Say Bonjour to taking your own tour

This isn’t your typical itinerary of what to do in a city, in this case Paris. During the last few years, I’ve been able to travel to places in Asia I could never have experienced if my university wasn’t based in Shanghai. While travelling to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, I learned so much about my preferred way of travelling, one that contrasts directly with childhood holidays that I experienced.

I tend to avoid typical touristing like the plague. It’s almost become a habit - growing up my family used to trudge from morning till night without stopping for more than a few minutes to grab a bite to eat. Perhaps, because of that, I adopted a much more relaxed way of travelling, one where I do what I want, where I want. After all, it gives me an excuse to come back, maybe during a time when I have more of an appreciation towards fine art, for example, rather than people watching.

As an NYU Shanghai student originally from Europe, when choosing to come to Prague, I looked more at classes and professional opportunities than potential travel plans. However, as soon I realized that my birthday fell on a Friday, and one of my best friends would be in Paris, my plans were pretty much set.

That’s how, on a Wednesday afternoon a few months after this initial Eureka moment, I found myself en route to Paris because after all, who could say no to a birthday weekend in Paris?

The night before one of my only trips outside the country this semester, I could have been found desperately googling airline reviews, and measuring my suitcase with an A4 piece of paper in an attempt to persuade myself that yes, it would be allowed into the cabin and no, it wouldn’t be oversized. According to the airline’s one-star Google reviews others hadn't been so lucky, but my plane arrived ten minutes ahead of schedule, and I was ready to see a city that I hadn’t been to since I was seven years old, that I remembered nothing of. As someone who loves new places but can’t deal with huge multitudes of people, I try and compromise by seeing things from a distance.

I was assured that picnics in the park were “the thing” to do in Paris, and to be honest, I don’t regret eating cheese, wine and baguettes while being surrounded by ducks, all of who, I decided were named Otis, rather than being trampled by tourists trying to get their perfect Instagram shot. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve always been underwhelmed by travel photographs if I wasn’t there to experience firsthand what was being documented. It seems to be human nature, however, to want to showcase when we’re feeling on top of the world to our friends and acquaintance, or when we are staying at a luxury resort, or just when we are feeling good enough to want others to see something of our lives.

I walked through Paris at night, while being given a flash tour of illuminated “must-see” sights. I walked for hours next to the river talking with friends. I also visited the Sacré-Cœur and pushed my way through tourists, but I didn’t mind. It’s all about priorities. While sitting in a cafe waiting for my friend to finish her French class, sipping a coffee and doing some writing, I realized that while I did see some things, like the Sacré-Cœur or the Notre Dame, I didn’t feel like I needed to go up the Eiffel tower to get a feeling of the city.

When visiting a city, do what you want to do. If you feel like getting a coffee and people watching, do that. If you want to visit museums and make the most of the fine art offerings, then do that. I’ve found that doing something just because you have to, only ends up casting a negative shadow on the experience. When something becomes important to you, you’ll find time for it, but until then, do what makes a country, or a city seem worthwhile to you.

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