Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week’s travel diary: A 29-year-old senior copywriter goes to Paris with her boyfriend to finalize the purchase of their Parisian apartment.
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Occupation: Senior Copywriter
Salary: $85,000 (plus $1,000 – 3,000 a year freelancing)
Annual Number Of Vacation Days: Last year, my agency introduced a flexible time off policy which has grown increasingly popular because it allows employees mental freedom while saving the company from having to pay out unused vacation time. In addition to the week off between Christmas and New Year’s, I took 25 days, so I think the change is a win-win.
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Trip Location: Paris, France
Trip Length: 5 days
Travel Companion: Boyfriend
Travel Companion Salary: $200,000 (plus annual bonus)
Travel Companion Number of Vacation Days: 20
Cost: The cost was $545 for my ticket from NYC to Paris, Bordeaux to Madrid, and Madrid to NYC. After Paris, my boyfriend and I spent four nights in Bordeaux (we bought train tickets from Paris for $50), and from there, I met a friend in Madrid before flying home. My boyfriend’s ticket was $625 from NYC to Paris, and Paris to NYC, including the cost of one checked bag both ways. To travel back to Paris from Bordeaux, he took the train (the ticket was miraculously $19 the day of).
When did you book? Do you think you got a good deal?
I booked my flight about a month ahead of my departure. Given that I booked a multi-city ticket, I think I got a great deal.
Costs: I am very into hotel credit cards, so I always try to book accommodations using points, or a combination of cash and points to help keep trip costs down. Plus, with European hotel rooms being notoriously small, it helps to have a loyalty card for upgrades! In Paris, we stayed in the Opéra district at the Marriott Ambassador Hotel for $250 a night.
Miscellaneous pre-vacation spending
The day of my flight, I saw that there was a Retrofete pop-up sample sale going on. They are a popular Israeli clothing line that’s been all over social media, so I excitedly ran over there to score a cute dress for my trip. They were out of the robe dress I wanted, but I found something better in its place. Normally $600, I scored an adorable black-sequined bodysuit and flare pant set for $150. It’s also the perfect outfit for my 30th birthday, so I already have a few occasions to wear it on. Update: If I needed more validation, the brand came up in conversation with friends while I was in Madrid, and it turns out my friend’s friend who was with us is close with the designer couple. He sent a picture of me in my outfit to them and they responded immediately, saying I looked gorgeous in it!
– 2 Tickets to Atelier des Lumières: $32
– 2 Tickets to Taste of Paris: $127
– 3 tickets to the Louis Vuitton Foundation: $53.86
Miscellaneous post-vacation spending: I had a couple of dresses dry-cleaned that cost $24.80
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation?
No, I do not have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation. I am big on saving so I can enjoy vacations without stressing about finances!
8:45 p.m. — The Uber arrives at our Brooklyn address and my boyfriend, B, loads our bags into the trunk. B and I usually share a large suitcase to check, and each brings a carry-on. The driver confirms our destination, JFK, and before I know it we are cruising along the Belt Parkway. Finally able to fully relax, I take one of those deep, shuddering sighs that only happens when I know I have zero responsibilities for the next week, or in this case, ten days. I recently switched teams at work and don’t start the new one until I return, so in a way it feels like a break between jobs. $40.50
10:30 p.m. — After a long queue to check our bag, we are seated at a café by the gate. B is munching on a ham and cheese sandwich ($8.55) and I steal a few mediocre bites. As we wait to board, I crack open Jane Eyre, a classic piece of literature that somehow slipped through the cracks of my high school reading list. It is surprisingly relevant, and I am here for the growth and strength of Ms. Eyre! $8.55
11:25 p.m. — Wheels up! I plan to sleep on this red-eye but think twice when I spot A Star is Born in the entertainment selection.
Daily Total: $49.05
12:20 p.m. — We land and head straight to baggage claim. Our bag appears after several minutes and we walk outside to the Roissybus ticket machine. There are other public transit options, but this bus goes straight to Opéra, which is only an 8-minute walk to our hotel, Paris Marriott Opera Ambassador. $27.50
12:50 p.m. — Over the course of the 40-minute bus ride, B and I chat about our plans for the next few days. This is our fourth trip to Paris together during our 3-year relationship, and while we don’t need an excuse to keep coming back, we are here to finalize the purchase of a two-bedroom apartment! I am still in disbelief that my francophile fantasy of having my own pied-à-terre is coming true. Here’s how it happened: I spent over a year looking at properties online, lusting after tiny, overpriced apartments. One search yielded a new-build in Puteaux, a suburb just west of Paris, with apartment plans that looked surprisingly affordable for my price range. I initially inquired about a studio apartment, something I could afford on my own, but after discussing the prospect over dinner, my boyfriend and I decided to go 50/50 on a two-bedroom, 1.5 bath unit. My half of the down-payment and fees was $65,000, nearly all of my liquidity, but it was worth it. To try and put it into words: between following author George Clason’s advice in The Richest Man in Babylon, adhering to no-spend days, and taking on side hustles, I fed every bit of savings to my proverbial piggy bank. The day I signed for the apartment was the day I smashed that piggy bank and went oui, oui, oui all the way to my new French home.
