Traveling to a foreign country on a tight budget can spark grueling internal warfare. On one hand, you want to make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity in every possible way - on the other hand, every cool experience seems marked with a price tag that would only create an even bigger hole in your wallet.
As someone who’s worked two small part-time jobs throughout college and full-time jobs during summers to make this work, I’m writing to tell you that it is entirely possible to have amazing French cultural experiences AND have enough money for important stuff, like food. With a few money-saving strategies, you can sacrifice a bit of what you don’t need, in order to afford the fashion, cuisine, or activities you’ve been dreaming of. (For more tips on prioritizing your spending abroad, see my blog “Growing Pains are a Side Effect of Growth”).
Below is a list of strategies that I’ve employed during my first semester in Nantes. Pick and choose what works for you!
At first, I was shocked to find prices that were well out of my price range on all the major airline websites. Luckily, CheapOAir came to came to my rescue! With the CheapOAir website, I was able to find plane tickets up to $2,000 less. And CheapOAir isn’t the only cheaper site, I suggest you do some research to find the best ticket!
After buying your ticket, more savings can happen before you even leave the US! By packing everything useful and within reason that you can envision needing in Nantes before arriving, you can save yourself big bucks. Here are some pricey things would be best to avoid buying in France, if you already own them in the US:
An Umbrella or a Rain racket, or both. During the winter, it rains in Nantes, a lot, and I have yet to find an umbrella in Nantes under 12 euros.
A water bottle. It’s good for the environment as well.
Food containers. It can help you to store food in the refrigerator or carry food with you on adventures, which is much cooler than having to buy meals everywhere you go.
A winter coat. Or, if degrees in the 30s doesn’t face you, maybe just a thick sweatshirt. In October, its already chilly and many people are already sporting puffy jackets - save yourself the 20+ euros and bring this with you. (or see below: clothing)
Running shoes. Exercise is imperative to maintaining health while abroad.
Also, try packing as light as possible to save on airport fees. It’s possible to arrive at Nantes with simply one rolling carry on and one backpack - I did it! Just tie that winter coat around your waist if you need to.
Your prepaid, IES Abroad fees include 5 dinners a week and all breakfasts with your host family. That means you are in charge of 2 dinners and all lunches every week. Buying traditional french food can get pricey in the town center, so here’s my advice: dine the french cuisine at your host family dinners, and otherwise save your money most of the time by preparing your own food at the IES Abroad Center (access is limited to host family kitchens).
There are two grocery stores that I know of close to the IES Abroad Center: Monoprix and Carrefour. Of these, Carrefour is smaller but has slightly cheaper options for some items (ex: a large bag of cashews here is the same price as a puny bag of cashews at Monoprix)
Hot Tip: On Tuesdays, IES is open late for a Club of Conversation between French students and us Americans, and if you ask the host of the event, they’ll probably let you prepare a quick microwave or sandwich dinner during this time as well.
(I also highly recommend eating at the cafeteria at Universite de Nantes. You’ll get a student card upon arrival - which will let you buy a full, delicious, traditional french meal for only 3.25 euros)
If you find that you forgot to pack something essential, or are looking to go home with some new french styles, thrifting can help! I recommend these popular Nantes thrift stores:
Le Comptoir du Solilab
With a bit of a warehouse feel, this place stands out for its chic French styles and unbelievable prices (I found a stylish, warm winter jacket for just 5 euros, and books are just 1 euro!). It's about a 25-minute walking distance from the IES Abroad Center, close to île des Machines, or you can take the bus C5 from Commerce to its last stop, “Hangar à Bananes”.
This place looks and feels like a fashionable boutique, holding styles from the 80s and 90s to more modern looks. It seems popular - with lots of young women crowding around the racks. The prices are somewhere between Comptoir du Solilab prices and those you could find at normal clothing stores (I found a chic long-sleeve shirt for 10 euros). It has two locations on the road “Rue Maréchal Joffre”, close to Foche Cathedrale.
Health and Exercise
While the University of Nantes offers student prices for gyms and sports, this can still be pricey for some budgets. In that case, I suggest…
Studying abroad only strengthened my passion for this sport. It is entirely free and by running around the city you feel more integrated with its sights and people. I personally love to run down a scenic path on the L’Erdre river.
Very cheap travel options are available between Nantes and nearby villages by bus. For example, on “BlaBlaCar”, you could get a ticket from Nantes to Angers for 5 Euros. This is a great way to experience more French culture during the weekends, without breaking the bank.
There are plenty of cheap ways to have fun in Nantes, such as...
Castle: Château des ducs de Bretagne
Amazing view (1 euro): Tour Bretagne
Parks: “Jardin des Plantes” and “Ile de Versaille”
Cathedral and Art: Foch Cathédrale
IES Abroad activities are prepaid and a great way to spend time with your new IES buds
Enjoy the Experience
Finally - Know that in order to achieve some life-long memories here, such as traveling to neighboring cities or countries, you are going to have to spend money, and that is okay. After college, you’ll probably treasure the experience a lot more than that extra 100+ dollars.
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<p>My name is Miah Chu Won Tapper. I come from a large family with two younger brothers and three younger step-siblings, whom I live with on the small island of Oahu, Hawaii. I’ve always had a passion for traveling but until now I’ve only traveled the world in books. As a French major, I’m so excited to be able to continue the adventure in Nantes, France. </p>