Going it alone in Paris – life as a solo traveller
It was a strangely liberating experience, to be standing at the station platform, waving my husband off for his trip to Germany. He was meeting friends. Rather than joining him for that part of our vacation, I had chosen to remain on my own in France, specifically Paris.
Please don’t misunderstand, I love travelling with my husband. He is my best friend, and we’ve been on so many adventures together. But I was really looking forward to living the dream of so many Francophiles: the luxury of time alone in Paris to cater only to personal whims.
Paris – my first leisure trip as a solo traveller
In my corporate life, I am a regular solo traveller, but for reasons of love and family I’d managed to get into my early 40s without experiencing independent leisure travel.
And, while I was extremely excited about the prospect of exploring Paris on my own, I have to admit that I also felt a fair amount of trepidation. Having been to Paris several times I wasn’t concerned with getting lost, or choosing where to stay but other questions whirled through my mind. Would I get bored or lonely? What if my limited French language skills completely deserted me? How would I go dining solo? Should I be concerned for my safety?
The opportunity to challenge yourself
One of the great joys of travelling is the opportunity to stretch and challenge yourself. It also gives you a sense of freedom and a chance to try something you might not try at home. So, with all of that firmly in mind, I put my concerns aside. I threw myself headlong into the experience, keen to learn not only more about myself, but also what Paris has to offer solo travellers.
My time alone in Paris rates as one of my favourite travel experiences. I learnt far more in a short period of time than I would ever have imagined. As it turns out, I felt neither boredom nor loneliness. Instead I relished the quiet time to explore the city and my thoughts on my own. My language skills were better than I gave myself credit for and dining alone become a pleasurable experience for me. Personal growth and a real sense of achievement were my rewards for pushing myself out of my travel comfort zone.
Conversations with fellow travellers have led me to realise that I am not the only one who missed the experience of independent travel in my youth. And while a solo visit to Paris may seem a little on the tame side to more adventurous types, I consider Paris, with its numerous accommodation choices, to be an inspired destination to experience solo travel for the first time.
Paris has much so much to see and do – you’ll never get bored
The city is full of big name attractions as well as hidden gems. If loneliness becomes an issue, you can sign up for a tour or a class, or join fellow travellers at the Eiffel Tower or at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Alternatively, you can choose to step off the beaten path. You can explore an arrondissement fully, shop to your heart’s content or take in a museum that appeals to your own special interests.
For me, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs on rue de Rivoli is an excellent museum to visit if you are a solo female traveller. Although it is in the Louvre complex, it is separate to the main museum and offers visitors a very different view of French history and culture. The permanent Fashion and Textile collection is an absolute must see.
The perfect city to do nothing in
Alternatively, Paris is the perfect city in which to do nothing, or something that closely resembles nothing. Wander aimlessly and get lost in your thoughts. Enjoy your own company as you take in the colours and the architecture. Pull up a seat by a fountain and watch children and clouds scuttle by. Or while away the hours from a cafe terrace and watch the very stylish Parisians on parade.
My fountain of choice is located in the gardens of the Palais-Royal. Quieter than either the Tuileries or Luxembourg Gardens, I can almost always find a seat. At different times I’ve enjoyed watching owners play with their dogs, the spectacle of a Parisian photo shoot and the competition that comes with an evening game of pétanque.
It’s impossible to get lost – unless you want to
Paris is an easy city to navigate. The city was made for strollers, with wide paths and excellent signage. Choosing to walk allows you to see and experience so much of the city’s magic. If walking doesn’t appeal to you, the Paris Metro is an inexpensive and easy alternative. Other options include buses and taxis.
The ideal location to experiment with solo dining
Eating in a restaurant alone can be a daunting experience when you are at home, let alone when you are travelling. I was pleased to discover that solo diners are very welcome in French restaurants, as dining is considered an art form – one where the diner becomes completely engaged with their meal. As a result, when I really started to pay attention, I realised that there were numerous solo diners in restaurants everywhere.
If you are feeling a little uncomfortable about dining alone, make sure you choose a restaurant that has one of your favourite dishes on the menu and take the time to truly enjoy it. Additionally, a book or a tablet can be very helpful if you are new to solo dining. And, as an added incentive, remember that solo diners do seem to get good tables and excellent service!
Safe for solo female travellers
Paris is a relatively safe city, which is a real draw card for solo female travellers; although it is always recommended that independent travellers are conscious of their safety and surroundings.
Unlike in some other parts of France, a full command of the French language is not necessary in Paris, as English is widely spoken. Having said that, it is polite to master the basics, and at the very least use ‘bonjour’ and ‘merci’ regularly.
Are you inspired to take a solo visit to Paris? Or perhaps you have already visited Paris independently and have your own hints and tips. Either way, we’d love you to share your thoughts in the comments below.Image credits:
1. Gare du Nord, by Max Braun, via Flickr.
2. Sylwia Bartyzel via Unsplash.
3, 4. © Scott Gould.