My first international flight was to Paris. I was 16 years old and knew no one on the plane, but would be staying with a family who had a daughter about my age. In Silicon Valley, where I grew up, we lived in our cars. My life consisted of going from home to school to youth group without every running into a stranger. My entire being was alive with a sense of adventure. Nathalie, my Parisienne teen had had a very different life. Growing up on the Ile St Louis, she had spent most of her childhood roaming the streets of Paris on her own, which is what she did with me, for the entire summer. I loved the independence; the freedom it gave me to decide what I wanted to eat and when, what I wanted to explore, and for how long. When I wanted to see what was up a head, just around the corner, no one needed any convincing. I’d just go.
Nathalie had fallen in love with a policeman who spent most of his days standing outside of the Prefecture near her home. This was no summer crush, eventually they married and had three girls. I had also fallen in love; solo travel became a passion.
When my husband decided it was time for us to start a family, he offered me a week to visit a close friend in Beijing so I could conquer that bug. Don’t ask me how, but I negotiated the week in Beijing into 10 weeks alone in East Africa. After becoming a Mom, I “needed” 6 weeks on my own in Vietnam. As I got into the rhythm of being a wife and a mom, the solo trips became shorter and less frequent. When I net Mr French, I lost the desire for solo travel and suspected that I had fallen out of love.
Leaving Monaco last month, I hopped into my adorable, mini-me rental car and sped out of town, my heart soaring as I rediscovered my love for the adventure of solo travel. (screaching noise here as we back up…) Actually, I didn’t speed out a Monaco, I drove around in an endless maze trying to speed out of Monaco, pathetically lost in a country smaller than my hometown. I couldn’t seem to get on the right road, or even decide exactly where in France I wanted to go, but I was having the time of my life, loving every minute of it.
No one was in the car with me, stressed out about being lost, no one needed a bathroom break, no one was bored, no one was worried that it was late, or that we may arrive at our destination after night fall, even worse, what if we never found our destination and had to spend the night in the car? I could stop by a museum and only visit the outdoor sculpture display. I spent an hour trying to photograph a humming bird. No one worried about what we’d be eating next, or when. I could have cake for dinner, if that is what I wanted. Nothing was a problem, anything was possible.
Traveling alone force a girl to entertain herself, test her skills, explore her boundaries. Where every you go, there you are, forced to deal with yourself, get to know who you are and define who you want to be. You are also more approachable, opening up the door to meeting strangers, being invited into their world and getting to know the place you came to visit.
I finally got myself on the right road for France. A winding, mountainous road called the Corniche. It was exhilarating to be zipping along, the villas of Bono, Tina Turner and Elton John looming above, the sea below. I turned a corner and caught my breath, as I faced a wall of vivid yellow mimosa in full bloom, the delicate fragrance I adore invading my car with a promise of spring time and great adventure ahead.
BRILLIANT post Sylvia. I know that feeling so well. It is so exhiliarating!!! And I LOVE that you took an hour to photographe a humming bird…. ♥
Merci Prete-Moi. I never got the shot, either. Reminding me that it really is about the journey and not your destination!
Ah! Excellent point!
Oh yes! you have reminded me what it’s all about. My current solo trips are not really solo because I now meet people I know…. and maybe I had lost the “bug” for the freedom of a solo trip myself a bit.
You have inspired me. Maybe when the time is right, later in the year I will explore somewhere new and have a bit of self enlightenment. .
I love Eastern Europe….. and Scotland!
And the planning is almost as fun, Denise, just imagining all the places you want to explore!
I was still grieving the loss of my solo travel days while relishing my new “unsolo” travel experiences. Your piece is a good reminder that I can have both! What a relief!
Everything in moderation, as my Mom would say!
Ah, I’m with you on this one. There is something wonderful about traveling alone, but only for a short period of time. Or maybe not for a short period of time–sometimes I’m engaging and meeting other people and sometimes it’s all very “alone”. I do though prefer to visit cities first by myself and then take others to see them. I’m a better explorer alone than with someone because, yes, I don’t have to worry about someone’s else time or thoughts, and I’m pretty good at just doing what I want to do, as I want to do it.
And I love the smell of mimosa–so gorgeous.
I think that is one of my favorite parts of solo travel, Joseph. You can be alone when you want, but its pretty easy to meet up with others when needing some company. Yes! Isn’t mimosa divine? When I see it in the markets in Paris, I know that the days will soon be getting longer, the temperatures milder, and that spring is really on its way at last!
oh, and notify me of follow-up comments, yes.
I came to Europe for the first time with a co-worker/friend, who had been to Europe on a tour and wanted a companion for independent travel. I was in my 20’s.
Several years later, I made a solo trip at the urging of my husband. I traveled only in France with a France Eurailpass (which was still a good option at the time). It was wonderful even though I meandered around and probably “wasted” more time than during any travels with my sweetie. When we are in Paris, he often has his own agenda, so I am able to do so solo stuff.
I would like to make a ‘girl friend” trip again, especially with a certain first cousin who would be a marvelous companion.
I loved your beautifully worded ending: “as I faced a wall of vivid yellow mimosa in full bloom, the delicate fragrance I adore invading my car with a promise of spring time and great adventure ahead.”
Thank you Martha, but I don’t believe for one moment you “wasted” any time. That is the beauty of solo travel, you take a moment to find your rhythm, a discovery you take home with you and use long after the trip is over!
So enjoyed living vicariously through this blog post. Completely agree with your opinion on the advantages of solo travel. The ending od this post was à wonderful parting gift for.the reader. Merci…m
merci to you!!!
As I prepare to take my first solo trip ever, back to my beloved Paris in less than 3 weeks, your words give me strength and courage to look forward to this new adventure. I welcome the opportunity to get to know myself on a whole new level, to embrace my solitude while knowing that friends are there whenever I need them. I believe this trip will be a literal life changing experience for me and it will open the door to new possibilities I never even dreamed existed before. Can’t wait!!
Jo, You are going to love it. I wish I was going to be here to give you some support, but you’re going to find that you are your own best friend. IN the meantime, I highly recommend Cuisine de Bar for a solo lunch, a lot of picnics in parks and all the indulgences your heart desires.