My first trip abroad wasn't until I was about to turn 21. I studied abroad in Italy and didn't know the language. I get lost easily so I walked home from school every night with my roommate. The first time I felt comfortable enough to walk alone I finally did it and I have to say it felt so freeing. My normal walk home was across the Arno, through Piazza della Signoria, and all the way to the other side of town. It typically took about 20 minutes at a normal pace. My walks home were my thinking time and the time I had the most freedom to explore the city and listen to the sounds and visually take in all of what Florence had to offer. I started walking to and from school by myself and finding this was my favorite time of day. I had four roommates and our school was a great group of people that liked to get to together for lunch or dinner on the regular so it wasn't always easy to break away and have alone time. It was this trip that I really changed and grew so much.
In 2008 I lost my job in the recession and was doing something completely different. When I graduated college I never thought to be a travel photographer was a possibility nor were their outlets to sell my work online. A friend introduced me to Etsy and after taking a look decided I wanted to start a shop. This is when etsy first started so a lot of people weren't familiar with the name or what the site was used for. The first year I had no idea what I was doing and it was a lot of trial and error. Finding out what people liked and what got the most traffic. During my first trip to Paris in 2003, I took a photo of the clock at the museé d'Orsay and I decided to list it as an item. Over the next couple of months, it got the most traffic than anything else I had been posting.
I had never traveled solo before but all the sudden something clicked. I wanted to go to Paris and I didn't even think to ask if anyone wanted to come with me. I was unemployed and babysitting to bring in extra cash while either my Etsy shop took off or I found another job. When I first started my Etsy shop it wasn't even on my mind that I could possibly do this full time. I took airline miles and the little cash I had and booked a trip to Paris. I had a notebook where I did research on where to stay and where to visit. It was filled with ideas and I was so excited!
I left at the end of March and stayed at a tiny hotel right around the corner from the Rodin museum. It was perfect for solo travel. There was a little restaurant next door that had really great French food. I always thought I hated French food until I actually gave it a chance. The waiter would walk me through the menu, his rough English, and my high school French.
My days were spent exploring the city by foot. I didn't really know the city at all and I walked everywhere. For miles and miles getting lost and discovering the city for the first time. As I go back through my photos I can feel my emotions and see how I looked at the Eiffel Tower and the Pont Alexandre III bridge for the first time the way I photographed it. Solo travel isn't always easy and as this was my first time I felt comfort returning to the restaurant at night. It is here where I met friends that are still in my life and I have stayed in touch with over the years. The menu changed each night depending on what was at the market. Over the week I tried escargot, lamb, duck and even fois gras. I would bring out my map and the regulars in the restaurant and the owner would ask where I had been and they would give recommendations on where to go the next day. I have been to Paris many times after this first trip but this is one of my favorite trips.
After 8 days of exploring Paris, it was time to head home. My Grandmother turned 90 that year and I wasn't going to miss celebrating her birthday.
I spent weeks going through my photos and choosing my favorites. My photographs have always been my souvenirs so I can easily feel the emotional connection back to the trip and the city. I slowly started listing the items on Etsy in my shop and the reaction was better than I expected. I started selling my work more regularly. It took about a year to date from my first solo trip to be completely independent and earning enough to live to do it full time. This was probably one of the scariest moments to let go and hope it works. If you have ever left a job to go out on your own you know this feeling.
I can honestly say that losing my job was one of the best things that happened to me. When it happened I was scared and I had no idea what I would do or where I would end up. I think fear helps you do things that we wouldn't normally do. This really helped give me to push to follow my dreams as a travel photographer and eventually led me to living in Paris. I will share more about what prompted me to decide to move to Paris in another post.
When it comes to Solo Travel it can be scary and there are moments of loneliness. A few quick tips:
- 1. Safety first. Make sure you stay in a hotel/Airbnb that you feel safe and comfortable. Are you able to walk around at night? Give your location to your friends/family back home.
- 2. Don't be afraid to meet new people. Solo travelers can bond easily and you don't have the restriction of other people's schedules.
- 3. Embrace your freedom. When you travel solo you can wake up or go to bed as you wish. Choose where you want to eat or which museum to visit. You can literally do anything you want to do. How much fun is that?
- 4. Practice the new language. If you are in a city that speaks a different language than your home country don't be afraid to practice. I have found most people want to practice their English so be polite and know a few words to make getting around easier.
- 5. When you give your chance to be alone you learn about yourself and who you are as a person. Allow yourself to grow and enjoy being your best company. Pack a book or journal and go out to a nice meal instead of staying in for the night. You never know who you will meet!