I will love to say I have always enjoyed traveling solo and it came naturally to me, but the truth is that in the Fall of 2012, I found myself in the situation that demanded I step off the edge of the proverbial cliff to discover I could fly. I started planning a trip to Paris in the summer of 2012. I had spent the previous ten years in school or working to build a career, I never had a chance to consider travel. Things were starting to settle down that summer and I decided it was time to explore the world.
I reached out to a few friends in May and by the end of July, there were six of us scheduled to go on this incredible one week Europe adventure with four days in Paris and three days in London. It was going to be epic, six twenty-somethings with zero care in the world taking on Europe. We planned the trip for late October. Flights and hotels were cheaper and the crowds would have dissipated. We were going to pull our funds and lodge in a hotel within walking distance of the Eiffel tower. I dusted off my passport, got the necessary travel documents, booked flights and made the hotel reservation. Now the wait, we had a countdown and weekly conference calls to plan the itinerary. We were doing fine until September, and then with each call, one more person has doubts they were going to make the trip. Eventually, by the first week of October --- It was down to just me and another friend living in the UK. I was distraught but at least I still had one travel buddy. A week before I was scheduled to fly to the United Kingdom - Birmingham by way of London; the last remaining travel buddy had to drop out. I was the last person standing. What to do?
London and Birmingham - I could manage on my own, but Paris? I did not know anyone there and I did not speak the language. Five days before I was scheduled to depart - I was lamenting to my brother the woes of having to cancel the trip and how much money I was going to be losing on the flight and hotel when he said the words that forever changed me - " Why not go by yourself? " If he could see my face at that moment. I was terrified!
Without thinking, I started spilling out all the reasons I could not take a trip on my own - from the valid to the vain - I don't want to get lost, I don't speak the language, Is it safe, Who will take my pictures, etc." add to that 101 other excuses I belted out. My brother, full of wisdom, let me go through all my fears and then suggested I reach out to some friends of his who had recently returned from Paris. They will be great resources on where to stay and how to get around.
I scheduled the call and after a thirty-minute conversation, I thought "maybe I can do this". Now the research, I spent the next four days intensely researching what to do in Paris, typing up frequently used phrases on my notes app and creating a detailed (hour by hour) itinerary of my time in Paris. I flew into Birmingham via London to spend the weekend with my brother. Early Sunday morning, I boarded the Air France flight from Birmingham to Paris. Several times before the flight boarded, I thought about heading back to my brothers' apartment (but knowing him, he might have kicked me out just to make sure I took the trip). When my flight was called, I took the leap and boarded the flight to Paris.
Arriving in France early morning, I got through customs ok, I meticulously followed the step by step train directions I had written out before leaving Dallas. I made it to my hotel just fine. I started to think, I can do this. I was too early for check in, so the bellman held my luggage while I headed out to catch the tour ride to Versailles. Again, I found my way to the Eiffel tower train station ok. From there, I was supposed to walk about two miles to get to my pick up spot. Somewhere in the excitement of being in Paris and figuring out everything on my own, I did not pay attention to the turns and found myself lost with no GPS to map out my way (insert panic). I walked down every street using the Eiffel tower as a guide and twenty minutes later it I was further away from my destination. I could still see the Eiffel tower but I was nowhere close to where I needed to be. The panic attack started to set in and I broke down crying. With mascara running down my face - the thought hit me - I am in Paris. I have dreamt of this for years and I was not going to let a little setback like not having GPS get in the way. I retraced my steps to get back to the Eiffel tower. All the while looking out for a taxi - I could not find one till I got back to the Eiffel tower. I felt the tears starting to well up again and just then I saw a cab dropping off a family and immediately hailed the cab.
Just my luck, he was out of service. But he must have seen my bewilderment because he decided to help me out. He got me to the pickup spot and refused to take a fare for the ride (who said humanity was lost?). Thankfully, two other members of the party were late so I was not holding up the group. We made it to Versailles ok and then my Versailles tour guide did not show and did not bother to inform me. Forty-five minutes of waiting, I called the guide who informed me he had mixed up the dates and will not be showing up. After what it took to get there, his little mix up was not going to ruin my trip. I decided to explore on my own and it was an incredible afternoon.
I went on to spend four days in Paris on my own, I started out my days early and explored the city till late in the day. Once or twice I cried (ugly tears), I got lost a few times and figured it out by cobbling together my limited French vocabulary to ask locals for direction. I found courage to ask strangers to help with pictures. Those four days in Paris were the defining moments of my time as a solo traveler. It was in Paris I discovered I could travel alone and have an incredible time doing it. That was six years ago and I have not stopped solo traveling - It is still one of my favorite things to do. I discovered something about myself when I stepped past this particular fear.
What lies on the other of your fear ?