How speaking different languages shaped my first solo travel

Learning a foreign language will allow your solo trip to be much more enriching and will help you meeting new friends

Why should you travel solo? Independence, flexibility, and growth

For quite a long time, I wanted to travel solo. There were many reasons for that. On the one hand, traveling solo strengthens your personal independence. While traveling alone, you are free to make your own decisions and follow your itinerary. You can explore new places at your own pace, indulge in activities you are interested in, and truly immerse yourself in the destination. On the other hand, it eliminates the need for compromise or coordination with others. In addition it contributes to personal growth and confidence as you step out of your comfort zone and navigate unfamiliar environments on your own. Solo travels challenge you to overcome obstacles and rely on your own resourcefulness. As you explore different cultures and interact with new people, you will develop confidence, adaptability, and problem-solving skills. But the common denominator in all this, for it to be possible at all, is the ability to speak a foreign language.

Arriving in la ville d’amour et des arts

My first solo trip took me to Paris. It was five days in advance when I finally convinced myself to go ahead and do it. Luckily, the tickets for the train TGV (train de grande vitesse) were not too expensive. I had wanted to go on a solo trip for quite a long time. What could have been a better location to start my adventure than Paris – Métropole of France, la ville d’amour et des arts. After a four-hour train ride, I finally arrived at Paris-Nord. Since I still had a few hours left before my check-in, I strolled around, got a first impression of the city, and went to a Café to eat my first Parisian meal – chèvre chaud – a hot goat cheese salad. But right when I started talking to the waiter, the first words that came out of my mouth were Spanish, so I knew I was out of practice with my French. I had five days in Paris to spend on my own, so I swore that was about to change. And it did.

Connecting to new people through language

I ironically never connected to more people than when I was traveling solo. Not only was I much more open and present than when I was traveling in a group, but I was also pushed to get out of my comfort zone – whether it was by asking for directions and navigating in public transport, ordering and trying local cuisine, or by engaging in conversations with locals. Using different languages was my no. 1 tool to get around during those holidays. It blew my mind how the communication in different languages opened doors to so many different life stories. It started at la place de Thorigny, where I was taking a break from walking all day long on my second day in Paris, having a glass of Cidre de Bretagne. As I was reading the German translation of the book “et j’ai suivi le vent” (the German title being “Der Wind war mein Begleiter”) by Anne-France Dautheville, the man next to me asked me in German how I liked Paris so far. At first, I was a bit confused, but as I looked down at my book, I realized that he had approached me in German because he saw that my book was in German. A wonderful conversation started where I got to know the story of the butcher Roland from Austria, who spent a large portion of his vacations traveling solo to Paris.

People and their life stories: A door that opens with language.

We talked about traveling, different languages and the importance of having a job that you are really passionate about. As we said goodbye, I continued my stroll through the streets of Montmartre with a big smile on my face. That was the first of many beautiful conversations. 

There was a Romanian couple that asked me for directions to the Louvre. At first, we didn't know exactly how to start the conversation, since they did not really speak English nor French, and I did not know any Romanian. We started by mixing part English, part French and part Spanish until we came up with the idea of using Google translate. Although the experience of having a conversation via google translate is not remotely the same as a fluent spoken conversation, we still managed to have somewhat of a convrsation and make each other laugh. I noticed how knowing different languages was not only valuable for me, but also for my counterpart – There was a moment when they were trying to tell me something in Romanian, and I was able to understand parts of it because it reminded me of Spanish. I still see them nodding enthusiastically as a confirmation of me understanding them correctly. Or how they smiled when I learned to say "Bună ziua", which means “good day” or "Mulțumesc" which means "Thank you.". I left with a sense of wanting to learn Romanian.

There was Mohamed, the receptionist who explained to me which attractions I mustn’t miss on my last day in Paris. Later that day I was listening to his stories about his home in Morocco as we drank an espresso next to la tour Eiffel and he taught me some Arabic. Not only was it valuable for me to hear a new life story, to practice my French with him, and to learn certain Arabic words (my favorite being "شكراً" (shukran) for "thank you"), but I was also very impressed by how this conversation expanded my horizons. I learned what it meant to be an expatriate Moroccan in France; how different the image of France was for us Europeans. I heard what it was like to leave your home in hope for a better future, and how after a certain time living in another country, you are confronted with certain questions of identity. All this gave me a lot to think about as I sat on the train home. Such an experience would not have been possible if I had not asked Mohamed in French for his tips for my last day. Thanks to the French I’ve learned in school, I was able to have this conversation. Yet the 4 years of French lessons in school had not remotely given me the inspiration I've experienced during the conversation with Mohamed.

Arriving back home with a suitcase full of memories and new insights

What I take with me from those few days on my own in a new city, is that you’re never truly alone in this world. There are so many stories to listen to, connections to be made, and it was all thanks to me being able to speak those different languages. And I would argue that just by having those conversations, I learned more than I did in a few years of school.

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