“To be Parisian is not to be born in Paris, but to be reborn there.” Sacha Guitry
Where does one begin when embarking on the extraordinary privilege, of which you should know I am most grateful, to write and share about our summer travels in Paris? We did so much, ate so much, saw so much, and lived our best life there. Naturally, beginning can seem a tinge overwhelming now looking back! So let me side step for a moment and cue Hemmingway who once famously (and rather accurately) wrote,“There are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home and in Paris.” This seems like a good enough place to start, because while I have undoubtedly experienced joy and happiness in many, many other places, namely in the Midwest where I grew up, and unexpectedly while roaming the quiet and mysterious streets of Kyoto, it is both at home and in Paris where I feel most at home, which is to say, most myself and most alive.
Something about this enchanting city has always moved and stirred me deep within, clattering my core with tiny vibrations—the sound a silver wind chime makes on a breezy morning—every time I pass a busy café, take a bite of a just-baked and not-too-hot, crusty baguette, or catch the glow of a glass lamp in the glistening street once the sun has finally dipped behind the rows of terra-cotta chimney pots that frame the Parisian horizon. And then some. It moves me so much so, that to write about it almost feels blasphemous! Yet on the other hand, a true crime not to share it because it brings me so much delight and inner peace to pass along such joy.
Alas, as one of my other late literary heroes, Mary Oliver, once wrote in her much adored and poignant poetic fashion, which are perhaps my favorite four ever lines to be written, there’s this:
“Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.”
Paris astonishes me. The city of light’s snailesque shape with its delicious limestone architecture, along with it’s deeply romantic literary history and fondness for all things truly mouthwatering (hello carbs, cheeses, and wine)—it astonishes us! It casts its charm like a fishermans’s net and catches us every time. Not that we don’t oblige. It’s a place worth being caught by, after all. And while we called this beautiful city home for nearly one month this summer, aptly following Ms. Oliver’s wise instructions to pay attention and be astonished and whatnot, we learned some things. Stuff happened, as stuff always happens in the midst of traveling as a bunch, and as a family we grew. The five of us returned home the same, but not the same. The city and four weeks of intense togetherness stretched our family, changing each of us in ways that only long bouts of travel truly can. We’ll forever be grateful for this opportunity to grow.
Now that we are back home in the humid Midwest, nearly settled and finally caught up on laundry thank the Lord, it is my sincere hope to convey our Parisian astonishments for you in this little online home I’ve created to follow up on Mary’s final instruction: tell about it. To give you a slice of the life-changing experience our family had the absolute joy of living in our favorite city, with aim to offer you heaps of places to go, things to do, and ideas to ponder along the way.
That being said, as there about a million + one Paris travel posts and blogs floating around on the internet, and I am sure you’ve probably come across one or two this summer alone, I’ve decided to give you a glimpse of Paris through our eyes. To show you how we as a family explored the city. To offer you a taste of how The Watters like to travel, which is more like a local if we can manage, and how living abroad for a month can feel more like home than a tiring vacation. Thus, I have decided to go about this first post, a series of three or four by golly, question and answer style to get things rolling. I tossed a line out on Instagram a few weeks ago, asking my followers to share questions that would help them out travel-wise, Paris and this trip specific, and here were the top 10 most frequently asked. Let’s go!
1. Why Paris?
The key to this rather essential first question lies in three fairly straightforward answers:
1). It’s our favorite city. Over a decade ago, right before we got married, Andrew and I backpacked for several weeks across Europe, draining both bank accounts and experiencing many countries and cities along the way. I had always been drawn to the charm and beauty of Paris from what I’d seen and read, along with it’s fondness for all things gourmand (hello, Bocuse and Julia Child) and appreciation for creativity and art (hello, The Lost Generation and Impressionism) and experiencing it firsthand changed me forever. Andrew is more of a London fan himself, as he loved to point this out daily, but he too agreed it felt strangely familiar and like I, was immediately ensnared. Here’s the thing: Paris felt like home to us both straight away, and has continued to despite us never having lived there. The connection we feel to this special corner of the world has continued to stir us, and we have always been eager reach a point in our lives as a family to share this passion and joy with our children. This was the first year long-term travel was an option for several reasons, mainly that Andrew’s career allowed us the freedom. More on that later.
