We had decided to have a pretty scant year this year, trying to save we thought it best to maybe not go abroad at all, but wanderlust got the better of us…”France? Just 2 weeks maybe? We could do it on the cheap…??” So how exactly do you spend a couple of glorious weeks away, particularly with a couple of tweenage consumers in tow, without breaking the bank?
This post may contain affiliate links, which means that if you were to buy something after following a link on this page, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. You can check out my disclosure policy if you'd like more info. Thanks!
Here are some of my top tips….
We worked out a budget for how much we would allow ourselves to spend each day, took out that amount in cash, and divided it between envelopes. We settled on 30 euros a day between the 4 of us for cash spending, with the hope that it wouldn’t all get spent and would add up a little day by day so we could have a day out somewhere the kids would love.
[Update Aug 2019 – 30 euros A DAY??! I can’t believe I ever included that in a post about travelling on a budget, haha! You can do waaaay better than that my lovelies – our most recent adventure saw us surviving on pennies! Still, the envelopes are a sound suggestion…]
As it turned out, I’m pleased to report that 30 a day was very generous. On most days we didn’t spend anything like that amount, so it built up throughout our trip, enabling us to splurge a little here and there (a trip to the beautiful but, notoriously expensive, Isle de Re for example…)
We had a back up by way of some money put aside in an account for any unforeseen large expenses, and the foreseen ones, such as fuel, which was probably our largest expense while on the road (but we did cover 1200 miles in our 12 days!)
On some level this just feels so wrong when you are travelling somewhere so renowned for its delectable foodstuffs, but restaurants are expensive, and as we are travelling in a camper van and have full cooking facilities, it seems a shame to not take advantage of that.
That, and as a coeliac in France, I have found that raising the question of gluten-free in restaurants has left me eating the most random of meals, as chefs scrabble to locate anything I can actually eat…I recall paying through the nose for a particularly memorable meal of plain boiled rice with burger sauce on a prior trip…
In short, with our budget, and my dietary requirements, it’s easier all round for us to prepare our own food. This happily lead to some of the best meals we have shared as a family: Camping in vineyards, drinking wine we had purchased from our hosts, the smell of merguez wafting from the van, a simple, but glorious salad…affordable and delicious, a restaurant with a view, all to ourselves!
Visit an open-air market, buy your produce fresh and prepare yourself a feast!
I cannot stop raving about this as a scheme. If you own a campervan or motorhome you need France Passion in your life. Period. Currently costing 30 euros for a year’s membership, the scheme enables you to spend the night safely for free at a choice of over 2000 farms, vineyards, fromageries, etc all over France.
Check it out here. Seriously. You can thank me later.
All of the places we have stayed have wowed us in some way or another, and our hosts have always been lovely, despite our tragic lack of command over the French language (REALLY must remedy this…). For your investment, you receive a guidebook detailing what you can expect to find at each stopover, what they produce, what languages are spoken, whether there are bins or water available etc.
It’s a wonderful scheme at a bargain price when you consider a year’s membership is less than one overnight stay in many British campsites.
We have been treated to fascinating tours, tastings, and views we would never otherwise have encountered, and been touched by the obvious passion these producers have for their products. There is no obligation to buy at all, and we have never felt pressured into spending at any of these stops. That said, I feel a bottle of wine or a wedge of cheese is a small price to pay for some of the most picturesque camping spots you will ever stay!
Related reading… France Passion – 5 Glorious Overnight Stays
Alternatively, you could spend the night at one of the 1000’s of ‘Aires de camping car’ available. The word “aire” translating as “area”, you want to make sure the aire in question is intended for overnight/campervan use, rather than just a service or picnic area.
The aires de camping car usually have a sign saying just that, and a motorhome symbol.
These stopovers are often free, or a minimal cost and some are even equipped with showers and loos as well! Most have sites located near the exit for disposing of grey water and emptying toilet cassettes, and you can get drinking water, usually at the cost of a couple of euros for an allotted amount of time (approx 10 minutes).
