Travel Tuesday: How to Afford to Go

I have been obsessed with going to Paris my whole life. I mean, seriously, forever. In junior high school, along side posters of Rick Springfield and Prince in my bedroom, I also had posters of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. True story.

And yet, year after year, I convinced myself that I couldn't afford to go. Plans would come up and there'd be talk amongst me and my whatever boyfriend I had at the time, but time after time, it never happened. There was the possibility of going during college for one of those abroad programs, but since I was paying for myself to go through school, I couldn't ever afford to leave my job for a whole semester. It just never happened. Fast forward to 2009, and off I went at the ripe old age of 38.

How did I make it happen? I mean, I had just published my book, was working part-time, and was headed more and more into a life of freelance. It was the least stable I'd been for a long time. The reason it happened is simple: I made it happen. My biggest pet peeve when I tell people about our long annual vacations is when they reply with, "Oh, you're so lucky!" Nope, there's no luck about it my friend. I didn't win a lottery or a prize, I worked and saved and budgeted and planned for this to happen. And you can too!

The reality is that no matter what time of the year you go, the most expensive part of the experience is your plane ticket. There are better times of the year to go, for example, my fall trip was cheaper than either spring or winter, and I've heard some horror stories of how costly it can be in the summer. So once you get over the shock of the plane ticket, the rest is much easier to swallow.

Given that your plane ticket is the biggest expense, it only makes sense to stay as long as you can once you get there. That sounds like it goes against logic, as each day there costs money for lodging and food, but each day's total gets less and less expensive when the cost of the flight is averaged over more days. For comparison, our fall tickets were around $1,000, both spring tickets were around $1,300, and winter was closer to $1,400. The winter trip would have been cheaper had it not been just prior to the December holidays.

After you've decided on the length of time, the time of year, and have booked your flight, it's time to find a place to stay. If you are staying longer than 3 days, (which lordy, I hope you are!) I highly recommend staying in an apartment. In Paris, and I can only assume that it's true in other cities as well, there are a tremendous number of agencies that lease apartments for short-term vacation rentals. The most commonly known one is Air BnB, which seems to have locations in every corner of the world. I've used them for other cities and it was always very easy.

Apartment living is cheaper for many reasons. Mainly, because you can cook many of your own meals! Even if your hotel offers free breakfast, there's no comparison cost-wise to eating in versus eating out. And eating in doesn't have to mean eating in the apartment! We packed leftovers or made sandwiches for picnics and park bench eating while out sight seeing.

Another perk, though not a financial one necessarily, is that staying in an apartment is living like a local. You can go to the neighborhood boulangerie, stay in on a rainy night and cook dinner and read, and have your new local friends over for dinner! It's just simply way more fun to stay in an apartment.

There are a few things to look out for when renting a through an agency though, mainly fees, deposits,  and cleaning costs. Use the internet to search the agency to make sure to only use reputable sources. I've never rented anything from Craigslist and don't plan to, as I'd prefer to use some sort of organized insured agency, even if it means more money. The security is worth it.

For a point of reference, the apartment we stay in* is 1600 Euros for five weeks. That makes it 43 Euros a night, for 37 nights, or 21.5 Euros per person (as there are two of us) per night, which at a rate of 1.3 makes it $27.95 per person, per night. Yep, apartment living is cheaper! Seriously, try finding a great hotel for that price!

Other expenses, once you've booked your flight and apartment are now entirely up to you. Of course you will choose to eat :) and if you're staying in an apartment, there are no shortage of outdoor markets to shop at. The cost of food at the markets (and as pictured above, they even run in the snow!) and at the grocery store I find to be very comparable to what I pay in Los Angeles. Some things are cheaper, some things are more expensive, but most are about the same. Now, I recognize that the cost of living in Los Angeles is probably higher than other places, so if you live somewhere inexpensive, perhaps it would feel more costly. But for us, it was seriously no different. Culture can cost money, though there are a ton of things to do for cheap or on free days, etc. and I will talk a lot more about that in future posts. Trust me, there is a lot to on the cheap!

So how do I really do it? Pay rent in two cities, go on unpaid leave from work, rent an apartment, and fly away to Paris for 5 weeks every year? I am careful with my money and plan and budget for it. This year my book 100% paid for it, so I'll be honest about that. And the year we went in the winter, my flight was $80 because I hoard my frequent flyer miles like Scrooge himself! But other than that, it was simple budgeting and making it a priority. I do not have cable, I do not belong to a gym, I live in a small one-bedroom apartment, I rarely eat out, and I'm just simply careful about money. Because going to Paris every year is important in my life. It's that simple!

How about you? Do you jet away for long periods of time? How to you pay for it? Share any secrets with me and the other readers! And if anyone has specific questions about all of this, bring them on!

*We are now friends with our landlord and no longer use an agency. This relationship has been developed over many years and we protect our landlord's privacy, so please do not ask me for the information on our specific place. Thank you!

All photos taken by me.