Ridin’ Solo: 5 Pros and Cons of Solo Travel

solotravelWhen I lived in Paris, one of the most important life lessons I came away with was a love and respect for solo travel. I learned that whom you’re with has just as strong an impact on your experience as where you go and what you see. To illustrate, let me tell two short stories.

oktoberfestFor Halloween weekend, I went to Prague with a classmate (whom I knew from Boston, as well). She’s a wonderfully nice girl, and had figured out a hostel and how to get to and from said hostel—for which I was immensely grateful. But once we were settled, she had no opinion about how we spend our first night, priorities about what to see, etc. And she had a limiting budget. In essence, I ended up being a tour guide. And when I once suggested that we spend an afternoon on our own, she looked at me in a way that said “please, no.” That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Prague—I did—but I would have gotten much more out of the experience with a more involved travel buddy. Or alone.

Now onto Dijon… I bought an impromptu ticket to Dijon one weekend in France. Then I missed my train. I had no one to blame but myself, and yet, I just read until the next train, got to Dijon an hour late, and explored nonetheless. Walking through the town’s streets, I heard a band playing in the courtyard of a gorgeous building, so I stopped and listened. I sat in the most beautiful church, I stopped to stroll through a market selling antiques and old French books. I stopped to sit in a park and watch a man talk to his dog in French. And I still went to museums and explored the city. I bought mustard. But I was free to change my plans on a whim. And I love Dijon—I’ll definitely be back.

dijon

Given those stories, one might think that I inherently like solo travel better. And that’s not necessarily true. But I think it’s a safe bet. When I travel solo, I know the trip—for better or for worse—is all mine. But when I travel with someone else, there’s a lot up in the air. Traveling with someone can be immensely rewarding. You just have to pick the right person(s).

And now to delve a little deeper, I thought I’d share what I consider the five main pros and cons of solo travel. Let me know what you think! Continue reading

Slideshow: Reflections on Paris, one year later

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Inspiration from mom…

This one’s another mom-inspired post (What can I say—she knows me so well?). But it also seemed like a good prompt/opportunity to reflect. One year ago, I was living in Paris, traveling every opportunity I could. Ever since I read Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and learned about Santorini, I was a travel junkie. Later fueled by Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love, I made a commitment to myself that traveling would forever be a priority. And it has: I went to college 3,000 miles from home, went on a (mostly) self-funded tryst throughout western Europe, moved alone to a new city for my first co-op, and studied abroad. I can pack a mean suitcase, navigate the French consulate, and eat anything. But I thought I’d reflect on some of the things I learned in Paris, specifically, that still ring true one year later.

I prefer to travel alone. This is the most valuable thing I think I learned. Just like I’m not the biggest fan of group projects, I don’t like traveling with others. Think about it—traveling is like one massive 24-hours-a-day, group project, complete with language issues. But mostly it’s about clashing travel styles. I can travel with my mom easily: we both want to wake up early, mozey through museums, picnic in pretty parks, and splurge on great food. But other people muggy up my travel zen. With all due love and respect, I don’t want to hear about how tired/hungry/poor/bored you are. Nor do I want to plan my day around your eating/bathroom schedule. And I especially, especially do not want to be your tour guide. Pick up a guide book and figure it out. ‘Tis not my job, homeboy.

Traveling costs. The above traveling alone stuff being said, I do know that travel costs. It costs time, money, energy, patience. I get it. I just try to ignore it when I’m traveling. Because museums and picnics and the druggie-like dreams when I pass out after a day of walking around are totally worth the exhaustion. And the food?—TOTALLY worth it. But when I’m literally living in a travel-ish, foreign environment, it’s overwhelming. There were days (dare I say weekends?!)  I never left my apartment, because I was sleeping 16+ hours a day. AND I WAS IN PARIS, arguably the most beloved and beautiful city in Europe. I never picnic-ed on the Pont Neuf, never left a lock on the Pont des Arts (I love Paris’ ponts, or bridges), never saw the catacombs. Again. Traveling is costly, and sometimes I just can’t afford it.

I can always go back. This is the most incredible thing about traveling. Too often, I witness people glued to their cameras, stocking up on cheap China-made souvenirs, trying to commemorate their trip without actually enjoying it while they’re there. That isn’t to say I don’t like trinkets here and there, but they’re small; I like postcards, which I stick in my journal and which boast better pictures than I’d ever be able to capture. Knowing there are postcards for cheapcheapcheap in the store frees me up to see the beauty of some new place without peering though a camera lens. But in some cases, appreciating the beauty isn’t enough, so I confort myself with a tiny little promise: I will come back. I don’t make make this promise lightly, because I have neither the time nor means to travel much in the near future but some places are worth it.