While I won’t have the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre at my doorstep, it’s only a 12-minute metro ride to downtown Paris, and more space for a price I can afford. Going on my second year living in Brooklyn, I definitely see the value of having more living space in exchange for a short commute.
2:40 p.m. — Once we throw our bags in the room, we walk to a nearby branch of Banque Populaire to transfer the remaining funds to the notary before our meeting tomorrow morning, and we are cutting the transfer a bit close. For the 20% down payment, B and I put money into a shared French account. However, we are responsible for ensuring the funds from the lender who approved our mortgage are transferred to the developer, which is what we are trying to do now.
3:12 p.m. — The bank representative assures us everything is set so we can now move on to the next matter of importance: coffee. We walk to a luxury department store nearby called Printemps. Their rooftop food hall, Printemps du Goût, is the best place for a quick bite and gorgeous views. I am definitely overpaying for the latte I order ($5.98), but the unobstructed vista of the Eiffel Tower is beyond price. B buys us croissants ($6.82) and we devour them as we walk through the stalls. There is brightly colored fresh produce, wines from all corners of the country, and delicate pastries dressed with a buttery sheen. Sit-down restaurant service is offered, but we opt to find lunch elsewhere. I take my latte à emporter (to go). $12.80
5:45 p.m. — Even though it’s cloudy, it’s warm enough to walk around without coats, which is a nice change from our last visit in February. We turn the corner on Rue Cadet in the 9th arrondissement to find an outdoor market. There is a parade of rotisserie chickens, fruits, vegetables, and cheese; so much cheese. We pop into a bakery on the corner for mini canelés ($3.41). Further down a nearby street, we see a line for a small brasserie and know it must be good. I order one of my favorite comfort dishes, a croque madame, and B gets the croque monsieur. They are essentially gourmet ham and cheese sandwiches, only mine dons a fried egg on top. We sip down espresso to perk up, and B gets l’addition (the check) ($29.34). $32.75
8:15 p.m. — After more meandering by foot, I am happily snacking on sweet strawberries from the fruits and veggies market while perched at the bar of the newly opened Mikkeler, on Rue de Rochechouart. We initially discovered Mikkeler in Iceland, during a collaboration event, and have been enjoying the beer brand ever since. B is a craft beer enthusiast and excitedly chats with the bartender. I double down on fruit and order a cherry sour beer, drifting back and forth from the book I’m reading to the conversation. $6.82
9:50 p.m. — When it’s time to go, B settles the tab ($27.31) and orders an Uber ($9.10). We wash up and fall into bed, happy and exhausted. $36.41
Daily Total: $116.28
9:30 a.m. — We are walking at a brisk pace to make it to our meeting on time, but how can there be such urgency when I haven’t had my coffee yet? I see a brasserie on a corner up ahead and quickly order a cappuccino à emporter. The proprietor doesn’t accept credit cards and I am short a euro, oops! He waves me off and we continue on our way. $2.24
10:07 a.m. — The notary office is stately with a stone facade and dark mahogany interior. We are greeted by our real estate broker, a representative from the developer’s office, the notary, and a translator. The notary begins with the agreed upon layout (we were able to make bespoke changes) and then transitions to the rest of the documents and contracts. There is nothing we haven’t seen before; this is a necessary step to ensure the developer and buyer are aligned. The meeting lasts two hours. At the end, B and I initial the document on digital pad, then the notary does the same, and just like that, we’re homeowners!
12:30 p.m. — The next step in the process is to choose the finishes for the apartment, but that won’t happen for another six months. For now, we celebrate! Our real estate broker takes us for Champagne and we talk about our journey thus far. He tells us that only a few units are unsold in the building (there are 68 apartments total), which bolsters my confidence. I always wanted to make a sart investment with my liquid savings, and since the stock market never interested me, a tangible investment like real estate was most appealing. All it took was finding the right one.
When I dug into the research, I found intriguing advantages to buying in France. For starters, we were approved for a 20-year fixed-rate mortgage of 2%, and, because we are buying a new build, we only have to pay 2.5% of the purchase price for conveyancing fees and registration taxes. In Paris, because most buildings are older (the common term being, “existing properties”), that same figure jumps to 7-10%. It is also common for the developer to pay broker fees on new construction properties.
