This post was contributed by Hannah Moseley.
My obsessively-researched trip itinerary went out the window the moment I stepped on the Paris metro – and that’s okay. I love trip planning. My dad began handing the small details of our family vacations over to me when I was eight. I pored over guidebooks, marking interesting restaurants and proposing vastly over-ambitious day trips to waterfalls that required a helicopter or rappel gear. So when I discovered flights to France in October 2018 for $500 a person, I jumped on it. I spent the next nine months gestating this trip, from a Pinterest board with sub-categories for food, style, and things to do in each arrondissement, to a to-buy list and an hourly itinerary. I taught myself enough French to get by in daily interactions – which ended up being pretty inadequate for my hospitalization in middle-of-nowhere Brittany, but that’s another story – and to make reservations at some pretty kick-a$$ restaurants. But, as anyone can tell you about Paris, it’s an unpredictable city.
The train ride into town from Charles de Gaulle airport took over an hour, and I spent nearly as long wandering around Gare du Nord station trying to find the exit. It was about then my husband and I realized 2G of data was not enough to use Google maps in Paris. By the time we made it to the cafe I had bookmarked for breakfast and found it closed, it was time to walk to our lunch reservation. But it was fine. I was in Paris.
Relax and enjoy the experience, Hannah.
Caleb downloaded most of Paris on Google Maps, and we learned to map out our train and walking routes before we left an area with Wi-Fi, which worked well for our next day exploring the Marais neighborhood and the Isles. Then came Day 3. My itinerary covered the entire Rive Gauche, and our day in Paris ended very early because we had tickets to Disneyland Paris’ Halloween Party. I knew my plan was overly ambitious from the get-go, but I told myself we would cover as much ground as we could and not to worry about it.
As soon as we began the day, we were behind schedule. The train line my Citymapper app suggested wasn’t running, so we had to find a workaround route without data. There goes time allotted for a morning stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens. Our breakfast spot opened an hour later than their website listed, so I suggested that we head on to the Musée d’Orsay and grab a croissant on the way.
By the time we made it to the D’Orsay, the line for security was an hour long. But it wasn’t until we had made our way through the packed Impressionist gallery that I realized it was after noon, and we were out of time to see either the Rodin or the Cluny museum, much less the rest of the D’Orsay. I had a small breakdown in front of the famous clock window as Caleb tried to cheer me up and salvage the tatters of my plan.
In a stroke of genius, he suggested we immediately walk to lunch at the spot I had picked out for breakfast. This was brilliant for 3 reasons: (1) getting food in me was a surefire way to improve my mood, (2) we could walk through the Luxembourg Gardens on the way, and (3) that put us in a great position to explore a bit of the 5th arrondissement before we needed to go back to our Airbnb.
I wiped the tears off my cheeks and glared at the tour group that had the audacity to stare at me. I can’t say I was pacified immediately, but by the time I had fallen down the rabbit hole of literature that is Shakespeare & Co, with a much-needed salad and hot tea in my belly, I was able to appreciate everything we were able to see that day.
A trip will never be everything you expect it to be.
But if you can accept that and enjoy the ride, it can be much more. I don’t think we made it to half the places I had bookmarked, but I am so glad we took our time, spoke to the locals, and got a sense of the city in the places we did visit. Once I put my inner analyst on mute, those experiences meant so much more to me than checking off a list of sights. The French take two-hour lunch breaks for a reason, after all.
If, like me, you occasionally have trouble letting go of the “plan,” try letting your hair down a little and see where the day takes you. If you’re tired, it’s OK to take a nap! Just don’t skip meals, and try to travel with someone a little less high-strung.
You might find that you kinda like going with the flow.