Hot! How to Live in France for 10 Weeks on Less than $1000

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It’s looking like I should have around $1000 for my 10 weeks in France, working out to around $100 a week, or around €12 a day. It’s going to take a lot of work and perseverance, but I think I can do this. I know that a lot of you have been hearing about my super-budget travel and have been wondering how it is that I manage to travel for several months of the year while having an income that is solidly under the poverty line. Well, here’s how:

1. My lodging is taken care of. The first 4 weeks will be spent on a farm where I’m working in exchange for room and board through the WWOOF program. The rest of the time is going to be split between a gîte that Marc’s family has rented for their family reunion in Grazac, couchsurfing in Paris and Lyon, a visit with a blogger in Montpellier, and a friend’s house in the teensy weensy village of Lagamas. So, no lodging expenses.

2. Food is largely taken care of, and I’m good at eating cheaply. The farmers will feed me on the farm, and Marc’s family is picking up the tab for both of us in Grazac. In Lagamas my food costs will be kept low by the fact that the only food available comes from the local farmer’s market. The rest of the time I plan on eating cheaply the same way I did in Switzerland, by limiting my eating out to cheap cafes and getting my food from corner stores, grocery stores, or street vendors most of the time. I’ve generally found that I can eat for about €10 a day this way. A cup of yogurt for breakfast is usually €1.50, a sandwich is about €5, and a snack is another €2.

3. My airline ticket was purchased with frequent flyer miles. Most of these miles were acquired during my flights to and from Korea, but some of them were gotten with information gleaned from Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hacking Cartel and his Frequent Flyer Master ebook. I was still short by only a couple thousand miles, and my parents graciously donated them to me for this trip. If they hadn’t, it would have only cost me around $80 to buy them.

4. I’m not really buying anything new for this trip. I’m buying a hanging toiletry bag, and I’m buying a new (used) pair of Keen sandals for cheap off of eBay, but that’s pretty much it as far as things that I’m buying for this trip (and arguably, I’d be getting the sandals anyway). I really wanted to get a new camera bag, but really, my current one works fine, it’s just a tighter fit for everything. There’s lots of stuff I wanted to get for this trip, but after careful consideration and obsessive use of wishlists, I realized that most of the stuff really was just wants, not needs. I can say no to wants, once I realize that’s what the are.

5. I’m giving myself a daily allowance. I plan on only carrying €15 with me on a daily basis. I’ll have my debit card with me, but ATMs are a pain and expensive, so it will be for emergencies only, or in case something really special comes along. I’ll keep 10 days of cash at a time in my main bag, and will give myself my daily allowance from that.

6. I rarely ever do things that cost money. I’m not a big fan of museums or tours, and I’m really happiest when I just wander around town all day with my camera. With the exception of a couple days in Paris and Lyon, I’m going to be out in the countryside anyway, where there’s nothing to spend money on.

While I am planning based on an estimated per-day cost of €12, really it’s going to be more like €20-€25. All of the time I spend at the farm and much of the rest of the time, I will not be in a situation where I have to (or even can) buy anything, even food, so the funds from those days will roll over onto the rest. The resulting savings from the fact that I’m going to be spending most of my time on a farm or in a village with less than 100 people will mean that I won’t have to scrimp and scrounge quite as much when I’m in a city.

I fully recognize that my method of traveling is decidedly not for everyone, and that my travel budget is really only possible when you like to travel the way I do. Most people want to go to museums or nice restaurants, and that’s great, but I don’t really care about those things as much. I like to people watch, wander around in rural areas, and take pictures, and that’s about all it takes to make me happy. I eat the same way while I’m abroad that I do while I’m at home, which means a lot of corner store snacks and home cooking. I’m also willing to work or to live in places where there’s “nothing to do” if it means that I get to spend more time abroad. With only $1000 to go with, I’d rather use it to spend eight weeks living in the French countryside than to spend two weeks living la belle vie in Paris. It’s all about priorities, and the number of days I spend abroad is my priority. That’s just me.

I am showing you this so that you all can get an idea of how it is that I’ll be doing this trip so cheaply. I am also showing you all this so that those of you who think that Europe has to be expensive or that you can only do multi-month travel if you have a ton of money saved up can see that neither case is true. During my trip, I’ll be posting my weekly expenses (and occasionally a daily expense report as well) so that you can see exactly where the money went.

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13 Comments

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  1. respect what you’re doing!! I am horrible at budgeting and don’t think I could pull it off.. Although, now that I too live below the poverty line (and in the third world slums for that matter), maybe it will actually help me to learn how to budget.. for me though, worrying about the amount of money i’m spending isn’t something i’m used to, or really like.. i think my ‘preferred’ lifestyle is much more expensive than the one i’m finding myself forced to live (forced is a relative term..) and in my heart of hearts, i’m not really a true minimalist, if i could…

    that being said, i love and respect your attitude towards your lifestyle and how it doesn’t seem like a “problem” for you but one you’re willing to creatively work around!!

    • I don’t like worrying about my money either, but I recognize that with my income, it’s not an option. However, I do try to do things to minimize it. For instance, on this trip I’ll be spending so much time in areas where I can’t spend money that I’ll have enough money left over to have some flexibility when I’m in areas where I can, which will effectively make me feel like I have more money than I do. Choosing to WWOOF and live in rural areas isn’t just a money-saving strategy for me, it’s a lifestyle choice. I really prefer quieter, simpler surroundings, and it’s just kind of a bonus that those things also generally come with fewer ways to part with your cash.

  2. hey! this is a fantastic! im not sure i could do it, but i like the challenge you have for yourself! if you ever want to do the museum thing, you can always look to see if the museum has a free day or portion of the day that is free to check it out. they had this all the time in the museums in Madrid, Spain when I was there (yay for free!). If you ever want to do this in Spain, let me know… with tapas included in your drink, you could DEF live off of 12 euro a day!

    • Yep, I’m a big fan of free museum days. However, I’m only going to be in a city of any size for a grand total of 8 days between Paris, Lyon, and Montpellier, so it’s not really as much of a concern.

      I would really love to go to Spain someday, especially now that I have joined a unit that reenacts the Spanish Civil War. There’s a lot of history there that I’d love to see.

  3. this is so impressive… my budgeting sucks! Inspirational.

    • I have learned to budget extremely well over the years because I have always had extremely limited funds but am not about to let that stop me from living the life I want. I just figure out how to make it work for me. With my new “poor travel” series I’m hoping to teach others how to do this as well.

  4. Hey Kelsey – awesome, and timely post…. Shawna and I have just started our round the world journey, and are currently in Austria, looking to move towards Spain for the Camino de Santiago. We wanted to spend 3 to 4 weeks in a “quintessential French village”, but really do not know what we are looking for. Additionally many places are either already booked (poor planning on our part) or way out of our price range.

    Do you have any suggestions on places where we may want to go, that won’t break the bank?

    Cheers!

  5. Awesome plan! I hope it all work out as planned, but I’m sure it will… you seem to have it all worked out :) Love your budget travel determination! 😀

    • I’ve been on the road for almost a month now, and I’m actually currently coming in under budget! I have been keeping up with every expense, and shortly I’ll be writing up a page listing my expenses.