It didn’t begin with a lifelong goal of seeing the Eiffel Tower.
It started with an email alert.
“Low cost fairs from Asheville to Paris”
It was back in October and the flight was too good to pass up and those truly amazing deals go lightning fast so I didn’t waste any time. I looked around my house and said, “Who wants to go to Paris with me? This is not a required family vacation. This is a spontaneous(ish) opportunity and if you want in, tell me now. No pressure if Paris isn’t your thing.”
Four teens said yes and I admit I was a little surprised but I booked those tickets less than an hour after receiving that email and figured the rest would come together somehow.
We decided to really make Paris the destination, as opposed to using it as a base to see the rest of France.
We wanted to feel Parisian as much as possible, without speaking the language and without having a job and facing the actual nuances of living in a giant metropolis. You know – pretend Parisians.
I’m a flexible traveler and am generally happy to go with the flow. But also, at my heart, I am a see everything do everything don’t even sleep if you can help it sort of traveler too. However, this trip was one me and four teens and they do not see the days as I see the days. Therefore, we compromised. There was a loose plan and an even looser agenda but also we agreed that everyone didn’t have to do everything. You could say no. You could sleep late while others went to breakfast. You could retire early while others toured the sparkling Eiffel Tower after the sun set. Of course, I pretty much did both the early morning breakfast and the late night touring, but that’s how I like it and it was fun to mix it up with different kids at different times. Traveling with older teens was honestly so much fun once I lowered those expectations of all being together all the time.
The best way I know how to make that flexibility happen is via your lodging. It matters where you stay. In any trip, the three primary expenses are the transportation, the lodging and the food. After research, I saw that an AirBnB or VRBO, some sort of apartment, would be ideal for our crew. Apartments are better than hotels when you travel with larger groups. The extra beds, the extra showers, the extra living space, a kitchen area – all critical to reach levels of maximum happiness when staying together in a foreign country for a solid week.
I found them while searching AirBnB’s website and kept seeing really cute apartments with the Edgar Suites logo. They have SO many options. Plus, they respond quickly to emails, offer local suggestions and connect you with an airport transfer if desired. We were also welcomed with a cute tote bag (that we used at the markets nearby) and fresh fruit, chocolates and flowers when we arrived, as well as a sparkling clean apartment.
Because I looked at hundreds (literally HUNDREDS) of apartment rentals, I knew that finding an apartment in a Parisian neighborhood instead of on a tourist street that featured TWO showers and enough beds for us was a hard ask, I was THRILLED when this apartment popped up. I knew it was a gem right away and I was not wrong. Large wooden doors to the street, a code to get into the private courtyard, another code to get into the apartment and three stories up, it was dreamy for us. (It helped to pack light because those three flights were curvy and a little tight.) There were two bedrooms and a loft, TWO showers and beds to spare. Our kitchen boasted a little dishwasher and a little washer/dryer combo and a Nespresso machine. Giant windows overlooked our courtyard and Otto loved watching the European birds he’d never seen before land in the tree outside our window.
We enjoyed a lot of great meals out but I think all five of us agreed that our favorite meal was likely the one where we purchased dinner supplies on our street and enjoyed a feast in our apartment, Edith Piaf playing in the background, windows ajar and the baguette to diner ratio rather high. It was so fun to divide and conquer. I gave Bergen and Piper euros and they were in charge of acquiring a roasted chicken, baguettes, some dumplings that had been tempting us in a storefront window and the liberty to pick a few other items along the way. Otto and London stayed inside and tidied the apartment, set the table and started the music. I headed the opposite way with a mission to find veggies to roast, wine to share and of course, pastries. (Did I get carried away when I saw gigantic meringue for only 1.40? I think you know the answer.)
We stayed seven full days, but I can’t even say we saw half of Paris, although it felt like we walked miles and rode the metro and Uber and taxis. (Had to try them all – even the funicular in Montmartre!) By the way, we DID walk miles. And miles. Take everyone’s advice – WEAR THE COMFORTABLE SHOES.
Here’s a few spots you should NOT miss in Paris:
The Louvre. Sure, it’s crowded and yes, you have to wait in a little line to see Mona Lisa. But come on, guys. It’s MONA LISA and you’re in PARIS. This museum is swamped. It helped to order tickets online ahead of time (under 18 are free) and to enter through the side street door as opposed to the entrance by the giant glass pyramid. Even with the prepurchased tickets there was a line but it moved quickly, we ate croissants while we waited and it was worth it. I’d say go twice if you can because we ended up only deeply exploring one wing before we ran out of art viewing steam.
Musee D’Orsay. Visit on a weekday if you can. Also crowded but more straightforward in design than the Louvre so less overwhelming to navigate. Just otherworldly beautiful as a building itself. Full of art I recognized and wanted to see. So many Rodin sculptures – like the Gates of Hell – that literally had all of us wide mouthed and staring for a long time. One of my favorite artists – Edgar Degas – has many pieces here and I felt like I was meeting old friends. Again, buying tickets ahead of time was helpful. (I like Get Your Guide for easy prepurchasing.)
