Everyone should at some point in life travel somewhere in the world completely alone.
The last time I did this was when I was 20. I stopped in London for a week en route to a summer study abroad program in Norway. If I remember correctly, I justified this stop with a lie to my mom that a long layover was the only way I could get an affordable plane ticket. (Sorry Mom!)
So I went to London. I stayed in a hostel in a dodgy neighborhood and spent the week wandering aimlessly and taking faux-artsy photos (which I of course thought at the time were just artsy, minus the faux). I had no agenda. I didn’t go on a single guided tour. I woke up late. I went to bed early. I bought baguettes and cheese at grocery stores and ate them as my meals in parks. I got myself in sticky situations and then figured how to get out of them. I people watched. I rode the subway. I didn’t visit a single museum. I did exactly what I wanted, when I wanted. I didn’t have to compromise or explain myself. It was glorious.
I had this trip in mind when deciding whether or not to spend a day by myself in Paris. You see, I would be flying back to the U.S. for work, and since taxpayers no longer spring for diplomats to fly business, we are now allowed a one-day rest stop to break up trips longer than 14 hours in the hopes of making them a tiny bit less miserable. I have skipped this stop on all previous trips because with a dog and/or baby in tow it just seemed like more trouble than it was worth. But this time…
Everyone should travel somewhere in the world completely alone, but you know who should especially make this a priority? New parents. I love my son to pieces, but it’s been a long time since I’ve done exactly what I wanted, when I wanted. But for one day last week I did, and oh my god it was glorious.
My digs were quite a bit nicer than that London stop when I was 20, and my body was much more sore at the end of the day, but otherwise the trip was very similar. I bought a day pass for a boat cruising the Seine. I hopped on and off as my whims dictated, and then I wandered the streets aimlessly until I stumbled upon something interesting. I took faux-artsy photos of course, but by this point in life I’ve accepted the limits of my artistic ability; I just let instagram do the work for me.
Again, I didn’t visit a single museum. Again, I got myself into sticky situations but figured my way out of them. Again, I dined on bread and cheese in a park (this time with wine too). Unlike in London, though, I wasn’t alone. I met up with an old friend and his family who, incidentally, I had met during that Norway summer. I’ve kept up with him over the last decade via Facebook and Christmas cards, and I’ve always admired (and envied) how much travel he, his wife and their three young kids are able to fit into their lives. They were spending the summer in Paris, and over our picnic dinner with the Eiffel tower as backdrop, I had the chance to talk to him more about how this and his other overseas jaunts are possible. What do you know: the reason he can travel so much is because his boss understands its value and structured his company to allow it. As it turns out, his boss is — yep, you guessed it — a retired Foreign Service Officer.
We packed up our picnic at 10 p.m. and I wandered back to my hotel, a little tipsy, with the Eiffel tower twinkling behind me. The next morning I caught an early flight to D.C., from where I am writing to you now. I will be here a little while longer, but you probably won’t hear from me again until I’m back in Benin. I’m focusing on enjoying every moment of my time stateside. There are sushi rolls, cherries and bagels to be eaten. There are Targets, Loehmann’s and Trader Joes to be visited. There are old friends to see and new streets to explore. Oh, and work. I’m here for work, after all, so there will be some of that too.