Fortunately, I was on that plane and with that action I had instantly regained my long-lost independence! I was on my own once again; living entirely under my own volition … It felt great! I remember feeling an immense appreciation towards my parents for all the support they showed me over the previous few months; but now it was time for all of us to settle back into our lives.
I never really get nervous about things like this. When I was sitting on the tarmac waiting for the plane to take off, I was filled more with eagerness than anything else. I had grown extremely restless with unemployment and trekking through Europe with a backpack seemed like a good change of pace.
My first day in Paris was a combination of excitement, surrealism, acceptance, and a slight urge to find where I was staying. I had booked a hostel for the first night, but that was the extent of my confirmed plans. After the usual customs, find your bag, lug it around on buses, and subways; I finally stumbled into the light outside a metro station and found myself in a random location within within Paris; I at last felt that unmistakable feeling of being away from home!
After some sidetracked attempts down Parisian alleys I finally found my hostel and in the process, got the opportunity to experience some of the Paris “aura” along the way. There really is something about that city… more than meets the eye. Besides the fact that Parisians have a way of seeming eternally pissed off, they are simply splendid people! It is a large city like anywhere else and once you get to know them, you realize they are just busy and actually very willing to help when asked!
Unfortunately, my french proved to be just as awful as I suspected it would be, which adds an interesting aspect to everyday tasks. Every time I attempted to “parler” in the local language, people either switched promptly to english or looked concerned that we were about to have an awkward conversation. Regardless, I got along just fine and was encountered by hospitality the entire time.
Eventually, I eased into the hostel that I would be staying at and got a taste of what life was going to be like for next 3 months. Hostels have this magnificent ability to scream chaos, but with a calming laid back-ness that I have never seen before. I saw backpackers from all over the world reading, playing games, hanging around, listening to music, and looking very casual in their not-so-casual lives. I was on day 1 of my not-so-casual life and as cool as I tried to appear; my mind was screaming “this is freakin’ amazing! I’m actually doing what I’ve always wanted to do with my life!” (Fun fact: languages spoken in the hostel that first night were: French, English, Hindi, Portugese, Hungarian, German, and Spanish).
I met a lot of really amazing people that night and stayed out rather late, experiencing the “local culture” from the perspective of a few beer bottles … to this I say: never judge a new place without at least having a drink with the locals first!
I spent the next day site-seeing, going to coffee shops, and coming to grips with the massive amount of excitement that was still pouring out of me. I fell in love with Paris through its coffee shops, overly-priced-but-totally-worth-it french food, and through walking the streets for miles. I had seen many of the touristy places the last time I was in Paris; so this time I focused on just absorbing the culture.
During my second night in Paris I tried Couch Surfing. I met up with an awesome guy who lived in a popular suburb of Paris that would probably be less-known to the tourist crowds. He was about my age, had a stable job, and a laid back demeanor that allowed us to connect instantly. Couch Surfers maintain a willingness to let strangers sleep on their couch in exchange for experiencing different cultures. The whole concept goes to prove that we are all fundamentally the same. With this character trait in common I have seldom had, anything less than a life-changing experience while crashing on someone’s couch.
I spent my 2nd night in Paris discovering it through the eyes of a local. With my Couch Surfing “host,” we talked about US/France differences, worked on our english and french, I met his 2 roommates and between the 4 of us we never ran out of things to say. The following day, he gave me good advice on getting to the train station, we swapped facebook accounts and all that fun stuff and I was headed on my way! The next stop was a place notorious for drawing solo backpackers from all over the world (for better or worse) …
My first 2 days in Europe were immensely influential in the grand scheme of my life. I had regained my independence, traveled to another country, found my hostel, absorbed a new culture as a backpacker, and interacted with local Parisians on a level I would have never thought possible. The emotions and experiences of those first 2 days carried with them, a glimpse of a lifestyle, a hint of possibility, and a slight nudge that I was headed in the right direction.