Montmartre. This is a neighborhood and it happened to be within easy walking distance of our apartment. It’s the only neighborhood in Paris with hills and steps. SO MANY STEPS. But it feels so iconic and Parisian. Sacré-Cœur is here – a gorgeous historical church. The steps are overflowing with people, which makes for good people watching. But also – makes it easy to lose the people you are actually with so stay close or have a plan. The streets are fun to wander through with each corner revealing a new bistro or shop or some photo worthy building covered in ivy. We stopped and watched a street art show here too, with about eleventy billion other people. The vibe was artsy and vibrant and FUN and I really liked it.
Angelina’s. It’s famous for a reason. You cannot make a reservation and each time we walked by there was a line. We finally decided to just go ahead and wait. It moved quickly and we made friends with the folks in front of us – one was an almond farmer and one a pistachio farmer from California! Don’t skip it, the hot chocolate alone was worth the hype. There are multiple locations but the one you’ll see in all the photos is located ACROSS from the Louvre, not IN the Louvre.
Every single corner boulangerie. But seriously. We never had a bad experience. Croissants are low cost and an excellent holdover as you walk or until dinner. Or – until the next bakery. The macarons everywhere were delicious and came in so many flavors. I had my first Palmier and I adored the crunchy lightly sweet layers. It was not my last.
We actually did not feel the pressure to only eat at the popular restaurants. Everything was new to us and it was all fun. If a line was too long, we just went somewhere else.
Always always choose a restaurant with outside seating and stare away. No one notices. If you have a restaurant (or museum) you are longing to visit, be sure to check the times and days they are open. A lot of shops and museums are closed on Mondays and sometimes restaurants are brunch only or don’t open until noon or later.
Tipping is not required because it is often already factored in or you can leave a few euros on the table. Occasionally we had a waiter ask us directly how much we wanted to tip but this was rare.
Google Translate was quite helpful in reading menus, although plenty of servers spoke English. Also, if your server vehemently suggest you DO NOT order something you think you wanted, go ahead and trust him. Otherwise you might be ordering pig intestine accidentally. (Ask my daughter how she learned this lesson.)
A few little extra things we learned:
- The pace of the street is SPEED. Look out!
- The pace of the dining is SLOW. Take your time.
- The tables are tiny but the accessories are many.
- Go with the plat du jour. It’s usually lower cost and comes with lots to share. (The beverages are a-plenty, it seems, water AND tea AND juice just appear.) We often ordered one or two of these to share and then another item to save on costs.
- Turns out, smoking is still wildly popular.
- If you want to blend in, wear black.
- Mornings are quiet. The streets come alive the most between noon and four.
- The Metro really is easy to navigate once you just dive in and try.
- Paying for an airport transfer on your way into the city is worth it, particularly if you are traveling with multiple people. The cost is not that much higher and your jet lagged self will appreciate not navigating two or three transportation options just to reach your apartment. Bonus with Edgar Suites – they recommend a particular company and it was easy breezy. But you did need euros in hand to pay the driver.
- If you’re arriving early morning after a long flight, consider booking your stay for the previous night too so you can go ahead and unload that luggage and freshen up. (We did not do this, but I will next trip.)
- Stop at the market and stock up your kitchen with snacks – fresh fruit and veggies. It cuts down your food costs to not leave the apartment hungry. No one likes a hangry traveler.
- Plan ahead and order your currency through your bank. It’s delivered to your door and completely convenient.
- People were really kind! We did not encounter rude wait staff or rude folks on the street.
- Do your souvenir shopping in the grocery stores. Bringing home new pastas, Nutella in French, chapstick, cute soaps, tea and regular items to use in your home later are little joys that make the trip memories last even longer. Plus – the cost is so much lower!
Honestly, if I could just travel and write about it for a complete living, I would. (And don’t think I’m not trying to do that now. I am!) I love seeing new places and walking new streets. People watching is a legitimate hobby to me and the joy of discovering shops and stores and restaurants in good company makes me feel alive and revived. The memories I made with my kids are absolute treasures to me. Dancing with my teens under the sparkling Eiffel Tower, letting a stranger convince us to pay too much money for a bottle of champagne on the street, laughing at our ordering mishaps, cramming into a cab when our feet were too tired, staring at the incredible art that we kept referring to as The Coldplay Cover together – there is no price tag I can put on creating and savoring those moments.
If you are wondering how you can afford trips, or thinking of heading to Paris yourself, ask me all the questions. I’ll share what I know and what I’ve learned – and what I wish I knew more of too. I lived the majority of my life believing this sort of travel was inaccessible to me – particularly as a single mom with a lot of children and one income. And as I age I am growing more and more convinced that, indeed, it is not. (Cliche as it may sound, I only wish I had learned this earlier.) Many thanks to all of you, by the way, who offered us incredibly helpful advice, joined in with joy as we shared photos and videos and celebrated our adventures as we lived them. That was delightful and it meant a lot to me! I offer the same to you – take the trip, make the time and I will cheer you on as you go! (And probably Venmo you money for a croissant to enjoy in my name too!)