How I Do Paris on the Cheap


parisIn 2010, I realized I needed to get away from New York City.

I had just ended a relationship, and every inch of my apartment was a reminder of it, as were the streets in my neighborhood, the subway, the pizza shops, the sounds of the Lower East Side—everything. I knew if I was going to survive the heartache, I had to head out of town and recoup in a place completely foreign to me. I chose Paris.


I had never gone to Europe alone. Actually, up until that point I had never traveled anywhere by myself. On a whim one afternoon, I pulled up apartment swaps on Craigslist. When I saw that a woman was looking to exchange her flat in the Parisian district of le Marais for an apartment in the East Village, I emailed her. Within the hour, I had cashed in my frequent flier miles and agreed to do the swap for the month of January and part of February.

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Looking back, it wasn’t the most rational decision to make. I really didn’t think it through; I just wanted out of New York City and I wanted it sooner than later. However, in the words of Edith Piaf, “Non, je ne regrette rien.”

There’s Only One Paris

The first time I arrived in Paris I felt like I was in a dream. I couldn’t believe that I had come to the city all alone with nothing but an email agreement with a stranger whom I found on Craigslist. It wasn’t until I got to the flat that reality set in. I had never cried so hard from happiness in my entire life.

The woman had warned me that she had just bought the place, and outside of Wi-Fi and a mattress on the floor, there wasn’t much else. It was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a more romantic situation, and I fell asleep to the piano playing of the composer next door, waking to the bells of Notre Dame. I was in my element.

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I immediately took to the streets without a map. I longed to get lost in this city that I would eventually consider my second home. I walked everywhere, and when I did lose my direction—as Paris is not a grid like the New York streets that I’m used to—I asked locals how to get back on my way again. I had taken French for years and didn’t realize how much I was capable of recalling until I was forced to use it—in a very broken dialect, of course.

I sat in coffee shops, ate too many croissants, drank red wine with strangers who embraced my New York status, and smoked French cigarettes in the window of my flat above a trendy art gallery. I was home; I was certain I could stay there forever.

  • h

    thank you for this. just before i signed on my computer this morning i was crying over my x and toying with the idea of doing an apt swap in amsterdam. i think i am going to confirm it….

    • Kelly

      Oh, DO IT! I lived there for 7 months and loved it. The place is magic.

  • BD

    While I appreciate the experience. I wish there were tips on how those other than the freelance writer set could make something like this work.

    • Laura

      She mentioned that there are apartment swaps for smaller amounts of time – 2 days and up (whatever your vacation days or PTO allow).

  • lizlemony

    Question – how do you go about verifying that the people you meet on Craigslist are legit and not going to scam you? Do you connect on Skype or somesuch?

  • sigmatheta

    She gives two important principles 1) do as the locals do and 2) Prepare your own food. If you have access to a fridge any city can be cheap, even NYC. That giant $9 deli sandwich that’s as big as your head can turn into 2 lunches and a dinner if you get creative and add salad or a dessert.

  • Nubia

    OMG, how inspirational, what a lovely journey to take alone in Paris. I wish I could do smthg similar. Besides NYC is overrated. I am over it.

    • Cathy Clark

      I would love to see NYC!

  • T

    Most of us will never get to experience this in a lifetime. We have children, families and responsibilities. This is so impractical, it’s ridiculous.

    • Con

      It might be impractical for you, but some of us have made different choices in our lives that allow us the flexibility to go on an adventure like this one. She is just sharing her story, and many of the money saving tips could probably be implemented on a family vacation as well (house swap instead of renting a hotel or condo, preparing your own food, etc)

    • Cathy Clark

      Not true. I have four children and a full time job and I manage to go to Europe every fall. Kids stay with family and my husband and I just GO. However, we are not brave enough to do an apartment exchange; we tend to stay in either cheap motels or bed and breakfasts, or hostels. We take local transportation such as trains/tubes/metro/ and walk a lot! And we always manage to eat well, but inexpensively. Also, we don’t speak any foreign languages, but if you are polite, and approach people with a humble attitude, I would say even in France, 85-90% of the time people will help you.
      We do plan it in advance, which I noticed the author had the luxury of throwing it together at the last minute. Otherwise, yes, it’s very doable. *By the way, I’m in my mid 40s and we only started doing this when I turned 40. Tired of life and wanting a little change, we just did it. And no, we had never been to Europe before.

    • Penelope

      It sounds like you are just jealous. It is ridiculous that you felt the need to post this reply.

    • Sharissa

      I agree with Con – I don’t find this impractical or ridiculous. Just because the writer is leading a different lifestyle doesn’t mean that some of things she talks about don’t apply to you. Try to see how this story could help you in your own unique situation instead of immediately bashing it because it’s not your life word for word.