1:10 p.m. — We walk to Le Seraphin in Saint Germain for lunch. Our real estate agent tells us this place comes recommended from a colleague. Inside, it’s cozy and smells delicious. I order an Aperol spritz and the daily special (fish and mushroom risotto), and some chocolate cake for dessert. Our real estate broker talks about his upcoming wedding and shows us the ring he proposed with. It isn’t the overstated diamond I am used to seeing; it is classically French, more subtle than showy. The conversation turns to politics and we speak of the “Yellow Vest” protestors, Macron, and inevitably, Trump. At the end of the meal (the broker paid) I am slightly tipsy, ready to enjoy the shining sun and galavant around Paris as a girl who proudly owns a small piece of it (even if it is a subway ride away). We say our goodbyes, thank him for the lovely meal, and hit some bookstores in the area. I will read anything set in 1920-40s Paris, and have formed somewhat of an obsession with the infamous literary circle that used to live here. Nertz! No section for used books. I shouldn’t be surprised considering only half of a spindly wooden table is dedicated to books in English. I brush my fingers along the spines before making my way to the exit.
5:00 p.m. — B peeled off to get some work done about an hour ago, leaving me to window shop in the Marais. There are a myriad of wonderful boutiques, my favorite being Manoush, on Rue de Vieille Temple. I love their playful attire and want everything in sight. As a master’s graduation present, my dad bought me a stunning navy shearling coat with Swarovski crystals running down the front from this exact location. Five years later, it is still in like-new condition and I feel like a Russian princess when I wear it. I walk out empty-handed and meet B at BrewDog where he is posted up. His glass is full (his third, I suss out), so I order a cider for myself and we discuss dinner options for later. $36.40
7:13 p.m. — The rain is coming down and B orders an Uber to take us to the 11th for an exhibit at the Atelier des Lumières. The all-digital art museum has garnered mass attention for its incredibly immersive experience. I am glad I booked tickets in advance, as they are completely sold out for this weekend. Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous works appear on each wall in an animated style that makes me feel like I am living inside each painting. It culminates in Starry Night, and the second screening on Japanese art begins. I think I like this more than the Van Gogh. Rice paper screens part to expose geishas in kimonos, and the musical accompaniment is as soothing as a cup of tea on a snowy day. Hokusai’s Great Wave is featured in this set, and I am completely enamored. B and I stay through part of the next showing to root ourselves in the moment. We leave enlivened and inspired. $10.34
9:17 p.m. — For a late dinner, we walk to an Israeli restaurant nearby called Shouk Paris. I’ve had it bookmarked in my Paris Instagram collection for a while. The food does not disappoint. The grilled octopus is the best I’ve had; tender with a bit of char, accompanied by microgreens and a delicious yogurt sauce. The hummus is flavorful and light, and I can’t get enough of the warm and fluffy pita bread. The kebab is also extremely flavorful and melts in my mouth. B and I are too full for dessert ($52.70); he orders an Uber to take us back to the hotel ($10.05). $62.75
Daily Total: $111.73
9:30 a.m. — It’s another busy day! A friend I haven’t seen in 15 years is meeting up with us for the day. She is flying in from Toulouse and I am so excited to see her! I did an exchange program in high school where I stayed with a host family. We were in the same class at the regional high school I attended, and became close friends by the end of my stay. I check my phone to see if she’s off the plane, but there are no new messages. B pulls me back into bed.
10:23 a.m. — Uh oh! She is in the hotel. I jump out of bed and try to get ready as fast as possible. French people operate on the same understanding that people did before cell phones – if you agree on a plan, that’s the plan. At home, I am used to constant updates, like, “Hey, are we still on for later?”; “Running a few mins late!”; “K, walking in, where are you?…” but maybe it’s because people flake more often. Technology is both friend and foe.
10:47 a.m. — I hope she’s not upset for having to wait! We hug and I exclaim that she looks great. I mean, of course, she’s French. I hand her a small gift (a Roxanne Assoulin choker) and she says she has something for me, too, as she produces a circular tin box of lavender candies from Toulouse. I formally introduce her to B, and the three of us hop in a cab to the Grand Palais for the Taste of Paris food festival. It’s a happy coincidence we are here on the same weekend; the highlighted event features the city’s most coveted chefs and pastry chefs, with plates ranging from $10-$14. We pre-paid for tickets and loaded money onto a virtual card we can use to purchase plates with. $18.21
12:00 p.m. — I look up at the large glass dome, coated in raindrops. It is the perfect backdrop to the elegant food and wine stations set up throughout the exhibition hall. We start with coffees (my friend picks up the tab) and then make our way around the space to choose dishes we want to try. A jazz band plays in the center of the hall; a pastry chef articulate the details on a sheet of lemon tarts; I am struck by delight.
