Justin is a biology major and Film & Media Studies minor from Danville, VA, Hampton, VA, and Gainesville, Fl (military family). On campus he is involved with many other things photography-related: Photo Club, The Flat Hat Magazine and ROCKET. Email Justin at email@example.com
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.
I recently posted a series of photos on my Instagram account that feature many iconic Parisian landmarks. All of these photos have one thing in common: The city and I are the only subjects. You see, I traveled to the city alone during spring break. This wasn’t my original plan; I wanted to spend the week with a few friends, but everyone already had plans or responsibilities. I decided to book my plane ticket regardless and explore the largest metropolitan area in Europe. And oh boy did I learn a lot.
You might ask: How could you spontaneously fly 3,000 miles to a country to which you’ve never been, where people speak a language you don’t know, without at least one partner? Well, I come from a military family. I’m used to moving around and experiencing new areas. My parents also like to travel — we’ve taken family vacations to England, Scotland, Iceland, the Bahamas and Yellowstone National Park. I’ve also taken solo trips to domestic spots like Acadia National Park and New York City. The final stepping stone toward international solo travel was a study abroad program to Switzerland I took in January 2022. I was able to travel (somewhat) by myself to a new country, and I realized that traveling isn’t that difficult. So I asked my parents to drive me to Dulles Airport at the start of spring break.
Quite surprisingly, I felt fine when I first stepped off the plane at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. The fear didn’t hit me until my transport bus dropped me into the heart of the city on a busy Sunday morning. I very quickly made my way to my Airbnb and fell into a jet lag-induced sleep.
I spent the next five days partaking in the normal touristy features of Paris. I saw Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, Shakespeare & Co. and more. I treated myself to fancy dinners at sit-down restaurants, while still having the occasional meal from Chipotle or McDonald’s. I had time to practice my photography skills, whether that be street photography, cityscapes or self-timer portraits. I eventually grew accustomed to waking up in a random lady’s apartment — that belonging to my Airbnb host.
One night while scrolling through Reddit, I found a post from a user in the forum “Travel Partners” who happened to be in the same situation as myself. She was also traveling solo from the East Coast of the U.S. We were also around the same age, had similar senses of humor and both wanted to explore the city. Because of this, we decided to meet underneath the Eiffel Tower. We sat down for a nice dinner at a local Indian restaurant and found much more in common. Fast forward three days and we had spent the rest of the trip together — visiting places such as Disneyland Paris, Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre Museum.
If you travel alone as I have, I recommend exercising many precautions. Research your prospective city/area beforehand and make sure you understand basic navigation. It’s also important to take precautions if you are a woman or minority. Women and people of color are often targeted and must take extra care. It’s sad, but it’s reality. Along with this, be cautious of using public forums (like I did) and meeting strangers. I genuinely believe that most people in this world mean well, but you have to be wary until you know you can trust them. I was so scared to meet my new friend for the first time and I took many precautions, the biggest being to meet in a public place.
It’s also important to understand a few basic words and phrases in the popular language of the area you’re visiting. You don’t have to be fluent or understand complex phrases. But at least be able to say “Hello,” “How are you?” “Please,” etc. Even if you’re just pointing at a menu, these simple words will help your relationship with locals. If you can’t figure out a word somebody is saying, Google is your best friend. Most of the time in Paris, the average person would have a decent knowledge of the English language and be willing to help. However, there were a few times I relied on Google Translate or (more importantly) Google Maps.
Here’s what I want to say: take that jump. Don’t be afraid to do something just because nobody can join you. If you enjoy traveling and have the time, money and drive, just do it. We will never be as young as we are in the present. Most of us are going to graduate before we know it and have a full-time job without extended periods of free time. Nobody cares that you’re alone. Not a single person is going to care that you’re eating at a sit-down restaurant by yourself. You are a badass. You are making memories that nobody can ever take away. Remember that you can never truly be alone when you have yourself.