When I signed up for my study abroad trip to Tampere, Finland, I was not overly excited for the studying. I wanted to travel. The travel bug bit me on my first trip to Paris at 10 years old, and the curiosity hasn’t let up since. The beauty of immersing yourself in another culture and lifestyle has never been lost on me, and the more I traveled, the more I wanted to explore. A month in Belarus showed me the warmth of a country buried in snow, a week in South Korea taught me that I did not like meals made entirely of pickled food, and a night in the Moroccan desert gave me the most beautiful night sky I have ever seen.

With an already festering love for travel, and my older sister’s lament that it was the one thing she wishes she had done in college, studying abroad was an inevitable part of my college experience. While I had dreamed about studying in northern Italy, the price tag of that program was not going to allow for much travel. So, Finland it was! A friend of mine had applied for the same program, so it was decided that we would be travel buddies, and off we went.

We planned trips to Italy, Ireland, Morocco, Estonia, and France, taking advantage of Ryanair, a terrible but cheap efficiency airline. We roughed it in hostels and slept on airport floors, but the sights we saw were all worth the sacrifice of comfort. We had budgeted carefully, but my friend and travel buddy was the more conservative one. I knew I was going to return home with empty pockets, so I wanted to make the most of my time. When my friend decided that she could no longer afford our planned trip to Paris at the end of the semester, I was heartbroken. 


I still wanted to go, but the thought of deciphering the metro system and going it alone for a week in such a massive city was more than a little bit intimidating. Despite my mother’s previous nagging against traveling alone, she urged me to go and enjoy myself before the experience was over for good. I knew I wanted to go, but a little nudge from mom never hurts. I booked myself a hostel in Montmartre, and told myself that I was going to have a wonderful time in the city of lights, even if I had no one to take cheesy tourist photos with.

After almost exactly ten years, Paris was just as beautiful and energetic as I remembered. I did not remember how large and overwhelming it was, but a good metro map and large does of patience went a long way. I was in no rush, after all. I stumbled upon a free-for-students evening at the Louvre, and it felt different, too. The halls were not as vast and the paintings not as tall, but I still saw the Mona Lisa the same way: pretty, but a bit of a bore.

I visited my favorite Parisian museum (Orsay), any spots I had missed on the previous trip (Notre Dame), and used my French skills every chance I got. I spent hours in the seemingly infinite flea market, gazing at old cameras, vintage furniture, and flipping through magazine advertisements from the 40s. I took photos of the beautiful scenes around me and smiled as a seven-piece orchestra swept by, filling the streets with sound.

My days as a single traveler in Paris were simple, but full of little pleasures. A croque monsieur for lunch and a walk around Montmartre, a visit to another art museum, a coffee and reading break in the city, and almost always a crepe for dinner. I made the boulangerie next to my hostel a regular stop, and planned at least a few things to do each day. It took a little more effort, but I was getting the hang of going it alone. If I wanted to spend 12 euros on an issue of Vogue and sit in a warm Starbuck’s for two hours, that’s what I did. If I felt like wandering the streets to take photos, no one was there to argue. It’s relaxing to let a city draw you in without the trouble of expressing every thought with words.

So there I was, five days passed, in Paris, all alone. I bundled up in my peacoat and scarf and headed out for my evening. I had discovered a quaint little movie theater on a side street in Montmartre. I walked past the bustling bars and restaurants on the lit up streets, had my crepe for dinner, and walked into the theater, warm and crowded with locals of all ages. I had come there alone, but the movie started, and surrounded by Parisians, we all laughed together. 

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