For people like me, who’re a little shy, solo travel can be unnerving. I’ve been traveling for nearly all my life but hadn’t, until about two years ago, traveled on my own.
I was on a three-week mercy mission in London and decided, at the last minute, to treat myself to a short vacation in Paris before I flew home. Thinking about it now, I must have been out of my mind to pick Paris, the city of love, for my first solo travel experience. However, it turned out to be the perfect place to wet my feet in solo travel.
But I wasn’t thinking about that as I boarded the Eurostar that Thursday morning. Doubts dampened the excitement I felt and tugged at the edge of my mind like insistent children, waiting for reassurance. And as the train moved away from London’s St. Pancras Station, old fears tightened like a band around my stomach. The more I tried to ignore them, the more they clutched until finally, I decided to look each one straight in the eye.
Getting lost: Getting lost was a fear I hoped Paris would help me conquer. I’ve gotten lost so many times, my friends generously describe me as ‘directionally challenged.’ My most embarrassing experience was missing my exit and getting lost five minutes from home. It took more than 20 frustrating minutes to find my way. The worst part was, I could see the top of our apartment building almost the entire time I was driving around.
Eating alone: Having people, especially family and friends, at the table can turn a meal into a celebration of life and love. I was terrified just thinking about having a meal in a restaurant by myself. My fear was heightened because I knew no one in Paris who I could call to rescue me.
Sleeping alone in an unfamiliar environment: This was, by far, my biggest fear. I don’t rest well when I’m in a new environment, and my anxieties increase when I’m alone. Looking this squarely in the eye as the train took me closer to Paris did little to calm my nerves. But I was determined not to let this fear paralyze me.
Even though, intellectually, I felt that I had dealt with the fears that plagued me, I was still feeling a bit unsure. When the train came to a stop at Paris’ Gare du Nord, I took a deep breath, drawing on my inner reserves for the courage I knew I lacked.
As I exited the station and headed for the taxi stand, shouts of Taxi! spoken with a different inflection flew like darts past me. French was everywhere; then it hit me: This is Paris.
A smile lit up my face as my taxi arrived. I chatted with the driver about work, football, and politics. Oui, je peux le faire! I can do this.
I didn’t let fear shackle me. I went wherever I wanted and never got lost even when I returned to the hotel past midnight.
My steps were uncertain as I walked into my first restaurant, solo. The hostess showed me to a table but as I waited for my server to arrive, I gave in to my fears and walked out. I laughed at myself as I walked away because I knew I’d have to face this fear. Two days later, I tried again. This time, I stayed. My waitress was friendly and by the end of the meal, I had made friends.
That first night in my hotel room by myself, I put the chair under the door handle for my peace of mind. It took a while before I slept but when I woke the next morning, I felt refreshed and ready to explore Paris.
I returned to London five days later, feeling a boost of confident I never had when I left. My solo travel had emboldened me in ways I couldn’t have envisioned. I don’t have another solo trip planned but I can’t wait to see what I’ll discover about myself on the next one.