After my first week in France I rifled through my luggage, turned all my pockets inside out, and in a last vain, stupidly hopeful effort, searched between the pages of my books. Where did all my money go?
This was not robbery, at least in the expected sense. What I mean is that I had robbed myself. I sat and performed an agonizing mental expense report for the week. There were those really over-priced glasses of beer (most of which were purchased under drunken impulse and remain hazy in my memory), a string of excessively sumptuous lunches, various unnecessary French knickknacks, etc.
These were all consumer decisions my former instincts would have instructed me to forego, possibly even scoff at rudely in protest of such hiked, touristy prices, but there seems to be a reflexive instinct for travelers to attempt to wring every pleasurable experience from their respective locale, which is all in all a good headspace to be in, granted with certain caveats so as to avoid the consequential poverty that hitches itself to such ruthless indulgence.
A first, well-heeded piece of advice is to choose your moments when spending. At minimum, a study abroad runs at least a month. This is actually a lot of time despite your travel instinct’s job to make you feel antsy and harried your whole stay.
Not every meal needs to be a service of worship to your taste buds. Some days you just need to get by. Here in Tours you can purchase fresh produce, along with hazardously long baguettes, and cuts of cheap, delectable cheeses. And if you’re doing a home stay you’ll probably make the rounds in terms of local cuisine anyway.
There is no perfect formula for going out cheaply here, but that’s probably true anywhere. I do have a few tips, though. First off, there are two focal points of nightlife here in Tours (at least that I’m aware of): Place Plumereau (a square that is enclosed by bars/restaurants and is in close proximity to discothéques or clubs) and the guinguette (a bar/restaurant/café/general-area-down-near-the-Loire-river where hordes of drunk and/or hopeful drunks flock to).
For the young and desperately thirsty, the open container law here will be a welcome surprise. The law basically means that you can drink in public, which in American culture is an activity traditionally reserved for haggard-looking alcoholics, rebellious teens, etc. Many of the night-owls double fist tall boys of room temp beers (the ice cold variety presents the problem of numbness) or bottles of liquor that tend to be the preface to a really horrendous following morning. Some of the more serious and resilient partygoers have even taken to wearing backpacks out and stocking them with choice alcoholic beverages to carry them through the night (personally, I carry around a standard two-step wine opener and heft a bottle of red, but to each his own).
Now you won’t be able to get a seat anywhere but this does mean you can offset some of the cost of drinking by supplementing with store-bought stuff between stays at bars or clubs. There are more devious methods you can try as well, like refilling a bar-bought glass with your own cheaply purchased stuff, but in general this is quite rude and will often get you booted out of a place with very little delicacy.
A last, really parent-ish sounding bit of advice is to make a budget for yourself. This might be seem obscenely obvious but you’d be surprised how many people coast by on guesstimated math and find themselves on the back end of their trip slurping ketchup packets and greedily devouring the complimentary bread at dinner.
If you live abroad smartly, you might actually have enough money left to buy all those souvenirs you promised.