It is so much easier (and cheaper!) to travel throughout Europe once you’re here! However, costs can still add up quite quickly. Below, I’ve compiled a list of my best tips on how to save money on trains, planes, and automobiles in France.
1. Carte Jeune: If you’re under 28, one of the first things you should purchase in France is a Carte Jeune. These cost 50€ for one year and you can buy them at any train station or SNCF boutique. Even better, if you renew your Carte Jeune after one year, it only costs 40€ instead of 50€ (and a bonus- in 2016 there was a sale and all reduction cards were 50% off!). With your Carte Jeune, you receive anywhere between 25-60% off of any train ticket anywhere in France. If you are over 28, invest in a Carte Week-end, which is good for up to two people, and will give you reductions on round-trip train tickets that touch at least one weekend night.
2. Invest in a Regional Train Pass (Pass Régional): Grand TER Pass / Carte ZOU: Because I’ve only lived in three different regions of France, I only have limited information on a few different passes.
In Haut de France, the Grand TER Pass is an absolute steal. It costs just 7€ and is valid for one year. It can be used on weekends (Saturday-Sunday), jours fériés (bank holidays) and les vacances scolaires (school holidays, which includes every day the ENTIRE summer!) The ticket purchased with the card MUST be aller-retour (round-trip) and can only be used on TER trains within the region, and you can use up to 5 adults on one pass. The first two adults get a half priced ticket, and the next 3 adults on your card ride for 10 CENTS each. So, if you have 5 people on one card, divide two half-priced round trip tickets (plus 30 cents) by 5, and you have a pretty dang cheap train ticket. It’s even cheaper than individual carte jeunes if done up right.
In Provence Alps-Côte d’Azur, there is a similar train pass called the Carte ZOU, which gives 50% discounts for the carte’s owner plus one extra person for trains in the region. The Carte ZOU costs 30€ per year. For other regional passes, please check out your local SNCF station.
3. OuiGo: This is the new budget train system in France. You can get some amazing deals with OuiGo, especially if you are flexible with your dates and times. You do, however, need to pay extra for larger or excessive luggage.
4. Voyageur Pass: If you sign up with SNCF’s programme de fidélité, for every 10 TGV journeys you take, you get one for free. Additionally, you can also download all of your train rides onto this card (or sync them directly to your cellphone’s mobile app) which is very convenient and environmentally friendly!
4. SNCB Go-Pass & Lille Trampoline Weekend Deal: Living so close to the Belgian border, I’ve gotten to know the ins and outs of traveling to Belgium on the cheap. In Belgium, there is an automatic reduction for people under 26 traveling between two Belgian train stations (to take advantage of this, I would take the bus to the border and then walk to the Belgian station in Valenciennes, or take the train from Lille to Mouscron (in Belgium), get off the train, and buy the tickets in Mouscron). Belgium also has a great deal called a “Go Pass.” For 50 euros, you have the right to use 10 journeys from any Belgian train station (unfortunately, this deal is only for people under age 26, but you can use multiple people on any ticket.) Finally, Lille and Belgium have a “Trampoline Weekend Deal.” When traveling between Lille and any train station in Belgium, round-trip, on the weekend, tickets are 40% off.
Regional Bus Systems: Most regions in France have a regional bus system. So, instead of taking trains, it is possible to simply catch the bus to smaller cities around your region, even for as little as one or two euros! The Nice regional bus system is here, and the Normandy bus system is Bus Verts.
5. OuiBus, MegaBus/Flixbus, & EuroLines: For longer journeys, Check out Eurolines, MegaBus, and OuiBUS. If you’re willing to take a few extra hours and pay a (significantly!) lower cost, I recommend France’s / Europe’s extensive bus systems.
7. Co-Voiturage– BlaBlaCar is France’s main carpooling website. This is a great way to find rides, and it saves people time and money. Sometimes you also meet awesome people during your journey! You can make a profile (or just sync your Facebook page) and then post or request rides. My recommendation is to only accept rides from people who are verified on the site and have a photo along reviews and ratings.
8. Transportation Reimbursement- By law, your employer is required to reimburse you half of your monthly/yearly transportation costs (in order to qualify you MUST buy a monthly or yearly pass). Make sure you save and make copies of all of your receipts and turn them into your secretary!
9. Rent a Car- When traveling with multiple people, this can save a lot of time and money (plus, it’s more comfortable and fun!) Your US Driver’s license should suffice (be sure to get a AAA international license from the US for $15 before coming and to avoid any major hassle.
Do you have anything else to add? Reply in the comments!