Wonderfully Weird and Fantastical Travel Tales — In Paris with No Money
Each month we post a travel tale from people from around the world. Today we kick it off with a story from the Lead Editor for the Lifestyle section on Vigyaa: Maria Montgomery.
I have so many travel tales, that when you ask me for one I don’t know where to start. I’ve lived in more countries than some have visited and I’ve often thought that my memoir would be called “In Transit.” For me, traveling is a way of life. I was a digital nomad before the term had been coined.
This particular tale, however, is a favorite of mine. Not because it’s by far the strangest thing that ever happened to me, or even all that fantastical, or wondrous. No, it’s simply because it shows what the life of a traveler is like and what you can learn from traveling.
The Perks of Being Nineteen
I was nineteen. I was backpacking through Europe and finally came to Paris. I was meant to continue onto Italy after that, but I got stuck in Paris for longer than expected. Why? Because someone asked me if I was looking for a job, I believe on Christmas Eve, and I said yes. The next day I set out to find one.
Eventually, I found a job in a British pub. I never went to Italy. Instead I went home to Sweden, packed my things, and caught the midnight train to Paris. I still think that sounds terribly romantic. It was.
It was also my gap year and I could do as I pleased. I had nothing more than my imagination holding me back. Most of my friends had wild ideas about what to do when high school was finally over. The truth? We got jobs in our home town and did nothing extraordinary at all. That’s why, one night after watching Moulin Rouge in the cinema, I got inspired and decided I was going to set out backpacking through Europe. I was to leave no later than December 13.
As it was in the middle of winter, no one fancied joining me on my adventure, so I set out on my own. And that’s how I ended up in Paris.
Returning To Paris
The tale I’m meant to be telling you, takes place when I returned to Paris. I knew I had a job lined up and I had booked a bed in the hostel where I stayed before I left, but that’s as much as I knew.
On the first day walking to work from the Metro, I sat down to grab something out of my backpack. I sat down and the credit card that I had, for some reason, put in my back pocket, snapped in two.
I had money for one, or two, more nights at the hostel and a few more meals. But that was it.
Today that probably wouldn’t have been much of a problem. From online banking and PayPal to MoneyGram, paying a bill internationally isn’t that hard. Back then? It normally took weeks just to get a new credit card.
I was officially stone broke in Paris.
Finding a Way When You Are Lost
That night, I was having a meal in the hostel, when I met a bunch of other people. Among them a recent Oxford graduate, who was planning to stay in Paris for a while to take writing classes. She wanted to become an author. Katie, was her name.
Katie and I decided we were going to get a flat together and set about looking for one immediately. We found one. How I don’t know, because you needed a bank account to get a job and a flat and a job and a flat to get a bank account. It was one of those catch 22 situations, that everyone simply had to get around or they’d be stuck in no man’s land forever.
Katie paid for all our bills for the first couple of weeks, including my food. We became great friends. She was volunteering at Shakespeare and Co., taking French classes at La Sorbonne and doing a writing course. I was writing poetry, working in a bar, taking acting classes and doing her writing exercises to improve my own penmanship.
The obvious action to take when you are lost, save looking at maps, compasses and where the sun is in the sky, is to ask for directions. Ask for help. I asked Katie for help. She helped me. And that changed the course of my life.
Having Faith and Taking Action
I don’t remember being very scared when my card broke. I remember being upset — it was unsettling. And I had to call my father in Sweden to try to sort out a new card. It was a bit complicated. I also remember standing by the desk at the hostel, knowing I could only afford to pay that one night. I knew I needed help, but I wasn’t scared, because I figured people would help me.
I also took obvious action. When I heard someone else looking for a place to stay, I spoke to them about it.
When you have a problem, the most obvious thing to do is to focus on a solution and having faith you’ll find one. If you ask enough people, someone usually has the answer.
If, on the other hand, you sit down and focus on your problem, you’ll become upset and likely do nothing to solve it. You need to have faith it'll work out, then you need to take action.
There is a sign in Shakespeare and Co. that reads: “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.” I’ve found, through my travels, that it’s a very apt statement.
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