Money Diary On Holiday: A Writer's Week In Paris, Not Writing (Much)

Money Diaries is the regular R29 series where we tackle what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. And so we ask all different kinds of women to map out their seven days in money for us.

Now, though, Money Diaries is branching out – we’re going to find out exactly what people spend on their holidays!

This week we're with a 35-year-old Irish writer of commercial fiction based in Dublin who, after royalties, speaking fees and freelance work, just about makes a living from it. She says she's terrible with money and the fact that her income is paid in sporadic, irregular instalments really doesn’t help.

This week, though, she’s realising a dream: she’s going to spend a week at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, a sort of youth hostel for Irish artists on the city’s Left Bank. But she’s down to the dregs of her last royalty payment and doesn’t expect the next until after she’s arrived back home. This trip is going to have to involve some serious budgeting. Just as well she won’t be doing much sightseeing, shopping or café crème-ing. After all, she’s going there to write. Right?

The Basics

Accommodation: I’ve booked a single en-suite room at the Irish Cultural Centre on Rue des Irlandais, near the Pantheon, for seven nights. It’s no frills but the location is amazing: the Luxembourg Gardens, Notre Dame and Shakespeare & Company are all within 10 minutes’ walk. It includes access to a shared kitchen so I can save some money by eating in. €485/£425.52

Flights: Determined to get from Dublin to Paris as cheaply as possible, I investigate all possible options including layovers in far-flung countries and going by coach. Then, a brainwave: Belfast International Airport. It’s only 2.5 hours (ish) away by bus. I find a return flight for less than half the price of a flight from Dublin: £121.66. That’s at least £121.66 saved already, and I haven’t even left yet. #smug

Total: £547.18
Day One

8.30am: I take a bus to Dublin’s O’Connell Street, another bus from there to Belfast coach station and another bus from there to Belfast International. It sounds worse than it is. The journey flies by and, hey, I’m on my way to Paris! €17.87/£15.50

11.50am: It’s grey and windy when I arrive at Belfast International and the terminal building doesn’t impress. I opt to have lunch at the neighbouring Maldron Hotel instead. A chicken wrap and a watery coffee costs £9.

2pm: I sleep almost the whole way through my flight. That’s even more money saved! I think I’m a natural at this budgeting thing.

4.45pm: I take an RER train from Charles de Gaulle to the Luxembourg Gardens, and then use Google Maps to find my way to the Irish Centre from there. European roaming charges were abolished just a few weeks before my trip, so I am using my mobile data with reckless abandon. €10/£8.78

6.30pm: The Centre is a magical place and five minutes after I check in, I’m already sad that I’ve got to leave in a week. My room is clean and bright and when I sit at my desk, the view out the window is of distinctly Parisian rooftops – just what Hemingway prescribed. I dump my bag and go for a walk along the Seine in the evening sun. It’s bliss.

8pm: All this excitement is exhausting so I decide to get an early night. Dinner is – don’t judge me – a chicken wrap from Marks & Spencer on Boulevard Saint Michel and a bottle of Coke. €7.15/£6.27

Total: £39.55
Day Two

8.10am: Early in the morning is my favourite time in Paris but it seems that for a lot of Parisians, that’s their favourite time to still be in bed. There’s very few people on Boulevard Saint Michel and most of them are tourists. I’m the only customer at Café Le Luxembourg, where I have my first café crème of the trip. €4/£3.50. My plan is to spend the first half of my days here doing some serious flânerie – walking aimlessly, on purpose – and the second back in my room at the Centre, writing. By my calculations, I can’t really spend more than £250 for the rest of the week.

10am: A sunny stroll through Saint Germain brings me to my favourite Paris museum, the Musée d'Orsay, just as it opens. I buy a Musée d'Orsay/Musée Rodin combination ticket for €18/£15.80 and go stare at Van Gogh’s "Starry Night" for a while.

