processed when leaving the EU through any French port of entry. The tax refund process is common for travelers who frequently shop in France, so be sure to give yourself ample time in the airport to process your paperwork and make it to your departure on time in the event that lines are long.
9. Save on souvenirs by taking photos as mementos
Remember your trip with a collection of photos you took rather than spending money on souvenirs that you won’t use. Snapping photos with your smartphone while traveling will serve as nice reminders of your time in France. If you can’t help but shop when you are traveling, stick to buying everyday practical items that you will actually continue to use after you return home.
Make the most of your time in France by making your dollar go further with any of the above tips. For more advice on when to visit or where to stay in France, check out the below related articles:
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