You’re finally ready to take your dream trip to Paris. But your best friend can’t get time off work, you are currently sans boyfriend and you want something more authentic than what a group tour can offer. Don’t worry! Paris may be the most romantic city in the world, but it is also a lovely place to enjoy completely by yourself. C’est vrai!
Travelers who have never gone solo usually have the same worries: will I be safe? Will I be lonely? Will everyone stare at me and think I’m a complete loser because I am by myself?
Basic travel safety tips
First of all, Paris is an extremely safe city. As long as you are smart about what you do, you won’t have problems. When traveling solo, all the usual “smart travel” rules apply: don’t carry whopping amounts of cash. Don’t wear a money purse on the inside of your jacket; do wear your purse/daypack crossed shoulder-to-hip with the bag in the front or on the side, never behind you. Don’t “mark” yourself as a tourist (i.e., leave the sneakers and Yankees baseball caps at home) and don’t “advertise” that you are carrying an iPhone, iPod or other desirable electronic toy. If approached by a pan-handler or trinket peddler, simply respond with a firm “Non!” Better yet, pretend you only speak some imaginary language, don’t respond at all when anyone asks, “Hello, do you speak English?” and continue on your way as if you understood nothing.
Métro safety tips for solo travelers
The Métro runs until 1am on Sundays and weeknights, 2am on Fridays and Saturdays, and for the most part it is safe as long as you stay alert. There are cameras and police will come if the dispatcher watching the monitors summons them. When traveling alone, no matter your gender, it’s not a bad idea to locate and stand near the emergency pull on every Métro platform. But again, your chances of pulling that lever are exceedingly small.
Taxi safety tips
If you’re a bit uncomfortable taking the Métro to your hotel or if you’re out after the Métro shuts down for the night, there’s no shame in taking a taxi. It’s worth a few extra euros for the peace of mind.
There are over 450 taxi stands in Paris; see this City of Paris taxi information page. G7 and Taxis Bleus of Paris offer free smartphone apps available as downloads at your favorite app store.
Contrary to what many think, it’s legal to flag down a taxi in the street as long as you’re more than 50 meters away from a taxi stand. Paris taxis are now converting to a new light system and by January 2012 taxis will display a green roof light for “available” or a red roof light for “in service.” If you don’t see a taxi stand nearby, duck into a nearby restaurant or hotel and nicely ask them to order you a taxi. Chances are, they will. Beware unlicensed or unmarked “taxi” cabs that tend to congregate around train stations and tourist hot spots late at night. Gare du Nord is where these “helpful” drivers wait for the unsuspecting tourists who arrive via the Eurostar. The driver may offer you a “discounted” fare, say, 35 euros for a ride from Gare du Nord to le Marais, which is 5-7 times the legitimate fare. And always when you get into a cab in an unfamiliar city, check the posted rate card to confirm rates, zone charges, day vs night fees, luggage and extra person fees are being correctly charged on the meter.
Meeting other travelers and perhaps locals, too
Traveling alone doesn’t mean that you’ll be lonely or that you have to do everything alone. Take a walking or biking tour, or even a cooking class. They’re fun, entertaining ways to experience the city with people from all over the world. And you may even make some new friends.
Museums solo: linger or dash-through, your choice
Museums can also be much more rewarding when experienced solo. Spend as much or as
little time in them as you like. If you want to stare at Monet’s water lilies for two hours, no one will nag you because they’re hungry and want to leave. Or if your feet are throbbing and you decide to just do a quick run-through past Mona Lisa, Winged Victory and Venus De Milo and then go relax in a café over a chocolat chaud, that is your prerogative! Maybe you’ll forego the museum altogether. If a glorious, sun-filled Paris afternoon makes the ferris wheel at the Place de la Concorde more appealing than the cavernous galleries of the Louvre, scrap your original plans. Your schedule is your own and you can change it on a dime!
Dining solo: it’s part of the Paris culture
One of the biggest issues people seem to have with traveling solo is eating alone in restaurants. First of all, you need to remember no one else really cares that you are by yourself. As a society, Parisians dine out a lot; look around the restaurant and you’ll probably see a few locals seated by themselves as well. If you still feel conspicuous, bring your book or journal to use at the table. But Paris really is the perfect place to dine solo—squeeze into a row of seats at an outdoor café and watch the world go by. You don’t need a dining partner to enjoy the live show that is this city.
And if you’re sitting inside, the tables are so close that it’s highly unlikely your neighbors will completely ignore you. You may just exchange simple pleasantries, or you may end up having a lovely dinner conversation and then be offered a glass of wine from the bottle that they can’t possibly finish by themselves (true story!).
Mastering the self-portrait
One of the often overlooked quirks of solo travel is making sure you actually appear in some of your photos. Don’t rely solely on well-meaning tourists who offer to take pictures of you—they will invariably be pretty awful. Invest in an extendable handheld tripod and become master of the self-take. The extended-arm places the camera an additional 18-24 inches away from you, so you can easily frame yourself in front of the famous sites without your head taking up most of the picture. If you were planning on buying a new digital camera for the trip, consider one like the Samsung EC-ST700, which has an LCD screen on the front of the camera as well, making setting up an amazing self-take even easier. All the better if your camera has a shutter with timed release so you can set up the shot and then strike a pose.
The City of Light has so much to offer everyone—don’t be afraid of visiting solo. Embrace the experience! How lucky you are to have the most amazing city on the planet all to yourself!