12pm: I stroll some more along the Seine, all the way to the Eiffel Tower. But I don’t like the energy here at all. There’s soldiers with guns, foreboding security barriers and huge crowds. I’m starving so I get a takeaway coffee and a croissant from a kiosk. €6/£5.20

1pm: I have a silly, spur-of-the-moment idea, and hop on the Metro to La Défense. There’s a branch of FNAC there, which I know will have a small selection of English books. Years ago I visited that same branch and waited in line to meet a Very Famous Author, and I can’t help but think how lovely it would be to go there now and find my own novel on the shelf. Spoiler alert: I don’t. I take the Metro back to the Centre because my feet are killing me. €3.80/£3.33

2.30pm: Budget travel tip: mid-afternoon naps are restorative and free.

5pm: I really should do some writing. I go to the nearest convenience store and buy a pre-packed ham and cheese bagel, a Coke, some chocolate and two bottles of water to get me through the evening, then settle down at my desk with my laptop. €7.80/£6.84

7.30pm: I’m writing in my room when my phone beeps with a text message: my novel has been shortlisted for a major award. Um, what?! I’d been shocked to get on the longlist and really wasn’t expecting to advance beyond that. Not at all. So now there’s two things to be happy about: making the shortlist and how little money I’ve spent today. Hooray!

Total: £34.67
Day Three

8.30am: My phone says I walked 15km yesterday and my back says the mattresses at the Centre are stuffed with bricks. I start my day with a coffee at Le Luxembourg again, €4/£3.50. I check my bank balance while I’m there and blink in confusion at the digits on my phone’s screen. There’s an extra one. Quite unexpectedly, I’ve been paid the next instalment of my advance. Uh-oh.

9.30am: I treat myself to a celebratory breakfast at La Rotonde on Boulevard Montparnasse, former haunt of Pablo Picasso. A coffee, a glass of orange juice, a croissant and half a crusty baguette sets me back €11/£9.65.

11am: I walk on until I reach the Musée Rodin. This is a small but perfectly formed garden museum that, delightfully, is practically deserted today. Turns out I’ve saved a whopping €2/£1.75 by buying a d’Orsay combo ticket. Good times.

12.30pm: I head for the Palais Garnier, i.e. the opera house. But I’m distracted by a Kate Spade store on Rue Saint Honoré with a Soldes sign in the window. Fifteen minutes later, I’m feeling strangely lightheaded and have bought a saddle bag and a set of earrings for €189/£165.80. (But that was 60% off, so it’s more like saving money than spending it.)

1.15pm: I used to work for the company that owns the Westin Vendome and I’m curious to see inside. The bar/restaurant in the hotel’s atrium is lovely, and I’ve done so much walking today, and I have just been shortlisted for an award… Heck, I deserve a treat. (Ssshhh.) I order a mango mojito and something claiming to be ‘a fresh take’ on fish and chips. €60/£52.64

2.45pm: I wander into Librairie Galignani on Rue de Rivoli, the oldest English language bookshop on the continent. I find a copy of A Paris All Your Own: Bestselling Women Writers on the City of Light. What I don’t find is a copy of my book, again. Way to make a girl feel special, Paris! €17.20/£15

3.30pm: Back on Boulevard Saint Michel, I see Gap are having a sale too. I pick up two light cotton tops. €80.91/£70.98

4.15pm: I can blame today’s extended afternoon nap on the mango mojito.

7.30pm: I’m feeling a little anxious about the amount of money I’ve spent, so I go to a cheap ‘n’ cheerful place called La Creperie for dinner. It reminds me of a French Little Chef. A crepe with Nutella and strawberries sets me back €13.80/£12.10, but it seems like a bargain in light of everything else I’ve had today.

Total: £329.67
Day Four

7.20am: I have a guilt hangover from yesterday’s spending and resolve to rein myself back in today. It shouldn’t be difficult because I’m day-tripping it to Claude Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny, 80km outside of the city. I buy a carnet of 10 Metro tickets for €14.90/£13.07, saving €5/£4.38, and use one to get to Gare St Lazare.

