Paris is for Loners

Continuing with our “How did she do it?” series, we talked to Melanie about how she courageously embraced loneliness while traveling solo in Paris. Not only did she overcome it, but the journey back to herself on that trip became a pleasant surprise.

"When most people think of Paris, they think of old-world style streets and romance. A place you might go with the love of your life (or maybe just someone you want to have sex with in a fancy hotel. In Paris). Most people imagine beautiful buildings, bistro tables, slender cigarettes and wine glasses in the hands of slender individuals, European scooters buzzing past, and cinematic walks along cobblestone streets.

They do NOT think about dragging a broken suitcase up 5 very TINY flights of stairs to an Airbnb, alone. They definitely do NOT think about walking around the city (also alone) with headphones on because you don’t speak French and are too terrified to use Google translate because you pronounce everything so, so terribly. I am 100% positive they do NOT imagine dining alone at a bistro table in the 6th ward, surrounded by young, chic, men and women who are casually gossiping about why the woman next to them is eating a three course dinner alone, with headphones on.

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My desire to see Paris in 2017 was eclipsed by the fact that I was single and had no available friends or family willing to accompany me. Everything else was aligned- the flights were cheap, the most perfect Airbnb was available (and cheap) and I had a long weekend to burn. Having never been to Paris, and speaking little to no French, I was a bit naïve in my confidence that I would have no problems finding my way. The minute I stepped off the Eurostar, I was smacked with the reality that yes, I was finally in Paris, and no, I did not actually speak any French. This was the moment as a single traveler when I felt the MOST alone. I could sense tears welling up in my eyes when I realized that I had no idea what to expect in this place and I felt like I really stood out in an awkward way. This is sometimes the moment when headphones become your best friend. With headphones on, you immediately blend in. “Yeah, I was just stepping out to mail a package, buy some wine, and pick up my takeaway. I have headphones in because none of this excites me anymore- I live here. Ignore the giant suitcase”.

Loneliness aside, a magical thing happens when you travel alone- you spend less time talking and more time listening. Listening to the sounds of the city, the conversations (in French) going on around you. To dogs barking, kids laughing, street musicians playing, birds chirping, and even the rain falling around you (yes it rained but trust me, that will NOT stop you from exploring Paris). Sometimes it can be exhausting to make small talk or to engage in the active volleying of words to avoid silence. Travelling alone automatically removes these things as options.

In Paris, I was forced to observe the world around me. If I wanted to buy or to eat something, I had to listen to the people near me and mimic their words and gestures. I was learning how to be a social being all over again. Every tiny victory felt like a huge accomplishment for me- I ordered an almond croissant and full fat milk cappuccino (yeah, they don’t do almond milk at the good spots), I walked to and from my Airbnb without getting lost. I purchased a decent bottle of champagne. I took a (terrible) selfie in front of the Eiffel tower. Alone.

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Being alone is something that we all fear at one point in or lives or another. Traveling alone on vacation seems like one of the WORST things one could possibly do; especially to a city such as Paris. But I ask you, how often do you really spend time with yourself? When was the last time you actually observed the world around you and even “re-learned” how to be a human person? How many times has a vacation felt like a whirlwind of “doings” and “goings” and the only way you could remember your time in a foreign city was by looking at the 457 photos you uploaded to your Facebook Album “ I <3 France”?

Travelling alone doesn’t really require bravery or independence (although it DOES require money, just fyi). It requires a desire to spend time with yourself. To become a character in a bigger story. To close your mouth and open your eyes…and put your headphones in so that no one asks you for directions!"

Melanie currently resides in Philadelphia where she is pursuing her mba. You can learn more about her and what she's up to on Instagram @psychictears.

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