1:15 p.m. — This may be the fullest I’ve felt outside of Thanksgiving. My favorite tasting was a veal ravioli with truffle cream sauce, and a flower-shaped chocolate mousse cake from George V, the restaurant at the Four Seasons. There were other good dishes, but despite my fullness, I could easily devour a second helping.
3:06 p.m. — We don’t have too much time left before my friend has to leave for the airport, so we move quickly through the Louis Vuitton Foundation. About a 20-minute cab ride ($23.91) from the Grand Palais, La Fondation Louis Vuitton is in the forested area of Neuilly-sur-Seine, practically next door to where our apartment is! There is an exhibition on Impressionism (pre-paid) and my friend sounds like a museum guide as she illuminates the distinct features and themes behind the great works of artists like Manet, Seraut, Cezanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. Her art knowledge is incredible and I am inspired by her passion. $23.91
5:25 p.m. — After saying goodbye to my friend, me and B walk to Puteaux to see the progress on the apartment building. Unfortunately, it is pouring buckets. We linger long enough to walk the perimeter of the construction site and then head to a nearby restaurant called Eugene, where we order happy hour cocktails ($27.32) and dry off. Small bites come with our drinks, so I fill up on a plate of charcuterie and cornichons to share. We chat with the bartender, who coincidentally shares the same name as me, and learn that Puteaux is attracting more and more young couples who are being priced out of Paris. This confirms our research, but it feels good to hear it from someone who works here. When our drinks are gone, B orders an Uber ($19.49) to the hotel. $46.81
8:45 p.m. — After showering and lounging about the room, we set out for dinner. There is a place that came recommended by our real estate agent called John Viande, a casual spot with great burgers. It’s jean jacket weather and I enjoy every step of our mile-long walk. We share a salad, loaded fries, and a burger with gruyere cheese and caramelized onions. Normally, we don’t seek out at-home comfort food abroad; but that doesn’t mean I don’t gobble up every juicy bite of this gooey burger and fries. The restaurant fills up with a large party as we finish up the remaining fries. We flip-flop over ordering dessert before compromising on pastries in the morning. B grabs the check and we walk back to the hotel. $40.84
11:02 p.m. — Lights out! I am exhausted from another long day. I brush my teeth, tell B to floss (even though I know he won’t), and do a speedy version of my nighttime skincare routine: gentle face cleanser and firming moisturizer. I keep a travel cosmetics case full of sample-size products that are perfect for vacation. In a sleepy daze, I get cozy under the covers and whisper “bonne nuit” to B, and to Paris.
Daily Total: $129.77
10:38 a.m. — Sleeping in is my favorite indulgence. If I didn’t have to work and pay bills, I would live my best life in bed, with a stack of books and an oat milk latte. Speaking of books, I am excited to travel to Bordeaux’s Mollat Bookshop where Montesquieu last lived. Never having been to Bordeaux, I am excited to spend the next five days roaming the picturesque countryside, visiting the acclaimed Château Phélan Ségur for wine tasting and lunch, and day-tripping to the medieval town of Saint-Émilion.
12:10 p.m. — We have just enough time to get a pastry and coffee at Printemps du Goût before making our 1 p.m. train to Bordeaux. I get the same latte as before ($5.98) and take one last look at Eiffy before rushing off. B hails a cab ($9.11) and we arrive at the train station in time to start our next adventure. $15.09
Daily Total: $15.09
How did you prepare for this trip?
Having been to Paris several times in the past, I had some go-to’s, but also used Instagram hashtag searches to find new restaurants to try.
Did you use credit card points/miles to pay for parts of this trip? If so, please explain further:
I used my Marriott Hotel credit card to pay for our stay in Paris, and my boyfriend Venmo’d me the cost of the 3 nights because I used points to pay for the next leg of the trip in Bordeaux.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
Book-shopping in St-Germain is my favorite activity in Paris. That, and walking around. The architecture is stunning, and stopping into any one of the numerous bakeries for a snack is my idyllic way to spend an afternoon in Paris.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
Both le Seraphin and Shouk were top-notch; I would happily go back to both. And while we didn’t have time this trip, we usually go to Kitchen Ter(re), an incredible Italian restaurant with truly delicious varieties of pasta. And you can’t come to Paris without a reservation at Le Potager du Père Thierry in Montmartre. It’s a really tiny restaurant that serves some of the best authentic French food I’ve had. Ugh, there is never enough time to do everything.
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
Get off the tourist loop after visiting the sites. Some of the best views and photo opportunities are found from wandering around. My favorite areas are St-Germain and the Marais.
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
Honestly, no! I had a wonderful time.
Would you stay at your hotel again?
Yes, I liked the location and the room was very comfortable.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
My boyfriend still hasn’t been to the Louvre. If we had another day, we would have gone there.
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