Would you take a vacation by yourself? This spring, my friend Kate Childs took herself to Paris — alone for a week — to celebrate her 30th birthday. I was curious: Where did she stay? What did she eat? Did she ever get lonely? Here, she tells us how the week went down…
For the drama of it all, I flew overnight so that I landed in Paris on my actual birthday. (The last great accomplishment of my twenties? Packing only a carry-on.)
I stayed at the beautiful Hôtel Providence. My friends had called and arranged for a bottle of rosé and treats to be put in my room when I arrived, so the hotel knew it was my birthday and that I was traveling solo. Staying at a boutique hotel where everyone got to know me was a real bonus. They would ask how my birthday week was going and what I was doing each day. There was also a great restaurant and bar, so when I came back at night, there were people around.
When you’re a solo traveler, your itinerary is your partner in crime. The first couple days were structured, and then, once I got more comfortable, it became free-flowing. Early in the trip, it felt good to have a purpose: I’m going to wake up and walk to this neighborhood and do that.
My mornings began with breakfast at the hotel. The first day, I went to a spa and to see a ballet. The next day, I went to a cooking class and a few museums. I also ended up walking 15 miles one day — I’d never been to Paris before and I couldn’t believe how beautiful everything was.
The cooking class was run by a French-Canadian chef. The class was six hours and quite intensive! There were eight students, and afterward everyone sat together and ate what we had made: salt-crusted roast chicken with mushroom sauce, duck fat potatoes, artichokes and a chocolate mousse tart.
When traveling alone, you’re focusing on the very micro-things you need — do I want to eat now? Do I want to shop now? Do I want to walk down this street? And it opens you up to more macro-conversations with yourself. What am I doing with my life? Do I like where I’m living? When you have the time and space to figure things out, that’s a huge gift to yourself.
I figured I’d bring books out to dinner, but then I realized you can use a book as a crutch. If you don’t have one, you’re open to overhearing something, making conversation with a neighboring table, watching what the chef is doing. I thought I might get restless — like, what would I think about for two hours without a book or a friend? But it was just really pleasant. My favorite dinners were at Spring and Frenchie.
Traveling alone, I could do whatever I felt like in the moment. I went to the Musée d’Orsay, and after it closed, I saw someone riding a Vélib’ city bike. So, I rented one and rode past riverside cafés where people were just sitting outside, drinking and talking, and I thought, I want to do that, so I parked the bike and got a glass of wine and sat by the river.
I did the same thing at Versailles. When I arrived, the lines were too long, so I walked down to the gardens. There was a place where you could rent bikes, so I rode through the entire garden of Marie Antoinette, then grabbed a baguette with ham and cheese, and wandered back through the gardens. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
I’d encourage anyone to consider taking a solo trip. There are so many rewards. I feel much braver now that I was able to do this. I never felt lonely, and it’s very fulfilling to know that you enjoy your own company. It was also great to do this special thing, where you just say yes to everything. Yes, I’m going to have an ice-cream sundae right now. Yes, I’m going to go to the Picasso Museum. It felt like a sign of the decade to come. I’m ready to go.
Thank you so much, Kate!