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How to Go to France

Proof of France! Scott and I stand in the French and therefore awesome rain while the Eiffel Tower lights up and sparkles LIKE A BOSS.

Here is the first thing you should know about how to go to France: It is likely that you can go to France.

And you should. France is AWESOME. But maybe you don’t like exploring museums full of great art, eating illicit unpasteurized cheeses, drinking cheap perfect rich red local wines, meeting friendly local folks, or seeing breathtaking views, astonishing architecture, and the Mediterranean sea because you are a crazy person.

Or perhaps you are sane but you need to see real volcanoes to die happy, or lick a Galapagos turtle. Or you might want to experience canals, or jungles, or marsupials… Where/what ever it is, for purposes of this blog entry, we shall call it France. You want to go to YOUR personal France? This is how you can do it.

DISCLAIMER: Maybe you have huge health or financial issues that mean you can’t, and if so, I am sorry. I hope you feel better because I have been the kind of really sick that precludes any sort of action other than being really sick, and it SUCKS, and you just worry about living, okay? And once, Scott got downsized and those were scary times, oh ARG, it makes my butt tense up just to think about the whole job search, and COBRA costing a million dollars, and wondering would we have to move away from Atlanta for a job, and ARG! If you have spooky financial woes/crippling debt, then I deeply hope you find relief and security. Either way, tuck this plan away for later, because sick or financially crippled might be true now, but you may not be either in two years. Or five.

If you are both reasonably healthy and sitting in a climate controlled house reading this off a computer you own that has internet, then it is likely that you are probably in the middle class, and if you are, then, yeah—-you can absolutely go to France. This is how.

1) Choose a realistic date. On our tenth anniversary, we LUCKED INTO a free trip to London. We ditched the kids with mom and dad and took it while the taking was good. On that trip, we decided to take our WHOLE family to France in ten years; it actually only took nine years before we went, but still, it was a long time. In fact, it was so long ago that when we started planning it, our trip to France was called, “Taking the kids to see Italy.”

2) Want it bad enough. Once you decide YOU WILL go to France in five or nine or twelve years—whatever is realistic for your budget—-you must get everyone who is going on board. This is key. Everyone has to want to go more than they want something else.

I will drive that car another ten years. Worth it, to eat these.

I, for example, drive a wheezy old car that is paid for and costs 5 dollars to insure. It leaves chunks of itself strewn along the highway as it chugs along. It will this very month roll over past 100K miles, and I hope to get another 75K out of it.

And my kids traded in smaller family trips we might have taken to Disney or the Grand Canyon for France-in-ten-years.

You can make it FUN to give things up—you do not have to SUFFER. I have learned I will drive a car forever if I anthropomorphize it. I give it a name and a voice and ascribe traits to it, and I get FOND. I will CRY when I have to replace The Good Cat.

And the trips not taken? Every year Scott and I drive the kids down to the town where we grew up. We stay in a beach condo that my parents rent. Because my whole family is there, it is AWESOME and we have a wonderful time, but it is SUPER CHEAP. Staycation or camp or go to Granny’s or trade houses with your brother or your best friend and go to France, later, with no suffering.

3) Do not “SAVE” money for France. Once the money is in the France Pot, it is not SAVED—You have spent it. It is gone. It no longer exists. It helps to put all your “spent” money into CDs as you go, so you can’t get at it easily.

You KNOW the cat is absolutely going to grow an expensive cyst on his butt and you are going to miscalculate your taxes. This is life. Life is expensive. Your vacuum will break. Your roof will leak. If you SAVE money for France, life will eat it.

But if you PRE-SPEND it by hiding it in rolling CDs, it is gone. Let’s say you spent 100 dollars on groceries last week. If you needed that 100 for the cat’s butt cyst, you couldn’t vomit up all that Trader Joe’s cheese and salad and return it for your 100 bucks, could you? Spent is spent, and your France money is SPENT. You will find a way to get that cyst off the cat’s butt without it, just as you will find a way to do it without last week’s grocery budget.

ONLY Exceptions are: You die. Your family will need it to get therapy to learn to carry on without you. Ditto on if any of you get a horrific life threatening expensive illness. Better to live and put off France. Ditto if you lose your job and are going to be homeless. THAT’S IT. Nothing else. Nothing else warrants touching the money you already spent on France. IT IS SPENT AND GONE.

