As we round the corner, my wife lets out an ear-piercing scream! Not certain whether to run or duck for cover, I scan the landscape for the clear and present danger coming our way. I see nothing except for her pointing excitedly toward something off in the distance yelling “I see it! I see it!….The Eiffel Tower!”. That response captures one of the many types of emotions Paris evokes in those who make the pilgrimage.
As is our custom, let’s get started with a little budget planning…
- Lodging – Major metropolitan cities like Paris can mean high rates in the summer. If you want to maximize your time in the city though, you’ll need to prepare to invest a little more to get a prime location.
- Transportation – Similar to our experience in London, public transit in the City of Lights is highly reliable and fairly easy to navigate with some practice. So your transit costs should be manageable.
- Meals – French cuisine is world renowned and your family would be remiss in not enjoying some of the local fare. However, there are plenty of low-cost tasty options for breakfast, lunch and dinner that won’t require you to break the bank.
- Excursions – Paris has a plethora of attractions that are more than economical. Many museums such as the Louvre are low cost for entry and there is plenty to experience just by foot. However, high ticket tours are a plenty so if you choose this route, make sure to leverage credit card reward points if you have them.
- Misc. Expenses – Souvenirs, toilettes and currency exchange fees can really eat into this budget category.
Day 1/2 – Eventful & Awe-inspiring Arrival to Paris
We boarded a late morning 2 hour Channel Tunnel train ride from London to Paris. It is a marvel enabling travelers to bypass the air and sea with a direct route between the two major cities. The actual time below the ocean is only about 20 minutes making the experience even more amazing to think about the ingenuity it took to build.
We arrived around lunchtime at the Paris Gare du Nord greeted by a rainstorm. While waiting for our Uber, we also had the pleasure of witnessing an altercation in the street. Couldn’t tell what the argument was about, but apparently the French use some of the same expletives we Americans do when in a heated discussion. What a great start to our first moments in Paris!
Thankfully, the experience improved from there as we were delivered to our AirBnB. It was situated just off a main street near a host of restaurants and theater. It was similar to many apartment complexes with small, dark lobbies matched with smaller elevators that have seen a few years. However, upon entering the room, we were more than pleased with the modern decor and two showers! The parents were again regulated to the pull out couch in the family room, but oh well.
Since most of the day was spent at this point, we decided to take a walk in search of the famed Eiffel Tower. A leisurely walk through the city is a treat in itself as you experience architecture, many languages and historic landmarks throughout the journey. The skies had cleared making it a pleasant walk minus the scream from my wife seeing the Tower for the first time. It was still another 30 minute walk from our viewpoint, but it looms so large that it is tough to miss.
We arrived to base of the Eiffel just after sunset joining thousands of other locals and tourists walking the grounds. There is an energy in that park with street vendors selling trinkets, young couples enjoying a picnic dinner and groups of friends just coming together to socialize. We found our spot on the lawn waiting for the main event that occurs around 10 pm. It’s the twinkling of the lights. The Tower being lit is a beautiful site in itself, but the twinkling takes on a magic of its own. It was a dream coming to reality that my wife had waited decades to see.
Day 1 – Journey Through History & Fine Cuisine
This day was full of exploration to immerse ourselves in all Paris had to offer. It started with a light breakfast in a cafe. Then we jump on the subway to head towards the center of the city.
One note of warning I have to share…watch out for subway ticket scams. We were attempting to purchase tickets but it didn’t seem to work. A seemingly helpful French citizen with what I thought was a transit badge kindly explained to me that the credit card unit wasn’t working. He used his badge to enter in the info and then requested $75 euros. That is what it said on the screen, but apparently it was all a rouse. We were able to use the tickets once and then they became inoperable (only getting about $12 worth of the $75 total spent). So only use the electronic ticket machines or go to the staffed ticket counters!
Next was a walk around the parks near the Eiffel tower to do some people watching and tour the aquarium. This was top on our youngest kids’ list. The Paris Aquarium isn’t large, but can be a nice place to spend an hour or two especially on a hot summer day.
