I have always wanted to visit Paris for as long as I can remember. The city of love, the city of lights. I joke that it’s practically a crime that I’ve been studying French for as long as I have without ever having gone to Paris. Well, in October last year, I decided that would no longer do. After all, I’m currently living in France for my year abroad in a town that’s only an hour away from Paris by train. I had no excuse not to go.
The only thing was that I would have to go alone. I didn’t yet have enough good friends here to ask anyone to come with me, so if I really wanted to go, it was going to have to be a solo venture. I’m a very independent person and I love taking myself off and exploring, so this didn’t really seem like a problem. I booked my trains and hostel and twiddled my thumbs until the day of my departure.
I may be a very independent person, but I didn’t really consider the fact that I am extroverted by nature. I’m at my happiest when there are lots of people around me to talk to, so suffice to say I’m not very used to my own company. Travelling alone would present me with a whole new challenge in that I would be spending five days entirely on my own in an entirely new city.
Of course, there were challenges to it. The grass is always greener in far-off pastures, and I couldn’t help but think how much better it would be if I had a travel companion. Someone to make fun of the paintings in the museums with, someone to share a meal with, someone to laugh with over a glass of wine. Being in the “city of love”, I couldn’t help but miss my loved ones, and to some extent it amplified all my fears about year abroad that had been lying latent since my arrival.
But honestly, as much as there were difficulties to it, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing. Paris really was the perfect place to explore alone. It was a dream to be able to wander around the Louvre at my own pace, sit for as long as I wanted in front of Monet’s breath-taking waterlily paintings, and, like Joni Mitchell’s ‘Free Man in Paris’, “wander down the Champs-Élysées/Going café to cabaret.” Paris is so full of personal pilgrimages as well that it only felt right to go alone. I spent one whole glorious morning getting lost in Père Lachaise cemetery, wandering up and down the aisles of astoundingly elaborate sepulchres and paying my respects at Jim Morrison’s grave. I spent many evenings wandering up and down the Seine watching the lights melt into the murky water. It felt like a peaceful city in which to be alone.
So for all you first-time solo travellers out there, here are a couple of tips to keep you rolling happy and safe.
- Make a list
As much fun as it is to go with the flow, I would definitely recommend making a list of the things you want to see before you go off on your travels. This will help you to structure your days and keep you focused on your exciting destination.
- Stay in a hostel
As alluring as the comfort of an Airbnb or hotel might be, staying in a hostel is definitely the best option for lone travellers. There are so many other people travelling alone that you’re bound to make friends. People who travel are more likely to be open-minded and friendly in any case, so even if you arrive on your own, by the time you leave you will have met some new people.
- Treat yoself!
You’re on holiday! Just because you’re on your own doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to sample the local cuisine or see what the nightlife is like. Do a quick google search for some restaurant recommendations, take your book along and take yourself on a date. Cos just like Loreal, you are worth it baby.
- Stay safe
Of course, travelling alone comes with a whole new layer of worries. Be extra vigilant: always check that your bag is closed, never have your valuables in an easy-access pocket, and check and double check that you’ve locked all your stuff away before you leave your hostel for the day.
- Go outside of your comfort zone
There is no better time than now to try something new! If it’s usually museums and galleries that get you going, maybe try splicing your visits with some more outdoorsy activities. If you’re the biggest sesh head there is and dying to try out the local clubs, try taking a night off and seeing what else the city has to offer in terms of after-hours entertainment. Who knows, you might discover your new favourite thing.
Words and photos by Jemima Skala