Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “traveling is a fool’s paradise” and that “our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places.” While indifference suggests an absence of spirit and a sort of state of mediocrity, it directly contradicts what it means to travel and, no offense to Mr. Emerson, but I have found, in my limited experience, a certain drunken enchantment and wild fascination associated with traveling and, most importantly, the people one meets while traveling; the kind of fascination that reveals to us the life and beauty found in different cultures and the kind of enchantment that provides an escape from the familiar and an outlet for the creative juices.
Paris: the city of lights. When one of the history teachers at my high school announced that he was to chaperone a tour-led trip to Paris and Barcelona (http://www.eftours.com), I immediately signed up. Expecting an amazing opportunity to travel and broaden my horizons, what I found was much more beautiful than anything one could describe in 600 words or less. Time after time I found myself compelled to break from the herd in order to explore the local spots and completely immerse myself in a culture just as shaped by its history as my own, but a completely different product as a result of its individual growths. After 2 days of sneakily heading off with a close friend “forward in all directions” up and down the metro, I found myself completely smitten with the French culture (and sadly adapting a fake accent). From the hill of Montmartre, to the collegiate vibe of the Latin Quartier, to the vision of the St-Martin Canal at nighttime, a certain electric ambiance can’t help but penetrate the air and you can’t help but feel right at home amongst new people in a foreign environment, engaging in conversation with locals and travelers alike.
If you’re planning to visit Paris, make sure to experience all of the art museums and architectural marvels, but please don’t forget to ditch the sight-seeing and meet the people who live there (traveling means nothing if you only taste the commercial aspects of a culture); social networking can not only open doors to many new and exciting places, but it can introduce you to new types of people and expand your cultural awareness, perpetuating the “small-world” mentality and turning you into a global citizen. Some tips to make your Parisian adventure more pleasurable:
- BEWARE of pick-pockets; lose the sentimentality and grow a backbone (they can smell weakness from miles away!)
- Eat at local restaurants and, unless you want to buy €5 Evian bottles multiple times a day, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and buy large bottles of water from small grocery stores, or at the metro stations for a significantly cheaper price.
- Learn French. Hi, Good-bye, Do you speak English etc, etc. There’s nothing worse than assuming everyone speaks your native language while traveling abroad to a completely different country. Most people are more than happy to help you (despite the language barrier) as long as you don’t assume the role of being the “typical” tourist.
- Shop around for hotel prices and air fare. You can find some pretty amazing deals out there, even with tour guides who do multiple excursions (which may be benefit those who like to travel securely with someone who knows the ropes–pick pocket tricks, rip-off eateries/souvenir shops and all that proverbial jazz).
Embrace life, trek on and remember: “Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.” – Francis Bacon
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