The Costumer's Manifesto: A STUDENT'S GUIDE TO BUDGET TRAVEL PLANNING FORA FIRST TRIP TO PARIS (OR ANY PLACE ELSE)
STUDENT'SGUIDE TO BUDGET TRAVEL PLANNING FOR A FIRST TRIP TO PARIS (OR ANY PLACE ELSE)
What Follows Is An Article I wrote for College Monthlyon how to cheaply and effectively travel to a new place. It describes specific things todo to make travel easy and breathtakingly inexpensive.
Three winters ago I left California and got a temporary teaching job atthe University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where the sun peeks over the Southern horizon a fewdegrees azimuth for a few hours each day, and seeing the ice-fog and sub-zerotemperatures, thinks better of staying too long. During Christmas break all alone, forreasons which are probably obvious, I started to fantasize about travel to warmer and morepopulated portions of the globe. My favorite fantasy was that the following summer I couldgo to Paris for the 1789-1989 Bicentennial, an event near and dear to my history-lover's heart.
(V&A Costume Collection) (also V&A)
As a poverty-stricken graduate student and temporary professor however,I was sure that I couldn't afford it, but under the influence of cabin-fever I began toread budget travel books and plan imaginary itineraries anyway. One day I added up thecosts of one of these three-week itineraries and was thrilled to discover that what budgettravel books said was true, I didn't need to spend nearly as much as even the cheapestbudget tour. I could find a way to do it for under $2,000.00, airfare, hotel, museum andMetro tickets, meals, tips, gifts, postcards and stamps, and even souvenirs included.However, not speaking French I was afraid would be helpless all alone there, how could Iget the security of a planned tour without the expense?
Being a semi-pedantic professorial type I answered my own rhetoricalquestion: Research. All that junk I learned in colleges about libraries and stuff workingon my Doctorate had to be useful, right? So I hit the books again and planned every fiddlydetail down to the minute and wrote backup plans in case of problems. Even though atschool I am known for "winging it" through creative disorganization, I had fundoing this kind if nitpicky planning since it allowed me to savor my trip for monthsbeforehand. It also made traveling in a foreign country all alone perfectly easy. This ishow its done:
First, look up the Sunday paper of the city you plan to leave from inthe library. (If you live in a remote area you need to get the paper from the nearest hubcity and plan on taking a local flight to get to it.) Look up the Travel section in thepaper and start looking for the cheapest price to your destination among the ads for"bucket" shops (these guys buy tickets wholesale from big airlines and sell themcheap-it sounds shady but its completely legal.) These tickets are usually mid-weekred-eye flights on planes packed to the gills, and unless you leave from New York they areusually not non-stop, however they are also 1/3 to 1/2 of the price of tickets boughtthrough conventional channels. When you are absolutely sure of your travel dates (thesetickets can't be changed) buy these tickets on your charge card to protect yourself incase of a dispute with the ticket agent. Do this six months in advance to save the mostmoney.
If, like me, you're going to Paris, make a serious study of the ' EurailGuide
' to train schedules, the ' Let's Go: Budget Guide to France
' a ' Michelin
'or ' Baedeker
'city map and guide, and a book of French words and phrases. All of these (except the map)should be available at your local library. Then add any specialty books your interestsdictate. For example, I used ' Europe Off the Wall
a guide to weirdmuseums and other attractions and ' Permanent Parisians
' a bookabout the cemeteries of Paris. An epicure on a budget might use ' Cheap Eats InParis
', writers might like 'Literary Paris' If you'regoing somewhere else, look up the ' Let's Go
' guide, 'Frommer's'book and 'Michelin' map and guide to wherever you are going, anduse them instead.
After reading all of these you should have a pretty good idea of whatyou want to do when you get there. Write up a rough list of where you want to go andcircle the locations on a Xerox copy of the map. You will find that the places you want tovisit usually form into clumps that you can concentrate on for a day or two without havingto waste time crisscrossing town. For instance The Concierge, St.Chapelle, Notre Dame, TheCluny Museum and The Pantheon in Paris are all within easy walking distance from eachother and can all be viewed in one very active day.
Make a list of the attractions found in each clump. Look up each placein the books and note the hours they are open, the days they close, and the cost ofadmission. Most museums have one day a week that they are 1/2 off or free, note this aswell. Based on this data you can determine the best day of the week to see the places ineach clump. Your lists will look something like this:
CONCIERGE-Wed-Mon, 9:30am-7pm, 22F, 1/2 price Sun.
ST.CHAPELLE-Wed-Mon, 9:30am-7pm, 20F, 1/2 price Sun.
NOTRE DAME-every day, 8am-7pm, free, Towers open Wed-Mon, 10am-5:30pm, 22F, 1/2 price Sun.
CLUNY MUSEUM-Wed-Mon, 9:45-12:30pm & 2-5:15pm, 15F, 1/2 price Sun.
PANTHEON-Wed-Mon, 10am-noon, 2-5:30pm, 22F.
Assign each clump a day in your schedule and be sure to leave at leastone day blank every two weeks in case of disaster or a need to do serious laundry.
Once you have an idea of where things are in relationship to one anotheryou can have some idea of where you want to find a hotel. Try to get a hotel as close to atransit stop as possible. Checking the books, you should pick a hotel within your budget;if you don't speak the language make sure it is one with an English-speaking manager.Using the foreign phrase book,
write a letter to the hotel asking for a room during yourtravel period, and include a self-addressed envelope and two International Reply Coupons(available from any post office). Leave lots of time for a reply. Going back to your dailyschedule, you can now figure out how to get to each day's activities from your hotel.(Subway tickets are part of your budget, remember?) Make an enlarged Xerox of the area ofeach day's "clump" of places and trace a route in highlighter of the path youplan to take. Use this to write a new hour by hour schedule including meals and the timeit takes to walk from place to place. While this sounds like an onerous task it actuallygets to be incredible fun imagining yourself doing all this. You can look up budgetrestaurants and plan them in, plan your walking route around interesting buildings andmonuments in the area and otherwise play the armchair traveler.