2). Andrew’s older brother, Jason, lives there. A few years ago he bought a flat in the 9th and renovated it (beautifully!) which gave our family of five a rather generous place to stay if we were ever to visit. Traveling abroad for one month can be quite costly (especially when doing so overseas in Europe, no less) and having this main expense taken care of truly allowed us to enjoy the city and experience it like a local—our goal of the trip. I’ll touch more on this later, but having a place to call home while we made our way around the city saved us in many ways. We absolutely love his arrondissement (9th) and immediately felt drawn to come back after we visited him several years ago with Andrew’s family for his mom and dad’s anniversary trip. We have stayed in Airbnb’s in the past, which are much more affordable and accommodating for a family, and depending on what area of the city you prefer to stay, it runs on average $100-$200 per night. Therefore, we saved roughly $2,700 give or take by having family to help in this regard. That being said, we did save enough to cover this expense just incase! You never know what can happen on long bouts of travel, and it’s always a good idea to consider alternatives if need be, namely important details like accommodations. However, when we do go back, which we are already planning in our minds, we will be traveling Airbnb to experience a different part of the city as it is a great option for families.
3). Timing. This summer was the perfect summer for us to try our hand at long-term travel. Life is getting shorter, the kids are getting older (Alfie just turned 4, believe it or not), and the weight of life’s rhythm has been heavy on my heart as my grandma recently passed. Going away for a month or more has always been something we dreamed about doing as a family, and after a year of many deaths and the sadness that is wrapped around loss, we both wanted to feel more alive again. Travel helps Andrew and I personally put things into perspective, and living in our favorite place felt like the healing we both longed for. I think when it comes to picking a place to see or explore it’s an intuitive calling. It’s hard to put into words Why Paris? because the answer honestly feels more like, Why not? The older we get, the more we are learning to listen to those wise inner voices over the chatter on the periphery. As Gustave Naudaud wrote, “Rester c’est existar, mais voyager c’est vivre.” Translation:“To stay is to exist, but to travel is to live.”
2. Why travel for 1 month? And when did you begin planning for such a long time away?
Short answer: It is currently summer for our kiddos and we have been wanting to try long-term travel for years. We didn’t really plan, and that was our plan!
Longer answer: One month because both Andrew and I are at the point in our careers where we can be much more flexible if/when need be, so working away from home works well for us. I’ll touch more on this later. Also, one month didn’t feel too long because of our love of this place. I think being able to settle into a rhythm helped us tremendously as opposed to constantly picking up and leaving every few days to a new city. We wanted to experience Paris more like a local than a tourist this time around, and choosing one month over one week gave us more time to rest in our enjoyment instead of rushing through all the sites. I think this enriched our overall experience, and really gave us a new appreciation for the city overall. We began planning, if you call it that, about a year ago, but honestly did very little in terms of where to go until right before. We did purchase our airfare early on because last minute booking can be outrageous! But other than that, we left this trip open to spontaneity, and are grateful for the gifts Paris gave us in return.
3. What was your family’s rhythm while traveling, if you had one at all?
Traveling long-term offers you the gift of working a rhythm into your days. Short-term travel, especially when airfare is crazy expensive, tends to mean cramming in as much as possible in a very small amount of time. We’ve done this in Paris and many other cities before, but we were not wanting that kind of travel experience this go-round, so a slower, more intentional rhythm is what we ended up crafting while away. Here is a peek at what most days looked like:
9 am | Wake up! (jet lag)
10 am | Walk to Boulangerie and get pastries, then come home to eat and wash up for the day.