4) Get an air miles card. Capitol One has a good one, but card shop. It is important that the miles not expire, because you are going to France in YEARS, not tomorrow. Get a card and put everything on it, all the time. Groceries, gas, sure, but also, pay your electric bill with it. Pay ANYTHING YOU CAN with it. ANYTHING that will take it, pay with that card.

The key is, paying it off fully every month. Debt won’t help you go to France. Pay it off the same way you pay the electric bill in full every month. Credit Card interest payments eat money that you could pre-spend on France.

In a few years, you will have CRAZY miles. Here is how this worked for us. This year, tickets to France were cheapest from NYC, even if you added the cost of a hop up from the ATL. I watched and learned that if I waited for the sweet spot to buy, they would cost about $1,200 per person just for the NYC flight. YIKES.

Thanks to me my CRAZY ACCUMULATED AIR MILES, we all flew to NYC for free. We got one ticket to France TOTALLY for free and MORE than 500 bucks a ticket off on the others…How you like THEM maths, eh?

5) Have a realistic budget. You could save for ten years and still think France is impossible, but really You can have an AMAZING vacation on SO SO SO much less than you think, if you are thrifty and wise! And with ten years to plan and dream, you will have time to research how to get the most buck-bang. Here are some ways we made it affordable:

We didn’t stay in hotels. We went to HomeAway and AirBandB and rented a houseboat in Provence and an apartment in Paris. SO much cheaper and—

We had kitchens. We ate breakfast at home and we had our lunch out someplace COOL while exploring, had a big snack out, and then generally ate dinner at our rented place again. These two things alone can literally half your food and lodging budget.

View from our houseboat in Avignon. 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, chef's kitchen and an infinity pool on the upper deck, this is where Budget friendly meets AMAZING.

6) Decide that you are rich. Before we got the free trip to London, I kinda thought vacationing on a different continent was Only For Rich People.

So I decided we were rich. And truthfully? We are. We have a house and healthcare and enough food – sometimes too much. Scott and I are what America calls middle class, but anyone who makes more than 40K a year is in the worldwide top 1%. Make 30K a year and you are in the top 5% of earners in the world.

Deciding we were rich upped our commitment to giving to causes we care about AND and let us decide that we could go to France.

One thing that helped me define how rich we actually are: We are able to pay for the care and feeding of three morbidly expensive hairy wastrels who do not work and have NO PRACTICAL APPLICATION OR PURPOSE.

Neither dog, in spite of my sweetest askings, has ever laid a single egg or grown a useful udder. Neither can be saddled and used for transport. The cat won’t even stir himself to do traditional cat jobs. He has yet to kill a bug. “Oh, look, a bug,” he thinks, and then stretches luxuriously on my lap so I can reach the far and itchy corner of his chin.

My friends, I have room in my budget to feed these things and give them rabies shots and poison their expensive-to-kill fleas. That is RICH.

So why not decide that you are rich? It will help you be more generous, AND! Rich people get to vacation in their personal Frances.

So it takes some of us a decade. Ten years are going to pass either way – the only dif is, you can be in your France at the end of them, or not.

As for us?

We are going to Greece when Maisy graduates from college. Eleven years from now.

If Greece is YOUR France, follow these six steps, and I bet we’ll see you there. If Greece is not your France—what is?

21 comments to How to Go to France

  • jetmom4

    And so worth it. Enjoy Greece.

  • I dream of world travel. One day…

  • Love this, Joshilyn! They were kind enough to sparkle the tower for us, too. Did you go to the tippy-top? Please say yes.

  • Therese

    I also hope you went to the verrry top of the Eiffel Tower — and had a glass of real French Champagne while you were up there!

    Thank you for the discussion of “rich” — it helped remind me of everything that I am grateful for.

    And I’d love to go to France someday, and Italy and Greece, and Northern Africa, and Madagascar, and Brazil, and Central America, and and and…yeah. Pretty much everywhere that isn’t on the CIA travel warning list.

    p.s. Love the shot of Scott high-fiving the loin-scarved statue! (And the jealous statue photobombing them!)

  • Jill W.

    What a great idea, and a great way to look at things. Thanks.

  • elizabeth

    “I have everything I need!” Said out loud, before shopping, cataloging, or going online, really focuses my buying to the one thing that I have decided is a reasonable want. I don’t have a sofa in my living room, but I have everything, everything that I need. Including central air, which is a HUGE gift.

  • The UK and New Zealand are my personal “France” destinations. The plans are in the works, but as you say, it’s a distant shore we’re headed to. And we’re content to wait until we can do it. It will happen.

