Well, the semester has come to a close - I’ve left Nantes and have found myself sitting once again in the comfortable atmosphere of a Starbucks, settling down to type this blog along with the nice cafe Christmas music, snacking on a pain au chocolat, looking out at all the terraced apartments lining the streets….
Wait, pain au chocolat? Terraced apartments? If your detective skills have led you to believe that maybe I am not in the US after all, you would be right!
In fact, I am currently sitting in the Starbucks of Boulevard Poissonnière, in Paris! But how, and why? Shouldn’t I be sitting at home with my family, putting up holiday decorations and baking cookies?
I would love to do that, but it’s complicated. You see, as an academic year student, going back to my home in Hawaii just for the holidays would mean TWO very expensive flights (one out-going, one returning) and consequent jet-lags. So I made the decision to stay in France, and why not, if I must stay an extra month, choose to spend that month in the City of Lights? That’s at least what I was thinking as I booked the Airbnb that I’m to stay at this winter holiday.
“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams….”
The iconic sentence sings repeatedly in the background noise of the Starbucks, a painful reminder of the sacrifice I am making to be separated from my friends and family. Pretty Paris Christmas lights really can’t make up for the love that surrounds a family during the holiday. While for many people such as myself being separated from family at this time seems necessary, thus creating the very phrase “if only in my dreams…”, we can at least work actively to not spend the holidays alone. Facetime definitely helps, but also, as I look around the Paris streets, I see a world of possibilities and amazing, foreign Christmas experiences that are available to me as a solo traveler, if I just open up to them….
Benefits to Solo Travel / How to enjoy solo-travel during the Holidays
1) Is Solo-Travel Really "Solo"?
Solo-travel, to me, actually sounds very contradictory in nature. How could we truly be alone in traveling when we are surrounded by so many people? I certainly didn’t feel very solo when my first Airbnb host offered to drive me to the nearby mall and give a tour around a nearby lake, nor when I talked with my second Airbnb host over dinner, after playing with her two-year-old son, and the same goes for my several conversations with people on the bus… The thing is, while when you travel with others you are likely to stay and talk with those same people, stepping into the world by yourself just opens yourself up to more possible interactions with many different people. These new people, I am finding, can become comforting companions during a season centered around together-ness.
In this way, the current transportation strike, begun by transportation workers who are upset with a new retirement pension reform (which plans to economize money by merging different retirement plans), has actually worked a bit in my favor. The lack of public transportation has slowed the remaining bus systems at certain hours to a standstill - and I’ve looked on in shock at huge intersections filled with angry cars yelling and honking at each other with no progress (for this reason, I was forced to walk around five hours across the city just to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time!). While this definitely isn’t ideal, especially during the busy holidays, the struggle has united people together - sparking conversations between exasperated strangers on buses that are stuck in traffic, or who are waiting at bus stops for busses lost in the chaos. Through being alone, I am an easy target for many spontaneous, frustrated remarks towards the traffic. And when I reply with my obvious accent, an interesting conversation is sparked!
2) Breaking the Bubble
I heard a lot of talk about the American “bubble” associated with American study abroad programs before arriving in France. It makes sense: when you travel in large groups of people from the same country, it’s instinctual to talk, make friends, and hang out mostly with them instead of pushing yourself to interact with the surrounding culture. Between loads of homework, developing french grammar skills, and no solo travel during the semester, I found myself seeing France through the shiny bubbly film of IES, Nantes and the amazing friends I made there. However when the bubble floated itself back to the US for vacation, and I was left behind, suddenly with no obligations or acquaintances, I found myself plunged in the expansive, surrounding air of french culture. Now, everyone around me has become my french language and cultural teachers; the conversations on the bus, cafes, and sidewalks being the lessons… it’s an exciting opportunity to really improve my French skills before the next semester. And, the more that I immerse myself, the more this upcoming Christmas is sure to feel comfortable and less foreign…
3) Building Confidence
I’ve also already begun to feel the effects of solo travel on my independence and confidence. Being entirely dependant on myself, in a city I’ve never been to, without the helping hand of my university or IES, has been a crazy and exhilarating experience. Though stressful at times, through seeing that I am capable of sorting out everything by myself without causing a huge disaster, I’ve been able to see and appreciate my own strengths much more. In the future, this developed self-assurance may help post-travelers to realize intimidating projects and career moves. This Christmas, it means that I’m becoming more sure of my ability to have a great holiday, despite the challenges.
4) Freedom to Adventure
Being able to choose whatever I do, without having to check in with accompanying travelers, is also really freeing. With my spontaneous nature, this means that each day could lead to an adventure. This is true especially during Christmas time in Paris, when Christmas markets, concerts, an ice-skating rink under the Eiffel Tower, and festive window displays at Galeries Lafayette provide truly magical experiences.
A Parisian Holiday: Home away from Home?
So this holiday season, I will try my best to use my solo-travel experience to create a kind of home away from home. Through this, with any luck, I may be able to create lasting Parisian connections and memories that will continue linger in my dreams throughout the following holiday seasons...
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<p>My name is Miah Chu Won Tapper. I come from a large family with two younger brothers and three younger step-siblings, whom I live with on the small island of Oahu, Hawaii. I’ve always had a passion for traveling but until now I’ve only traveled the world in books. As a French major, I’m so excited to be able to continue the adventure in Nantes, France. </p>