Paris, itself, was the perfect example of one of those little promises. When I first visited Paris in May 2010, I promised myself I’d come back. And in my hotel in the 14th arr. one night, I switched my fall courses and changed my study abroad plans from South America to France. On that note, I decided to compile a mini slideshow (I’m working on the whole multi-media thing) of places I visited last fall that I promise I will return to.

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Petite (and Cheap!) Paris Walking Tours

(c) Jorge Albarracin

I love planning. And lately, I’ve needed motivation to get out of my apartment, so I’ve compiled some themed Paris walking tours. Though I’ve done most everything included, it never hurts to revisit Paris’ beautiful sites. And by sharing them, hopefully others can enjoy them as well! They’re all a little different, and I’ll continue to add more ideas as I learn more about this beautiful city.

So without further delay…

Petite Paris Tours (I totally just made that up) by Marian Daniells:

Saints and Sinners:

Start at the Abbesses (M 12) stop. As you come out of the metro, you’ll see a small gated park. Inside is Le Mur Des Je T’Aime (the “I Love You” wall), with the phrase written in more than 300 languages. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch wedding parties posing in front of the wall, post-ceremony.When you leave the park, ditch the hike up the torturous steps, and instead take the scenic route up to the Sacre Coeur Basilica. Keep a watch out for the blue door on your right, where Van Gogh lived for two years. Also on the way, pick up some cheap (12 for 2E) postcards. You’ll come up on the left side of the Basilica. Take some time to walk around the church and gape at the gorgeous mosaic ceiling, and then catch the amazing view of Paris from its steps before you head down them. Oftentimes, you can catch a musical performance on the steps, but beware of the bracelet guys (con artists–they’ll mob you. Just keep walking and throw a firm “No!” their way.) Keep moseying your way downhill, and take a right on Boulevard de Clichy. Keep your eye out for the Bistro le Chat Noir, believed to be the first cabaret (you’ll recognize the advertisements). Further down is the Musee de l’Eroticisme, the Museum of Eroticism, seven floors of toys and vintage porn and all sorts of—ahem—goodies (10E, 6E for students). Not recommended for a first date, but the stuff is actually pretty interesting! One block further, you’ll see the garish red windmill of the famous Moulin Rouge.

Paris’ Underbelly:

While Paris is the City of Light above ground, it also boasts some amazing sights under its streets, as well. For a teaser, check out this NPR video on some locals that explore the inner and ancient workings of Paris. As for things that are legal and accessible… Start at the Denfert-Rochereau (M 4, 6; RER B) stop and make your way to the entrance to the Paris catacombs (8E, 4E for under 27). At the end of the 18th century, the cemetery of the Innocent was causing infection for residents, so the state ordered the excavation and relocation of more than 6 million human remains. Note: the catacombs take you 2 km to a different location, so don’t leave anything behind. Also, there are no bathrooms, and bring a coat because it gets chilly down there. From the exit, take the subway to the 7eme (there are several options) near Pt. de l’Alma. The metro itself is the most popular tourist “attraction,” if you will, in Paris. There are four abandoned “ghost stations” in the Paris metro system. For guided tours, check out this (difficult to navigate) site. Or this blog post. On the left bank of Pt. de l’Alma, pick up tickets (4,30E, 3,50E for students) for the Paris Sewer Tour at the little blue kiosk , and then descend the stars into the sewer system. You’ll learn about Paris’ (super interesting) sanitation and sewer history. Turns out, Victor Hugo actually knew the head honcho of the Paris sewer system, so all of the information in Les Miserables is accurate—there’s even a painting in the “museum” of Jean Valjean carrying Marius. For the partying crowd, end the night at Le Showcase, a hoity-toity club located under the Pt. Alexander III bridge in an old boat hanger. Tres chic!

More to come…

Mastering the Art of French Eating

A Parisienne patisserie, where sweets are taken seriously.

I’m watching “Julie and Julia” and smiling through the entire movie. When I get back to Boston in January, and have access to a full kitchen and grocery delivery service, I want to invoke Sunday as my domestic day. Cleaning and cooking. I plan on cooking WAY too much food, so that I have enough to freeze and share with friends, enough to last me for the week. Normally, I don’t eat super healthy because by the time dinnertime rolls around, I’m too lazy and exhausted to bother cooking. Plus, I love a good cheese pizza.

Anyway, this movie just makes me smile: food and Meryl Streep and Paris all in one movie. It makes me want to shop for charming little aprons with frills (I’m legitimately obsessed) and 1960s felt hats, and to wear heels in the kitchen. Trés adorable.

True French food is so different. Better than crepes and jambon-in-everything, and fancy names… French food is fresher, richer, more expensive. And so drenched in butter and cheese and creme, it will make your heart explode in a cholesterol-ful frenzy. But delicious.

