Last weekend I went to Paris, on my own. There was nothing radical or revolutionary about the trip; teenagers fresh out of Sixth Form return from month-long periods travelling the world with stories of swimming in lagoons during tropical storms and rubbing shoulders with drug cartels. Some pack up their lives and move thousands of miles away to begin careers in skyscraper cities.
I spent just over 48-hours a hop, skip and jump across the Channel, which, compared to these excursions, is like popping round the corner shop to buy a beret and a baguette. But, for me, travelling on my own for the first time was a milestone for several reasons.
I’ve barely done any travelling in my 22 years of living. Childhood holidays consisted of day trips to Brighton and Hastings, and in 2015 I spent a week sailing around Corfu with a boyfriend and his family – my first time being on a plane.
Last summer, one of my best friends, Ali and I spent a weekend in Rome to celebrate our First Class degrees. Until now, this was the closest I’d come to solo-travelling. We planned and booked the holiday, navigated the city and overcame small catastrophes all on our own. It gave me an exhilarating sense of freedom and, what with the brilliant opportunities for EU citizens (*weeps internally*) under the age of 25, inspired me to do more travelling around Europe.
Travelling does, however, fill me with severe anxiety. The prospect of being so physically alienated from the safety net of dependable wifi, a familiar underground system and my mum gives me mild neurosis. I am not multi-lingually gifted, and memories of being yelled at by a French supermarket assistant as I unwittingly entered a staff-only zone on a school trip to Boulogne seems to have given me a debilitating travel-complex. Whenever I venture more than 100 miles out of Zone 6, part of me instantly wishes to be back in the comfort of my E5 postcode.
Therefore, for me, spending a weekend on my own in Paris was not just about realising a 7-year dream to eat a crème brûlée in Café de Deux Moulins (as Amélie does in the 2001 film of the same name, which informed approximately 89% of my reasoning for taking AS-Level French), but proving to myself that I am a capable confident adult.
Solo-travelling is a joyous luxury. Most obviously, you have complete autonomy over how you spend your time. The potential for arguments to arise over where you go for lunch or how many glasses of wine you have before eventually hailing a cab is eradicated.
You never feel guilty for indulging in small moments like meandering through a back alley in Montmartre or people watching through the steamed-up windows of a snug little café for hours. Learning to feel satisfied with your own company fills you with a quiet contentedness and the silence often makes you attentive to details of the bustling city that would otherwise have passed you by.
Sometimes, however, the most special experiences materialise from a dual effort. The absolute highlight of my trip to Rome was a two-hour, open-air classical music concert outside Teatro di Marcello, something I wouldn’t have ended up experiencing had Ali not begged that we quickly pass by the ancient Roman theatre I had little interest in seeing.
At first, it was slightly disconcerting not having a fellow person to converse with – to point out observations to or consult a rain-soaked map with. When I ordered a coffee and a croissant in a café near the steps of the Sacré-Cœur, the first time I’d spoken out loud since boarding the Eurostar at St Pancras, the sound of my own voice surprised me slightly.
Travelling solo, you have no one to serve as an audience to your embarrassing moments or mini-breakdowns, such as when I spent a full fifteen minutes sobbing because I couldn’t unlock the door to my Airbnb and my host had responded to my SOS with a patronising message (“I thought I showed you yesterday – it’s SO easy”).
I imagined my friend Sophie’s exact response when, walking along a sex shop lined street in Pigalle, I heard something loudly vibrating in my suitcase, which began to attract the attention of passers-by. The time between everybody assuming my vibrator had gone into spasm mode and finally retrieving my electric toothbrush from my bag seemed like an age, and I knew Sophie would have found it hilarious. Instead, I sent her a Facebook message (“OMG – I have the most embarrassing story ever LOL”).
Some may think being in Paris, the City of Love (technically the City of Light, but every book, film and song in the history of the world would argue the former), would be a bit depressing as a solo traveler. But who says you need a companion to fall in love? You can fall in love with a city, it’s language, it’s charm. It’s buildings, it’s streets, it’s je ne sais quoi. And you can do that all on your own.