Ciao, Roma!

Every turn on the streets of Rome will lead you to fountains and churches. There's really a lot of things to see and do at what was once a great empire.

Soulful Seoul

Seoul is full of soul when it becomes dramatic during Autumn!

Temple run!

The secret to enjoying Angkor Wat's famed temples now revealed!

Spring blossoms

One of the best times to mount that trip to Japan is during Spring when cherry blossoms abound!

Oui, Paris!

More than the Eiffel Tower, there's so many things to see and do in this dream destination.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Shoestring budget to Paris

I guess the mere mention of “Europe” will never fail to conjure an image of the Eiffel Tower. The French monument – the most visited in the world until Notre Dame de Paris overtook the lead sometime in 2012 – has become too iconic that it almost represents what the entire continent is all about.
Indeed, for this tower, much more for the city's old worldly beauty, food, fashion, art and everything in between, a stop in Paris is a must for every trip to Europe.

A typical view of Paris (sans the Eiffel Tower) on a beautiful Spring morning.
But being the must-see and touristy that the French capital has become, a visit surely comes at a price. Even if one is not intent on buying a Louis Vuitton bag or a Cartier watch (where it is relatively cheaper) it is certain that every traveler is bound to spend quite a hefty amount.

And this leads us to a very sensitive yet important question: how much does one spend on a trip to Paris?

A recent article on the Internet has caused quite a stir on the world wide web among Filipino Europhiles (including myself) for pegging the amount to a mere P55,600 ($1,236) for an all-inclusive Parisian getaway for four days and three nights.

I’m not really a frequent visitor of Paris but after three backpacking trips to this city, I have doubts if one is to survive for four days with this amount.

I am not to dispute the price tag of every item that the writer mentioned in the article. I’ll just try to come up with a realistic budget for a less frills yet satisfying trip to Paris.

Plane Fare - $900-$1,400 or P40,500-P63,000 (return trip)
Bulk of the expense if one is to mount a trip to Paris coming from Manila is the plane fare. Fares can be as low as $900 (P40,500) on promos, and about $1,400 (P63,000) on normal days. Fares are normally  low during the cold months (November up to early March), but here’s the thing for tropical islanders (yes, I mean you, fellow Pinoys!): Paris is not at its most beautiful during the dead of winter when the sun is not out. I guarantee, the cloudy if not rainy weather can be depressing! If you’ve been wanting to experience snow, then by all means aim for that white Christmas winter getaway. But based from experience, I can say that the Sacre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower are at their best when the sun is shining. When looking for the cheapest plane fares, compare the fares as listed on the websites of every airline that you know (Qatar Airways, Thai Airways, Etihad, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, AirAsia, etc.). Don’t forget your ever reliable travel agent as they may have better deals for you.

The Sacre Coeur will not look this pretty if not for the sunlight.
Visa Fee at the French Embassy -- 60 or P3,600
This fee excludes any other expense that might be incurred in getting an authenticated birth certificate, photos for the visa, and securing other documents.

Travel Insurance - 16 or P960 for 5 days
Travel insurance is a must when securing a Schengen visa. The amount stated is the cheapest that I’ve found so far. If you want to know where to get insurance policy for cheaps, send me a private message.

Accommodations - 35 or about P2,300/night
If you are really on a shoestring budget, a hostel is your best bet (next to your friend’s or relative’s apartment or a kindred soul traveler’s couch, which is, of course, free).  The price stated is that of a dorm room of a hostel up in Montmartre, which is about 14 Metro stations away from the Latin Quarter or Republique, where the center of the universe is when you are in Paris. Make it a room for your lonesome and move it nearer to the center – say, somewhere near Gare du Nord or Republique (or if you have more moolah to spare, make it a stone’s throw away from the Eiffel Tower), then the price goes higher. Leave no stone unturned and look at the deals in Agoda, Hostelworld, AirBnB,, among many other websites.

