Safety versus Silly

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Paikea Houston
April 5, 2024

Bonjour, mes cheris!


Welcome to my blog! If you aren’t already familiar with me, my name is Paikea and I am currently in Paris!


Le sujet du jour is how to avoid making silly mistakes. 


Avant tout, I want to clarify that everyone’s experiences are going to look and feel different depending on your personal circumstances. Where you go, your financial circumstances, your own wishes for what vacations look like, etc will affect how you make your choices. Who you are as a person, your personal preferences, your interpersonal dynamics, and many other factors may also play a role. As always, trust the experts over me, but if this blog helps you make smarter choices then I am glad to be of service.


D’abord, a bit of context. A couple of weekends ago I went to Rocamadour, France. If you don’t know this place, I recommend checking it out! This is a gorgeous little town situated in Normandy, France. It features 4 levels of walkable and explorable features in the heart of the city. The bottom has some residences, but generally serves as the valley that connects two cliffsides and the opening route for the GR-6 (a French hiking trail) and several other wonderful trails. The second level is the old city with a main road that connects houses, hotels, and many charming and quaint stores selling everything from souvenirs to foie gras. The third level which you can reach by going up le grand escalier (big stairs) is a series of sanctuaries with multiple chapels and loads of history to boot. One of the most important experiences in Rocamadour is centered around the innate spirituality of the town as the Vierge Noire is in one of these chapelles. However, each chapel is unique and has its own feel. From the third to the fourth level is a Chemin de la Croix which leads up to a large, ornate cross and the Ramparts. This is also a highly spiritual route, as the path has several miniature statues that depict Jesus’s final moments before resurrection. While I am not particularly religious, or Christian for that matter, I found this walk (read: short but steep hike) to be a wonderful opportunity to reflect and meditate. Along the path, there is plenty of nature and spots to rest and look out upon the valley and the city. Once at the ramparts, there is something special and calming about being in a place that is at once so old but still used. Since the ramparts are at the top of the cliff, from here you have access to the rest of the city. It is more sprawling and way more modern but still flat and quaint. If you have to use the restroom and you don’t have access to your hotel, I recommend using the public restrooms on the fourth level as opposed to the second because the ones on the fourth are free, cleaner, there are more of them, and it is also around some benches and green space. The second costs 50 centimes to use and in general, is not that pleasant. Other than that, this town is the natural crossroads for many different paths and adventures. One in particular that I loved and was more than happy to do was the walk to the Moulin de Saut which is one of several ruins. Altogether, it is a hike that can last from 3 to 5 hours round trip depending on your path. I ended up making this harder for myself by doing the hike on a whim but when I tell you it was stunning, I mean it. I took a walk starting on the opposite side of the valley, walking up as if I was making for the Croix de la Cufelle, and then just continued and walked the long way through the French countryside. Then I stumbled into the actual hiking trail that leads to the Moulin and went down that. By the time I got there, I had already waded knee-deep in some of the coldest, clearest water I have ever been in (for fun obviously) and splashed around in the sun. After the Moulin de Saut, I just followed the hiking trail out, and there were several other ruins along the way. On a sunny spring day when the moss is a brilliant green and the trees are starting to bud new leaves, you definitely feel like an elf of the Green Wood traipsing to its verdant woods prior to the occupation in Dol Guldur. Warnings for the trail, it can get slippery, narrow, with some sheer faces, but the trail is well marked. I would pay attention to the markings over any GPS on your phone because service does disappear completely at several stages along the hike. Otherwise, it is a very mild hike with few challenging hills. Now, things to take away from this adventure. Do not leave for a hike without bringing a snack, water, and sunscreen. As a ginger with hanger issues, I did this hike and it took me over 5 hours plus another 3 just exploring the ruins themselves and playing in various waterfalls (definitely check out the waterfalls! Certain parts of the stream are shallow enough that you can wade in without fear of slipping or getting drenched). I did it with a meager breakfast, no food for the road, and barely any water. This was a Bad Idea ™ because by the time you are done absolutely drained of any energy, you remember you have to climb back up out of the valley. So, plan your hikes beforehand, and don’t do them on a whim. Sunscreen, a hat, and maybe even an umbrella to block out UV rays are essential as certain parts of the path have zero shade and when you are going in summer or honestly even early spring, you could get burnt or overheat. That sun is punishing no matter how pleasant you think it can be on the top of a windy cliff. It isn’t four hours in when you are running out of water and you are pale enough that you make Azog look pleasantly tanned. I luckily always carry sunscreen, a hat, and an umbrella (not for rain as that is the only time I risk some UV rays). 