It goes beyond simply cooking differently, though. The French shop differently too. There’s the crémerie for dairy goods (except cheese, which you can find at the fromagerie), the magasin de fruits et legumes for fruits and veggies fresh from the nearby farms, the boucherie for fresh and preserved meat (except pork, which can be found at the charcuterie; and fish, which is at the poissonnerie). Then my personal favorites: the boulangerie for baked goods, the patisserie for pastries and sweets, and the confiserie for candy. I’ve even seen more than one vacuum cleaner stores, with all sorts of shapes and sizes of vacuum cleaners (some even with painted on pink faces). And for everything else, there are marches (farmers’ markets) and scattered grocery store equivalents throughout.

I moved in to my new Paris apartment a couple of days ago (pictures to come!) and had to stock my fridge. But per usual, I’m doing it wrong. Even in the overpriced grocery store that I stopped in, people were only buying two or three things at a time—cleaning goods, water bottles, beer, all things they couldn’t find elsewhere in their specialized corner shops.

I now know why the French don’t buy in American-esque bulk. First off, I let three people pass me because I had 100 dollars worth of food and they were buying milk. Second, bagging your own 100 dollars worth of groceries is a royal pain.

But the worst? Carrying 50 pounds of jambon and oefs and huile d’olive up six flights of stairs is the most painful, sweaty thing ever. Not really, but a serious pain, just saying.

As I said before, the French have a way of finding the beauty in, well, everything. Food is no exception: it’s an experience and an indulgence and every cholesterol-loaded calorie is savored and sucked dry of every last bit of flavor. So to buy things in the supermarket is blasphemy; it robs the eater of the true food experience, walking into a fromagerie stinking of brie and camembert and bleu, and meeting the monsieur or madame that runs the place. The French are all so skinny because they don’t eat as routinely and regularly as us McDonalds-gobbling Anglophones. Thus, when they do, it’s a careful ritual.

Noted. And no more supermarchés pour moi.

Artsy Fartsy Francophiles

Paris street fashion. Source: estilovesyourstyle.com

Almost finished with Orientation. Between mini seminars on safety and the science of dating in Paris, I’ve been watching people.

I found this comical and chauvinist blog online that lists the “100 Red Flags,” traits in potential girlfriends that the boys should avoid. Red flag #81? Never date a girl who studied abroad in Paris. They list their reasons, which are funny but generalized and unimaginative (even if they have an inkling of truth to them).

There is something to be said about Paris attracting a certain type of person. Coco Chanel, Carrie Bradshaw, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein: this city is drowning in cultural significance.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris.”

New York draws all kinds of people because it has a variety of strong industries: art, architecture, music, dance, theatre, sports, and —of course—finance. And while Paris is strong in art, architecture, music, history, and—of course—fashion, it isn’t exactly known for its Wall Street, and stretching is a sport here. So while the business and baseball buffs round out New York’s artsy-fartsy culture, Paris has no such equivalent.

Just the artsy fartsies.

Looking around my orientation sessions, there are a lot of women. I’d say maybe 70 percent.  And of the handful of guys, I’d bet half are gay (it’s hard to tell in Europe, where being “metro” is the new black).

So not to worry, Almost Boyfriend. The numbers are in your favor.

Angela Carter, a British author, thought that cities had sexes: “London is a man, Paris a woman, and New York a well-adjusted transsexual.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Dorothy Does Dallas (en route to Paris)

I always travel in cowboy boots. They don’t pack well, are great for navigating TSA, and I secretly love the little clack-clack noise the make on the airport floor…

My cowboy boots are currently sitting by my front door, next to a suitcase, a backpack, a (very full) purse, and my camera. Ladies and gents, it’s go time.

People keep asking if I’m excited, and I don’t exactly know how to answer that. Yes, I’m feeling excitement, but I’m also feeling about a billion other emotions and I’m not totally certain excitement is at the forefront right now. Mostly, I’m making lists and organizing; it’s how I make sense of things that are beyond my comprehension (or just too darn overwhelming).

I feel such (mostly self-imposed) pressure to binge drink up everything that Paris has to offer. In my four meager months of living in Paris, I have to soak up more than 2,000 years’ worth of history and architecture and art and culture and food (Oh, my!). I want to do it all, I want to write about it, and I want to enjoy every second of it. As Dorothy would say, “There’s no place like Paris.” **

It’s a daunting task, but I’m ready. Somehow, Paris seems natural and even familiar, like when you meet someone and feel like you’ve known them for years. I myself feel more Parisian (or maybe I flatter myself. So shoot me.), even if I’m running around in cowboy boots with a huge backpack on, speaking pigeon French. Okay, bad example, but I’m doing it all wearing lipstick, so that’s something. Baby steps.

I was browsing through some old posts just now and came across this little gem that I wrote more than a year ago. I had recently returned from a trip to the Bahamas, was taking lots of Bikram yoga classes (which mess with your body’s chemicals so much, it feels like you’re high), and was a week away from finishing my internship and moving back to Boston. Basically, I was in a really good mood.

