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Managing Solo Travel Fears

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.


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Best of Travel 2011

Thanks to Michaela at Awe Inclusive for including me in Budget Travel Adventure’s Best of Travel 2011 and giving me an opportunity to look back on the best of my 2011 travel adventures.

Last year was another fabulous travel year for me. I visited London for the third time and Paris for the first time, though it was my second trip to France. So here’s my Best of Travel 2011 roundup —

Best Domestic Travel Destination: To me, Washington, DC is the best domestic travel destination because it has so much to offer. The National Mall, the White House, galleries and (free!) museums, theater (not as many as NYC but still good and good bargains), restaurants, festivals like the Folk Life Festival, the National Book Festival, etc. Whether you’re looking for history or entertainment, Washington DC is the best place to be and the best part? It’s compact – you can cover a lot of territory over a few days.

Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC
Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC

Best Travel Experience: I’ve been fascinated by Stonehenge since I saw a documentary about it several years ago and added it to my Must See List. As soon as I decided on the dates for my UK trip, I booked a tour. The best part was that the group was small enough so that we weren’t tripping over each other. We could go into the circle and get up close (but not touch) the monument. The tour also took us through the bucolic English countryside and Bath, a very historical and picturesque town.

Inside the circle, Stonehenge
Inside the circle at Stonehenge

Best International Destination: My best international destination for 2011 was, without question, Paris.  I love Paris – it’s all of the things we’ve heard, and more — romantic, picturesque, fashionable, etc., and though I felt a bit intimidated by the stories I’ve heard about Parisians looking down their noses at people dressed in jeans, I never felt out of place or slighted. In fact, I met quite a number of friendly Parisians. One night, I got talking to a waiter and when he found out where I was staying and that I was traveling alone — it was nearly 10 p.m. when I finished dinner — he called one of the waitresses who was taking the same train and told me to wait for her so we could travel together. Although I could have found my way back to the hotel on my own, I was very touched by his kindness.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower at night

Worst Travel Experience: My worst travel experience in 2011 happened before I even left my destination. I turned up at the airport to board my flight on Spirit Airlines and got a huge surprise. I owed $93 in baggage fees! I was so furious at myself for not paying attention to the fine print — I know better (or should) — that I forgot that I wanted to buy a few gifts in the duty free shop. The worst part is that on the return leg, I couldn’t figure out how to pre-pay and ended up paying again. Suddenly, the deal that I thought I had worked out to be one of the most expensive New York/Montego Bay tickets I’ve ever bought.

Most Embarrassing Travel Experience: Last year, my travel was embarrassment-free but 2010 wasn’t. I started to feel sick the day I was scheduled to return to the US from Johannesburg, South Africa. My body felt weak and I began to sweat. I didn’t know what was wrong – I didn’t think it was a cold but by the time I got on the flight, I was sneezing. I was so petrified of coughing that before I finished a cough drop, I’d pop another one. I felt awful. I still think of the people I know I passed my cold on to. Thanks goodness, it was a night flight so (hopefully) my no one remembers my face! The best part was, I was traveling with two friends who were also coming down with colds so I didn’t infect the people on either side of me. The worst part is, our row probably passed our colds on to everyone in coach.

Best Local Destination: Since I relocated from New York City to Jamaica last year, I’m going to take the liberty to name two best local destinations. In New York, the best location destination is Coney Island. It’s a place where you’ll find everyone – toddlers, young adults, couples, singles, grandparents – and there’s a variety of activities for everyone, from the hot dog eating contest over the July 4th weekend to summertime fireworks displays to roller coaster rides.

My best travel location in Jamaica is Treasure Beach. It’s laid back, it’s funky, it’s fun. It’s just a charming location that I’ve written about several times.

