Is backpacking France one of your pipe dreams? Well, time to take it out of dream land and make it reality! True, backpacking France may not be the cheapest way to spend your vacation—Western Europe has a tendency to be a little hard on the backpacker’s budget—but if you’re willing to skip the fancy restaurants, oldest wines, and some of what the luxury tourist enjoys you should be able to avoid spending all of your grandfather’s fortune.
In large cities like Paris, renting a bike is a very budget-friendly to get around town—and it’ll allow you to be a real part of the city life as well.
Train is a good way of going from city to city, especially if you get a train pass and are happy traveling second-class. There are also long distance buses that are fairly budget-friendly.
Rather than have your meals in restaurants, visit the supermarkets, bakeries and cheese stores and make your own meals. You can put together some wonderful backpacking grub for hardly any money; then choose a beautiful outdoor spot for your dining hall. Restaurants are particularly expensive in France; basic food costs, however, are low.
Summer, winter, or spring? France is a fun place to backpack any season of the year, so long as you’ve got appropriate clothes for the weather and know what to expect. Mid July through to the end of August may be a less than ideal time for backpacking France, as the local population goes on vacation and you’ll find many businesses closed and leisure activities potentially swamped.
The south of France is hot in summer; go further north, and you’ll get summers that are comfortably warm but not too sweltering and winters that are quite decidedly cold. By the Atlantic seaboard, the weather is more temperate: warmer winters and cooler summers are the norm.
• Paris—this is a no-brainer, unless you have some prejudice against large cities, capitals of the world, or amazing monuments. Paris isn’t the cheapest place to stay in France, but there is certainly plenty to see and do. Make sure you go up to the Eiffel tower—they charge for the elevator to the top, but you can also climb up to the top with your own two legs—visit the Louvre, and spend some time enjoying the beautiful architecture of the Notre Dame.
• Loire Valley—if you’re more interested in picturesque French countryside than bustling cities, the Loire Valley is the place to go. Lovely little towns, good food, beautiful vineyards and chateaus nestled in verdant greenery: this is an area you could wander around in for a long time.
• Lyon—the best place to find medieval France: old castles and beautiful architecture abound in the vicinity of this ancient bastion. If you give yourself a little extra time to explore you’ll find lots magical countryside and tiny, old-fashioned villages as well.