How to Travel in Belgium/France Thriftily?

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Xenops
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How to Travel in Belgium/France Thriftily?

Postby Xenops » Sat Mar 31, 2018 3:59 pm

(I’m not sure “thriftily” is a word, but saying “cheaply” doesn’t sound right either)

I’m in between jobs right now, and I got a nice tax return, so I’m contemplating using this time to take a brief visit to Belgium and France. I figured if I’m making plans to possibly move there, I need to know if I actually like it.

How would I find hostels and reasonable places to stay? Any other tips I should know about? I have my passport already, and it looks like you can download maps without using phone data.

Thanks in advance. :)
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Re: How to Travel in Belgium/France Thriftily?

Postby Whodathunkitz » Sat Mar 31, 2018 10:39 pm

Xenops wrote:(I’m not sure “thriftily” is a word, but saying “cheaply” doesn’t sound right either)

I’m in between jobs right now, and I got a nice tax return, so I’m contemplating using this time to take a brief visit to Belgium and France. I figured if I’m making plans to possibly move there, I need to know if I actually like it.

How would I find hostels and reasonable places to stay? Any other tips I should know about? I have my passport already, and it looks like you can download maps without using phone data.

Thanks in advance. :)


Sofa/couch surfing.

Other polyglots.

Student accommodation (if in summer).

Campervan?

Eurobus.

Local buses (daily/weekly).

Bike.

Hitch.

Youth hostel.

Esperanto accommodation (assuming you/others have it).

Catholic accommodation.
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Re: How to Travel in Belgium/France Thriftily?

Postby iguanamon » Sat Mar 31, 2018 11:11 pm

The biggest expenses in traveling are lodging, food and transportation. Lodging can be less expensive through using couchsurfing (free), hostels, low-cost- bathroom down the hall- places. Hostels and the French equivalent of "pensiones" can be found through google search, better if you can search in French. Food cost can be less through a combination of buying food at supermarkets and/or eating less often when eating out. Maybe just having a big lunch because lunch is always cheaper than dinner. Years ago in Seville, I ate bread, butter and orange marmalade for breakfast during Semana Santa which was good, filling and cheap. I imagine croissants and coffee at the local patisseries would be economical. I always take food cost as a side opportunity to lose weight. :lol:

Within Europe, buses are generally cheaper for long distance travel than trains and sometimes inter-European flights can be cheaper than trains. Wifi, whatsapp, skype, etc. can solve communication problems, you can even buy a local number via skype in France and Belgium for cheaper than a local sim plan and people can call/text you. Trans Atlantic travel is easy and relatively cheap from where you are in Boston- check out no frills Wow Air and Condor.

Even though France and Belgium seem small in comparison to how big the US is, it's still bigger than you think. If I only have a couple of weeks, I enjoy getting to know one city really well for most of my time.

Or, since you're learning French, just hop on a bus/train and go to Quebec instead!
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Re: How to Travel in Belgium/France Thriftily?

Postby Xenops » Sun Apr 01, 2018 1:24 am

iguanamon wrote:The biggest expenses in traveling are lodging, food and transportation. Lodging can be less expensive through using couchsurfing (free), hostels, low-cost- bathroom down the hall- places. Hostels and the French equivalent of "pensiones" can be found through google search, better if you can search in French. Food cost can be less through a combination of buying food at supermarkets and/or eating less often when eating out. Maybe just having a big lunch because lunch is always cheaper than dinner. Years ago in Seville, I ate bread, butter and orange marmalade for breakfast during Semana Santa which was good, filling and cheap. I imagine croissants and coffee at the local patisseries would be economical. I always take food cost as a side opportunity to lose weight. :lol:

Within Europe, buses are generally cheaper for long distance travel than trains and sometimes inter-European flights can be cheaper than trains. Wifi, whatsapp, skype, etc. can solve communication problems, you can even buy a local number via skype in France and Belgium for cheaper than a local sim plan and people can call/text you. Trans Atlantic travel is easy and relatively cheap from where you are in Boston- check out no frills Wow Air and Condor.

Even though France and Belgium seem small in comparison to how big the US is, it's still bigger than you think. If I only have a couple of weeks, I enjoy getting to know one city really well for most of my time.

