News from a BFF: Marilyn Machlowitz, Budget Fashionista Friend and Manhattan headhunter, recently returned from her first trip to Paris in 22 years and shared these bargain-savvy tips for this costly capital.
Whenever I told anyone I was headed to Paris, the first thing they said was to bring plenty of Euros. They were and were not correct.
First of all, Paris is so fabulous that it pays to go. So moonlight, eat ramen or do what ever you have to do to get there. Once there, here are some ways to stretch that dollar, or Euro. (At the time of Marilyn’s visit a dollar was worth about .67 Euros.) As Kathryn says in considering the cost per wear, consider the joy per dollar. I derive far more joy from a dollar spent on a trip to Paris than a nickel spent on a trip to Orlando.
Paris on a Budget- Travel and Shopping Tips
*Thrift Stores. Girlfriends that wouldn’t place one foot in a Salvation Army in North America rush to the thrift stores in Paris. These are so…so…well, so, that they’re called designer depots.
* Monoprix, a chain that spans the city, that is perhaps reminiscent of Target. I bought an adorable nightgown for under 25 Euros and a set of salad servers for under 3 Euros. So consider this chain for clothing, makeup, and housewares.
* Longchamps handbags and totes – those ubiquitous foldable, packable, leather handled ones – are all 25% less, whether at a department store or the Longchamps shops (several in the city.)
* Petit Bateau tees – many women can wear these and up to size 18 years are discounted at least now at the Petit Bateau shop on Rue Cler or what appears to be a discount shop next store. (Rue Cler is a street written up extensively in the (recommended) Rick Steves guidebook to the city.
* A tip I followed from another traveler – buy your handbags (leather) at Maroquinerie Saint-Honore 334 Rue St. Honore, in the 1st arrondissement, at very un-Rue Saint Honore prices. Monday-Saturday 10:30-6:30 but it pays to check. This store will ship also.
* What could be better than shopping and eating in Paris? The BHV department store has a lovely lunch cafeteria (with views-with wine) on the 5th floor open Monday-Saturday for lunch and wednesdays for dinner. (The ground floor is not counted as the first in either stores or hotels, so this may be more like the 6th floor in terms of the view.) For instance for 10 Euros, I had a plate consisting of a piece of poached salmon, cucumber salad, sliced tomatoes and cous cous. Bonus: there is an ice machine. This may sound like a small thing but ice is not readily available. (The only other places I saw ice were Subway – the restaurant not the Metro, McDonald’s, and a Sizzler-like lunch place called Flunch.) (I am not sure how the Subway chain survives in Paris, The bread is not great shakes by US standards and must be considered abominable by the French.)
* Ice cream/gelato/sorbet is particularly good Paris. The most famous is Berthillon, along the main street (the central street) on the IIe St. Louis, the picturesque, tiny island (the smaller of the two) in the middle of the Seine. A single scoop in a wafer cone is 2 Euros. (A paper cup or a sugar cone adds .50.) Try the caramel beurre sale flavor (aka aramel with butter and salt). The scoop is so small you will understand instantly why French women don’t get fat. (Also none of them are on line at Berthillon.) There used to be just one, but now there are several on the island. I may have been the only person observing Weight Watchers and counting points in the entire city.
* Markets for a picnic. There are beautiful open air markets, ideal for picking up cheese, bread, fruit. One I especially liked was along Avenue Preisdent Wilson, the best time to head out is Saturday from 9 to 1pm. Cherries and apricots were in season and the apricots were sublime. (Don’t travel with a bowl for washing fruit? Use a clean new shower cap supplied by the hotel!)
* Daily Monop (multiple locations) I assume this is related to Monoprix. Lots of pre-packed salads, sandwiches, sliced fruit and such for a quick and diet-friendly meal. Take out or eat in.
* Wine at unbelievably low prices on bottles. In wine stores. In supermarkets. Best perhaps for consuming at a picnic in a park or along the Seine. (Honestly, I didn’t buy any.)
* You must have a map. I recommend waterproof-it can rain or drizzle. The one called Paris circulation, which is a booklet that fits in one’s (new or old) handbag is perfect, it is arranged arrondissement by arrodnissement (district by district) with subways shown and a street name index.
* Two guidebooks. Rick Steves, which covers all the basics, and another of your choice.
* Getting around. The Metro. I took a taxi once (not counting to and from the airport.) First of all, I couldn’t find them- one must go to taxi stands as opposed to simply hailing one on the street. and when I did try to hail something with the sign up top, it turned out to be a car from a driving school, with a student driver behind the wheel! The Metro is easy. Bring some Euros with you from the US. Use bills or coins (Euros come in both.) to purchases a ten-pack at the vending machine in each station. Unless your credit card has a chip, you can’t use it for this or for those low-cost Velib bikes-sort of like Zipcar for bikes.(I didn’t bike.) And walk, walk, walk. A very walkable city. Take walking tours too. See paris-walks.com for great ones, only 12 Euros.
* Museums. Paris has many worthwhile (and world-famous) museums. Your best bet is to buy a Museum Pass, good for either 2, 4 or 6 consecutive days. Passes not only save money, but also saves time as museum pass holders can skip long lines. Many museums are free or have free (albeit crowded) days. See your guidebook for lists.
*I think attractive boxes of tea that are labeled in French that you can’t buy in the US are a great and packable gift that you can find for an excellent price at the local supermarket.
*Parisian Supermarkets are wonderful to places to visit. They are a museum of modern life. Note all the flavors of potato chips sold – such as mustard and roast chicken. Also you should bring home a jar of Dijon mustard. Hint: there is a 4-pack that you can turn into 4-gifts or one. (Whenever I pack something like this, I first wrap it in plastic-a lesson learned the hard way.) You can pay over 3 Euros for this at La Grande Epicerie, a very fancy delicacies store next door to the department store Bon Marche, or for 2 Euros at the bargain supermarket named Ed’s (many locations, including one at 80 Rue de Rivoli.)
*Fragrance-Fragonard (multiple locations) has a 5-part scent sampler for 12 Euro. You can decide whether that equals one gift or five.
Have a great budget shopping tip for Paris? Post it below