I came across an article a few days ago from the Huffington Post by Hemal Jhaveri about travelling solo. It comes at a coincidental time, as I travelled solo exactly 3 years ago. A few weeks prior to my trip, I got laid off from my job. That was particularly devastating, I didn’t see it coming at all. On the positive side, I got a pretty healthy severance package. Seeing that I had plenty of spare time on my hands and the desire to take a trip outside North America, I figured I’d might as well take a trip to Paris. I wanted to go quickly so I could get back to town and start my job search. The problem was that with such short notice, it would be hard to get a friend to take time off work and dole out thousands of dollars. I honestly didn’t want to go through the hassle of involving anyone else, so I thought, hey, I’ll just go myself. I jumped on Expedia, booked my flight and hotel about 2 weeks later, I’d be in Europe.
I took a few days before telling my friends and family about my plans. When I finally did, few of them looked at me screw-faced – they didn’t understand why I would take a vacation a few weeks after losing my job, and they really didn’t understand why I wanted to go on a trip alone. One of my friends, who has worry-wart qualities, was afraid that I would be kidnapped and be sold into slavery on the black market! Extreme, right? I was going to Paris, I was going to be fine, so I told her. My dad was also worried about my safety … he wasn’t thinking as extremely as my friend, but I suppose to him, I’ll always be a little girl, even though I was in my late twenties at the time. Surprisingly, some of my 60+ year old aunts and uncles thought my sojourn was a great idea.
So travelling day comes. I took the red-eye from Toronto to Zurich then from Zurich to Paris. I had made transportation arrangements with an airport taxi company weeks earlier so I’d have a ride from Charles de Gaulle to my hotel. I reached my hotel in the thick of rush hour, which was great for people-watching – so many well-dressed Parisian men zipping off from work! The city was a flurry and I wanted to enjoy it, so I rest my things in my hotel, took a quick shower and hit the streets.
I realized I forgot some essential toiletries back in Toronto, so I had to hit up the Monoprix (Paris’ version of Shoppers’ Drug Mart, Walgreens and Duane Reade). I also had a ticket for a cruise on the Seine, so I figured I’d find a store on the way there. I referred to the print-out of the metro (subway) map and I made my way to the station. Now, these subway stations were much different from the ones in Toronto – the turnstiles were automated and there typically weren’t any attendants around. This confused me utterly! People were all around me going on their way and I was standing there looking completely dumbfounded. I was so disoriented I almost considered going back to the hotel and just staying put for the night. I was a bit tired after all. It only took me a few moments to snap myself out of that stupid idea. I thought “I am in Europe right now! I can sleep in Toronto! I’ll just get myself an espresso and I’ll be good”. I finally figured out how the subway worked and made my way down to the platform. Apparently, I was still a bit disoriented – I ended up going south when I intended on going north! But I made the most of it … I checked out the neighbourhood I was in, got to the drug store, then made my way back to the Seine tour, which was beautiful.
After a quality night’s rest, I made my way out to closest hop-on/hop-off. My ticket was good for a few days, so I used it to the fullest extent. I’d get on and off in between and meander the streets. Everything was so beautiful, it was a feast for my eyes. I get off every so often and pick up a bite to eat and drink. I went to this one restaurant on the Champs-Élysées and ordered the special drink of the day, as per the waiter. It was so good, I ordered 2 along with a delicious quiche. When the bill came, I was unpleasantly surprised to see that the bill for my light meal came up to 45 euros! Oh well, when in Paris …
While on my trip, I did something else I’ve never done before – I ate alone for a sit-down, 3-course meal. I’ve eaten at fast food restaurants on my own before, but never at a fancy restaurant. This was truly an experience for me. I wasn’t even as if I had a laptop or a book to keep me occupied. I didn’t even have an iPhone back then. It was me, my digital camera, my thoughts and my food! I was seated close to a couple about my parents’ age. They were from the US and were on their anniversary. They were impressed with the fact that I had embarked on this solo trip. Not that I needed the approval of strangers, but it was reaffirming.
The one drawback of travelling by myself is that it was hard to get pictures with me in them. I took a selfie at the Arc de Triomphe, but my short arms didn’t do it any justice. I ran into a Chilean tourist at Trocadéro to take a picture of me with the Eiffel Tower in the backdrop. He took it on a bit of a slant (somehow I didn’t notice it after he handed me back the camera), but the image was there and I was happy. And as corny as it sounds, I have the memories of myself in the city, and that’s all that ultimately matters.
On my walk through the Latin Quarter one evening, I was looking to find any people my age, perhaps go to a cafe and chit-chat. I ran in to a man named Charles and we walked and talked. We spent most of the walk talking about his woeful love life and how conflicted he was about one woman in particular. It was kind of amusing because he spoke like a lovesick teenaged girl. It was starting to get a bit dark and I was a few subway transfers away from my hotel, so it was time to make tracks. Charles invited me to spend some more time with him … but I kindly declined. I wasn’t taking any chances with my safety on this trip.
When I finally made it back to Toronto and reached Canadian customs, I was asked the usual questions. When I told the attendant that I went alone and I had no friends or family in Paris, she looked at me quizzically. She asked me the same questions again, and I gave her the same answers. She let me go, after putting a pink sticker on my passport, which I’m still confused about. I could not have been the first woman she’s seen travelling solo for pleasure.
Going to Paris, alone at that, was one of the best life experiences I ever had. I always knew I was independent and self-sufficient, and this trip proved as much. While a good amount of people in Paris speak English, not everyone does. Having to rely on my limited knowledge of the language was such a test for me. Being totally alone (not to be confused with lonely) really shows you what you’re made of. And while Paris isn’t as difficult to navigate as other destinations, it was still a major shift from my hometown. I have not yet travelled solo since that trip 3 years ago, but it’s something that I would do again without hesitation. I agree with the tips from the Huffington Post writer. I would suggest to those travelling solo, especially women, to:
- Have an idea of where you’ll be staying in relation to the destinations you wish to see. Know how you plan on getting around the city.
- Know how you’re getting from the airport to your lodging beforehand. Airports tend to be on the outskirts, sometimes in less desirable areas. You don’t want to get lost.
- Let people back home know where you are and that you’re safe. The phone I had on my Parisian trip didn’t work in Europe at all, so I didn’t have the luxury of making overly-expensive calls back home. I took my laptop and left it at the hotel, so I emailed back home to let my people know I was in for the night. Establish a pattern as well, so your friends and family will know if something seems awry.
- Don’t look like a tourist! I tried to fit in as much as possible. I walked around like I owned the city, just like I do in Toronto! Try to avoid anything that screams you’re not from those parts. When I was at the Eiffel Tower, some boys selling pins offered to sell me one of a Canadian flag. I thought about it for a second, then decided that might not be the best idea.
- Try not to imbibe too much! And if you, limit it to the afternoon. You want to have all your faculties with you, especially at night.
- All in all, just be smart and have fun!!