Or, since you're learning French, just hop on a bus/train and go to Quebec instead!


Thank you for your sound advice, iguanamon. :) I really appreciate it.

You're quite right that Montreal is only a bus ride away, and I should seriously consider that option. I was considering also that I could find flights to Europe in the $600 range, and I contemplated take advantage of it. My thinking was "I have some free time, I have some cash, I might want to move to Europe--what is preventing me from visiting there now?" And I posed this question here because I knew somebody could give me insight on the logistics of my possible day-dream.
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Re: How to Travel in Belgium/France Thriftily?

Postby Lawyer&Mom » Sun Apr 01, 2018 3:27 am

About fifteen years ago in grad school I once spent a week in Paris in 30€ a day. 20€ for a bare bones bunk bed in a hostel, which included a baguette, butter and jam breakfast(!), and 10€ for everything else. Everything else was mostly food. I went to the grocery store everyday. A 1.5L bottle of water, a baguette, some cheese, a cucumber, some tomatos and these delicious little chocolate pudding cups. This was lunch and dinner. I’m sure I bought a gelato at some point.

No shopping, no restaurants, no museums. I walked all day, ducked into little churches, spent an afternoon reading Brothers Kazamarov in a tiny, gorgeous cemetery somewhere in the 16th... It was wonderful. Now it helped that I was 1) in love with a Parisian boy, and just happy to be in his city, surrounded by his people, even if we only met once or twice (ours was a glorious love that could never be, which made it extra exciting) and 2) I had already been to Paris several times before, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out just because I could afford to buy an entrance ticket to anything.

The point is, France and Belgium can be done on the super cheap. But will your budget allow you to be happy with your trip? Only you really know the answer to that. (For the record, I would love to take that trip again. This time I would spend the whole week in bookstores and libraries adding to my Wishlist...) Having a strict budget can be freeing in that it can give you permission to just do what you want to do without feeling like you need to do all the things. It can also suck to be in Paris and not eat at Brasserie Lipp. How would you feel?
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Re: How to Travel in Belgium/France Thriftily?

Postby Bluepaint » Sun Apr 01, 2018 4:36 pm

Remember there are many destinations in both countries. Paris is expensive, other places would/could be cheaper and might be more representative of daily life. Paris is wonderful though and should you visit I would recommend looking at Lonely Planet and also look at getting one of the passes for the city's attractions.
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Re: How to Travel in Belgium/France Thriftily?

Postby rdearman » Sun Apr 01, 2018 4:41 pm

If you're willing to work and get your hands dirty on a farm then look at wwoof

They will give you a chance to work on an organic farm and give you room and board in exchange for your work. You stay on the farm with the host family and speak the local lingo.
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Re: How to Travel in Belgium/France Thriftily?

Postby Bluepaint » Sun Apr 01, 2018 4:47 pm

P.s. I have heard a few times that Americans have a different idea of what hostel living entails. In Europe they are pretty good. Check reviews for cleanliness but basically it is dorm-living with a shared bathroom. It can be mixed or single-sex. At the very least there should be free wifi in communal areas but some will have free wifi in rooms (if they charge you for wifi look for somewhere else). Some hostels provide a free breakfast. They are also a good source of info for what is happening locally, how to get tickets etc. If you have mobility issues be aware that a lot of buildings in historical areas will not have lifts so check accessibility if it is an issue for you.

If you have not travelled much outside the US then make yourself aware of what a pickpocket is. So many times I have heard American or Canadian tourists talking amongst themselves "So if it is in a front pocket or a handbag then you're safe". No. Just no.

P.p.s. Imo the Eiffel Tower is skippable. Climb L'Arc de Triomphe instead. It is cheaper, less of a cattle market and less waiting around. The inside is nicer and the top still has great views although you see a little less far than the Eiffel because of the height difference of course.

If you want any more advice/opinions feel free to PM me
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Re: How to Travel in Belgium/France Thriftily?

Postby garyb » Mon Apr 02, 2018 9:19 am

Workaway is another option. I considered it last year and started a discussion; in the end I didn't do it, but there's some good advice in there from people with experience, and I have a few friends who've done it. The basic idea is that you work as a volunteer in exchange for room and board. If language practice is a priority, take that into consideration: if you work in a hostel, for example, you'll probably mostly speak English while other positions like working with a family could be more conducive to immersion.

