One of the great joys of travelling is the opportunity to stretch and challenge yourself. It also gives you a sense of freedom and a chance to try something you might not try at home.
These moments of personal growth are multiplied when you choose to travel on your own.
I was recently asked by a DF reader to share my advice for anyone wanting to experience solo travel in France.
It won’t come as a surprise to regular readers that France is my favourite destination when travelling alone. And it’s fair to say that I’ve picked up many helpful tips over the years. These learnings usually arose when I had refused to budge from French soil, and Scott had been keen to explore further afield…
My Top Tips For Solo Travel In France
Pack Lightly And Stylishly
Yes. Yes. I know I bang on about packing lightly all the time. But it is important. If you are on your own, you need to be able to manoeuvre your luggage without injuring yourself. Or exhausting yourself. The stylish part probably needs no further explanation. You are going to be in France after all. Look to pack neutral colours, travel friendly fabrics and don’t forget the ‘must have’ accessories – cross-body bags and scarves.
Some adventurous souls can easily head to a new city on their own with nothing more than a passport and their credit card. That collection of souls doesn’t include mine. Personally I find I am more relaxed when I am as organised as possible. My advice is to book your travel plans – doesn’t matter if it is a train, plane or an automobile – as well as your accommodation. You might want to book any ‘must do’ activities too.
It is also worthwhile having a vague idea of where you need to be and how you are going to get there. For example, many French cities offer the convenience of a Métro rail system. No matter which city you are headed to, it’s much better to know which Métro line you need to take before you arrive at the station. This strategy saves you having to work it out via one of those big station maps (which always have a ton of people milling around them).
And if it is your first time in a particular French location, you might want to take a cab/car from the airport or train station to your accommodation. Keep copies of your tickets with you, together with maps or directions on how to get where you are going.
But Leave Some Space In Those Travel Plans
Plans are one thing but don’t fill up your days with so much that you put yourself under pressure. Travel takes you out of your comfort zone. Things that you might manage quickly and easily at home – like finding your hotel or a restaurant – can take way longer when you are travelling. This is especially true if your French isn’t strong. And then there are the seemingly inevitable transport delays. Knowing you don’t have to rush and that you have time to sort yourself out can take a lot of stress out of proceedings.
Back Up Your Documents
Regardless of whether you store your travel paraphernalia digitally or travel with ‘old school’ paper copies make sure you leave a copy with a friend or family member so you can access them if they happen to get mislaid while you are travelling.
Use Your Time Wisely
When you travel on your own, it can be easy to get distracted. Or put things off. Having a list can keep you on track and stop you from getting to the end of your trip disappointed in what you did or didn’t do.
Learn A Few Key French Phrases
In the decade we’ve been travelling to France, we’ve seen a real increase in the amount of English spoken. Particularly in Paris. However, while it is easier and easier to travel in France speaking only English, you will find it is less widely spoken the further away you are from the major centres. This doesn’t mean you need to be fluent, but if you want to get the most from your solo travel in France, it’s worthwhile learn enough French to allow you to appear polite. And memorise a few key a phrases – in case you get lost, need help or would like to get a table in a restaurant.
Take A Journal
Solo travel in France provides space that we don’t always get in our busy lives. And all sorts of ideas, emotions and feelings can bubble up. A little journalling can help you capture both your creativity and any lessons you might learn while you are on your own.
Take Something To Read
A book in any format is a handy thing to have in your bag. It can stave off boredom and can provide excellent distraction if you find eating alone a challenge.
On The Topic Of Solo Dining
Eating in a restaurant alone can be a daunting experience when you are at home, let alone when you are travelling. I was pleased to discover that solo diners are very welcome in French restaurants, as dining is considered an art form – one where the diner becomes completely engaged with their meal. When I really started to pay attention, I realised that there were numerous solo diners in restaurants everywhere.
If you are feeling a little uncomfortable about dining alone, make sure you choose a restaurant that has one of your favourite dishes on the menu and take the time to truly enjoy it. Additionally, a book or a tablet can be very helpful if you are new to solo dining. And, as an added incentive, remember that solo diners do seem to get good tables and excellent service!
Consider A Tour
If you’d like the idea of travelling solo to France but would like some level of companionship, then a guided tour could be an option for you.
I have a girlfriend who swears by female only tour groups (you can find options the world over). Alternatively, you might like to take a special interest tour, such as a food or language tour. And if you find Provence appealing make sure you check out Our French Impressions – Jean-Marie has recently released his latest tour dates.
Are you a fan of solo travel in France? Do you have any strategies that could help out your fellow travellers? I’d love for you to share in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.
Photo Credit: Haute Stock
Please note: This is an unsolicited post. No compensation has been received from any of the providers named in this post.
