It’s been nearly five years since I got to travel further than the shores of Africa so as I was preparing to fly to Paris this year I was totally flustered by the thought of having to figure out how this long haul travel thing worked again. To top that I decided to travel solo for the first five days of the trip which for me was a double whammy… foreign county, foreign language and no wing man to stick by me when things inevitably go wrong. Nerves aside, I believe that knowledge is power and I hit the research hard to come up with a few ideas to assure myself that the whole experience would be fun. Suffice to say I got all the way to Paris and back unscathed and so I decided to share the top ten tips I would give any friend when deciding to travel solo to Paris (in fact I think these tips would be helpful for anyone travelling to Paris, solo or otherwise!).
- Rent an Apartment
Save on expensive hotels and rent an apartment. I can’t tell you how much of a bonus this was for me while travelling. I got to experience living in Paris as a partisan (well for a short while anyway). When you are living in an apartment you have the luxury of having a small kitchen so you can prepare meals before you head out for the day and eat them on the go or if you really don’t feel like going and sitting in a restaurant alone at night you can grab a few things from the local grocer and enjoy dinner at home. I rented my apartment through AirBnb and I would highly recommend booking an apartment through them.
- Sort out Your Spending Money
I used my credit card while travelling – I think travellers checks are a little passé and in order to cash them means you need to find somewhere that is open when you need cash (way too much admin for me!). If you are going to travel and use your card then ensure that you phone your bank and let them know you are going to be travelling and spending abroad on your credit card, do this before you leave so that they don’t mistakenly cancel your card thinking it’s been stolen and used fraudulently. If you book your flight on your card they often offer free travel insurance which is a plus, so check with them and see if you qualify. NB: Check your credit card fees, they have a nasty way of sucking unnecessary charges when you least expect it and let’s face it you need all the cash you can for buying cocktails on pavement cafes during happy hour!
- Use Your Alarm
I know I sound pedantic but set an alarm so you don’t miss anything. I tend to lose track of time when I’m distracted by pretty places or new experiences so if you have somewhere you need to be at a specific time set your alarm. There is no point in missing your flight or your train and having to fork out for a new ticket to dampen a trip.
- Buy a Data Card
I got myself around Paris using my phone and Google maps… in order to do this I needed a mobile data bundle so I strongly urge you to buy a data card so you are always in contact. If your mapping software stops working or you find yourself somewhere you really didn’t want to be then you can also use a taxi service like Uber to fetch you in few minutes and whisk you off to safer territory (again you need data for this and it’s not always freely available in Paris). I got a holiday data package from a shop in the airport from Orange which was a little overkill actually because I basically didn’t really call anyone, but rather be safe than sorry I say.
- Use Public Transport
I don’t know why I felt so confident that I would be able to figure out how to use public transport in Paris… I mean I’m probably the only person in history to be totally flabbergasted by the underground in London. In the end I decided to brave it given public transport really is the most cost effective way around Paris. A few handy hints: (a.) Buy the 10 ticket bundle, this workout cheaper and it saves you time having to fumble with change every time you want to hop onto the underground or a bus. (b.) The transport network allows you to hop onto any bus or train within the city on one ticket provided you do it within 2 hours of the first time you clock your ticket on any of the means of transport so you may find the fastest way to get somewhere is to catch a bus to a station and then a train to your destination and you can do this all on one ticket. (c.) remember that at any given station you need to find out the direction you need to travel in so make sure when you get onto the platform you are heading in the right direction! I found the Paris By Train website very useful at trying to explain it all.
- Safety Comes First
When you are travelling solo it’s important to watch out for your own safety. When you need to use the ATM try to use it during the day and on a busy street or open area where it’s unlikely someone will try and mug you. As a woman if a stranger starts asking if you are travelling solo I would suggest having a story that your significant other or friend is just around the corner waiting for you to meet them just so they think they can’t take advantage of you… safety in numbers should deter any would be nuisance.
- Brush up on Your French
I think knowing the basics of how to greet someone in French: “Bonjour” (or if you really want to score brownie points: “Bonjour madame” [form women] or “Bonjour monsieur” [for men ] will get you a long way in earning someone’s favour (and possibly some service from your waiter) in Paris! I wasn’t one of the lucky few to be able to take French as a second language in school so I downloaded Duallingo and brushed up for a few weeks before I flew. I think it helped a little, although I really wasn’t fluent so my default after saying “bonjour” someone was “Parlez-vous anglais?” [do you speak English] and most were accommodating and switched to English so that we could chat.
- Pack a Travel Kit
I laughed out loud when I read about a travel kit in How To Be a Partisan: Wherever You Are… did those ladies read my mind! I go everywhere with a little travel kit in my bag that has all the essentials for when I’m out and about so that I don’t get stuck at a loose end. There are no hard and fast rules about what to put in your travel kit but here is what is in mine: Plasters (for all that walking you are going to be doing), deodorant, tissues, floss, hand wipes, hand sanitizer (I sound like I have an OCD issue with cleanliness), mints and maybe a few headache tablets.
- Don’t be a Total Recluse
Book some time to catch up with a friend if possible or join a tour of some sort – it’s nice to break the silence for a little while and share with fellow travellers… for example I found out one of the best tips ever from a lady I met on a cycling tour: look out for the Air France bus service to get back to the airport if it stops near to you, you don’t have to be travelling on Air France to use it and it drops you off right at the terminal you need to be at! I also learned how to drink several double gin and tonics during happy hour (which are often longer than an hour so watch out for those) from friends I met up with while there.
- Have Fun
My number one tip: Have fun! Have an agenda for your trip but don’t kill yourself doing it all! Make peace upfront with the fact that you will get off at the wrong stop, you will miss out on a few things you wanted to do but at the end of the day this is travel – you have to take the good with the bad. If you find yourself in a sticky situation, stop, relax, breath, count to 10 and trust me you will figure it out. It’s often when things are going wrong that you find something unexpected that turns out to be better than anything you had planned!