11 am | Walk or take metro to somewhere in the city and do a few fun things before lunch, like visit a park, museum, or famous site. We went to so many parks! I’ll share my list in a future post. And when the park was our intention for the day, we’d stop at a few shops and get fixins’ for a simple, inexpensive lunch to take along.
2 pm | Have lunch. Note: most restaurants close from 3-7 pm in Paris. The more touristy places do indeed stay open during those hours, but if you find yourself in a less touristy part of the city keep this little tidbit in mind.
4 pm | Walk or take metro to somewhere in the city and do a few fun things before Andrew works, like visit another park, museum, or famous site.
5 pm – 8 pm | Andrew takes calls and works for a few hours if he has meetings that day, and mom takes the kids to a park or somewhere fun in the city before supper. We did a lot of walking during this time and saw a good part of the city doing so.
8 pm | Suppertime. We made a choice to keep eating out to once a day max, and so if we ate out for lunch we’d do something at home for dinner, and visa-versa. Because of the time difference, and because Paris is light until 10 pm in the summer months, we were able to eat outdoors as a family later on at night. We tended to keep away from busier areas if we chose to eat out for dinner, and found that some of the quieter parts of the city were easier for families to enjoy a meal together.
10 pm | Bedtime for the kids, hangs for the adults.
4. How did you find the long flight with three kids? Any tips?
I am going to do a full post on plane travel with kids, so stay turned for that. But in general, it wasn’t hard as we’ve traveled with our kids for years now, expect for the endless delays and cancelations of our flight twice in a row. That was hard.
5. Did you and Andrew take time off work for one month?
One of the biggest perks, if you could call it that, of both our careers is that we can do our work nearly anywhere. As a writer, I can write wherever there is an outlet, and as an established financial advisor, Andrew has reached the point in his personal practice where he can do the same. It wasn’t always this way for him, but over a decade of hard work and long hours has truly paid of, giving our family more freedom to spend quality time together doing things we love, such as travel. Throughout our month go travel, Andrew worked roughly 4-5 days a week for 3-4 hours, give or take, doing meetings and conference calls via phone.
Due to the time change, it worked out really well for him to take calls in the evenings, say 4ish pm – 8ish pm, which was when his clients were beginning their day back home in the states. I would take the kids to the park, or we would rest, or we’d play games until he was done, and then we’d all go for dinner or make something together. Paris is light until about 10 pm in the summertime, which is a delight! Because of this, we began our days a bit later, around 10 am, and then stayed up late exploring the city by night with the kids. Paris comes alive at night, and it was our favorite time of day to see the city. I, on the other hand, chose to take most of this month off except for finishing up book writing, along with some fun posting for Instagram here and there. After my grandma died and I worked through some mental health issues, I realized I needed some distance from my work and my writing to rest and sift through hard stuff, and I really wanted to enjoy this city as a true holiday, so I did just that.
6. Was any part of this trip sponsored or paid for?
Nope. And we preferred to have it that way for several reasons. I believe we were able to enjoy our time together as a family so much more because we planned and paid for everything ourselves. It was hard work saving up for this trip, and that helped us appreciate each moment all the more and not take any of it for granted. There was no underlying motivation to “shout out” or work with a company or restaurant or product, nor did we do anything we didn’t want to do. I have no qualms with sponsored travel, but we both felt this trip needed distance from any collaborative connections. I think it’s wonderful when influencers are able to travel through working partnerships and paid collaborations, because after all, they are working to connect with and share a product they value with a community they’ve built through hard work and hours behind the scenes, but that is not what we wanted out of this family trip.
