Centrally located hotels are the most important part of this post. Central to the area in a city where most of the things you plan to do are located. Generally, these will be more expensive and usually first class hotels. They’re more expensive for a lot of reasons, but mainly due to convenience and popularity. They’re popular because they’re convenient, so they cost more, but you can “kind of” beat the system with some money saving tips I use.
First off, I’m not the type of person who likes to go, go, go 100% of the time and end up exhausted from trying to see everything in one trip. I used to produce television programs for ABC in San Diego and as the producer, I did a lot of site surveys to gather the best info for the actual shoot. I travel this way too. I don’t feel it’s the only trip I’ll make to an area, so I tend to do overviews of a lot different spots, with plans to return to the ones I loved most, for a deeper exploration. For that reason, I don’t feel the pressure to “get it all done”. Most people return from “vacation” exhausted, but I don’t. I’m relaxed and ready to start planning another trip.
We usually stay at the W Hotel in Paris, which is central to what we like to do. Yes, it’s a little expensive, but we’ve tried staying in cheaper hotels, but they’re usually farther away, so we spend too much time and money on cabs or Metro, going back and forth to the hotel, which isn’t fun, and not a great way to spend time. Being able to walk a to get some good coffee and something from a good bakery early in the morning is a great way to get a bit or morning exercise, take some morning photos while things are quiet and explore your neighborhood is my idea of a fun way to spend the morning. Since the French aren’t big on espresso, our favorite, we split up. One of us walks a few blocks to Illy, and the other to grab crossaints or quiche from Paul, a great bakery chain we love. Then we meet at the hotel to get ready for the day. It also gives us a chance to test the weather, so we’ll be dressed right. Doing this gets us out in the morning to enjoy the city like a local, before the crowds are out. It also saves a lot of money on food we don’t really need.
Ways to save money using a centrally located first class hotel:
- Save money on “moving around”. Find the area where most of the things you plan to do are located. These area are usually more expensive hotels, but remember, they’re close to what you will visit, so you’ll save on cabs, Ubers, metros or busses. Like I said, when we’re in Paris, we stay at the W Hotel which is across from the Opera Garner. This puts us within short walking distance to the Louvre, the Seine, shopping at Galeries Layette, Printemps, Place Vendome, Rue St. Honore, Monoprix (if you don’t know about this chain, you need to, it’s an incredible resource for all things local to France) and much more, including the metro for further excursions, Bat0bus (another fun way to get around Paris.), and much more. We spend a lot of time in this area, so the W is perfect. Shop for the best deal in “your area”, but try to be close to as much as possible.
- Save money on lunch or dinner. At first blush, this might not sound like a lot of fun, but try it once and you might get hooked. It’s time and money saver, and also a way to venture out with local foods you might not try in a restaurant. We love to gather cheese, meats, salads, breads or other food items we discover on your outings. Not as a big effort, just when you spot a bakery with amazing looking desserts, but you just had lunch. If you’re like us, we see things we’d like to eat, but don’t feel like it at the time, so we’ll grab something to go and watch how the French package things to take away, which is fun too. Just take it along and since you’re not far from your hotel, you can drop it off, or continue until you want to drop by and take a quick break for restrooming, changing clothes, grab a jacket or drop off other things you don’t need to carry. Since you’re close, it’s easy. Usually, we don’t carry much around (again, because “home base” is close), but toward the end of the day, we stop by Monoprix and pick up some 3€-4€ wine (equal to $10-$15 wines in the U.S.), a baguette, then explore the deli case for foie gras, cheese, meat, salads or whatever looks good. We love Mimolette cheese, which is $26/lb. at our Whole Foods, but in Monoprix, it’s under $5/lb. Like that. And, you’ll be hanging out with locals, which is a lot of fun. Monoprix is a French standard and very popular.
- Save money on breakfast. For us, it’s not so much about saving money, it’s just fun and really tasty. I usually hate searching for a good breakfast spot, only to be disappointed by the coffee and taking far to long to wait for service, get served, wait for the check, paying, and leaving. I’d much rather explore, take photos and grab coffee and a pastry that’s fresh and reliable. Then you’re all ready for the day of exploring early, when there are no lines at places we want to visit.
- Saves a lot of time. We used to stay in hotels farther away from this area and we did save money, but we were always so far from the hotel we didn’t go back until time to go to bed. If the weather changed, we couldn’t pop back to the hotel for a sweater, umbrella or to drop off a jacket if it suddenly got warm. We felt like going back to the hotel wasn’t worth the trip, or the cab fare or metro time and money. The Paris Metro is cheap (aprox. $2.25), but those fares add up.
- Nice hotels create nice memories. When I think back on our trips over the years, I remember so many wonderful hotels, as if they were our home away from home. I love the sights we visit, but I also love remembering the hotels we’ve used. Together, the trip becomes more memorable when we stay in a nicer hotel. Hanging out in a hotel as a respite from sightseeing is also a plus. Having a drink or a snack in the restaurant or bar at your hotel allows us to refresh and be ready for more exploring. At nicer hotels, the crowd can be more interesting. We stayed at the Park Hyatt Place Vendome once and Lady Gaga was also staying there. We’ve also met some very interesting people at nicer hotels. Some have become friends.
View from the W Hotel toward the side of the Opera Garnier
There are a lot of advantages to spending extra money on a hotel in order to be in a central area. It saves on so many fronts and works for us. As a comparison, we also love the Mama Shelter chain which is about 1/3 the cost of the W, but one Metro ride takes about 30 minutes of travel time, plus getting to and from the Metro, which is another 5-10 minutes on each end. That’s approaching an hour of time to come and go – one way. To me, this time could be spend exploring, taking photos or doing something more fun.
Opera Garner at night. Steps from the Hotel W
We sometimes offset expensive hotels with a chain like Mama Shelter, but we know up front that it’s not going to be central. It does allow us to explore another area, which is also fun. In Paris, the Mama Shelter is steps away from Père Lachaise Cemetery and the area is lively and fun with a lot to offer, BUT, if you’re planning to visit the standard sites in Paris, you’ll be traveling back and forth a lot. Make sense? In Marseille, we like the Mama Shelter because it’s in a quiet neighboorhood and the Metro goes directly to the train station, which we used to explore other parts of the region. I hope this all makes sense. I you have comments or suggestions, please let me know.