Frugal Man Goes To Paris

If you’re wondering whether a summer vacation is worth it, ask your doctor, not your accountant.

Every medical study ever done on the subject concludes that summer vacations – especially family summer vacations – are difference makers for employees. They come back recharged, revived and refocused. They are so much more productive that you wonder why American businesses don’t follow the French and just close the doors for the month of August.

Unfortunately, I didn’t talk to my doctor about what to do this summer. I talked to my accountant (Mrs. Frugal) and she told me that it’s funny I should mention a family vacation and France because she decided we should put the two together.

She and I have been talking about going to Paris for about 20 years, which would be a day or so after my brother moved there and told us we could stay with him anytime. I’d price the trip out every 2-3 years and it always was achievable so long as we scrimped on transportation, entertainment, food and lodging and left our three sons at home.

The plan always was to go in the offseason (lower plane fares), see the artwork at cathedrals and state-owned museums (free), limit dining to restaurants owned by my brother’s friends (discounted deeply) and, of course, stay for free in my brother’s 1-bedroom apartment right in the heart of Paris!

Add it up and 10 days in Paris for the wife and me was never going to cost more than $3,000, until this summer.

My two oldest sons graduated from universities this month, while our youngest son just completed his first year in college. Mrs. Frugal thought it appropriate we take a family vacation before everyone disperses permanently. My offer of a week at the local beach was rejected.

Mrs. Frugal wants two weeks in Paris. She wants to go in mid-June (high tourist season) and is not interested in discussing how six people (five of us, one of him) would fit into my brother’s 1-bedroom apartment. “No scrimping on this trip,” she declared.

She wants daytime visits to the best museums, cathedrals and Towers (preferably Eiffel) and night-time dinners at Paris cafés. She thinks a three-day side trip to Amsterdam or London or Berlin would be nice and so would a day trip to the French castles with an over-night stay in the wine country.

I nodded glumly at these demands, knowing my $3,000 budget for a trip to Paris was about to burst. I went online to research the projected cost for the family of five frugals and sure enough, the feedback caused my heart to thump all the way down to my wallet.

Airline flights ($1,400 per person, kayak.com) were disheartening. That’s almost double the cost in January. Lodging seemed reasonable (900 Euros for two weeks in a one-bedroom apartment, ahparis.com), but only because my brother said he could house two of us in his apartment.

Entertainment was a downer. The Paris Pass (admission to more than 60 museums and monuments, parispass.com) is $200 for a four-day pass. There’s a $1,000 gone and only four of the 14 days of entertainment covered.

The news on food is worse. It is suggested you allocate $30-$40 per person for dinner and $15-$20 for lunch. That’s $50 per person, per day and we haven’t even mentioned breakfast. Hopefully my brother has five cereal bowls at his place.

I started looking at the price of a train trip and 2-night hotel stay in Amsterdam ($700), a car rental to see the palaces outside of Paris ($110 per day) and an over-night stay in wine country ($275) and was so discouraged I went to bed, hoping a good night’s sleep would make things better. It did not.

I got an email the next day from my brother who said our mid-June visit coincides with France hosting the European Cup, a 24-country soccer tournament featuring national teams from all over Europe. My first reaction was this was great news. Now, we had some real entertainment to fill the open 10 days. This European Cup is second only to the World Cup in terms of competition and prestige. Like most everything in Europe, there is nothing like it in America.

The bad news is the event will draw hundreds of thousands of fans, who will be spilling (beer) all over the streets of Paris and anywhere else you might want to go in France from mid-June to mid-July. They will drive up the cost of everything, including renting a one-bedroom apartment, a fact confirmed later that day by my brother, whose follow-up email was terse: “You waited too long on the apartment. Cost of everything is now up 50%.”

I tried to do the math on the effect this would have on our trip and nearly had to call 9-11. The estimates for transportation, entertainment, food and lodging jumped and kept jumping. In a matter of minutes, my bank account was hemorrhaging Euros.

I tried to slow it down by eliminating the trip to Amsterdam.

Still bleeding.

I crossed out the overnight trip to the wine country.

Still bleeding.

  1. No soccer. Not even the Iceland-Austria match that I was sure I could get cheap tickets to.

Finally, it stopped. Soccer does that for Americans.

Another day has passed, but I still haven’t gone back to look at the projected bottom line for our “summer family vacation.” I know my heart can’t take it. That’s why you talk about summer vacations in your doctor’s office, not your accountant’s.

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