I discovered how useful this can be when I planned the walk from theConcierge to the Pantheon. I found that lots of things (the Flower Market, a theatrebookstore, the Luxembourg Gardens, and buildings like the Odeon Theatre and St. Etienne duMont) were all within easy reach of my main objectives. If I planned my walk carefully Icould see them during my perambulation without having to go out of my way by more than twostreets, usually without having to go out of my way at all.
Start listing necessary expenses for each day of your trip. Start withyour hotel room costs, (including the price of a shower in cheap hotels). Calculate costsfor each meal plus snacks. Add up costs for subway and train tickets. Then look up costsfor museum admission and theatre tickets. Those are the basics, then you really have touse your imagination: Ask yourself "How many postcards will I send that day?",then budget for both cards and postage. Also ask yourself how much you intend to spend ongifts for friends, souvenirs, museum guides, books, and treats. Go over your budget andcheck for places where you can realistically cut costs. When you feel pretty sure aboutthe budget, mark it up by 1/5 to 1/4 in case of emergencies. This was my lavish budget forthe day spent going to the Concierge and Pantheon: (values approximate)
MUSEUM ADM.-101F ($16)
TRANSPORTATION-(use Metro pass bought Monday)
This adds up to 430 Francs or about $69. I then upped the amount to 500Ffor my calculations for buying traveler's checks. This left a small slush fund forunforeseen expenses. I was therefore able to come home with money in my wallet.
Finally, if you don't speak the language you need to go over yourschedule one more time. Figure out every point in your schedule when it will be necessaryto conduct a transaction with a ticket agent, a waiter, a store clerk, or a bank. Thiswill save you untold aggravation and expense during your trip. Figure out the phrases youwill be likely to need with the phrase-book and write them with their English equivalentson 3x5 index cards. For example, these are two of the grammatically flawed cards I used inParis:
Avez-vous des Livres avec costumes et illustrations? (Do you have any costume books with pictures?)
Je voudrais une grande Coca-Cola avec glace, si'l vous plait. (I would like a large Coca-Cola with ice, please.)
You then can follow up your abominable reading of the phrase by handingthe person the card and letting them know what you really intended to say. This has theadded advantage of making even Parisians nice to you because they pity your helplessnessand admire your effort. 'Not a single person was rude to me, my whole trip.'
Obviously when you get to wherever you're going you will change what youdo and what you spend as circumstances fit, but having a detailed plan adds tremendouslyto your chances for a pleasant, economical vacation. When I was finally deposited in DeGaulle Airport after the long flight to Paris I had everything plotted out for perfectease:
I followed the directions gleaned from Let's Go (p.64-5) to the shuttlebus for the train station. At the station I pulled out a card (made with the aid of thephrase-book), that said "I would like a ticket to the Gare du Nord Station,please" and sure enough I got handed a ticket.
At the Gare du Nord Station in Paris I used more advice from Let's Go(p.69) and found a self-photo booth, took my picture, and brought the photo, and anothercard which said "I would like to buy an Metro ID, and a weekly pass, please" tothe Metro ticket booth. After a small cash exchange, I was handed an ID and pass. Thenafter taking the Metro to the vicinity of my hotel I followed the path I had marked (on aXeroxed copy of the Michelin map), to my hotel, and handed the desk clerk a copy of myreservation correspondence and a card asking for my room. Not surprisingly I was instantlyregistered and handed a key. The whole thing was as easy as Connect-the-Dots: no gettinglost, no wrong tickets, no hassles. Best of all no tour guide!
Finally, for a truly anxiety-free vacation don't travel with more thanyou can comfortably carry in a large purse. One pair of jeans and sneakers, a fewT-shirts, underwear, and a warm jacket are all that is necessary. Don't ever try to dresswell enough to look like a Parisienne, for one thing you can't, besides which, even theyhave a continuous expression of fatigue from trying to look chic all the time. Carry asmall squeeze-bottle of laundry soap to wash the T-shirts and your socks so you can rotatethem. The one item you should run out and buy is a necklace-pouch to keep your passport,traveler's checks, plane ticket and American Express card in. That way even if your purseis snatched or your pocket is picked you're in no danger of disaster.
The other item you need to pack is your book of plans. The book of yourplans should be a small blank book which you have filled with your daily information onbudget, museum hours, Metro stops, etc. You should paste in Xerox maps of each day's areawith your walking route in highlighter. Also paste copies of any important instructions(like how to get to Versailles by Metro train and bus), from the books you have read. Byputting all the information you need in one book you save having to lug a pile of tourbooks and maps around. Write very commonly used phrases from your phrase-book onto the flyleaf of the book and you can often save carrying your phrase-book as well.
All this planning costs very little, saves you time and aggravation, andis almost as entertaining as traveling itself. It also can save you lots of money, andmake an "impossible" or "unaffordable" trip both possible andaffordable. Best of all, you have the sanity and safety of a package tour without givingup your freedom. While armchair planning can't possibly foresee every contingency, you canuse the ordinary research skills you learned in college to make your trip easier, cheaper,safer, and considerably saner.
Still feeling too timid to travel all alone? Click Hereto join the A list for costume and textile enthusiasts to find other like minded folks to travel with or meet, announce events or tours, tell others about your experiences or local costume sites, offer tips, help, or local guidance, and share any advice or experience they have in the area of travel to places of interest to costumers.