8.20am: I booked my train ticket to Vernon-Giverny online the night before for €22.50/£19.73 return. I carry a Starbucks breakfast on board: a grande latte and a pain au chocolat, €5.50/£4.82.

9.10am: There’s a shuttle bus from the train station in Vernon to the tiny village of Giverny. I’m expecting it to be free and just about manage to scrape together the fare out of the crappy change in the bottom of my bag: €10/£8.77 for a return ticket.

9.30am: The gardens and their famous lily ponds are exquisite and I collect enough Instagram fodder to last me the rest of the year, but the paths are narrow, the place is crowded and most people seem to have left their manners outside. A quick flash of my student card – don’t look too closely at it, thanks – gets me in for just €5.50/£4.82.

11am: I know I wasn’t supposed to be spending any money today but if it’s on gifts for other people it doesn’t count, right? (Don’t answer that.) Three packets of Monet serviettes, two Monet document wallets, a Monet notepad and a stress ball in the shape of a frog (?!) later, I’ve spent €35.20/£30.88.

11.15am: A coffee and a croissant in the village: €6.50/£5.70. Getting attacked by a wasp: priceless.

2.30pm: Walking 15-20km a day and struggling to sleep on the rock-hard bed is catching up with me. By the time I get back to the Centre, I don’t have the energy to leave it again. I have a power nap then do some writing, so I’m back on a budget and writing words. Winning! Dinner is a pre-packed salad and a Coke. €9.50/£8.33

Total: £76.39
Day Five

8.30am: The waitress at Café Le Luxembourg says, "Café crème?" before I do. I really should go somewhere else tomorrow. €4/£3.50

9.30am: A Paris All Your Own has given me an idea: I use Google Maps to find my way to Gertrude Stein’s salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus. Someone has abandoned a tattered, stained mattress right outside the door. Don’t they know I have to Instagram this?

10.15am: Flânerie, continued. I walk to the Eiffel Tower via Montparnasse but this time I avoid the square it sits on and all the touristy viewing spots nearby. What I’m interested in today is seeing the tower from unexpected angles, suddenly there, in a gap between buildings on surrounding streets. Rue Saint Dominique proves the best location for this.

12pm: For lunch, I have overcooked mistake. I pass by the window of what seems to be some kind of Chinese buffet-style restaurant and spy a delicious bowl of fresh fruit salad inside. I’m hungry, hot and thirsty; it’s just what I want. I go in and realise there’s a whole counter of similarly appetising dishes, hot and cold. The price is determined by the weight of your tray, so I pick a few scoops of a few different things. I enjoy the salad, but everything else proves to be a gelatinous, tasteless mess. €14/£12.28, not including regret.

3pm: I used to work in Disney World in Orlando and have been craving a nostalgic Disney fix. I take a train to Disneyland Paris and stroll around the ‘free’ area, Disney Village, for an hour or so. The trip costs €15.20/£13.33 return, because it’s outside the zone covered by my carnet of Metro tickets. I’m almost tempted to go into the park, but admission is €79/£69. Um, no. Instead I settle for a snack at the Earl of Sandwich, which I used to have all the time when I lived in Orlando. It’ll do. €10.90/£9.56

8pm: By the time I get back to the Centre, I’m exhausted. Dinner is half a chocolate bar left over from yesterday and a warm Coke. It occurs to me that I still haven’t crossed the threshold of the shared kitchen. I really should.

Total: £38.67
Day Six

9.15am: It’s Sunday and Boulevard Saint Michel is deserted. I decide to branch out for breakfast and go to Le Rostand, the café next door to Le Luxembourg. Coffee, orange juice and pastries costs €10/£8.77.