The next adventure was a 3 hour guided tour of Louvre museum. I had the benefit of touring the museum myself alone during a business trip, but nothing compares to an expert detailing the finer points of the exhibits. Our guide was a Canadian expat artist who has lived in Paris for years. Having her in-depth historical knowledge about the various pieces of art really helped everything come alive. Our feet and brains were tired after the whole event, but well worth the experience.
Both the river cruise and this tour would have been pricey had we not used credit card reward points to cover the cost. Check out our Travel Reward Points – All Shapes and Sizes post for tips on how best to leverage these benefits for your next trip.
Day 2 – Experiencing Paris from New Heights
We slept in a bit to recover from the previous day’s marathon journey of fun. The youngest one and I went in search of breakfast crepes which is pretty easy to do in Paris. We stopped at a small shop where we watched the person expertly pour out the batter, mix the desired ingredients and fold into the perfect shape. It can be overwhelming to select through the myriad of options to put in a crepe, but we made the right choice enjoying some of the most delicious ones ever.
We headed to Montparnasse, a high rise tower that has an observation deck at the top with great views of the city. It was our oldest son’s choice as he loves to take unique photography. It was a little scary for our youngest daughter who absolutely hates heights, but she still braved it. Much of the day was spent just exploring the city with one more nighttime visit to the Eiffel Tower.
A Little Tip on Lodging for Large Families
Know Your Standards and Then Set Your Budget
We aren’t a very fancy family looking for high end amenities. However, we do prefer a clean, modern aesthetic in safe areas within walking distances to key attractions. Our per night target rate is usually $250 US. This ensures a decent place in a good area with enough sleeping space for everyone. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the types of rentals we find at this rate. They’re not mansions, but sometimes nicer than our own crib! Our very first rental was in San Francisco on a very high end side of town. The accommodations offered great views putting us close to a variety of fun restaurants.
Mind the Fine Print
After fixing your sights on the target rate, be mindful of a few factors that are travel budget landmines:
- Fees and Service Charges – Online vacation rental companies charge a guest service fee for all reservations. This fee ranges from 5% to 15% of the reservation subtotal. For our San Francisco trip, the initial rate was $250, but quickly jumped to nearly $300 in the end.
- Amenities Not Always Included – During our entire trip in Europe, we booked 4 different rentals in 4 different countries. Some had toilet paper to serve an army while others only enough for one pit stop each. Basic kitchen/cleaning supplies were hit and miss as well. So plan a little extra in the budget for these necessities.
- Proximity to Attractions – The main reason for travel is to see new sites be them iconic or hidden gems. Your rental’s location could mean the difference between a free 10 minute stroll to Fisherman’s Wharf or Uber draining your pocketbook multiple times a day. For trips to major cities, make a list of your top visit spots and then find a rental that allows you to leverage public transport or your family’s feet as much as possible.
Ideas for Taming Your Large Family Travel Budget
- Lodging – Paris is flush with affordable AirBnB options. We didn’t stay in the center of the city, but close enough to where buses and subway trains could easily get us there. My wife and I had to sleep on the pullout couch, but the apartment was clean with modern aesthetic and slightly over our daily rate target.
- Transportation – As I mentioned above, take a few minutes to understand the public transit system or better yet ask an official at a designated booth. Despite getting fleeced on our first round of subway tickets, we still were able to underspend in this area even after needing to use Uber a couple times.
- Meals – We followed the French method of eating light for breakfast enjoying a variety of crepes and pastries. The sit-down restaurants in Paris can be pricey so I’d advise saving those meals for dinner time.
- Excursions – Most of the historical attractions are relatively inexpensive, but its the plethora of tours that can really add up quick. As I continually say, this is where credit card reward points came to our rescue. Our Seine river cruise would have cost us nearly $600 if didn’t use our points!
- Misc. Expenses – As shared in previous posts, we planned ahead and made our kids earn money to spend thus keeping it from hitting the main travel budget. Despite all that, we still went a few dollars over.
Paris was still enchanting for me even with it being my third visit to the city. I think what made it the best experience of them all was seeing everything anew through my family’s eyes. I wish you the same while also keeping your budget on track!