    Love your planning!

  • rams

    Lovely, lovely, lovely. A complete set of pink knee socks. Tights, maybe. Not that I’d mind hearing all sorts of personal details and stories, mind. But very, very nice.

    And I think we ARE going to France next year, maybe, and wish we’d gotten one of those miles cards long ago — a little late now, perhaps. But my sister did and she’s been jetting madly about for free, so smarts to you.

    Did I say lovely? Lovely.

  • edj

    HAHAHA! Love that last pic!
    And I totally agree. We are all stinkin’ rich and holidays don’t have to be as expensive as “they” say (who are these people anyway?) and travel is so worth saving for! Great post! We always travel cheap–for example, buy food in a grocery store and also your kids don’t have to have constant access to snacks. It’s so easy in France, because every day for lunch you can have bread and cheese and chocolate and fruit and maybe a bottle of wine, for very low prices, and you will be happy and feel you’re living the high life. I want more info on that houseboat though! sounds great 🙂

  • Inspirational! Thanks 😉

  • Shanley

    So absolutely true. I try to travel regularly and people are always surprised that I can. But if France (which was Turkey last year) is what you really want then other things aren’t so important. Plus my car is named Gretta and has been for 13 years.

  • Jenn

    Love the thinking in point number 3. We have pretty much come to the conclusion that we’re the only ones excited about an extended family trip to Disney. So we’re abandoning dreams of being part of a group of matching tee shirts and are trying to figure out where our France is. Maybe South America, or New Zealand, or Scandinavia, or… Glad you had a great time!

  • I remember the post (December, 2008) when you got The Good Cat. I can’t believe it’s been that long. Thank you for reminding me that I’m rich. I have debt, but I am paying it off in massive chunks. My France is not yet on my radar, but there’s a little shimmer at the edges that has potential.

  • Michelle

    Since I live in Florida, I can say Disney is so expensive to the point of I don’t know how people who don’t live in FL or a state near enough to drive do it! My brother and his wife took a much needed adults only trip from GA to Costa Rica and stayed at an all-inclusive resort for HALF of what it costs them to drive their 2 children down for a long weekend at Disney. Disney is the first thing to cross off the list. Your personal France is much better, no matter where it is!

  • I was most lucky to win a trip from Rick Steves to Paris in 2011. It was one of the most wonderful, beautiful and fabulous events of my whole life!! I plan to do another trip in the near future…I love Paris!!

  • DebR

    I love this post – great, GREAT advice. I am currently living in the Spooky Financial Woes section of town, but it is true that life goes on (or not, in which case I no longer have to worry about it, which still means problem solved from my point of view! ha!) and hopefully one day I can leave the ugly, scary SFW behind and put every one of these points into action and see France – or Italy, or Greece or NZ – one of those four places would be my “France” but their ranking shifts from time to time and I’m not sure which one would be on top years from now. We’ll have to wait and see.

    Love the pics!!

  • kathy

    Awesome tips and so true. I’ve been to Italy twice now on pretty much the same philosophy.

  • Ruth

    This post is my whole philosophy of financial living. I finance upper-middle-class tastes on a lower-middle-class income by doing exactly this.

    Squibnocket, my 22-year-old Honda, gets great gas mileage.

  • Ireland is my personal France (or one of my personal Frances, because Paris (and so I guess France) is ALSO my personal France; and the UK, although I have been there once for a ridiculously small amount of money. This plan is genius and will work and I am going to do it.

    Are those macarons in that window?

  • Beth

    This post was exactly what I needed to read today! I so enjoyed reading about your travel strategy, and would love to hear more details about your trip. What did the kids like best about France…what kind of meals did you cook in those amazing rentals…things like that. 🙂

    Also, I am SO GLAD you included point 6. My family is super mega wealthy by those world standards, but I have been thinking poor because of a bunch of Maybe Bad Things in my husband’s line of work. Those bad things MIGHT happen, but in the meantime we are rich (there are two big sleek lumps of expensively-fed cat flesh in my line of sight right now) and I need to remember that. Time to focus on generosity to others and figuring out if my family has a France we would like to plan for!

  • Chris

    I love this post and am so glad you made it to France. I am a huge believer in priorities (right now my France is private school but who know maybe it will result in a scholarship or something to make up for it). Actually my France is one of those ungodly expensive top sight trips which I think the alumni association should be ashamed for promoting but it looks truly awesome and if it takes 20 years versus 10, it is still good to dream