During the fall semester of my junior year, I participated in a study abroad program in Scotland.
We had a two week Fall Break during the middle of the semester, and my family was able to fly out to visit me from Minnesota. We were going to meet up in Munich and then travel around to a few different places before they had to go back home. They wouldn’t arrive until a few days after my break started, so I pondered for quite a while how I should spend those days. Stay in Scotland? See where other people were going and join them? Something else?
I ended up choosing “something else.” I decided to take a little journey to Paris. By myself. At the ripe old age of 20 years old. Carpe diem, folks! Besides, when else would I get the chance to do this?
1. It helps if you do some planning and researching before you leave.
Before I jetted off to Paris, I printed out maps of the Metro (subway) lines to figure out how to get from the Charles de Gaulle airport to my hotel and what line to take to get in and out of the city center. I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to this type of organization, but since I was by myself I just wanted to make sure I knew where to go and what I was doing. In the end, it helped me out TREMENDOUSLY.
Also, never assume that museums and other major attractions are open everyday. Many times they are closed on random days like Mondays or Tuesdays. Always check their website beforehand!
2. Don’t be afraid to get lost, because it will probably happen.
As much planning as I did when it came to the Metro, I still got lost every day (mostly just walking around). It’s pretty easy to become confused in a foreign country! I speak very little French, and if you look at the Metro map above you’ll see how many of the lines have different branches and end points! Just remind yourself to not get worked up about it, take a deep breath, and ask someone for directions. That person will help you out, I promise.
3. YOU are the tourist. YOU are the foreigner. And YOU are the one that has an accent.
You might be thinking, “well, duh, of course,” but it’s easy to forget these small facts when you’re in a different country. Everyone may sound strange and different to you, but really, you are the one who is different. Because of this, remember to be cordial, polite, and kind, and always remember to represent your home country in a positive manner.
4. Be conscious of your surroundings.
Have you seen the film Taken? Don’t be idiots like those girls. People can spot tourists from a mile away just based on the clothes they are wearing and how they’re acting. Basically, just be aware of where you are, who is around you, and where your personal belongings are. If you feel uncomfortable, follow your gut feeling and remove yourself from the situation, because I highly doubt Liam Neeson will be able to come save you.
5. There are certain things that should be taken into account when deciding where to stay when you travel.
For example, I stayed in the northeast part of Paris (the 19th androssiment if you’re curious) because I found a cheap and nice place to stay. However, I had to take about a 20-25 minute Metro ride to get in to the main part of the city. Looking back on it now I wish I would have stayed somewhere closer, but that means it’s more expensive. It’s just something to think about and keep in mind when you’re booking your hotel, hostel, etc.
6. Make an effort to learn some of the native language.
Before I left for Paris, many people told me that the French appreciate when you make an effort to talk to them in French. So that’s exactly what I did. Read up on how to address people politely (“madame,” “monsieur,” etc.) and common phrases like “where is…,” “please,” and “thank you.” You’ll win some brownie points for sure!
7. Traveling alone can sometimes be even more fun than traveling with a group.
You don’t have to worry about what other people want to do or where they want to go. It’s all up to you, my friend! And it’s pretty great.
8. Never let fear stop you from having an adventure.
For some reason, I wasn’t at all scared or nervous about going to Paris by myself. I can be a bit of an anxious person but before I left I just thought this was a pretty normal thing to do. However, getting from the airport to my hotel was somewhat exhausting and overwhelming, and once I got to my hotel room I sat down on the floor and sobbed. I called my mom back in the States and kept telling her how scared I was, how big of a mistake I was making, and how I wished I had stayed in Scotland until I met up with them in Germany. Thankfully she calmed me down and reminded me that I was about to have an absolutely amazing experience. She also reminded me how I have always wanted to go to Paris, and how I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I did let this fear stop me from doing something I’ve always wanted to do. The next day I was walking outside of the Louvre and saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and that’s when it hit me: I was in Paris. It wasn’t on my TV or computer screen. I was there; I was in it. And it was beautiful.
Be brave, be courageous, embrace wanderlust, do something that scares you.
If traveling alone is something you want to do, do it. You won’t regret it. You’ll regret not doing it. It very might well be the most magical, beautiful, and life-changing experience you ever have in your life.