My friend Julia told me I have to write this post after our experience in Paris a few weeks ago.
If you are a student, you are in luck. There are so many students in Europe that most major museums and monuments at least have some kind of student discount, but I’ve found that Paris is especially nice to students. For example, this weekend, my American friends and I (who are studying abroad in Spain and Paris) got to visit the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Musee l’Orangerie, and climb the Arc de Triomphe for free and got unlimited transportation passes for 4 euro/day leaving us more money to splurge on a fancy dinner and some shopping.
Here are some of the best tips I have gathered throughout this semester:
Getting in to Museums:
- Always, always, always carry your student ID. It will be especially useful in the EU if it has an EU address. Even if it doesn’t, you should always try it.
- If you are studying abroad (for more than 3 months) and have a visa to prove it, you can be considered a “long-term” resident. Showing a copy of your visa can also help, and you should have a copy of your passport/visa with you anyways.
- When in doubt, give them all the non-American identification you have. Our program gives us a thing called a “Carnet Joven” that’s supposed to give us great discounts, but we haven’t found it to widely recognized. Despite that, it looks pretty official and has lots of Spanish text on it, so it definitely hasn’t hurt to flash it to prove we really are Spanish students. My friends also had their Madrid metro cards and Spanish health insurance cards prepared to prove they are not just visiting Europe.
- If someone asks where you’re from, don’t say the US. Even though it’s true, the first answer should be the country you are studying in. “I’m studying in [insert country]. I’m originally from the US though” works well.
- Try to find free attractions. Walking tours (ex. from a guidebook or found online) or just walking around the city is a great way to get a feel for where you are, and learn about it’s character. Most major museums are free at some point during the week, so visits can be centered around those times. All cities have tons of super interesting free attractions. Think: beautiful churches, parks, and smaller museums.
- Say “hello” in the local language. At least making an effort to learn a little bit is a great way to make friends with workers (this means they’ll be more likely to be lenient if you don’t quite fit their rules). Also, always say thank you in whatever languages you know how.
- If you don’t try, you’ll never know. Case in point: at the Arc de Triomphe, all the signs said that student IDs were not an acceptable form of proof of residency. We decided to go to the ticket window anyways and see if they would let us in. Though I have my residency card, the man at the ticket window didn’t bat an eyelash, and everyone else was able to get in for free.
Make lunch the big meal out. Generally, prices will be less at lunchtime and you can have just as good food.
- Prepared grocery store food is a lifesaver. Most Carrefour grocery stores in Europe have really good prepared salads for 2-3 euros. Some have pasta, some have just greens, some have fruit, all have cheese and dressing, and come with a fork. One of these plus a whole-grain roll is a perfect lunch.
- Try to stay somewhere with a kitchen. If your airbnb/hostel/other accommodation has a kitchen you will be infinitely happier when you can cook yourself cheap breakfasts and dinners. We bought a two 4-packs of yogurt, a loaf of bread, and a bag of clementines for less than 5 euros and were able to eat breakfast for two days.
- Don’t be afraid to look at a menu, decide it’s too expensive, and then leave. All the restaurants have their menus and prices displayed. If you enter to look at the menu, or ask to see the menu before they seat you, don’t be afraid to leave if you don’t like it.
- In Paris, they are required by law to bring you bread and water.
- Snacking is great. Fruit, baguettes, cheese and crackers can be found very cheaply to tide you over in the afternoon.
- Make food an attraction. Food is such an important part of any culture that a nice, long meal or street food can be an activity in and of itself.
- Be polite. Never underestimate the power of saying “thank you” or “gracias” or “merci.”
- Be flexible with dates and times. Just remember when you’re on the bus overnight or getting up at 3:30 to get to the airport how much money you saved (and then were able to spend on other things).
- Don’t buy single metro tickets. In Paris, you can get an unlimited student pass for metro and busses on Saturday and Sunday for 4 euros per day. The booklets of tickets are also usually cheaper and can be split between people.
- Bring food and water with you. Getting dehydrated, hungry, or a headache will just make you crabby and make everyone around you unhappy. I always have a water bottle, a piece of fruit, and some nuts with me just in case.
Side note: many of these tips work outside Paris.