Food – 80-100 or P4,800-6,000 for a 4-day, three-night stay
A P1,000 or less than 20 budget for food is an insult to a place known for having one of the well-loved cuisines in the world. Escargot (snails), frites (fries), foie gras (goose liver pate), a wide selection of French pastries (macarons and éclairs!) and a bottle of French wine (from €2-6 or P120-P360 per bottle in grocery stores) will not make it in this kind of budget! My benchmark when it comes to allocating budget for meals in Europe are the prices of a McDonald’s meal. A meal which consists of a burger, drink, and salad or fries (or potato wedges) would be about 7.50 or P450. The cheapest plat du jour (menu for the day) in restaurants and quaint eating places around Montmartre or Latin Quarter starts at €10 or about P600, which already includes salad or a generous serving of foie gras, pasta or grilled chicken with fries, and sorbet or apple pie for dessert. A large slab of steak served with fries and sauce that restaurant L’Entrecote has been famous for is €25. Since breakfast at the hostel is free, my suggestion is to allocate €10 (P600) each for lunch and dinner and reserve a budget for L’Entrecote and for sampling French pastries (macarons de Paris at Laduree or Pierre Herme are a must!). If you're really on a tight budget, a trip to the grocery for a cook-your-own-meal should give you a 4-euro meal.

A generous serving of foie gras, or goose liver pate.
Signage indicating what's cooking (and how much) outside one of the eating places around Montmartre.

Transportation - 50-60 or about P3,000-P3,600
Unlimited rides at Paris’ Metro for three days cost about 30 or P1,755. It can be much more expensive if you’ll get a pass that will give you access to the suburbs including Versailles. But I think the out-of-town destination that is worth visiting is La Vallee for the outlet store of signature products as well as Versailles for its palace. I suggest you just buy an unlimited ticket only for Paris city center and buy separate tickets if you are intent on going out of town. Don’t forget that you also have to take the bus going to and from the airport, which costs €10 (P600) per person per trip (the Roissy bus from Charles de Gaule and Opera). 

A Metro station.
Museums - 12-16 or P720-960 for three museums
If you are spending just four days and three nights in Paris, I don’t really suggest buying an unlimited museum pass which costs 56 or P3,360. Even if you are an art lover, you wouldn’t want to spend your entire time in Paris just staring at every painting, photograph or sculpture in the museums! Even if you are intent on seeing EVERY ARTWORK housed in the Louvre, the collections are so extensive that a 30-second stare at each artwork would take three months to finish! If you’re really itching on seeing Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, then go to the Louvre (€12 or P720 for the permanent collection). If you want to see the other museums, do your research and determine which ones you want to visit. I’ve been to the Louvre already and I want to check out the works at Centre de Pompidou (€10 or P600) and Musee L’Orangerie and Musee d’Orsay (€16 or P960 for the two museums). Please note that there are times when admissions to the museums are FREE, which is normally every first Sunday of the month.

At the courtyard of the Louvre.

Inside the Louvre. Taken during my first trip to Paris sometime in January 2009.
Souvenirs - 20 or about P1,200
Souvenirs sold at Montmartre are relatively cheaper than in other parts of Paris. A small Eiffel Tower keychain could be about €1 (P60), while shirts or coasters cost about €10 (P600). If you’re not really bent on buying that much, then this budget should be enough. Hint: the small Eiffel Tower keychains are sold for 1 for five pieces from the African guys walking around Place du Trocadero or Ecole Militaire (read: under the Eiffel Tower itself!).

Guided tours – 5-10 or P300-600
FREE guided tours are very common across Europe, and Paris isn’t an exception. Take for example Sandeman’s guided tour that showed me around Paris and Montmartre. It’s practically free but tipping is encouraged. I remember what Amelia, a Mexican national studying in Paris and working part-time as a tour guide, said before we commenced our walking tour: “If you’re not satisfied, I accept a kick in the butt!” But even if you’re traveling on a shoestring, you don’t want to do that. Do you really need a guided tour around Paris? Yes. Why? Click HERE.

So for our grand total:
P61,980 up to P86,820 

or $1,511 up to $1,930.

Just a piece of advice: always see to it that you have extra cash or have your credit card ready for any emergencies (sudden decision to buy a Long Champ or LV is not counted! Wehehe).