I reckon you'd struggle to find a decent hostel in Paris for €20/night these days. Last time I went there, 4 or 5 years ago, I paid about €35; there were cheaper places but they had awful reviews. As others say though, there are plenty other and cheaper places to go in France!

You can sometimes find a private room on AirBnB for the same price as a hostel dorm bed. Almost every host I've had has been happy to speak their language with me. When I travelled for a few months, I alternated between hostels and private rooms, as each had their advantages: having my own space was nice sometimes, especially when I had to work, but it could get lonely and hostels make it easy to meet people.
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Re: How to Travel in Belgium/France Thriftily?

Postby Cavesa » Wed Apr 04, 2018 12:06 am

Firstly, I'd agree with Iguanamon that France and Belgium are still huge. I find it weird that so many americans go to Europe and want to see it all in a week and spend more time in buses and airplanes than actually in the places on their long list.

I am not telling you to visit just one city, no. But I find it a good plan to choose a region. You'll still have plenty to see and experience (it is actually hard to find a place in France with nothing interesting to see. But I found one! Perhaps you could say it was interesting how uninteresting and ugly that one town was). The choice of region affects the costs a lot. Paris is the most expensive sure, but I doubt you would like to miss it completely. But each of the regions is fascinating and different. Depending on how long you can stay, you can choose the region or two or several.

I personally love to travel by car with several stops on the way somewhere. My family and I explored three or four towns on my way to Bordeaux and back, and on my way from Oviedo. That gives you the most freedom and opportunity to find something unexpected. But there is no reason not to travel like that by public transport at all! When I don't need to carry tons of luggage (and tons of books), I'll definitely try it out. A chain of several interesting places.Or the other option is staying in one place and exploring the surrounding areas by public transport (I have experience with French and Spanish buses between towns and with the railways in both countries and there is nothing to worry about in either of those). Or a combination.

There has been a lot of good advice on cutting down the housing costs. I would recommend airbnb, I have good experience with it. You can find great offers for good prices, especially if you don't mind staying further from the city center. Or just behind the city borders but still on the bus/tram lines. It pays off to do your research and think whether it wouldn't be interesting and authentic to take a twenty minute ride to the city and pay ten euro less per night.

Also, airbnb gives you more often the option to cook your own meals (some hostels do as well, at least in a limited manner). Cooking is definitely a great way to cut down the costs. Sure, try out the local restaurants sometimes, but it is definitely not necessary to eat out all the time. The prices in the supermarkets are reasonable. I think that you, as an american, might even find it much more affordable than what you are used to. All my friends going to the US were rather shocked by the prices of good quality food. The price/quality ratio is awesome in France. Very good basic stuff is just as expensive or sometimes even cheaper than in the much poorer Czech Republic.

About the public transport: look up the prices of ticket for an individual ride and for a day. I guess you won't be staying for a month anywhere, but one week tickets sometimes exist for tourists, as a part of a package with sales to the museums for example. Sometimes it is not a too good offer, sometimes it is great. As was said, buses are often the cheapest. The trains are rather expensive in France (but I think they are more expensive than the buses everywhere in Europe). If you book your ride in advance, you can often find a better price. Some times and lines are simply more popular than others.

Sure, awesome and hyper famous stuff like Louvre simply has a price. But there are often beautiful monuments, castles, museums, zoos, and wonders of nature, which are less known and still awesome. Lower prices, fewer people, awesome. There are even completely underappreciated towns! For example Metz (Lorraine)! A beautiful town with one of the most beautiful cathedrals I've ever seen with windows by Chagall! And also several interesting modern buildings, one of which is a small but great museum of modern art, Centre Pompidou-Metz. I was there twice and there were always several exhibitions with at least one really touching my heart. There is also renaissance and various other styles. The atmosphere of this smaller town is just precious, just walking through it and exploring is enriching, and the density of tourists is really low for France :-)

Really, there are tons of awesome experiences that don't cost an arm and leg, and also include fewer tourists, which is nice. Thanks to your knowledge of French, you can plan your travels much better than a usual tourist, as there are tons of resources on the internet about each region or town.
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