July 27, 2011

Travel Thriftily Tips

Working as an English language assistant in France is great because you are paid to live in France. The not so great aspect of working as an English language assistant in France is that you are paid peanuts. The French government provides you with only enough to live off of - nothing else.

This is fine if all you want to do is teach English and stay put in whatever town you work in, but I wanted to take advantage of my time abroad and travel. So I had to travel cheaply.

When traveling to major, foreign cities I save money two ways. The first way is by taking advantage of New Europe’s free walking tours. The greatest part about these tours is that they are absolutely free. They ask for tips at the end, and you can pay the guide what you will – based on however much money you have left to spend for the day or the merit of the information given on the tour or nothing at all (I’m too nice for option #3).

I went on their three hour walking tours in London and Amsterdam, saw almost all of the sights, and learned amazing facts about buildings I wouldn’t have given a second thought to if I had been wondering the city by myself.

They offer free tours in the following cities:
Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Edinburgh, Jerusalem, Hamburg, London, Madrid, Munich, Paris, Prague, and Tel Aviv.

On my London free tour, I learned that this clock found on the side of the Royal Court of Justice was used in the Harry Potter films for the Hogwarts Express.

On my Amsterdam free tour, I learned that this part of the building had no windows because that's where they used to perform autospies, and it was considered too vulgar to show to the public.

The second way I save money is by always staying in a hostel that has a kitchen. Although they are sometimes more expensive to stay at than their kitchen-free counterparts, you will save tons of money if you use the kitchen facilities instead of having to eat out for every meal.

While I do think tasting the local food is a huge part of traveling, it isn’t necessary to eat out for every meal. Also, in a lot of places it is cheaper to eat out for lunch (Paris, Stockholm) than dinner. You can experience the local gastronomy for cheaper at lunch, then go home and cook yourself some pasta with red sauce for dinner in the hostel kitchen.

In some hostels, they even have a cabinet of “free food,” or food left behind by earlier travelers, in the kitchen. Be sure to browse and see if there isn’t anything worth eating in there before you head to the market. You’d be surprised how often people leave food behind.

Me, enjoying a delicious dinner of pasta, red sauce, and cauliflower in my hostel in Stockholm, plus a random fellow hostel-er, and the kitchen where I cooked said delicious dinner. Also a Swedish beer (On a side note: Swedish beer is like 3% alcohol per volume. Living so close to Belgium I'm used to 8% beers. That beer did nothing for me).

One of the easiest ways to save money while traveling, however, is to explore locally. No need to buy a plane ticket, or find a place to sleep. While Lille is a really wonderful city and ideally located for traveling all around Europe, I have hopped on the commuter trains in order to explore other, smaller cities in the area. Just because it isn’t a nation’s capital or recognizable city name doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer. Get to know the small towns around you and you'll most likely discover hidden gems.

I walked along the beach at Dunkirk and stumbled upon old bunkers used in both WWI & WWII hidden among the sand dunes.

Do you have any advice for traveling cheaply?
Brooke vs. the World has asked travel bloggers to put together their best thrifty and resourceful travel tips for a helpful, free ebook. If you think you’re thrifty and would like to participate, check out the official rules.


  1. These are all great tips!

    But I do feel the need to defend the assistantship. Granted you won't get rich doing it, but given the fact that assistants work 12hrs per week, the salary is actually more than reasonable. Especially when you consider that the minimum wage is just a few hundred euros more for 3 times as much work.

    Plus, one of the main goals of the program is to improve relations between your home country and France, not to pay for assistants to travel around Europe. France does actually make it quite accessible for assistants to travel within France though, via the carte 12-25, reduced bus/metro passes, free entrance into many museums & monuments if you're under 25, etc.

    Just my two cents. ;)

  2. Laura,

    I think your tips are great. When my daughter was abroad, she also traveled on the cheap and found there was loads to do.

    Funny you should mention the beach at Dunkirk, I am reading a book by Kate Morton called The Distant Hours and it has a little history about that place in the book.