And a question before you embark on your trip to Paris: will you really spend that much money for plane fare for only four days in Europe? Another hint: there are so many places in Europe that are (arguably) prettier than Paris!

Conversions are based on €1=P60 and $1=45.

For more about planning your trips, read Planning the Road Ahead or click HERE.
For more about the FREE (tip-based, that is) walking tours of Paris, check out my entry titled, Paris on Foot or click HERE.
There are also FREE walking tours of Montmartre, touted as The Real Paris. You may also read up about that HERE.


Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Bringing a bike on a plane trip

Should we -- or can we -- really bring our bikes when we go on a foreign trip via plane?

I thought it was plain madness that would bring unnecessary hassles when my friend insisted that we bring our folding bikes on our trip to Seoul.

As a frequent traveler, I know that I’m bound to try my luck (again!) on getting away with exceeding on my baggage space on my flight back home as I figure out how to fit my accumulated nick-knacks in a standard 20-kilo baggage allowance. What more with a 14-kilo bicycle?

And knowing South Korea as a progressive country especially when it comes to the use of bikes as alternative mode of transportation, I was pretty sure renting a bike would be a cinch -- and a better option at that.

But my friend stood her ground: “whether you’re bringing your bike or not, I’ll bring mine.”

She won. I succumbed to peer pressure.

So if your friends are gonna do the same to you or if you’re simply curious if it’s indeed possible to bring a bike in a plane (YES IT IS POSSIBLE!), here’s what I did:

1. Before packing my bags, I made sure that I’m not paying for excess baggage by calling up my airline to inquire about buying additional baggage space. Frequent travelers can surely relate to that horrendous sight of that digital weighing scale indicating that your baggage has exceeded a kilo, and next, the rip-off rates for excess baggage that can go from P200 to P600 per kilo (about $5 to $14), and thousands of pesos elsewhere (say, in Italy, where RyanAir charged me 40 euros for excess baggage!). The per kilo rate is much more expensive compared to buying additional luggage space beforehand. Additional five kilos of baggage allowance can cost about P1,000. If you fail to buy additional baggage allowance while booking your ticket, this can be arranged by calling your airline at least four hours before your flight. Just prepare your credit card for faster transaction.

Some airlines say sports equipment are charged differently. But since my bike is foldable and not used for competition, it’s not really necessary to declare it as a sports equipment where airlines charge higher rates. When the ground attendants ask you what’s inside that oversize bag, be honest and tell them that it’s a folding bike.
Just so you have an idea, that's how big my folding bike is when put inside a bike bag. The stroller was destroyed upon arrival in Seoul. Photo by Sharon Bancoro.
2. Pack your bike in a proper bike bag. I borrowed a bike bag from a fellow biker, where my Enda Leo folding bike fit perfectly. In order to reduce scratches on your bike during the course of the plane ride, buy some bubble wrap from the hardware store (about P30 or less than $1 per meter in Manila). If you have extra budget, buy some foam so that your bike won’t rip the bag. Ask the check in guys to put “fragile” mark on your bike bag. Well, I don’t really think the baggage handlers take the fragile mark seriously, but hey, my bike came out fine except that I lost one of the wheels of my stroller.

That's my bike with the bubble wrap and the bike bag ready for check in!

3. Don’t forget to bring your helmet and other gears like air pump, lights and blinkers, and some ropes to tie your stuff with if you have a bike rack, and of course a chain with a lock so you can leave your bike in peace while you’re checking out the tourist attractions.

In full battle gear: biking in Bukcheon in Seoul with my helmet and a backpack-full of gears! Photo by Sharon Bancoro.

4. Pack light! Make sure the luggage that contains your clothes and other personal effects is light enough as it can be difficult going out of the airport, taking the bus or train to your hotel while dragging a heavy luggage and a big bike bag.

My friend's luggage including the bike inside the Brompton bag. If you just have this and a small knapsack, you'll be fine. Photo by Sharon Bancoro.
Was bringing my own bike worth the excess baggage fee and the hassle of having to lug an oversize bag? Hell yeah, and I'm gonna do it again for my next trip!