10am: Obligatory stop at Shakespeare & Company. I’ve been before but don’t feel right visiting Paris and not stopping there. I do, however, manage to go in and come back out without buying anything. Result! (They didn’t have my book in stock either, thanks for asking.)

11.30am: An exceptionally pleasant Sunday morning stroll in the sun (and Google Maps) leads me to Place des Vosges. When Will in Me Before You said his favourite Parisian square was Place Dauphine, I nearly spat out my popcorn; everyone’s favourite should be this one. I have a coffee in one of the cafés hidden under the arches, where a smiley, friendly waiter must be convincing tourists that everything they’ve heard about the waiters here is untrue. (It isn’t. He’s Irish.) €4.50/£3.95

1.30pm: I stroll on, through Le Marais to Galerie Vivienne, one of the city’s famous covered passages. Because it’s Sunday, most of the shops inside are closed, so it’s nearly empty. This makes for good photos but no atmosphere. Bonus: I can’t spend any money.

3pm: I work my way back to Rue de Rivoli and pop into the Carousel de Louvre, the shopping mall underneath the museum. I’ve walked nearly 20km already today and am too tired and sore to do any shopping. In fact, I can’t even be bothered to browse. I head back outside, into the Tuileries, and have a ham and cheese baguette and a Coke from a food truck for lunch. €12/£10.52

4pm: I go back to the Centre to do some writing but end up curling up in bed with A Paris All Your Own.

7.30pm: Feeling lazy, I only venture as far as Le Creperie for dinner. This time I go for a savoury option, a crepe carbonara, and treat myself to a glass of wine. €14/£12.28.

Total: £35.52
Day Seven

8.15am: I wake up feeling like I wasted yesterday a little bit and that I should make the absolute most of today, my last in Paris. Plus now as there’s really only so much financial damage I can do, I loosen the purse strings a little. I head straight for Les Deux Magots, a café that can count Simone de Beauvoir, James Joyce, Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso, Julia Child and Ernest Hemingway as one-time regulars. It’s pricey, but it gives good Instagram. I have a coffee. €6/£5.26

9.30am: I make the dire mistake of going into Brentano’s, a book and stationery store on Avenue de l'Opéra. It is a treasure trove of stuff I want but definitely don’t need. I buy a book (How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are by Anne Berest and Audrey Diwan – can you tell I’m upset to be going home?), two notebooks, a bookmark and an Eiffel Tower-shaped paperclip. Somehow that adds up to €51.35/£45.05.

10.15am: Foiled on my last attempt by soldes at Kate Spade, I finally make it to the Palais Garnier. It doesn’t take long to tour the publicly accessible spaces, but they are very impressive. One room in particular is so opulent it makes me make "ah" noises. Because I bought a Musée d'Orsay ticket within the last seven days, I get in for a reduced price of €8/£7.01.

11.30am: I walk to Sacré-Cœur, the highest point in Paris, forgetting until it’s too late that this will involve some serious hills. Every time I’ve been to Montmartre I’ve been unimpressed, and sadly today is no exception. Paris is filled with tourists, but Montmartre seems to only have them. It’s feels like the French pavilion at Epcot.

12.45pm: I stop at Café des Deux Moulins, where Amélie worked in the eponymous film. I have their signature dish with their signature beer: honey-roasted camembert and a Fabuleuse. It’s a religious experience. Before I’ve finished, I’m already googling how to honey-roast camembert at home. €17/£14.91

2pm: I walk to Parc Monceau because there’s a pretty picture of it in my guide book. But in reality, the park reminds me of the Emerald City in Return to Oz: unkempt, rundown and filled with the partial ruins of things.

3.30pm: Back at the Centre, I prep for my evening plans. They’re ambitious: I’m going to Bar Hemingway at the Ritz. Problem is, I had no intention of going there because prior to the unexpected payment, I simply couldn’t afford to, but now… Look, I’ll just have one, it’s my last night, etc, etc. I put on the most respectable thing I’ve brought with me, a £30 Primark dress so synthetic the care label probably recommends carrying a fire extinguisher with you at all times, and a pair of grubby ballerina flats. I unwrap my new Kate Spade bag and hold in front of me, like a talisman.

