By Eva Kristinova (Sciences Po Toulouse, France)
France is full of awesome places that you can explore, food you can try and events you can attend. But living the ideal exchange experience rarely comes cheap – don’t know about you but I certainly cannot afford to buy a fresh baguette from the local bakery every single morning (yes, this stereotype about the French is actually true). Well, don’t worry, I got you 🙂 Here’s five tips for getting the most out of a stay in France, and not going broke in the process.
Tip 1: Be a student – and travel like one
See! It’s already easier than you might have thought! The truth is, being a student in France comes with huge advantages when it comes to discounts on daily activities. Most notably in transportation. Cities like Toulouse offer discounted monthly passes for students for unlimited use in any public transport. Biking is also very popular. And don’t worry if you forgot to pack your bike, the city has you covered. Public bikes in Toulouse can be borrowed almost anywhere and they are free for the first 30 minutes! Especially handy if you live far from campus or the lively center (or both… but I hope you can bike fast). Which brings us to…
Tip 2: Colocation – save money and make friends instantly
Unlike in the UK, most universities in France do not provide accommodation, and the amount of people accommodated by the affiliated nation-wide Crous organization is painfully limited. Chances are that you have to find something privately, in which case, don’t even get me started on rental fees. This is why it is not uncommon for French students to live in shared housing. The maths is simple – if there’s more of you, you each pay less. But beware! If you opt for this kind of accommodation, you definitely need to start your search soon, since you’re not only searching for a place but also for people to share it with.
Tip 3: Food!
I cannot stress this enough – French food is as fabulous as they say, but again, with quality comes higher cost. This is where Crous becomes your best friend (won’t let you stay over, but will treat you to a delicious meal). Like a lot of things in France, the student system is highly centralized, which can lead to some bureaucratic frustration, but also means you only really have to remember one password. And this system allows you, among other things, to use Izly. You just load money onto your student card and use it to pay (for about a quarter of the normal price) in selected locations… but all we really care about here is the local Crous restaurants and cafés. While there is usually a variety of cuisines, you can always count on a few permanent French classics, from gratin to éclairs.
Tip 4: You can always count on the local mairie
Another advantage of French university cities like Toulouse is the local administration – I know, that’s a shocker! Contrary to popular belief (and I know I will contradict my previous statement here) the French political administrative system is actually very decentralized, which means the local council can do a whole bunch of fun (and cheap) things for students. From sports to music to dance to marionettes, you will find no shortage of activities to fill your free time (of which you will probably have more than you thought… more in my next post!). All you have to do is go to their website.
Tip 5: La Patrimoine
Staying on the theme of activities to fill your free time, why not look into some culture. One of my personal favorites about France is that they really know how to take care of their heritage… and of course that they make it free every month! Every first Sunday of the month all museums and other cultural sites are free, and most are discounted for students anyway. But with some 2000 years of history, you better get your transport pass and Crous sandwich ready for days like that.