    • Michelle

      You choose and make your own destiny in life!

    • Lou

      Wow now that’s taking personal responsibility to a whole new level. I wanted to travel so I made a CHOICE not to have children right away. Sick of women like yourself blaming everyone because you weren’t responsible enough to make those “right” decisions for yourself in the first place. I’ve passed the travel bug to my daughter she will be in Paris this summer…..

  • Christine Tarlecki

    i loved this story so much!

  • guest

    I think it’s cool that the author was able to spend time in Paris. Though I’ve traveled on my own, safety is always a priority for me. I don’t think I would feel comfortable living in the home of someone I did not know or getting lost in an unfamiliar city. That being said, it’s great that the author was able to do so without any problems.

    As I’ve not yet been to Paris, I really wish this article focused more on how to do things on the cheap rather than how the author accidentally spent less money than she normally does.

  • Julia

    I love this idea; but even cheap food and free housing can’t offset the cost of airfare. And for someone who already walks or takes public transportation and doesn’t do much takeout, I can’t imagine this fitting into my budget. Maybe a few years down the road, my disposable income will allow for international travel… but for now, I’ll have to stick with the zillion things we have here in Chicago.

    • Lou

      I hope for you it does!!

  • Orly

    Having worked and studied in Paris for 3.5 years, I would like to make it clear that PARIS IS EXPENSIVE. PARIS IS VERY EXPENSIVE. Unless you have a real good job or come from money, please don’t be fooled by this article claiming that Paris is so cheap. I’m thrilled the author enjoys Paris so much– I loved it very much too. But I find it very very very misleading to tell people that it’s effortless to do Paris on the cheap. Also, WATCH OUT FOR CRAIGSLIST IN PARIS. For every “good” story I hear of Americans in Paris finding a place via that site, there are 5 that get scammed. Just things to think about before running off on a romantic adventure there. End rant. :)

  • suzy q

    I have quite a few friends who do swaps with others. I always thought you HAD to have a nice place in order to swap, but I have shockingly found out otherwise. A friend raises chickens at her place, she had someone to care for them). Her place isn’t the fanciest for sure, so I guess I could do this too, lol. The swap is merely a place to crash & cook with out having to pay crazy $$ while visiting. It’s definitely a win-win for all involved.

  • a_s_a

    I’m headed to Sydney alone this week! I can only stay for 8 days, though—I can’t take my work with me.

  • Lora

    I loved your article. I did this once. Every year around Christmas time I get depressed, so last year I decided to spend Christmas in Paris (how magical it sounded…and indeed it was) ..i bought a ticket n went…completely alone. It was nerve racking at first but I enjoyed every moment of it and guess where I’m spending Christmas this year? Paris!! <3

  • Danie

    I loved your story. I too broke up with my now ex and like you need(ed) an escape. My ‘healing’ will be happening in Columbia next week! My first time there and alone. Reading this story, validates my decision 50x over. Thank you . Also the sentiment, “They savor their wine, whereas we tend to pound beers and shots as if every night is our last night on earth.” Hilarious.

    To travel and healing!

  • PalB

    Thanks a lot for sharing your experience.
    Your story brought back memories flooding.
    I was coming out of a very bad relationship in India and took the gumption of meeting my (now) husband in Paris all by myself. Lo and behold, he proposed to me on the Eiffel Tower on the second day of our stay. Such is the charm of that city. It definitely was like a fairy tale in January of 2010. We are itching to go back asap!

  • Amanda

    This article is perfect. I am writing this response from my hotel in Ireland, where I came on holiday after breaking up with a guy and choosing Ireland on a whim. I am traveling solo in all ways, and am even driving myself through the country seeing life-changing sights and challenging myself. Do what you’re afraid of, if even just to prove to yourself that you can. Stand on cliffs, brave the winds and weather of a new climate. Be uncomfortable. Find comfort in adventure. And if you’re nursing a broken heart, go somewhere new, meet new people, be unsure of everything and you will find so much of yourself in seeming unfamiliarity.


  • Rhib

    Nice story, I need to heal and travel.

  • Lara

    I want to be friends with you, Amanda! You are such an inspiration :)

  • Kristina

    I completely agree about getting away on your own. I first traveled to Ireland alone. Everyone thought I was crazy, but it was the scariest and most exhilarating experience. One I will never forget. Traveling alone pushes you out of your comfort zone but also makes you realize how strong you can be.

  • Lou

    Love this story!!! I’m a traveler, my high school grad present was a round the world plane ticket. Well my daughter has caught the bug. as hard as it is to let her go, I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today. This story gives me a bit of encouragement. Happy Travels.