I have always enjoyed travelling solo. There are many perks that come with it. The most important for me, is the sense of freedom that it accompanies: when you wake up to your own schedule unapologetically; visiting places that intrigue you freely without compromises; striking up conversations with strangers minus any previous hesitation. It is no longer about the constant stop and go, or the notion of ticking off a series of checklist. The focus becomes solely on the experience. You set your own pace, you mange your own timing, and you dictate the type of experiences you wish to relish.
Arguably, there are also valid drawbacks with travelling solo, namely higher costs, safety concerns, as well as potential inconveniences. But ultimately, they pale into insignificance. These shortcomings can never outweigh the sense of pride that you derive after you single-handedly lugged a heavy suitcase up a six storey building. Or the sense of gratitude that you feel towards a helping hand in a foreign country when it is most needed. Or, the sense of recognition that remains with you long after you discovered another puzzle to yourself through the experience. The act, and the art of solo travel never fails to take me onto a transformative journey. It is an inner experience as much as it is an outer one. I treasure the every opportunity, every surprise, and every challenge which it inevitably brings. It inspires me to explore, to wander and to lose myself in a place.
No doubt, everyone has their preferences towards what constitutes as the perfect travel experience for them. The foodies amongst us will find dining and wining at internationally renowned restaurants the highlight of their itineraries. Those of us that are daring will be easily drawn to adventures and escapades. And there are those that are just content with holidaying on a beach or somewhere far from the city, in order to get away from all the noise and activity. As for me, I find it hard to identify with a particular label that suits me. I am a hybrid of relaxation, leisure, contemplative and cultural traveller. So I am mindful that my style of travel may not suit every person’s palate or be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you happen to love immersing in local cultures, pacing yourself, and simply taking in what the present moment has to offer, this may be worthwhile your read.
I was advised not to attempt travelling alone to the most romantic city. However contrary to popular beliefs, I did not feel the loneliness or disappointment that was anticipated, instead, I was enchanted by another side of this city that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.
Strolling along Boulevard Saint Germaine, the sidewalk is mildly damp from last night’s rain. The air is cool and soft as I tuck my jacket closer around me. It is 10 o’clock in the morning, and the sun has yet to manage to penetrate the clouds’ defence – foretelling another showery day. The street is quiet besides the slow humming from a cleaning truck in the distance. The city is still asleep. It is hard to imagine just a few hours ago, the same city, this exact street, was populated with people greeting, entertaining and socialising. Right now, it is resting, before it has to be ready to embrace another flock of excited visitors.
This is a side of the city that I had not known before. I am walking, and alone. The ambience has absorbed me completely. My mood is solemn. Or perhaps it is the weather that has made me feel a little melancholic. Either way, I don’t mind it. I feel contemplative. Beyond the elegance, extravagance, beauty and refinement the city offers, I am wondering if there is much more than meets the eye.
The richness and the soberness of history abide, it is ready to come alive. It reverberates in the architecture. It lingers in the buildings. It permeates the air like a mystery. Forbidden, yet dignified. I reflect on the historical novels that use Paris as the backdrop, and there are endless. Most famously, Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, and A Tale of Two Cities immediately spring to mind. I am transported back to the 18th century, and I think of the prominent writers, intellectuals and artists that were all infatuated with the city like a flower does a bee. Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dali, Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre, and the list goes on. It is undeniable that they found their muse in the city. Or maybe the city is their muse. Is this the true allure of Paris?
At about fifteen minutes past ten, through sheer persistence, the sun succeeds in finally making occasional glimpses. More sounds are gaining momentum, and I am jolted back to the present. Restaurant owners are preparing to welcome early customers by lazily pulling up the metal roller doors, whilst rubbing their eyes to adjust to the morning light. Paris is waking up. I am mesmerised as I ever was before. Just like the city, I feel anew to embrace a new day.