For years, I dreamed of Paris. I wanted to stroll along the Seine, buy fresh baguettes every morning, come ‘home’ with fresh flowers, indulge in fine wine, chocolates, and rolled cigarettes. But most importantly, I wanted to fall in love. I’m a hopeless romantic, complete emphasis on the hopeless part. Year after year I gave up that dream because someone talked me out of leaving, then we bought a house, then we had kids. It was never going to be a trip we could afford and therefore, year after year the idea of me actually going was starting to fade. Imagine the feeling that came over me when my husband and I were browsing airline tickets and he announces “done, now let’s go to bed.” Just like that. I cried that night and again in the morning. In fact, I cried my first day in Paris because I was finally in Paris. It was everything I had dreamed of and more. It was finally a trip I could afford, with two kids and just for kicks, we threw in Barcelona. Our grand total, $3,000 if that. I know, insane but here I’ll show you three ways to do Paris on a budget and Barcelona if you please. Bare with me, this will be long.
Airfare IS Expensive
But not as much as you might think. First, get yourself a miles rewards card. I know, it sounds insane and I would never suggest anyone get a credit card (I hate debt) but in this case, it is worth it. The tip is to put everything that you would put on your debit on this card without spending a penny more. At the end of the month, pay your balance in full (from your debit hence, why you cannot spend more than what you have in there). If not, you’ll pay so much in interest, you’re not really saving anything. It took us almost a year to save up enough miles. Next, go during the “low” season when tickets are $400-$600 less. We went in March, the weather was chilly but not insanely cold. We are from Chicago so our tolerance is high, take that into consideration. Ultimately, we chose Turkish Airlines. It flew past Paris, stopped in Istanbul and then took us back but after using our miles, and the $636 ticket, we paid $123 out of pocket for two adults, one child, and a baby. The longer travel time was worth the savings in our opinion.
Live Like a Local
We went for a one bedroom apartment that we found on AirBnb. It was in the 18th. It was far from tourist attractions but close to great cafes, shops, and restaurants. We lived like locals. I made breakfast every morning. I know it doesn’t seem like a vacation to have to cook but try going to three restaurants a day for two weeks with two kids. No thanks. In fact, I made dinner every night too. Meals were simple, and made fresh from things we bought on our way “home”. We had lunch out every day and made sure we bought as many pastries and as much wine as my happy heart could handle. And forget cabs, we took one once because we were drained and it was a bit pricey. We took the train everywhere, surprisingly it was easier than we thought and cost as much as the cab. But be aware of pick pockets, it is very common in Europe.
Avoid the Tourist Trap
Macarons at Ladurée are exactly what everyone says they are and yes, we splurged once but my macaroon fix was in Montmartre where a pack of six was under $6 and just as addicting IMO. Anything near major tourist attractions is going to cost you sometimes three times as much as it would anywhere else. The best coffee usually comes from a small mom and pop shop farther out anyway. Even restaurants were insanely priced near the Louvre, a Pris Fix menu was over $30 for an appetizer, main dish, and desert, more if you wanted something fancier. I had mussels in white wine sauce, steak frites and chocolate mousse in the 6th. It was $10. Beware of the “Authentic Greek” restaurants that are near the Notre Dame cathedral, they are good but not authentic. You might as well go to Taco Bell for authentic Mexican food.
Other easy tips, of course, includes not buying souvenirs, packing light, researching free museums (Sundays after 3 but everything else is closed) and activities, we also did a lot of parks for the kids, and just going with the flow. We went with no plan, no purpose, no guide. My little ones enjoyed themselves, I fell in love…with the city and my husband ( the usually non-romantic man who for once didn’t mind publicly smooching his wife every chance) all over again, every day and every night. And yes, I am still in love but I miss it every day.