Paris, the most visited city in the world. A person’s first time traveling is always going to be meaningful, but I felt extra affectionate towards mine. You see, I’ve studied French since 6th grade and being able to speak French has always been the one thing I can do that most people can not, and I love doing it.
I was actually supposed to spend a year in France in college but it wasn’t something I could afford at the time. When I was finally able to visit Paris back in 2015 I had no idea this would be the trip that changed my life forever. There were so many unexpected, exciting things and I’m pumped to share them with you!
(Read more: An American’s 28 Surprising Observations of Paris).
How I booked my flight to Paris
I had literally no idea what I was doing. This would be my first time booking any sort of travel in my life, let alone international and by myself. It would also be the first time I spend more than $500 on one thing.
This was some big-time time adulting I was about to do!
I started slowly by researching and learning the ropes of booking travel. I went to airfarewatchdog.com and set up an alert on flights from Boston to Paris. That little action right there was the most important thing I’ve ever done and has been the catalyst that changed my life forever.
Getting those flight alerts automatically sent to my inbox did a few things. First, it made sure I was constantly thinking about my goal: traveling to Paris. It kept that burning desire at the very forefront of mind, which was key to manifesting it into reality.
(Read more: How to Travel when You’re Poor)
Second, I started to have an actual idea of how much a flight to Paris would cost, and was able to discern the ones that were actual bargains.
The Universe delivered!
I spent over a year fantasizing about my trip to Paris. And then one day in November, on my quarterly bonus pay day, I got an email alert from Airfare Watchdog for a flight to Paris for $506 round trip. I just happened to have the money on that day and the universe was delivering me the means to reach my desire via a low price fare.
I booked the trip from my cellphone in a parking lot.
*Side Note: Booking a flight from your cell phone is the most inconvenient, frustrating, unnecessary way to book a flight. Don’t do that.
Next I had to book my hotel. Where I stay has never been important to me because I don’t plan on being in the room very much, so I was looking for the least expensive option. Using Agoda (the best way to book hotels in my opinion), I booked 5 nights in an all-female dorm at The Generator Hostel in Paris for $20 a night for a grand total of $120 with tax, and I used the “pay later” option so that I could spread out the expenses over time. TALK ABOUT A DEAL.
My Experience in Paris
I went to Paris in the middle of January. I went alone. And I went without much spending money. But it was the single most amazing thing I’ve ever done for myself. Paris was everything I hoped it would be and everything I didn’t expect it to be.
There were many things very culturally different than the US, and there were silly things that made my trip unique (like finding bunnies sitting on a ledge by themselves with a money collection tray).
But above all I was surrounded by things validating the wonder of Paris.
Like how the train you take to get to the 7th arrondissement where the Eiffel Tower is takes you over a bridge that gives you an incredible view of the tower sparkling at night. Or how your heart stops when you first see the Eiffel Tower in real life. Or how the cheap croissant you eat at the train station ends up being the most delicious pastry you’ve ever tasted in your life.
What I ate in Paris
My favorite part about traveling alone is that I don’t ever feel stressed about accommodating someone else’s needs. I don’t feel self conscious about walking around aimlessly for 30 minutes, only to turn around and head in the opposite direction. I don’t feel weird about checking out multiple restaurants before I finally decide on one. And I definitely don’t feel pressured to hurry up.
After all, there’s no where to be! I love being able to really take everything in, at my own speed. How often do I get that freedom? For most of meals, my plan was not having a plan.
I reveled in wandering around going off of nothing other than my gut instincts to decide on a restaurant. I can proudly say that I didn’t have a bad meal the entire time I was there. And I remember the names of almost none of the places I ate at.
There was only one restaurant I made a point to visit: Cafe de Flore. It was one of the most highly recommended restaurants on my list and is apparently very well known, so I knew I was in for a treat. I wasn’t sure what to order but the man taking care of me essentially ordered for me and he did not disappoint! Breakfast was 2 soft boiled eggs, bread, cheese, jam, and cafe au lait.
What I visited in Paris
The Eiffel Tower, which I returned to every single day. The Arc de Triopmphe, which was beautiful but highly overrated in my opinion. The Latin Quarter, which is like walking through a maze of restaurants and bars, and is where I made all of my friends! Notre Dame, which was like standing in the presence of a Disney movie.
I toured The Louvre, which is a thousand times bigger than you think it is. I walked around for four hours and didn’t even make a dent in the wing I was in, let alone the thousands of feet underground the museum expands to. I can’t even comprehend how big it is.
The Louvre brought more happy tears for me via The Mona Lisa. Have you ever experienced the surreal feeling of actualizing something that seemed so distant? The Mona Lisa is one of those things that you never really learn about per se, but you know it. You are aware of her. The Mona Lisa is referenced in countless television shows and movies. She is known as one of (if not the) most famous pieces of art in the world. Children as young as 3 can recognize her.
A lifetime spent wondering what it would be like to see the Mona Lisa, and then there she was. A painting that a million other people have looked at. It was like sharing a secret with a world of strangers. You never think you’re actually going to see the beauty of the rest of the world. But on that day, I realized I am.
When I ran out of money in Paris
On my last day, I headed on over to Montmarte to see the Sacre-Coeur and Moulin Rouge (after one final visit to the Eiffel Tower).
This was the coldest day of my trip and I honestly almost didn’t make it. Three layers of socks, two sweaters, hat and gloves, and hand warmers did nothing to help me. By this point I was also out of money and was working with about 20 euro to stretch for lunch and dinner… yikes.
I would have had more in my budget if it weren’t for the two scams I fell for in my first few days 🙄 but you live and you learn, right?!
(Read more: 5 Tourist Scams to Avoid in Paris)
At one point I was making my way down the cobbled streets sloping to the bottom of the hill and it was so cold that I couldn’t continue without stopping somewhere to warm up first. I could see the bottom of the hill but was so frozen that it was not happening. There was a cafe on my left and I walked in to sit down but quickly realized it was the type of place where I at least had to order something. Well, like I said, I was almost out of money at this point. So what did I do?
I ordered an espresso for 1.50 and sat in that cafe for 45 minutes warming my bones. One two-euro coin bought me enough time to feel my toes again (sort of), and for that I am grateful! The great thing about France is a small amount of money can go a long way food-wise.
Paris was the trip of a lifetime for me. I froze my toes off, I ran out of money, and I fell pray to 2 tourist traps. But I had a more amazing time than I ever could have hoped for. And I wasn’t sad to leave because I knew in my heart that I would return.
Paris was my unicorn. What is your travel unicorn?