Treasure Beach boats
Treasure Beach boats

Best Travel Lesson: When I visited Paris last year, it was the first time that I traveled on my own to a place to a place where I didn’t know a soul and no one was meeting me when I arrived. Thank goodness, I know some French so I didn’t feel completely at sea. Interestingly enough, I was very excited the morning I left for Paris — it’s probably the most excited I’d been in a while about a trip. It turned out to be a very liberating experience and surprisingly, made me feel very grown up.

Now, I get the pleasure of inviting the following 5 bloggers to write about their Best of Travel 2011.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Entrance

I have so many photos of entrances, especially those to churches, I had a hard time deciding which ones to include.

Entrances can be opulent, functional or rudimentary. Either way, it’s one detail that tells us a great deal. See what you think.

Entrance, Buckingham Palace
Entrance, Buckingham Palace
Entrance, Paris
Entrance, Paris
Entrance, Union of Writers, Havana
Entrance, Havana

 Entrance, Chatelet Metro, Paris

Entrance, Chatelet Metro, Paris


Entrance, Jamaica
Entrance, Jamaica
Entrance, The Pierre Hotel
Entrance, The Pierre Hotel, NY



Set in Paris

Since the release of the new Woodie Allen movie, Midnight in Paris, I’ve been thinking of the movies I’ve seen that were set there.

Eiffel Tower

Here’s my list:

  • The Day of the Jackal (Edward Fox) 1973
  • A View to a Kill (Roger Moore, Christopher Walken) 1985
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Michael Caine, Steve Martin) 1988
  • Frantic (Harrison Ford) 1988
  • Dangerous Liaisons (Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, John Malcovich) 1988
  • Valmont (Colin Firth, Annette Benning) 1989
  • The Bourne Identity (Matt Damon) 2000
  • Chocolat (Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche) 2000
  • Amélie (Audrey Tautou) 2001
  • Le Divorce (Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts) 2003
  • The Truth About Charlie (Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton) 2003
  • Something’s Gotta Give (Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Kneau Reeves) 2003
  • The Devil Wears Prada (Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway) 2006

Watching some of these movies – Valmont, Dangerous Liaisons, Chocolat and Something’s Gotta Give come to mind, really gives you a good feel for Paris. It’s also great to see a scene in a place you been to, like Roger Moore’s James Bond at the Eiffel Tower or at the Pont Alexandre.

I can’t wait to see how Midnight in Paris compares or what places I recognize.


I Didn’t Even Get a Croissant! Ten Things I Wish I’d Done in Paris

Okay, so eating a croissant wasn’t really on my list of things to do in Paris. But I had envisioned a much different trip than the one I actually had.

In the trip I imagined, I’d spend a week in Paris, visit a few friends and all the must-see spots, the Champs-Élysées, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, etc., then make my way to Bordeaux, the wine region, and Saint-Émilion in search of the Château Grand Mayne. (About 10 years ago, I discovered a Bordeaux with my name on it. I was so excited, I bought a case! Visiting a place that had my name was high on my list.)

At some point, I’d travel to Lons le Saunier, to visit ma petite soeur, Murielle, and her family. I was looking forward so much to seeing the French countryside that I’d sit at my desk when I was supposed to be working and daydream about it.

But life (aka work) intervened. Instead of spending two weeks in France and two in London, I had two weeks between London and Paris. I could manage only three days in Paris. It wouldn’t be enough — I like to spend my time, slowly peeling back layers and discovering a new place — but it’d have to do.

Lines outside the Musée d'Orsay

Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of my three days but it went by so fast, if I didn’t have photos, I’d think it had been a dream.

