3 Lessons I Learned From 3 Cities in France as a Solo Female Traveler

On June 26th, 2021, one week before the start of my first solo trip, I received an email in my inbox that I had written one year earlier and sent to the future through FutureMe.com. The message was written in 2020 during a time when I, like the rest of the world, was in the middle of a global pandemic and could only dream of traveling. And I had been dreaming of traveling long before the pandemic started.

“Dear FutureMe, …” I had written to my future self. “You might already be in Montpellier or getting ready to go in a few days or weeks. I am so excited for you. Make the best of it!”

It was more than a coincidence that when I received the letter on June 26th, 2021, I was set to be taking off in just one week to travel to France for one month and visit Montpellier to study French! When I wrote the letter to my future self, I did not write it as a question. I wrote about my goal of traveling as a statement. I wrote it as if I already knew it would happen. And in a way, I did know. I knew that I would do everything in my power to make this trip a possibility.

During the year between June 2020 and June 2021, I spent countless hours studying French, working two part-time jobs, and saving my money to be able to take that trip. Here are three lessons I learned in each city I visited in France during my first solo trip at age 17:

1️⃣Challenge Yourself to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Phalempin, Hauts-de-France

Despite having learned French in school for about 3 years before my trip, adjusting to a new linguistic environment was a bit of a challenge in the beginning. I still remember my first real interaction in French at the post office of a small town near Lille called Phalempin. I am sure I stood outside of the post office pacing for at least five minutes before mustering up the courage to go in and ask the woman behind the desk about the possibility of getting service for my phone while I was in France.

While neither the conversation nor my French was perfect, at that moment, I pushed myself out of my area of comfort. I was determined to reduce, or even eliminate, my use of English while I was in France, and this would mean stumbling over my words and sometimes feeling lost in conversation.

Phalempin, Street View

But as I continued, I found that my comfort zone expanded. Slowly but surely, speaking French with strangers was no longer outside of my comfort zone. By no means was my French perfect, but I began to be comfortable expressing myself in the language and learning to accept the things that I was unable to express and see it simply as room for improvement.

I believe the same thing applies to solo traveling in general. The first time you head to the airport alone and land in a new country alone, you may be met with anxiety, uncertainty, and hesitation. You may literally be out of your comfort zone, but the more you are willing to step into the unknown, the further you will be to go and the more your comfort zone will expand.

2️⃣Trust Your Intuition

Montpellier, Occitanie

Initially, I was not going to travel to Montpellier but instead had planned to stay with family friends in the North of France for three weeks before traveling to Paris for a final week. But about a month before the trip, I got the feeling that I should take the extra leap, and sign up for two weeks of French classes in Montpellier. And, as it turns out, that was one of the best decisions I could have made.

Montepellier, Sunset

When traveling, whether it is regarding where you will go, what you will do, or who you meet, trust your intuition about what you will do while you are abroad. I followed the feeling of wanting to go to Montpellier in the South of France to take French classes, and ended up learning so much more French than I would have otherwise, and coming out of the experience with friends I am still in contact with today!

When solo traveling, especially as a woman, it is important to follow your intuition not only before your trip but also while you are traveling. If something doesn’t feel right to you, even if you can’t quite explain why it is worth considering that feeling and acting accordingly.

3️⃣Spending Time Alone will Help you Gain Independence

Paris, Île de France

When I think back to the week that I spent in Paris, the most freeing thing about the experience was not the city I was in, the beautiful scenery that I saw, or the culture around me (although all of those factors were very impactful). It was the chance to be completely on my own and not have anyone to rely on or accompany me throughout the city. Any challenges, changes, or joys that arrived along the way were completely my own to overcome and experience.

And oh, did I experience a lot! When I was about to leave France, already at the gate, ready to board my flight back to New York City, an airline employee came by to give me an attestation form that I was to turn in with confirmation of a negative COVID-19 test from the past 72 hours. This would have been fine, except that I had not known I would need a negative COVID test to board the flight and had not gotten tested before checking in! The mistake of not having checked before heading to the airport was all mine; after all, there was no one else who would have done it for me. And, along with the independence of traveling on my own, I was placed in a situation where I had to solve the challenge that I was facing on my own as well.

Paris, Palais Garnier

Thankfully, after an hour spent rushing through the airport, back through costumes, and to the pharmacy to take a COVID test, I was able to successfully get a negative COVID-19 test, and reach my flight in time to board at the very end of the line.

When you are traveling alone, things will go wrong; you might miss a flight or forget to check something important, but through each mistake you make and challenge you to face, you learn how to advocate for yourself and to trust yourself. Through solo traveling, you learn to push yourself out of your comfort zone, listen to your intuition, gain independence and trust yourself to handle anything and everything that comes your way. There is nothing quite like it!

👩 Gloria Kuzmenko-Latimer(IG: @global__gloria) lives in the U.S. She recently graduated from high school. She is an avid language learner so now she can speak English, Russian, French, Ukrainian, and Korean. Learning a new language and Traveling is her passion. She is excited now about what’s coming on in a new life in Paris during her gap year.

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