Solo travel is so different, obviously, from family travel. It has its merits and its downsides, but whether you love it or hate it, it’s just a completely different experience.
I’ve traveled alone a fair bit. Most of my solo trips have been short ones — DC to NYC or DC to Boston. A weekend away from the kids once or twice a year.
All those trips have been so easy though — I know my way around that part of the world like it’s the back of my hand. I’ve traveled up and down the Northeast corridor more times that I can count. It’s easy for me.
My trip to France recently, though, made me realize that I’d gotten complacent. Any time I’d driven to New York for a weekend visit, I’d had my cell phone, my car, I knew my way around, and if, by some chance, I did get lost, everyone around me spoke English and I had google maps and Matt on the other end of the phone in a heart beat.
My trip to Paris went a bit differently.
I took the train from London, a really easy 2-ish hour ride during which I read my book and ate a lovely lunch and sat across from Ralph Fiennes’s doppelganger. Not a bad start.
I intended to take the Metro from Gare du Nord to the Airbnb apartment we had rented for the week. I’d looked at the map of the Paris subway when I was still at home, and it was only four stops from Gare du Nord to the stop closest to our apartment. Easy-peasy.
When I got to Paris, though, my phone wouldn’t work. I had thought, based on my brief glance at the cell provider’s website, that I could have international coverage on my phone by texting a certain code to the provider once I was in France. Turns out that my cell plan doesn’t include that option. (I really should have gone into a store to double check.) When I got off the train in Paris, I had no internet access and no ability to place calls.
My French is limited to Bonjour, Au Revoir, and about four other generally non-useful phrases, one of which is “voulez vous coucher avec mois”. Not helpful.
I couldn’t remember the exact name of the subway stop close to the apartment or which line it was located on. I couldn’t fully read the signs in French in the train station. I spent a few minutes poring over the map, hoping it would jump out at me when I saw it. At that point, though, I realized that rather than standing there staring at the subway maps on the wall and searching for the stop I was only somewhat sure I remembered the name of, a cab was infinitely easier. Thankfully I had the address for the Airbnb where we were booked in my inbox, which was still accessible.
My cab driver spoke French and Arabic. I speak English, Russian, and un pocito Spanish. But we figured it out. I got out at the apartment and realized I didn’t know WHICH apartment number was the one we had rented — only the street number had been listed on the website. Two of my friends were already there, and had been the ones to sort out meeting the woman who ran the Airbnb listing. I didn’t have a way to buzz up to the apartment because I didn’t know which apartment to buzz. And my phone wasn’t working.
Luckily — miraculously — I stood on the sidewalk in front of the apartment building trying to decide what to do for about three minutes when one of my friends walked out on to the balcony above me. I shouted up, she shouted down, they let me in. Crisis averted. But man, that could have gone very differently.
All this made me realize three major things: first, I have become complacent about travel and just assume things will work out without my having a plan for how to make them work out. That is not a safe way to travel. Second, I rely on Matt too much for these details — he is the one who always looks at the maps, memorizes the train stops and locations of things, and I leave that stuff to him. I shouldn’t. There are plenty of other things I handle when we travel, but in general he is the one who makes sure we know where we’re going when we get somewhere and that’s not okay — I need to know the way around too. And finally, I am far too reliant on my phone and instant access to information. I need to remember this experience and have the information I need accessible when traveling even if the internet is NOT at my fingertips.
Thankfully everything worked out on my Paris trip, but that was more luck than anything else. It’s serves as a good reminder, though, and I know I won’t make the same mistakes again.
What are your best tips for traveling solo?
Also, here’s why I think solo travel is important.