Table for One
I’ve travelled a fair bit. With family, with friends, with colleagues. But never alone. So, when the opportunity to book a solo trip to Paris presented itself, I took it. My plan was loose. The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, some shopping. I had visions of sipping wine in a sidewalk café while turning the pages of a good book. A trip where the only opinion on what to do next was mine. I did a lot of it, but I also learned a few things – about travel, about Paris and mostly about myself.
No one knows how to get out of the airport. Trust me. We stumble off the plane like lemmings, following arrows that contradict one another. It’s a corn maze with a taxi stand at the end. What I’m saying is, it’s normal to feel like a tool and the answer is Maps. If you don’t have a good roaming plan, get a SIM card. Maps will get you to the train, your hotel and around the city like a local.
Uber is great, but the Metro is better. When it comes to big cities like New York, London and Paris, it’s easier, cheaper and allows you to get a feel for the place. People are going to work, shopping at IKEA and heading home from a night on the town.
I’m too old for hostels. I’d picked two hotels for my eight nights in Paris. The first, a hostel that promised a rooftop bar and the second, a bougie spot near Sacre Coeur. The Generator was a miss. My room took minimal to a new level and the bar was closed. The move mid-week to Le Pigalle was a total win. Next time I’ll pay more to have the room with the record player all week.
My French is better than I thought it was. I owe it to my mother for sending me to French immersion when I was young. All the words were familiar, but I was worried about stringing them together – out loud. I’d walk into a café and toss out the standard – je ne parle pas français. They’d switch to English, even apologizing if they didn’t know the right word for something. After a couple days, I stopped worrying about my imperfect accent. To be clear, I wasn’t fooling anyone, but I ordered salads, bought books and completely bombed at telling a joke. All part of the experience.
Versailles is overrated. I was surprised too. It probably would be different if you visited in the summer, but March in Paris is gray and wet. The world-famous gardens were just grass and every fountain was under repair.
I have no desire to do my hair, so a flat iron is never necessary. I have a travel sized one that I took and used in Japan, but we were going out for diners and drinks with friends. At my table for one in Paris, no one cared if I was wearing a hat.
I’ve got simple tastes when it comes to food, but I’ll walk 45 minutes across town for the promise of good coffee. I know people who build their itinerary around restaurants. Michelin stars and not-to-be-missed dishes. Not me. I’ll eat at the same spot every day if the food’s good and then spend my time searching cool cafés for my Pinterest board. Highly recommend checking out this list from Beaucoup Bakery founder turned Paris local, Jackie Kai Ellis.
I tell people I’m Canadian. Like, a lot. I wasn’t concerned they’d assume I was American, but I didn’t want them to spit in my food.
Vintage clothes shopping is largely unrewarding. I spent most of my pre-trip research looking up secondhand stores and assuming there would be racks of 70s Chanel. After going to three and finding zilch, I bought a bottle of wine to drown my sorrows (see next point). Turns out the solution was a trip to the Paris Flea Market, where after half a day flipping through depression-era magazines and perusing antique furniture I contemplated shipping home, I walked away with a 1960s sign from the Bon Marche that pairs nicely with my water buffalo mask from Zimbabwe.
I don’t know how to use a waiter’s corkscrew. After a half hour I’d broken into a sweat and snapped the cork in half.
The single best thing I did in preparation for this solo trip was make myself a playlist. I thought it would be fun to listen to some French music while relaxing in my hotel room, but I ended up putting my headphones in while I walked around the city. It cut the feeling of isolation and became the soundtrack that will always take me back.