One thing I would mention is that in many cases the water tap/hose is located adjacent to the toilet emptying drain, and so the risk of bacteria is high! With people either handling the tap after emptying waste or else using the drinking water hose to rinse toilet cassettes, I would certainly advise cleansing the area first, using antibacterial spray.
We mostly stayed at France Passion places but took advantage of the Aires facilities to empty our loo and fill up with water. However, we have friends who have done entire French trips staying only in Aires and rate it very highly indeed!
Do free stuff!
You are (probably) visiting places you have never been before, which means that everything is shiny and new for you as you explore.
The joy of this is that you don’t need to spend money to have a fresh experience, anywhere you go has the potential to be fascinating, just wandering around an unfamiliar place will make you take in details you wouldn’t necessarily register in your hometown.
Study the architecture. Walk around the parks. Get playful with the kids by listening to the pigeons with them and seeing if you can work out whether they call to their feathered brethren in French or English. Play ‘The floor is lava’, leaping onto whatever nearest object is off the ground when the order is given. Just have fun!
If you’re anywhere near the coast then a beach day is a must! In my opinion, nothing can beat a day spent swimming, jumping waves, splashing, digging, lazing, reading, playing…it’s just bliss and doesn’t have to cost a penny.
Take a big blanket, (or my top tip – large, floaty scarves…I have loads, I don’t know how I keep amassing more, but that’s ok, as when travelling they fold or roll up super small, taking up much less space than blankets or towels and are really light too – use them to lie on while sunbathing, wrap around you like a sarong, dry yourself off with after a dip, run around with like wings – whatever!) a picnic, a book, a bucket and spade and you’re golden. Enjoy!
Inland? No problem! Take a dip in one of France’s glorious rivers or lakes. I recently acquired the wonderful book Wild Swimming France by Daniel Start, which is packed full of stunning swimming spots all over the country and can’t wait to jump in. This trip was pretty coastal, so we were in the sea more often than not, but I intend to use this book to its full potential next time we come this way!
Simon and I met when he was working at a wine shop and I wandered in and asked if there was any work going. Fortunately for me, there was, and so our romance bloomed among the dusty rows of bottles and crates. It was a lovely little shop, and many a friend would pop in for tastings and a chat, and so wine touring always makes me feel cheerfully nostalgic.
The smell of cellars and barrels, the stories behind the wines, told by the enthusiastic and proud winemakers, who often are the 4th or 5th generation in their family to be tending the vines, tasting the wines that they have put so much love and effort into…It’s such a different experience to just popping the cork and necking a glass without thought (ahem…not that I would ever do that, cough, cough)
We have been to wine tastings in grand Chateaus and tiny farmhouses, and everything in between. In every place there has been a difference, a new thing to learn, an altered attitude or approach. It’s a subject I find enchanting and a great way to get to know an area, as so much of France is centred around its vineyards and varying regional styles, the flavours of the wine being so affected by the landscape.
The first few times we ever went on a vineyard tour I had been concerned about taking the kids – would they be welcomed? Would they be bored to tears? But it seems there is a big push in France to make wine tourism accessible to families. Everywhere we have been, the children have been welcomed and included, their questions answered and the information provided interesting and age appropriate. Some of the tasting rooms even provide areas with toys and colouring books so that kids can play while you sip and swill.
Tours and tastings are more often than not free, but check first – some of the more renowned places do charge (although you usually get your fee back if you purchase a bottle afterwards)
Spoilt for choice with regards to beauty spots, and you gotta eat…so combine the two! Pack up your baguettes and cheese, and head somewhere scenic. Aires de picnique aplenty, with tables and bins, or head off the beaten track and find your own slice of heaven.
Boules anyone? Make like a local and discover a love of petanque! A game in which large heavy balls are thrown underarm to try and get as close as possible to the small target ball, a thoroughly entertaining way to wile away the hours. You will need a large flat space and a set of boules. Get yourself a set to take on the road or improvise….We have had great fun scouring the beach for the roundest, smoothest pebbles we can find and playing with these (this variation undoubtedly works best on sand though – even a roundish pebble doesn’t roll so well!)
There are so many ways to travel without spending a fortune, it really is the being away and being together as a family that wins it for us every time.
What are your top tips for travelling cheap?? Do let me know!