7. So how did you fund this trip?
Such a great question, and the most frequently asked! Here are a few ways we budgeted and saved money to fund this trip:
- While this isn’t exactly a micro tip, it’s one of the main reasons we were able to afford this trip, and that is being intentional with our spending year-round. Living with less and choosing the path of creating over consuming has cut down our family’s expenses considerably over the years. It’s quite amazing how much spending adds up when you aren’t mindful about it. A trip to Costso can be several hundred dollars, and then a trip to Target the same. Before you know it, that’s a plane ticket abroad! I cannot tell you how much we’ve saved over the years by making many of our own products, doing house projects ourselves, cooking many of our own meals, maintaining a simpler lifestyle, and keeping mindfulness at the helm of expenditures. Our kids do a few extracurriculars, but not many. We swap for babysitting. I take on a lot of freelance work when able. And we try to prioritize experiences over gifts. It also helps that Andrew is a financial advisor, so we have quite a bit in savings that has accumulated over the years, and due to his knowledge and not mine, we invest in various ways. I am not financial savvy, but I am fairly frugal and am pretty good at making due with what we have before buying. Thanks for that one, dad!
- A more practical way we funded this trip is to use airline points we’d been saving for awhile now. In fact, we were able to cover all of our flights from airline points alone for this trip, which was over a $6,000 expense! If travel sparks joy in your life, we really recommend taking advantage of point systems as they are a simple way to get this main expense covered if you travel a lot.
- As mentioned above, we stayed with family on this trip so our lodging expense was taken care of due to our very gracious host.
- Where does that leave us? Well, the bulk of our expense was on 1). food 2). cultural experiences 3). and transportation in Paris. As you might consider, those three can add up really fast if you’re not careful. Like I said, we did a lot of picnics, usually one per day for either lunch or dinner, that wound up being about 10€ per meal for a family of five. On the other hand, meals eaten at restaurants were around 80€, give or take, for a family of five, which is a lot. As for cultural experiences, we did roughly 1-2 per day, some costing absolutely nothing at all, like parks and pedestrian streets, while others more expensive, like visits to the museums and climbing the Eiffel Tower, for example. For transportation, we got each of our family members metro passes that was around 70€ per person for 1 month. If you doing long-term travel in Europe, we highly recommend doing this! It saved money and brain cells. We did Uber a few times when in need of a quick ride home, but those trips were few and far between. In addition to the metro, we walked A LOT, took along a nice umbrella stroller for the boys that we used to death (and left there), and very much enjoyed seeing the city by foot.
8. How did you all adjust to the time change?
Really well! Because Paris is lighter later, we ended up sleeping in and staying up late. It worked well for us, and the kids adjusted better than we had hoped. I do not recommend, under any circumstance whatsoever, looking up the time back home. This will throw you into a dizzy headspin, and it’s very likely you will need to nap on the spot.
9. Do you speak French?
Yes and no. We know enough to communicate basics when out and about, and ended up learning way more than expected on this trip. Going into this trip it was important for us all to try. When going to markets or restaurants or anywhere where we needed to communicate with someone working or serving, we tried to look up what needed to be said beforehand, and did our best given what we knew. Unlike what you may have heard, the French were incredibly kind and did not scoff at our linguistic blunders. To assume that we walk all over Paris and demand the French speak in English would be both incredibly arrogant and selfish, and that is not how we wanted to engage with others while there. I really recommend learning a few basics of any language any time you travel to a new country that speaks a different language, especially these words and phrases at the bare minimum: please, thank you, I am sorry, yes, no, and greetings and salutations for all times of the day. Stella is learning French at school, so she had fun practicing, and I am currently taking online lessons, so as did I!
10. Would your family ever consider moving to Paris?
Oui! And that feels really exciting and real to share! After this trip we cannot stop talking about making a more permanent home there. Because we have family in the Midwest and Andrew’s practice is rooted here in Kansas City, we cannot and will not up and move tomorrow, but it’s not far from the realm of possibility that we rent a flat in the near future. Instead of buying outright, we’ve talked about doing more long-term travel again, but this time renting in different arrondissements to see what part of the city we want to make our home.
That wraps up this first Paris post, but you can expect several more detailing our trip and answering more practical questions about where we went, what we saw, and how we experiences the city. I am going to break things down by area, and also give you a traveling with kids guide!
In the meantime, what other questions do you guys have about our time in Paris or about travel as a family?