I’ve been reflecting on the dream and all the things I didn’t get a chance to see or do in Paris, and I made a list:

  1. Sunset Cruise on the Seine Bateaux Parisiens offers dinner, nighttime and private cruises on the Seine that leave from the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.
  2. La Sainte-Chapelle – I don’t consider myself a very religious person but looking at cathedrals always humbles me. Located at Île de la Cité, this Gothic Cathedral was consecrated in 1248. It has been a national historic monument since 1862.
  3. Église Saint-Suplice – The second largest church in Paris.
  4. Moulin Rouge – Home of the can-can, the Moulin Rouge has been around since the late 1800s. Artists from Edith Piaf to Josephine Baker have performed there.
  5. Montmartre – The bohemian place that played host to artists like Picasso, Dali, Modgiliani, Monet and others.
  6. La Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre – The Basilica is located in Montmartre, the highest point of the city.
  7. Musée d’Orsay – I wanted to visit this elegant former train station turned gallery for Western art but after standing in line at the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, I couldn’t muster up the energy for another line.
  8. Montparnasse – I have created my own (highly romanticized) narrative about what living in Montparnasse must have been like for artists such as Jean Rhys, Madox Ford, Henry Miller, Salvador Dali, Jean Miró, Diego Rivera and many others who made it their home. I wanted to walk in their footsteps.
  9. Château de Versailles – One of the largest palaces in the world, it is the location where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919.
  10. Luxembourg Palace and Luxembourg Gardens – Built between 1615 and 1627 for Marie de Medici, the widow of Henry IV, the Luxembourg Palace is home of the French Senate. Wonder how difficult it must be to have to work there? I’ll never know!

The trip I took was an appetizer. I’m ready now for a more leisurely and elaborate feast with ten (or more) reasons to return to Paris.

What Some Bloggers are Saying About Paris


I could write about Paris everyday and not run out of things to say.  But I woke up this morning thinking about my blog buddy, Heather Munro, whose posts on Paris really got me stoked. Heather’s photographs capture the romance and the beauty of Paris like no other blogger I had seen in a while.

The Seine

So I went looking for what other bloggers are saying about Paris. Hope you like my selection:

  • Jordan (, an American who recently moved to Paris, is giving away a 7-day trip for two to Paris. Unfortunately, the giveaway closes at 11:59 tonight. So head over to her blog and enter.
  • My Little Paris ( is a bilingual blog on all things French.
  • Nicole, an American, lived in Paris for a while. Her blog ( chronicles her Paris Color Project, a series of photographs on color in the city of light.
  • Prêt á Voyager ( is the blog of self-confessed Paris-loving graphic designer Anne Ditmeyer. Anne’s posts cover living in and visiting Paris.
  • Erica Berman’s post on French Restaurant Etiquette: Dining in France Like a Local caught my eye. Erica, an American who’s been living in Paris for several years, owns a vacation rental company and blogs about everything hip in Paris. (
  • Cynthia is a French student who’s studying in England. Her blog ( offers tips on Paris.
  • Kathy, my blog buddy over at To Write is to Write, did a sweet little post on her trip to Paris. Read it here.
  • Heather lives in the U.S. but it’s safe to say she’d rather be in Paris. I loved her post on the Eiffel Tower and Chartres but check out all her posts under the Paris category. You’re in for a rare treat.

Enjoy these images of Paris:

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Paris, Day 2: The Eiffel Tower Climb

After walking around Paris for most of the day taking in one must-see attraction after another, I was excited to see the Eiffel Tower straight ahead, looking as if it had sprouted from the ground.

The images I had in my head from movies and television and photographs dwarfed in comparison to the real thing. It was impressive!

View from under the Eiffel Tower - Maynefoto

Up close, the Eiffel Tower, with its intricate lattice work, is a marvel of modern engineering.

At 1,063 feet, it is among the tallest structures in the world. Its base measures approximately 330 feet. Completed in 1889, the Tower was named after Gustave Eiffel, the engineer who designed it.

Up close - Maynefoto

Throngs of people milled around the base, hundreds more waited on one of two lines – one to climb the stairs to the first and second floors, the other, the elevator to the second floor and the top.

I sat for a while, debating whether I’d go up. Once I decided, there was no question: I’d take the stairs — not the elevator with the longer line. It would be a good 45 minutes to an hour before I reached the ticket counter.

