The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel's resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She's always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
Manda writes "I've never thought travel was possible because I am always poor ... but my poor friends travel, so at this point I think it's a matter of securing a plan and then saving like crazy. I want to go to Paris for a week. How could I make this happen without spending thousands of dollars?! Help! I need to broaden my horizons and finally get and use my first ever passport. Flying from Boston. If you could offer any tips, tricks, or advice, then I'd be ever so grateful."
Congratulations! You have just learned one of travel's most valuable lessons: Anything is possible with proper planning. Many people find themselves in your exact same shoes, where their hearts long to go somewhere but their bank accounts put the kibosh on those dreams. The only solution is to use your head to find a compromise that pleases both parties, which requires a solid plan of attack.
With its sidewalk cafes, romantic architecture, artistic charm, and smorgasbord of buttery treats, the City of Light holds a special place in my heart and is worth scrimping and saving to eventually visit. Let's make your dream trip to Paris an affordable reality by using a few simple tools.
As with any destination, knowing when to go can make or break a budget. The difference in airfare alone can mean seeing the Eiffel Tower in person or watching it on TV.
Just for comparison sake, I priced round-trip flights from Boston to Paris during each of the seasons, and this is what I found: A flight in April costs $684 per person, while it $981 per person in June, and $727 per person in October. Booking a flight for January at this time would cost about $661 per person, but since this is low season, I would expect the prices to drop even further as the month approaches. Taxes and fees are included in the price. Based on these findings, it's cheaper to fly in the winter and spring—there's a reason people love Paris in the springtime—and save the summer for BBQs in your own backyard. Granted, prices change as often as the weather and these findings don't include sales, but at least the ones above demonstrate how timing can save quite a bit of cash.
As for savings, sales run rampant online, and it helps to keep an eye on airfare deals. For instance, Aer Lingus is featuring a sale that includes round-trip flights from Boston to Paris starting at $524 (without taxes and fees) per person for travel through March 31. Though this may be too soon for you to save enough funds to travel, it's a good example of what you might find.
Since you have the flexibility of finding a flight for your budget instead of budgeting for your flight, you can let the deal dictate your travel times. When factoring airfare into your budget, set aside a reasonable amount of cash to cover the cost, such as $700 based on the above prices. More than likely you will spend less than this on a flight, but it's a good starting point.
Next, you will need to find a place to stay. If you're not too keen on sharing a room with strangers at a hostel (one of the dirt cheap options for lodging) and you want to skip the high prices and been-there-done-that experience of a hotel, then living like a local in an apartment or vacation rental can't be beat. Plus, it comes with the added bonus of a kitchen to save on food costs. There are a slew of places to rent throughout the city, and you can find them by arrondissement. Location is just as important as timing when finding a place to stay, and expanding your search past the tourist areas can save big. For instance, I found a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of the popular St. Germain des Pres area starting at €480 (about $650 U.S.; check XE.com for current exchange rates) per week, or about $93 per night. In contrast, I also found a one-bedroom apartment in the Montparnasse neighborhood starting at €320 per week ($433 U.S.), or about $62 per night.
So far, your budget for a one-week vacation, with air and lodging, to Paris comes to about $1,133 for one person. You can save even more by finding a partner in crime to pick up half of the lodging bill, which would mean you could go to Paris for a week for less than $1,000. This doesn't include the extra cost of food, entertainment, and ground transportation. It's up to you how much you spend once you land. Paris doesn't have to be an expensive place to visit, if you are conscious of keeping the purse strings tight.
If you'd rather skip having to monitor airfares and instead have one price for airfare and lodging, you can book a vacation package. Several providers offer deals throughout the year, such as EuropeASAP's Paris Spring City Break package that starts at $879 per person (without taxes and fees) based on two people traveling together. The deal includes round-trip airfare from Boston to Paris, six nights' accommodations, daily continental breakfast, and hotel taxes and service charges. You must book by March 22 for travel between April 1 and May 14.
These two options are the best ways to find a base price for your budget. From here, you can start setting aside enough money from each paycheck to reach your final goal. I wish you all the best in budgeting and booking your dream trip.
As for my other readers: Don't be shy! Have you ever scrimped and saved for a vacation? How did you do it? Plus, do you have any money-saving strategies for Manda? Please share any and all experiences or suggestions below.
Get Help With Your Next Vacation
Let me help you plan your next trip, whatever your budget might be. Submit your request in the comments below, and please remember that the more compelling and specific your question, the better the chance you'll be selected for an upcoming case.
All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.