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.