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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Ultimate in Valentine's Day Getaways 2.1.12

It's that time again: Valentine's Day is coming! I’m sure some of you are racking your brains still for things to buy your Sweetheart. If you had a plan and are totally prepared, why not start thinking about a romantic getaway later in the year or even as an anniversary, birthday or next Valentine’s Day “Wow” vacation? I’m talking, of course, about the most romantic city in the world: Paris. While others may disagree with this title, I think more people than not still want to travel to France to see what they’ve been missing all this time. From the sidewalk cafes to Notre Dame, Paris is really a magical city. There’s so much to see and do that even if you don’t find it extremely romantic, you will find it extremely tourist friendly, with something to see or do around every corner.

The only drawback to this great city? Price. Paris can be very spendy if you don’t plan out your trip ahead of time. And don’t let the fact that Euros sound cheaper than British Pounds fool you. Currently, the dollars to Euros exchange rate is 1.36 : 1, meaning 1 Euro = $1.36. Make sure you do the math when trying to figure out your budget. It doesn’t seem like much, but if you forget to add almost 40% to all of your purchases, that is huge!

Spring, Fall and Winter are good times to travel to France. Anything, but Summer, really. Fall and Winter are going to be the least expensive times and also the least crowded. While shops and museums may be open shorter hours, you will be able to do more than you would in Summer, since tourists are sparse. Another upside: The air will have a chill, meaning you and your sweetie will spend a considerable amount of time snuggled together for warmth.

If you plan to do any real sightseeing in Paris, you should get yourself a Paris Pass. For one reasonable price, you can then skip the lines at many attractions, such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre, and go right in. In fact, over 60 attractions are included with your Paris Pass, making it the most valuable thing you can take with you, besides your passport and loved one. Gain entrance to 55 museums and monuments (unfortunately, the Eiffel Tower is not included), amazing attractions, like the Seine River Cruise, unlimited travel on the metro, buses and RER within Central Paris, an awesome guidebook and coupons for dining and shopping.

Just looking to take a few relaxing days out wandering the streets? Well, that’s a great way to save money, especially since there are so many things to walk around and see without having to pay entrance fees. Stroll the Champs de Elysee, take pictures of the Arc and the outside of Notre Dame, cross the bridges over the Seine, buy a baguette or crepe from a street vendor, enjoy the sculptures outside of the Louvre and on and on. 

One of my favorite memories, which may seem odd, was our trip to Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust and other notable historical figures have been buried here. It’s free to enter and they’ll even give you a map to guide you around. There is a donation box, and I suggest tossing in a couple of Euros, just for being able to walk among the mausoleums, tombstones and memorials. It’s simply amazing, the money and craftsmanship that went into the houses of the dead. We spent around three hours walking up and down the pathways and taking pictures of the magnificent structures and reading about those who were buried there and didn’t even see half of the grounds. It’s definitely a cheap day, but also very interesting. I plan to make another trip when I return. (Kudos to my husband for planning that day and including the cemetery, otherwise I would never have seen it.)

It’s pretty easy to get around town on public transportation. While it’s not as easy as it is in London and other big cities, mostly just because there aren’t as many stops, it’s still a great way to get from one place to another and also get your walking and exercise in once you arrive at your destination. Paris is a wonderful walking city. With everything to see, you won’t even realize how many miles you’ve put on your walking shoes…until you finally decide to sit down and get lunch somewhere. If you don’t invest in a Paris Pass, get yourself a daily or weekly Metro pass. It will save you money from buying each pass individually and make it much easier to keep track of.

Find delicious places to eat on a budget! This one is so easy, I wish I had the options last time I was there. Food can really add up, especially if, like me, you didn’t do your homework and assumed there would be amazing food everywhere you turned. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so. Check out these options for finding and booking meals in Paris and saving money while doing it!
  • TopTable.com: Not only can you make reservations online with TopTable, but you can see diner reviews, menus, get big discounts and accrue points for each reservation you complete to earn your way to a free dining certificate. Even if you’re already in the city and want to have lunch in an hour, make your reservation just to get the points credited to your account when you check in.
  • Groupon: Sign up for this deal-a-day site and get emails each day with the new deal. It can be entertainment, dining, personal services, shopping or more. The point is, there is plenty that Groupon has to offer that might be relevant and useful to your trip. Many of the selections are 50% off, so already that’s a significant saving on one aspect of your travel day.

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  • KGB Deals: Another great deal-a-day site like Groupon. I've seen many great deals for dining in Paris. 
So, you didn’t already plan a getaway or buy a gift and you can’t put together a trip to Paris in two weeks? What’s that? You’re not made of money? Don’t worry. Most of us aren’t, which is why this blog exists. So, for those of you that need a little help to stretch your dollars further, I'll be posting deals on Facebook and Twitter in the coming weeks and on Saturday, I'll have a great blog post on last-minute getaways that are both affordable and romantic. You can even bring your kids...if you have to.

In the meantime, check out the 10 best budget boutique hotels in Paris from MrandMrsSmith and GlobalGrasshopper's list of 10 best budget hotels in Paris. I totally want to stay in all of these and the rates are super reasonable. I'll definitely be looking into which one works best for us when we get down to seriously planning our trip for fall.

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