Deuxièmementknow your travel options intimately and do not take the night options, especially for small towns like Rocamadour. Bus time estimates can be highly inaccurate and that can put you in a spot of trouble. While my bus was scheduled to arrive at 5 am, it arrived an hour early. This meant I was alone in an almost entirely empty town where everyone was asleep and the birds weren’t even up yet. Furthermore, the bus station is an hour's walk away from the town itself, and that is through several fields and farm roads. Not ideal. Plus, even when you make the walk, hotels aren’t open for check-in until well after lunch and most businesses are bound to be closed until 9 am. In the off-season, most businesses are bound to be closed, period. So now you are sitting like a dork on the doorstep of your hotel at 5 in the morning with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and nothing to distract you. It is also important to note to double and triple-check your ticket for the type of transportation. The amount of time the voyage will take does not guarantee the method of transportation. An intercite and a bus have the same travel times but arrive on different tracks. If you try to take a night voyage to save a buck know the difference because neither will wait for you to figure it out. I did not even know about the intercite and assumed I would be taking a bus, so I waited around until 1 in the morning an hour away from civilization and nowhere to sleep that night. When the intercite did roll around and I finally clued into the fact that this was going to be my only shot at getting home, it was pulling away because it had not seen me sitting there. Now I am all alone, in the dark, with nowhere to go. Don’t worry for me dear reader, luckily my mum, dad, sister, foreign exchange sister, and grandmother are all highly skilled individuals who can both calm me down from serious anxiety attacks resulting from self-perceived and righteous stupidity and book last-minute hotels. I got a place to sleep at night, and I booked a train for the following day. However, at this time of night and so far from any major city the life-saving taxi I called cost me 200 euros. On top of the train ticket for the following day, the hotel room, and another taxi to take me to the train station, I spent 400 euros fixing a minor error born from innocent ignorance. As I learned well, traveling on a budget should never mean sacrificing your safety. On a side note, always carry several hundred worth of cash on you at all times. Keep it safe, don’t flash it in public, but nonetheless have it because many places won’t take cards out in the country, and in a tight squeeze that money can save your life. Also, always carry something that will keep you warm for several hours even in freezing weather, especially in cities that are windy. Even in spring, nighttime weather can drop below freezing, and if you choose a night option that means waiting in an outdoor bus station or even walking through air cold enough to turn any humidity into frost. That night I had to put on every single piece of clothing I owned. Every. Single. Piece. Mind you I had several shirts, a sweater, a full-length coat, a scarf, and several pairs of pants. I put everything I could on and was still shaking so badly that I messed up the number for the taxi twice. Do not go unprepared. Just because you think the weather will follow the season does not mean mother nature gives two grams of squirrel droppings about your assumptions. It was so cold and I was out there for so long that I had freeze burns on my face for days (red, painful skin, cracking and peeling of thinner tissue) and my hands were stiff, inflamed, red, and painful. If I had not gotten a hotel, things could have been significantly worse. You HAVE to be prepared. I wish I could say I am exaggerating and that I am not so uneducated and ignorant to put myself into this position through sheer stupidity, but I did, and if I had not had a battery pack, service, and the help of loved ones I would have been in quite a lot of trouble. 


Troisièmement, must-haves on any journey include a battery pack that charges your phone from dead to full several times, food, water, warm clothing, and most importantly—backupsIf you are not 100% certain as to the quality of your service or cell reception at all times, have maps downloaded to your phone so you can navigate, have some way of finding a place to stay, have some way to call home, and have some way of calling for help. Unless you are some Ewan McGregor-type travel blogger, you will not have access to a team of professionals to save you when you mess up, you will not have some miracle saving grace, and you certainly will not be able to guarantee that a higher power will intervene to prevent you from getting into a lot of trouble. In Rocamadour, the least of my worries was some sort of criminal activity, but if I had tried to pull the same act in Avignon or Rouen I could have had worse things happen to me than freeze-burn and a panic attack. Just because you don’t expect it doesn’t mean you are safe from it. This world is crowded, dangerous, and cruel. If you are a woman, doubly so. DO NOT leave yourself vulnerable for the sake of money. I made that mistake and I will never make it again, and by all that is green and growing, I will do my best to make sure no one ever does the same. Over the past week, as I retell this story to any who will listen, I have had every single person I talk to mention not only the dangers of solo traveling but the dangers of solo traveling as a woman. This is not sexist, this is reality. Just because your taxi driver comes to your rescue does not mean you can trust him not to do something to you. Just because a town has no crime does not mean you can wander about in the dead of night and not duck behind stone walls to avoid any interaction because being completely alone is better than meeting someone when you are (true story). Just because everything you need is a phone call away does not mean you will have service at all times. Man or woman, do not put yourself in this position because it only takes one time to ruin everything. Traveling, especially to places as magical as Rocamadour, is one of the most wonderful things you can do in your life. It opens up your world and helps you grow in so many ways. Doing it right is so hard. So incredibly hard. Especially when you have a mind to budget, however, unless you do it in a way that prioritizes your safety above all else, you can become one of the plethora of reasons why many parents discourage solo traveling and why many people become so afraid of traveling they never take the chance. Lower the risk of danger, go prepared.


Enfin, I know stories like these can be discouraging and annoyingly preachy, but they are so important and serve as a reminder to both those who experienced them and those who are lucky not to have experienced them that danger wears many faces, and you best become aware of them and learn how to avoid them. Traveling is so wonderful, and even with the freeze-burn, I do not regret having seen Rocamadour as it is my favorite place to have visited by far. You will see wonderful things, meet wonderful people, and experience wonderful things. Give yourself that chance to and be careful. As always, have fun, stay safe, and enjoy this wide wide world!


À la prochaine!


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Paikea Houston headshot

Paikea Houston

I am a person who loves her family, good food, and sunshine. I always believe in trying things at least once for failure is never certain. I'm here to take you along with me to travel further, work harder, and dive headlong into the great wide world!

2024 Spring
Home University:
Penn State University
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