Paris is a dream. Movies have always portrayed it to be one of the most romantic cities in the world, but surveys have also shown it to be among the most expensive.
Being a solo parent with kids and bills, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to go to Paris in the near future. If I did, I wouldn’t go there for the fashion or the food. I’d just see the city, smell the flowers and air, hear how they speak, get a sense of how they live!
I first went online to skyscanner.com.ph. The website consolidates airfare offers from dozens of airlines around the world. When I searched for Manila to Paris flights for Christmas vacation, I found a two-way airfare of P25,000 per passenger.
I said, hmm, okay, mmmmmaybe I can manage that! But how much would the rest of the trip cost?
For the hotel, I went to the usual online resources: tripadvisor.com, Expedia, Agoda, Booking, Airbnb and a host of other sites for hotels and hostels.
None of the usual frills: breakfast, airport transfer, facilities like a restaurant, pool, gym or what not. All I wanted was a crashing place, with room and shower heater, and near enough to the train station.
In the end, hotels.com found me Hotel de L’Europe, a quaint little traveler’s inn that gave me a solo room, heating and my toilet. It had free unlimited wi-fi and TV with cable. The hot shower was a single room outside with a lock.
It wasn’t a motel located in a red light district. The hotel was located one minute away from the train station, with banks, fruit and meat shops, bakeries and a Chinese viand or "ulam" store around the corner. The hotel cost ?9,800 for four nights.
So about six weeks away from target departure date, the airfare and hotel cost around ?35,000.
The French embassy required travel insurance for the whole stay in Paris. Asking the embassy for referrals, I got travel insurance from Standard Insurance at a building near it, for about ?1,200.
I called the French embassy for the soonest interview schedule and paid roughly ?3,600 for the visa application. Two days later, the Schengen visa was granted. I was going to Paris!
But wait, with about four weeks left, would the airfare and hotel still cost the same?
They didn’t. Then, four days before the trip, I got the Skyscanner email alert. Airfare was just over ?26,000. Spending a bit more for flight insurance, my total bill came up to just over ?29,000 round-trip. In five minutes, I booked the plane ride. To Paris!
The hotel was gratefully still available. Booked that in another five minutes.
I brought pocket money in Euros which was about P60 to €1 at the time. My thought was that it had to be pocket money I could earn back in less than one paycheck. So I brought about €200 equivalent to some ?12,000, some U.S. dollars and pesos for the local airports then some more in debit/ATM/cash cards and credit cards, for emergencies. Then I flew to Paris!
At this point, the cost of visa, airfare, and hotel cost about ?43,600. But I still had food, transport, tickets and incidentals to consider.
Consulting friends and looking up the many articles on the most economical ways to get around Paris led me to a few guiding insights: that Paris is actually a small city best experienced on foot, as long as you are young enough and able; and, the cheapest way to get around is by train, their Metro.
So for a trip of less than a week, one would best get a carnet, 10 tickets to most of the trains, with a discount of 27% from the regular ticket price. This was around €13.30 or about P800. I got these at the airport. I also had to get airport transfer tickets, by train, eventually costing me €9 about P1,000.
Also for sale at the airport’s Tourism Office was a Museum Pass, a card that allows access to the top sites of Paris (Louvre, Champs Elysees, Arc d'Triomphe, Muse d’Orsay and about 60 other landmarks, museums and monuments except the Eiffel Tower), most times without queuing. The four-day Museum Pass cost €39 or about P2,600. It was worth it, although I suspect it was a way of ensuring you get what you pay for by making it to many of those tourist spots. You can do without the Museum Pass if you don’t have at least two hours to enjoy each tourist spot.
I also downloaded the Paris train app. There are many, but I chose the app that allowed me access even offline. Nevertheless, for emergencies, I got a prepaid SIM card for €8 or P500.
As for food, bakeries were all over the place, offering sandwich and drink combos for less than €4 or P200. I would usually choose a baguette of cheese or chicken, with tomatoes and lettuce. It’s probably a foot long, so half a sandwich per meal was enough. Or Chinese food would cost €2 or P100. I bought a big bottle of water from the corner store and brought it around with me in my bag everyday.
Finally, for pasalubong, I got those Eiffel Tower keychains from the French-African guys outside the monuments. It was five pieces for €1 or P60. I got 30 pieces, with a few more freebies thrown in.
So for everything, I was able to go to Paris, get around, eat and keep hydrated, rest warm, clean up, travel well and secure, all in under P55,000! Other things like the special hot chocolate and coffees from landmarks, books, French chef’s dinner, special toys and trinkets, are luxuries on which I felt I could splurge just a little bit more.
During the trip, I learned so much about the French people, their history and culture, the daily experiences of Parisians. I got a taste of their food from the markets, appreciate their art from big museums as well as small streets, and sample fashion from luxury brands to little-known shops.
It was in this first trip to Europe that I saw through the French’s eyes how Asia, America and other continents seemed, their sense of education, actual business, transport systems and real life! It was all so different from ours and yet, I realize many common traits among countries. This is the wealth of insight and information that travel brings that I savor and relish. And dream more of.
I share with you my solo budget trip to Paris because many of us likely share the dream of going to, what some say is, the most romantic city in the world. And I wanted to tell people that, whether you go with someone or not, you will fall in love.
I fell in love with Paris. But more importantly, I did not hate myself afterwards. I had more to love in myself – I was true to myself and kept loyal to my priorities as a family woman, by staying within the budget.