My writing was chipper and happy and I was so damn giddy with the beauty of the world, and dizzy from dancing my “fancy little tango” with the world of what ifs.

A year before that post (almost to the day), I got to Paris and fell in love with it: the bajillion couples making out in public, the appreciation for beauty in its many forms, and the general joie de vivre. I thought, “What if I studied in Paris?”

Tomorrow, the “what if” becomes a reality. I’m hopping on a plane in nine hours. And I’m going to land in that world of opportunities, 6,000 miles away with a butt ton of luggage. Alone. I’ll get settled in my temporary apartment, and after that I’m on my own to stroll the city—just me, Paris, and a beloved, beaten-up old pair of cowboy boots.

 

** Quote has been modified by the blogger. But let’s be honest, if you were Dorothy and had to choose between Paris and Kansas, there’s no competition.

Before and…

I’ve officially been accepted into the Paris study abroad program at the American University of Paris next fall, and all I can think about is furniture. If that made no sense, it’s because it doesn’t make sense. I’ve recently gone through the process of signing onto my friend’s lease, and will be moving into her cozy little apartment upon returning from Paris. I’ve been feasting my eyes on the renovated DIY projects on mommy blogs and apartment therapy, and feel so inspired. I’ve already starting pinning ideas and compiling a mental list of all the things I hope to do to the new apartment.

In past apartments, I’ve either moved around too much, or I haven’t had the space to really make someplace feel like home. So with this next apartment, that’s what I’m searching for: home. I want to paint the walls a warm tan in the living room and kitchen, and a refreshing grey in the bedroom; I want to outfit the bedroom with white bedding and furnishings (including painting the unfinished windows and giving my 300 lb dresser a rustic makeover). I’ve lobbied for new floors and am planning on bleaching and resealing the grout in the kitchen and bathroom; I’ll move in my wonderful faux suede couches and fill the entire living area (which boasts one window in the kitchen) with lighting and pops of color—I’m thinking plants, flowers, replacing lightbulbs, and battery operated lights under cabinets.

I’m thrilled at the idea of sharing a kitchen and a bathroom with only one other person, even if there’s no dishwasher (yay, paper plates!). I’ve even been tossing around the idea of somehow DIYing the countertops. I’m renting, so my options are limited, but even a high-gloss white layer of paint would look better than what’s in there currently. I was also thinking of constructing a new countertop of wood that I could shellack or paint and literally just put right on top of the current kitchen island. Like a slipcover, but for a counter. Thoughts?

I’m getting ahead of myself… by about 10 months, to be exact. But it’s an exciting new venture. Check out some inspiration for my bedroom! I’d like to think that the grey can actually warm up so much white. I’ll need to stock up on bleach though.

Photo Source: Country Living

Wardrobe Essentials: Ten “Perfect 10” Pieces for Paris

The most recent issue of Matchbook Magazine (a recent obsession) boasts a great article about riding boots. I’ve actually been on the hunt for black leather riding boots for more than a year, and just last night found a pair of Anne Klein black riding boots that I’ve been lusting after.

Having submitted my application to study in Paris, I’m already thinking about what I need to bring. Parisian style is timeless, minimalist and practical (except for heels on cobblestones), so I thought I’d write about the 10 essentials that I’ll be bringing (even though I’m only bringing one suitcase!). I also haven’t written about my “Perfect 10” in a while, so I thought I’d pay homage to that.

Thus, ladies, the Perfect 10 essentials for my Paris wardrobe:

Crasslee boots, Anne Klein

1. Leather riding boots [CHECK!]. Let’s start with a New England classic. And no, I’m not talking about a North Face jacket. Classic leather riding boots are timeless and should last for years. My mom, who’s in her late 40s just tossed a pair of leather boots she bought in college. They’ve been loved and dyed and resoled, but black leather boots will never go out of style. I’ve been looking for the perfect pair for months, and finally found one that is high quality, reasonably priced, and doesn’t have excessive frills. But if plain black seems a little too boring, I also love a dark brown, which is equally versatile. Or try another kind of boot: I know I love my cowboy boots!

 

 

Reva flats, Tory Burch

2. Not-so-boring flats. The ballet flat is not only comfortable, but it’s a chic, polished alternative to sneakers. Anything with a rubberized sole will be sturdier. Also, this might just be me, but I Febreze the crap out of my flats because my feet sweat buckets in them and I don’t wear socks or anything. Though I’m a huge fan of plain black flats (like black Tory Burch ones that are both sporty and pretty), I feel the tres Parisienne trend is colored or embellished flats. I love red or green ones because they add a punch of unexpected, fun color. Plus, red and denim go incredibly well together.

 

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