  3. First, I'm jealous of your pictures. I just don't get to see stuff that like here.

    I don't know about traveling cheaply, but as far as traveling light, I spent 2 weeks in Europe (5 in Paris, 4 in London, 5 in Edinburgh) with a carry-on. Laundrettes are the best business invention ever.

    As for cheap things to do, Rick Steves has some amazing advice for a lot of European countries. We took his Paris book with us in 2005. Saved us money and time. His site is here.

  4. Thank you so much for these tips. I'll be studying abroad in Paris for a school year starting on August so your tips will really come in handy. :)

    I started reading your blog this summer and it's really helped me get ready to study abroad, so thank you for having such a great blog.

  5. I used to be a French assistant in an independent school in Greater London between 2006 and 2008: I worked 20 hours a week, had the academic holidays, was paid the equivalent of what I'm now paid in France for working 35 hours a week, plus the school also paid for 2/3 of my rent!! Well, I think my situation was kind of unique and most language assistants are not treated the same way in other schools... But seriously, sometimes I really wonder how stupid I was when I decided to come back to France considering I could have stayed there for at least two more years. Anyway, best plan ever for French persons who want to improve his/her level of English: language assistant positions in independent/private schools. :-)

    As for traveling cheaply, I usually stay at youth hostels (although I'm not so young anymore) but I tend to be a bit more selective with regard to the comfort/cleanness of the rooms than I used to be in the past. The good thing is that now, lots of hostels offer 3-4-5 bedded rooms, which is a great solution when traveling with friends. Much more intimate than collective dorms but still cheap.

  6. Thank you for this great post! I love the point about the walking tours because no one else has mentioned those yet, and it isn't something I thought of. I also love the idea of traveling locally, which a lot of us forget to do because there are "bigger and better" cities to get to first. cheers!

  7. Ksam: I know the objective of the assistantship is not to pay you to travel the world, hence the having to travel thriftily bit ;) The assistantship is great if you are a francophile and I am thankful I got to do it, but I stand by what I said. It doesn't pay you much more than what is necessary to live off of, especially if you don't get housing provided by your school (I was never lucky enough to get that). But it is something I recommend to people who love France and want to live here. If people are more into traveling, however, there are better paying programs in Asia that allow for more exploring.

    Kris: Thanks! I'm glad you like the tips.

    Joshua: I've gotten pretty good at traveling lightly myself, as most airlines now-a-days charge you for checking bags (especially the cheap airlines). Thanks for the suggestion on Rick Steves! I actually used one of his books on my trip to London.

    Laura: You are welcome! Thank you for your lovely comment :) Glad to have been a help.

    Emilie: I agree there are perks to being an assistant! Getting all the school vacations was really nice and great for traveling. You're so lucky the school helped you out! One of my assistant friends had free housing last year and so he was always traveling to really cool places and I was like "I'm too poor to come with you." Nevertheless, I'd rather have lived in France, made only a little money meaning I had to travel thriftily but get to see the world, than having stayed in the US my whole life.

    Brooke: Glad you like the tips! I love those free walking tours. They are the best. I wish they had them in every city. Alas!

  8. Great post! I love the New Europe tours. They are a great way to see the sights but to also meet other travelers. I ended up having dinner with a girl I met on the Paris tour and we have since met up in other parts of the world!

  9. Kirstina: Thanks! What a great story! I actually ran into someone I knew from home on the London tour, which was a nice surprise.

  10. Great Blog - I want to come and do the walking tours.

  11. Mike: Next time you com to visit me!

    Marianne: Thanks mom!

  12. This was a great post! Until very recently I have been all about the Youth Hostel + kitchen scenario, in fact one of the best places I've ever stayed full stop was a hostel in Berlin. I feel like I'm getting a bit old for shared facilities, but I always look to check prices when travelling - especially for one night!

    I'm also a huge fan of walking tours and have done great free ones in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and Barcelona - all great fun.

    On my most recent trip last week through Italy, Austria and Germany I saved money by making rolls at breakfast and taking them, with a few pieces of fruit out with me for the day. Probably frowned upon but I'm not a big breakfast eater so I figure this way I get my euros worth!

    Happy travelling!


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