This post is about a year late. But hey, better late than never, right? 😛
It seems like just yesterday that I ventured on my first ever solo trip. Travelling to London & Paris turned out to be one of the most eye-opening events of my life, and truthfully, one of the hardest. Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long just to even look at my photos.. But here they are!
Solo travel. Something you should apparently do at least once in your life. An experience that will apparently change you forever, give you more independence, confidence and freedom, and leave you more inspired and empowered. It’s true: solo travel is a beautiful experience, but it comes with its own challenges.
The details of how this trip came about is a long story, so let’s just say I decided to do a mini ‘Eat Pray Love’ for myself. Earlier in the year, I’d also traveled to Australia with a friend, but wanted to know what it was like to see, do, and explore on my own schedule and occasionally, on a whim to whatever catches my fancy. I did speak to my partner every night that I could, which made all the difference.
While I have always been an independent free spirit, I have also always been naive and trusting of other people, generally holding everyone up to a certain standard of kindness and common courtesy. That’s why, on my first day in London, it was nothing but love. Everything was so incredibly exciting: it felt like everywhere I went, there was a monument, a museum, or a landmark of historical or cultural significance. It was a city rich in history, and I couldn’t wait to explore. As I discovered on my walk up to the London Eye, it was also incredibly multi-cultural, but not in the same way as New Zealand: you hear more European languages, like French and German, on the streets than you do English. How interesting!
Soon after, my joy and excitement was dampened by the culture I experienced in London and later, Paris. It wasn’t just the fact that people walked extremely fast, avoided eye contact with others and didn’t smile at all; I had particular negative experiences with people in customer service and in the general public.
On my last night in London, I went to my pre-tour Contiki meeting and the British Museum before taking some night shots around Regent & Oxford St. Everything around me was so unbelievably beautiful. Sparkling fairy lights and colourful decorations everywhere. It felt surreal and magical that I was on the other side of the world.
But I remember feeling this huge sense of loneliness.. Not for the reason you would think.
Have you ever been in a beautiful place, surrounded by people, but felt lonely? I felt that way because I didn’t understand the people, the culture, in London. I felt alone in my beliefs, my values, my identity; simply who I was – like I had absolutely nothing in common with anyone. I felt lonely because of the way that I acted in what is, to me, normal, courteous behaviour – the same as I would act, and had acted, anywhere in New Zealand, as well as in Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, and Thailand..
..And yet, in London, I can recall many moments where I’d encountered people – whether in customer service or the general public – and their rudeness. Unfriendliness. Passive aggression. Hostility. Even anger, at very small things.
In Paris, I’d have customer service people completely lack basic respect and humanity, and have people in the public try to defraud me and/or steal my money absolutely everywhere I went. It isn’t a place where you can feel safe. Paris gets a bad rep from people who have actually traveled there – you hear that it’s an old, dirty, rude city – and unfortunately there is truth to it.
Why had I decided to come here? I asked myself. I’d learn later on that London and Paris were voted the two most unfriendly cities in the world, making them officially the worst choices one could possibly make for a personal Eat Pray Love self-discovery journey. And yet, there I was.
After that night, I embarked on my Contiki tour to Paris. I didn’t capture many great photos there – they all came out blurry – which is why the majority of my travel photos are from London. I may have been too distracted by my appalling tour experience – a tour that I left early because they didn’t cover what was blatantly promised in our itinerary – on the website, in the Contiki brochure, in our pre-trip travel documents. (When we got to Paris, the tour guide wrote her own itinerary for us. This invalidated everything I’d paid thousands of dollars for to fly all the way here. What?!)
Still, I want to remember this.
I want to remember that I had travelled to London and Paris. I want to remember the feeling of getting on a plane and flying to a destination I’d never been to before.
I want to remember the feeling of landing in a country full of new people and new places. I want to remember that feeling of anticipation, discovery and daring spontaneity.
I want to remember that fresh excitement of figuring things out, like solving a puzzle – eg. reading maps of unfamiliar places, sometimes getting lost, but enjoying the journey as you find your way there.
Thankfully, there’s even more I want to remember. Contrary to what you might see on Facebook or Instagram, no travel experience is perfect. Mine certainly wasn’t, but you know what? I accomplished plenty.
- Going on the London Eye and seeing London from above, day and night. Breathtaking!
- Seeing Arc de Triomphe was a huge highlight. Funny enough, our tour guide didn’t even point it out – everyone on our coach just started getting super excited; I looked up and there it was. It is SO majestic and awe-inspiring in person!
- Learning how to ride the Tube and discovering that it is super easy – and fun. It’s exactly like the Hong Kong MTR.
- Going to Churchill War Rooms and seeing the underground bunkers where Winston Churchill and his generals hid; plus the meeting room where some of the biggest war decisions were made!
- Seeing Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, the Sherlock Holmes museum, British Museum, Marble Arch, Hyde Park, plus food at Sketch, Daisy Green, and Burger & Lobster.
- Getting food, snacks & essentials in London. Convenience stores have SO many healthy fruit snacks, fruit & veggie juices, and organic tea – I wish it was the norm in NZ!
- Seeing Place de la Concorde, the former location of public executions during the French Revolution and where the 3300 year old Luxor Obelisk marks the spot where the guillotine once stood. What hauntingly beautiful history that place holds.
- Going on a cruise down the River Seine.
- Seeing Notre Dame Cathedral, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Boulevard Saint-Michel, and Sacre Coeur Basilica. (The Louvre was written on our Contiki tour itinerary, but they didn’t take us. I got outside but was refused entry due to having my suitcase with me, since I was stopping by before checking in to my new hotel)
- Seeing a PHENOMENAL show at the Moulin Rouge. It’s so much more than just dance; it’s acrobatics and magic too!
- Meeting awesome people in my Contiki tour group – most of which were from Australia or NZ – and making friends with a bunch of other girls who were all also travelling solo!
- Discovering that while Londoners don’t smile or look happy in any way in public, they are personable once you actually talk to them and get to know them. I learnt this because my Contiki tour included a few Londoners.
- Riding the Eurostar from Paris to London (after I left my tour early). It was fast, comfortable, and easy! Heads up, it is expensive – I paid 175€ (about $300 NZD) for a one way ticket.
- Choosing two hotels that were absolutely perfect – 5 stars for comfort, location, value and customer service kind of perfect. Thank you Hampton by Hilton London Waterloo and Hotel Mercure Paris Gare du Nord La Fayette!
On top of these positive experiences, now I love New Zealand more than ever and am full of gratitude that I get to call this kind, compassionate, eco-conscious, socially aware country home. I’m sure it’s also why now, I love volunteering and getting among community events. #blessed ❤
Would I travel solo again? Absolutely – though probably not so far away! One thing I loved about my time in London – and Paris, after my tour – was that I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. It was so free and liberating. Typically, I woke up early in the morning, explored til afternoon, returned to my hotel for a shower & nap for an hour, then went out to explore in the evening. I know not everyone would do this, but for me it was perfect.
I also loved the entire experience of teaching myself new things about a whole different culture, currency, mode of transport, etc. I’d highly recommend solo travel at least once in your lifetime – it’s a huge personal exercise in discovering your own strengths and weaknesses, working out how to work with and overcome them, and after, you are just wiser, stronger, more brave, more independent, more cultured.
If you’re still reading, thank you – I appreciate you putting up with my long-windedness! Here are more personal favourites from my trip; I hope you like them. xx