My first trip abroad was when I was 20 almost 21. I was born and raised in Cincinnati Ohio and went to school at Indiana University. We didn’t travel much as a family besides going to Chicago or Hilton Head. I arrived to Florence Italy with big eyes and the city was so overwhelming. I remember not wanting to go anywhere alone. I have a terrible sense of direction and doing anything passed the Internet Train on the corner to check my email by myself was terrifying.
Google maps wasn’t around back then so finding my way to school was a challenge. I should mention that my apartment was on one side of Florence and school was on the complete opposite side. It was about a 20 minute walk with no stops. I walked home with one of my roommates after class when we first arrived. If you would have told that scared 20 year old girl I would one day live in Paris alone I would have laughed and never believed it. It took a while to get comfortable with being in a foreign city not only trusting myself that I know where I was going but also being ok with getting lost.
I remember the first time I figured out how to walk home from school by myself, it was the most liberating feeling. I quickly ditched my roommate and walked home by myself every day. I took different streets and bridges all with the same end destination. My experience in Italy was also where I fell in love with travel. I know the exact moment that it happened. It was at the top of the tower in Siena. I knew that travel was going to be a big part of my life from this point forward.
My first trip to Paris was during my semester of study abroad. I had always wanted to go to Paris and I finally got my chance over Valentine’s Day. I went with a few friends from Italy and also met up with college friends from IU. I was sick with bronchitis but I fought through the entire time because I was so happy to be in Paris. I did everything touristy and was convinced I hated French food. I am pretty sure we went for burgers and Chinese food that weekend. It is quite the opposite now where I am happy at a French bistro and skip burgers for when I am home in the States.
During that first trip to Paris we did everything touristy. I had studied the French impressionist artists in school so a trip to the Musée D’Orsay was a must. I shot this photograph which was the reason why I went back in 2010. I had started an Etsy shop and this photograph got the most hits out of everything in the shop. I used airline miles from my previous job and a little babysitting money and booked a trip to Paris. My family thought I was crazy, I didn’t really think much of it.
I researched my trip to Paris for months ahead of time making notes in a journal of everything I wanted to see and do. I found an inexpensive hotel on the Left Bank just a few minutes from The Rodin Museum. I felt very out of my comfort zone when I first arrived. I asked the hotel for a recommendation for a restaurant and they told me to go next door. I was so upset thinking they had sent me to a tourist trap. It happened to be the cutest restaurant with red checkered tablecloths and a chalkboard menu. The food was reasonably priced and it was so good. I went there almost every night for dinner the whole week I was in Paris. I dined solo but there were regulars in the restaurant and it never felt uncomfortable.
The restaurant and the regulars never made me feel uncomfortable for eating alone. I practiced my French and they would give me recommendations on what to visit next. This is where I first tasted fois gras, escargots, and duck. I made friends with another couple after we both ordered the last chocolate mousse. I have kept in touch with Ryan and Erin over the years and I even visited them in LA a while back. We reunited in Paris in 2015. Sadly, the man in the photo passed away and the restaurant closed and was sold. The memories remain and this will always be a part of my Paris story.
In 2013, I packed up my apartment in Chicago and moved to Paris for three months. The same feelings I had back in Italy all those years ago came back. I didn’t know my way around the city and I was all alone. I didn’t really know anyone in the city besides my Paris family. I lived in the 18th and they lived in the 3rd. I would see them once a week and I would walk from my place to theirs. I didn’t have cell service or a SIM card. I figured out where to go by getting lost and would check my email at Starbucks along the way. I really enjoyed not being connected and I felt so much more creative as I learned my way around the city. It is still one of my favorite walks to do. Over the years, I have had a few apartments in the Marais but I always enjoy going back to my old neighborhood in Montmartre.
Traveling solo can be very lonely especially at meal times. I remember the first night I took myself out for dinner in Montmartre. The meal was at a terrible bistro just a few minutes walk from where I was staying. I tried to break out of my comfort zone but I clearly failed. The food was awful and I couldn’t wait to get back to my apartment and put on my pajamas. I remember the waitress wouldn’t serve me dessert until I slowed down. She brought me magazines and newspapers to the table and told me to enjoy the experience. After she brought me the check, she told me to enjoy my vacation (in French). I was disappointed in myself more than anything. I went to Paris to live like a local in a Paris apartment and I my behavior was the exact opposite.
As the city transformed from Winter to Spring, I felt a personal transformation of growth. Where I once felt out of my comfort zone struggling with the language and the culture, I now felt like Paris was my home.
I spent evenings at a café people watching or strolling The Seine. This became my favorite form of entertainment. I never turn on the tv when I am in Paris. The best people watching is right outside your door at your local café.
I love to sit and journal at a café about observations and ideas for future projects. A book or a journal can be a great way to keep yourself occupied when you are sitting alone. It an also be a great conversation starter if someone else is alone next to you.
A few of my favorite spots that I have met people I have become friends with or have boys I have dated:
L’avant comptoir - you an easily go here alone and strike up a conversation with neighbors at the bar. There are people from all over the world that come here and you will find English speakers. Don’t rush yourself, order a few dishes and a glass of wine. This may help ease the fear of striking up a conversation with a stranger.
Café Nemours - close to The Louvre. I met a boy here and we dated for a bit while I was in Paris. He was sitting alone and I happened to pass by on my walk home and he caught my eye.
Chez Gladines - there are a few in the city. I was waiting to meet a friend for dinner and I met a group of boys who later joined my friend and me. Some of these dating stories will have to be saved for a book ;)
Boot Café located in the Marais. The place is pretty small, if you have been you know what I am talking about. But in the warm months, you will find expats outside sitting and enjoying coffee. It is easy to start a conversation here. For more of my favorite coffee spots that you can explore you can check out my post here. There are some that you can bring your computer and work on wifi.
Au Petit Fer à Cheval in the Marais. I found this spot back in 2012 and I have been going ever since. I love sitting at the bar by myself and ordering a coffee. I have made friends with one of the bartenders and I continue visiting year after year. I practice my French and people watch. I have met so many great people sitting here. This tiny bar could have it’s own show or book. There are so many creative and interesting people that pass through each and every day.
Solo female travel can be intimidating and scary but I also think it can be so much fun. You have the option to create your own itinerary, eat when you want and go to sleep when you want. You will never get in a fight with yourself over being hangry. (hungry/angry) I have traveled more solo than I have with someone or in a group.
One of the questions I get asked the most about traveling alone is safety. I wrote a blog post a few years back about safety for female solo travelers. I share this with all of my friends not just solo female travelers headed to Paris. Bookmark this for your next trip.
Most importantly, you have to do what you feels comfortable to you. If solo travel isn’t your thing or you aren’t ready for it, travel with a friend. Try an afternoon alone at a café or explore a museum on your own. My journey was a long process, but now it has become part of my life. I really enjoy my solo travel and I also hope to share travel adventures in the future with someone I care about.
This Summer, I will be back with my family to Europe for vacation. We will be in both Italy and France and I know that I have to make compromises. I love my family and I can’t wait to travel and make memories together. My favorite part of the day is in the early morning. I plan on carving out my morning walks and photo shoots before the family wakes up and gets ready for breakfast. Taking this time for myself will make me a more patient travel companion. I am also adding a little time on after the trip so I can explore a few places that I may not make it to with a large group.
What are your thoughts on solo travel? Do you like it? Have you tried it before or are you thinking about taking your first trip? Comment below!