8 thoughts on “My Top Tips For Solo Travel In France”
I spent many years as a solo traveler, mainly in Paris, but also in the countryside. You have many good tips here. I would add:
–If you want to check out a fancy restaurant, do it at lunch. It’s less unusual for someone to eat alone at lunch time, whether man or woman, so you’ll have a better experience. Other advantages of this: lunch menus cost less, and eating your big meal earlier is healthier, too.
–Choose a hotel–with 24-hour desk staff–rather than an apartment. It is good to have someone who is checking on you, who knows whether you’ve come back from a night out. Also, they can call make restaurant reservations for you, and a restaurant has more at stake delivering good service to a client of a hotel that might send more diners its way, vs. a one-off tourist. And usually the staff are very friendly–it’s nice to see a friendly face if you’re alone for a long stretch.
–Try out your hobby in France. I was a die-hard Argentine tango dancer, and I sought out venues all over Paris. All over Europe, actually. It got me to untouristy parts of the city and was an immediate entry ticket to a slice of local life. I also took one-off classes (called stages). If you don’t dance, how about a favorite sport, or a cooking class? It’s also a good way to practice French.
–Wear a cross-body bag. Museums increasingly forbid backpacks. A cross-body bag is harder to snatch. In more than 25 years of traveling in France, I have never had anybody even try to grab my bag, but better safe than sorry. The only time somebody tried to snatch my bag was in Barcelona and it wasn’t a cross-body bag–it was a businessy tote that I had in the same hand as my wheeled carry-on. In broad daylight on a busy street, but it was an easy target (no, they didn’t get it–I held on despite being dragged and they eventually gave up).
Thanks so much for all the great tips Catherine. I love the idea of engaging in your hobby while in France – for each and every one of the reasons you mention. I also like the idea of staying somewhere with a 24 hour reception. I hadn’t thought about it when I was writing the piece, but more often than not, I stay in serviced apartments when I travel without Scott. I have the benefits of the staff being around, but can eat in if I choose.
Wonderful tips,especially the part about solo dining. I never feel uncomfortable dining alone in France and sometimes the service is even more attentive, so different from the States!
When I travel alone to a new city, I like to take one of the guided tour buses when I first arrive to have an overview of the city and to get the ‘must see’ tourist spots checked off my list efficiently so that I can enjoy the things that really matter.
And I ALWAYS look for AirBnB « experiences » on the AirBnB website for the city when I travel alone. These are group experiences, usually in English, that can be quirky and fun. I have learned to make paella in Barcelona, explored street art, learned to use the velib bike system in Paris, and painted a silk scarf in an artist’s studio. All added color and a personal touch to my solo travel.
Thanks for the AirBnB experiences tip Alisa. It sounds like they have introduced you to some very interesting opportunities. The idea of scarf painting sounds amazing. And thanks for reminding me about the tours. We also do a day tour of some type when we first visit a city. We rather naively did a bike tour around Paris when we first visited a decade ago. I don’t know what I was thinking given the traffic and our jet lag!! But we survived and had a wonderful afternoon. Tours are a great way to orient yourself in a new city, especially when you are travelling solo.
Janelle, this advice is spot on! I just returned form a 10 day excursion in France. I also overpacked and ended up only wearing 2 pairs of shoes; a black short boots and tall camel ones. A packable coat worked as a pillow when traveling on the train to Provence. I noticed solo diners all over Paris; even on Friday/Saturday nights and they did have excellent tables! This time of year, everyone was wearing a mostly black palette with some grey and camel thrown in to break it up. I also noticed, for the first time, a lot of stylish women wearing designer backpacks, They were small and very chic. Love your blog!
Thanks Jennifer – I’m really glad you are enjoying DF. I started to notice the backpacks last time I was in France too. They certainly look great and would be almost as practical as a cross-body. Like Catherine who commented below, I’ve never had any issues with bag security but I’ve always avoided backpacks because you can’t always see what’s going on behind you. I do like how they look though!!
I enjoy eating out mid-day when I travel alone. Restaurants are often less busy and prices are lower. If you eat in a neighbourhood, you will get to know the servers. I studied French, took a couple of tours and hired a language coach when I stayed in Paris. If you are staying for 2 seasons and require more baggage, hire a driver for the airport. He/she will come up to the apartment to carry your luggage. I usually carry a book, phone or journal in my bag so I have something to do if I feel uncomfortable.
Excellent tips Joanne – thank you. When I’m in France, I find myself eating out at lunchtime as well. And that’s true whether I’m travelling solo or with Scott. The atmosphere is still great – as is the food – and you are so right about the prices being cheaper.