6.10pm: I think there’s every chance I’ll be turned away from the bar (with a ‘Residents only tonight’ or some other polite excuse) and arrive only 10 minutes after opening to minimise this risk. There’s no problem, though. Being a lone drinker, I’m directed to take a seat at the bar, but I’m soon emboldened by my first cocktail and ask if I can move. The bar is absolutely tiny – when I walked in initially I thought I was in the foyer of it – but I refuse to feel bad about taking up a table. The staff are professional to a fault and transfer my accoutrements for me. There’s a lot of them. As well as my cocktail (which has a freshly cut flower in it), I’ve been served a glass of water garnished with cucumber, a tiered tray of nibbles and a bowl of olives. I order two more cocktails. Hemingway is everywhere. His Life magazine covers are framed on the wall, there’s one of his typewriters in the corner and behind me on the bar is an early edition of A Moveable Feast. He ‘liberated’ this place from Nazi occupation back in 1944, reportedly with champagne. This has been an incredibly special week for me and I’m feeling what the kids call totes emosh. Or maybe I’ve had one too many of these amazing cocktails. I ask for the bill: €90/£78.95 for three cocktails and I leave a €10/£8.77 tip. The best part of the experience is that on the way out, I get lost in the labyrinthine hallways of the hotel and have to ask a lobby host for directions. After she gives them, she leans over and whispers conspiratorially, "I love your dress!"

10.30pm: Dinner is a drunken McDonald's. I think it was €9/£7.89.

Total: £167.84
Day Eight

8.30am: I have until lunchtime before I have to leave for the airport. All Hemingway’ed up after last night, I have my morning café crème in Place de la Contrescarpe, where A Moveable Feast opens. Hemingway lived around the corner on Rue du Cardinal Lemoine for a time; a plaque above a blue door now marks the spot. I blow it a kiss as I pass by and tell him to wish me luck with the award. Also if he could get a few Paris bookshops to, you know, stock my book, that’d be great too. (Mostly the award thing though, Ernie. Merci beaucoup.) €3.50/£3.07

9.30am: I’m spending my morning at Montparnasse Cemetery, which is like Père Lachaise only flat and – mercifully – paved. (I can’t do cobblestones today. My phone says I’ve walked 120km in the last seven days. This from the girl who won’t take the stairs up a level if there’s a lift she can use.)

11.45am: One last Parisian lunch at the imaginatively named Café de la Place on Rue d'Odessa. I haven’t had any breakfast so I opt for a ham and cheese omelette and coffee. €12.90/£11.31

12.30pm: I trudge back to the Centre to collect my bag and head for the airport on the RER. €10/£8.77

3.15pm: For some reason, my phone has stopped working. Once I get through security, I call my provider and get some sickening news: I’ve racked up a bill of €412/£361.40 while I’ve been in Paris. What?! Turns out roaming charges were abolished, yes, but using my phone for maps, Instagram uploads, etc. has taken me way over my monthly data allowance and I’ve been charged a premium for every extra megabyte after that. Flying back to a city three hours away from my own just to save a few pounds seems entirely pointless now.

9pm: After a bus into Belfast city centre, a bus to Dublin Airport and a bus from there to my flat, I’m finally home – and sad to be. I’ve spent €17.87/£15.67 on the bus journeys and €6.95/£6.09 on bus journey snacks, and am already wondering when I can go back to Paris. I swear I’ll use the shared kitchen next time.

Total: £406.31
The Breakdown

Food/Drink: £324.66
Travel: £228.61
Accommodation: £425.52
Shopping: £236.78
Entertainment: £27.63
Mobile Data: £361.40
Other: £90.93

Total: £1,695.53
Show More Comments...