I’d say the first 100 steps were a breeze compared to the next 200. I had to stop several times to catch my breath. But it also gave me a chance to take some photos.

Informational signs - Maynefoto
View of the line from the First Floor of the Eiffel Tower - Maynefoto

When I made it to the first floor 347 steps later, I felt very proud. I headed straight for the first table to rest.

More views from the First Floor, Eiffel Tower - Maynefoto
View of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower - Maynefoto

When I reached the first floor, I couldn’t imagine going to the next level. But after getting a bottle of water from the concession stand and feeling my heart had returned to beating normally, I realized it was time to go. Of course, seeing other people doing it, didn’t help either.

500th Step at the Eiffel Tower - Maynefoto

Reaching the 500th step of the 674 steps to the second floor. I knew when I returned home there’d be some who wouldn’t believe I’d done it, so I brought proof.

The second floor was crawling with people – those who had taken the elevator up, those returning from the top and others, like me, who climbed up. The second floor is also the location of a second ticket window where those who wanted to, could buy tickets to the elevator to the top and the souvenir shop. It’s also where the second, more expensive, restaurant is to be found.

View of the top from the 2nd level - Maynefoto

Looking towards the top from the second floor.

I was still undecided whether to go up. The lines were long and I needed to join the line again to get another ticket. I mulled it over as I took more photos of the beautiful scenery below. (I just noticed the shadow of the Eiffel in this one.)

The Eiffel, towering over Paris - Maynefoto

I’m not sure how long I hung around snapping photo after photo before I joined the ticket line.

Sunset from the Eiffel Tower - Maynefoto

It was another 30-45 minutes before I got up to the window, maybe 20 more minutes to get on the elevator and a few minutes to get to the top.

As we began our ascent, I looked down — we weren’t going very fast — and my stomach lurched. It settled after a few seconds, and I watched as people and things on the ground became increasingly smaller.

Exiting the elevator, I was surprised and delighted to see this little flag of Jamaica on the Eiffel Tower!!

7 734 km to Jamaica - Maynefoto

The view at the top is breathtaking. Unfortunately, since it’s enclosed, I had to take photos from the windows. They all picked up the film of dirt on the window.

It was after 8 p.m. and I wanted to be on the ground to see the lights that begin at 9 p.m. It started as I was descending and ended before I got to the ground. I wanted to wait for the next one at 10 p.m. but I was hungry and tired and still had a 30 minute metro ride back to the hotel.

I had spent more than 5 hours there but it was well worth it. I said my goodbye to the Eiffel Tower around 9:30 p.m.

Night - Maynefoto

Climbing the steps to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower then taking the elevator to the top was the highlight of my three days in Paris.

Visiting the Eiffel Tower

Hours: The Eiffel Tower is open everyday from 9:30 – midnight but check the website for exact times in the summer months.

Tickets: Stairs to the 2nd Floor: €4,70 – If you want to climb the stairs to the second floor, like I did, you’ll have to purchase your ticket when you get there.

Elevator to the 2nd Floor: €8, 20

Elevator to top: €13,40

As with any attraction, vendors selling souvenir keychains, water, etc., are everywhere. There’s also a souvenir shop on the second level.

Restaurants are on the first and second levels.



Paris, Day 2: The Eiffel Tower

As I walked around Paris, the Eiffel Tower beckoned me like a lighthouse. I set out to find her just by looking out for her as her top rose above trees and buildings.

Eiffel Tower from Pont Alexandre - Maynefoto
Tour Eiffel from Pont Alexandre - Maynefoto

I didn’t need a map. I just kept cutting across streets that would bring me closer.

Top of the Eiffel Tower above a building - Maynefoto
Eiffel Tower, through the trees - Maynefoto
From the tour bus - Maynefoto

After a while, I realized I’d cover more territory by bus than on foot.

I’d get closer, much closer.