I have a confession to make: when I went to Paris, I didn’t fall in love. I didn’t even like it that much compared to my other travels. I saw most of the main tourist attractions, which were great, but I guess I was looking for more.
“What? Everyone falls in love with Paris!” my mom told me upon me telling her this. While I have no problem with having different tastes than the majority of travelers, this situation was a bit different. I knew Paris was a city I could love, given the right circumstances. It seemed like a missed opportunity more than anything.
There were a lot of of factors that made Paris a less-then-enjoyable experience. Maybe I was European citied-out. I’d already been to London, Prague, and Vienna, and after a while, all the old churches start to blend together. There’s only so many tourist attractions you can see, and while I love the history, many of my favorite travel experiences have been elsewhere. So maybe that was part of the problem.
I think another major factor in my Paris experience was the people I were with. Just a little back story: I was in France for 2 weeks doing a sort-of exchange with some family friends I had never met before. However, the parents were working in another city, leading to me spending most of my time with their 14-year-old son, who was going to come the United States after I was done in France. In Paris, we stayed with his aunt, or more appropriately, in his aunt’s apartment, because we rarely saw her. Who was there though was my travel buddy’s cousin, who was (surprise) 14 years old.
Being 17 at the time, two 14-year-old boys were not the ideal travel companions, for several reasons. We didn’t really have anything in common, aside from the Homeland we watched in the evenings. While my travel buddy was fine, his cousins was (maybe I’m stereotyping here) a Parisian douchebag. While I appreciated him showing us around, he was a bit patronizing and made it clear he didn’t really like me. I can usually deal with this behavior in small doses, but having someone put you down 24/7 in an unfamiliar country where no one knows you is draining.
Next came the food situation: I was beyond excited to be in a city famous for its cuisine. I was expecting to be going to bakeries, street markets, and generally just eating well. Maybe we’d have a few nice dinners at restaurants. Well, as it turns out, this is not what my hosts had in mind. “Grab anything in the kitchen for breakfast,” they told me. Maybe it was too idealistic to hope that every Parisian household had fresh baguette, but the only bread they had in the house was Wonder Bread. Seriously. I don’t even like eating that stuff in America.
We packed our lunch and came back to the house for dinner (usually leftovers). Admittedly, the leftovers were good, but not very French. The one time we went out for dinner was at an Italian place, and we were rushing to eat before our next activity. Although this eating strategy was certainly cheap, it was no where close to what I was hoping.
When I think about my Paris experience, I’m disappointed, somewhat about the situation I was in, but also myself. To be fair, I mostly went passively along. I didn’t put myself out there with my French: they frequently made fun of me for being quiet the whole time. And I was. I was alone and awkward and didn’t understand anything. I was so far out of my comfort zone I couldn’t even see it anymore. Now, looking back, I wished I could’ve pushed myself more. Maybe I could’ve gone on my own to get breakfast. Maybe I could’ve used my limited French to try to talk to my hosts. I could’ve made Paris the amazing experience it had the potential to be.
I’m going to be honest here. My Paris experience really shook me. It was my first really bad travel experience. I came home wondering if I still wanted to travel as much. I went into a spiral of reflection and self-doubt. Traveling is such a part of my identity that suddenly everything was uncertain. However, I finally have come up with a decision: I want to go back to Paris. I want to go eat the food and have the experiences I didn’t have last time. I want to go to one of those cafes that I missed, god dammit.
I’m going to give Paris another chance, and I’m not going to let anyone or anything dictate my experience.
Note: This was just my personal story and in no way represents how other travelers experience Paris.
Have you ever had a bad travel experience? How did you deal with it?