Ahhhhh beautiful France, a place that’s renowned for its rich history, delectable cuisine, and iconic landmarks. It’s no secret that France is a top tourist destination that attracts millions of visitors each year.
While it’s easy to get swept up in the allure of French culture and lifestyle, it’s important for tourists to be mindful of their spending, as certain items or experiences may not be worth the euros. To ensure a budget-friendly and memorable trip, here are my thoughts on things tourists in France should avoid spending money on.
What tourists in France should NOT spend money on
Guided tours for easily accessible sites
Have you ever done a lackluster guided tour and felt like you didn’t get your money’s worth? For popular attractions, consider exploring independently instead of opting for costly guided tours, especially when ample information is available online or through informative audio guides provided on-site.
In cities like Paris, you can also find free walking tours that’ll help you save a few bucks. If you enjoy being active, get yourself some sturdy walking shoes and learn about the city while getting some exercise in.
Currency exchange booths in the airport
No one likes paying more than they have to, so if you’re looking to get your hands on some euros, steer clear of currency exchange booths in the airport. These money exchange shops offer terrible exchange rates, and while it might seem convenient, there’s a better way that’s even simpler.
Just walk up to any ATM and withdraw euros directly with your home bank’s debit card. Be sure that you withdraw in euros and decline the automatic conversion to USD (or your home currency) that may pop up on the screen. You might think it’s doing you a favor, but that conversion is a rip off. Your bank will convert the currency to euros automatically on the back end — without any fees (double check with your bank before traveling). Doing a currency exchange at a bank before travel or currency exchange booth is never advantageous. Just use the ATM once you’ve arrived.
Something I recommend for travelers is opening a Wise account (formerly Transferwise) that allows you to hold a balance in a wide variety of currencies. You can then use your Wise debit card in the local currency either by swiping, tapping, or setting it up with contactless payments in your phone’s wallet. The exchange rates are great and fees are minimal.
Restaurants that have entire English language menus and/or have a long list of meal options
I’ll never say never, but 99% of the time, if a restaurant in a touristy area has a separate English menu, you’ll want to eat somewhere else. Ditto goes for menus with photos. Places like this rarely have good quality food and service and instead have overpriced tourist fare that’s rarely homemade or local.
Something else to watch out for is when restaurants have huge menus with a dozen or more options for appetizers, main courses, etc. It’s a clue that the food isn’t being prepared fresh.
To get an authentic meal, look for restaurants that have just a handful of options and a menu of the day. Many will have any awards they’ve won clearly displayed via a decal on their front door or window and it’ll be clear that the food is fresh, local, and homemade.
And one more thought on restaurants in France. While many Michelin-starred restaurants are absolutely worth the experience, some of them are well known among tourists for the novelty factor and not because you’ll have a meal that’s worth the price. Do your research before spending hundreds at a high-end restaurant.
My favorite French mealtime habit >>
Unnecessary public transportation passes
We all want a deal and multi-day or even unlimited metro passes seem like a great one. Most of the time they are, but only if you use them enough! Evaluate your travel plans before purchasing expensive multi-day transportation passes.
If you plan to explore a place mostly by foot, individual tickets might be more cost-effective than a bundled pass. Definitely run the calculations ahead of time to see if you’ll get your money’s worth. One or two trips a day won’t cut it.
Cheap low-quality souvenirs
To each their own, but I’d advise against purchasing tacky and mass-produced souvenirs that lack any genuine connection to the local French culture. Instead, look for unique, handcrafted items at local markets or artisan shops to take home a piece of authentic French craftsmanship. They don’t have to be expensive to be meaningful.
Another easy and affordable place to find French souvenirs is the grocery store (video link)! I’m a big fan of practical gifts from French grocery stores. Things like French salt, spices, candy, regional specialties, and even bath products all make great souvenirs. Sure beats plastic keychains made in China!
Street vendor roses
OK, this one borders on scammy. In cities like Paris, persistent street vendors often try to sell roses to tourists at inflated prices. They’ll approach you while you’re dining on the terrace or even when walking down the street. At first glance, the pushy gesture might seem charming, but it’s advisable to politely decline as the flowers are typically overpriced and might wilt quickly, making for an unfulfilling purchase.
Expensive bottled water
Staying hydrated is important but purchasing bottled water from tourist areas and even at train stations can be overpriced (not to mention bad for the environment). Opt for a reusable water bottle and fill it before you head out for the day. You can refill it at public fountains or cafes where water is typically offered for free.
I love this Italian brand with the sports top (I always tend to drop screw top caps that you have to take completely off to drink, so sports top all the way).
Costly accommodations in central locations
While staying in the heart of a bustling city might seem ideal, accommodations in these areas tend to be more expensive. Consider exploring lodging options in the outskirts or less touristy neighborhoods, which often offer more affordable rates and a chance to experience local life.
I’m a big fan of Plum Guide, an Airbnb alternative that’s worth a look. They have apartments all over Paris and other cities around the globe.
International data plans
You don’t need one of those costly international data plans offered by your mobile carrier. If you feel more at ease with one of these plans, opt for the smallest one and take advantage of free Wi-Fi every chance you get. It’s available in many public spaces such as cafes, restaurants, and tourist centers and that way you can stay connected without breaking the bank.
Tell me, what is worth spending money on in France? For me, it’s once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you’ll never forget. There are so many options but three big ones that stand out to me were our Loire Valley hot air balloon ride, a wine tour with Le Tasting Room out of Tours, and a canal cruise vacation where you rent your own boat.
Any way you look at it, France offers an abundance of enriching experiences that don’t have to come at a premium. By avoiding these unnecessary expenses and making informed choices no matter where you travel in this beautiful country, you can make the most of your trip. After all, the best memories from a trip often come from the genuine experiences that money can’t buy.
What things should tourists in France not spend money on in your opinion?
Note: While everything on my list applies to France, they aren’t all mutually exclusive to France and are spending tips tourists can keep in mind while visiting other countries too.
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