The Hairpin Travel Serial, Part Four: Paris Is [Lonely/Lovely] When You’re Alone
by Chiara Atik
Episodes One through Four of The Hairpin’s eight-part Kindle Serial “An Experience Definitely Worth Allegedly Having” are now available in full via Amazon. Excerpts from the first three episodes can be found here, here, and here. (And: more info here.)
I’ve been a dating writer for the past three years. It’s not something I set out to do, really, but I liked writing, and had been on dates, and those are apparently the only real qualifications you need.
Being a dating writer consists mostly of encouraging people to date: spurring them on through their pursuit of love, and acknowledging that, yes, the process is frustrating at times, but also, ultimately, so worthwhile, because who doesn’t want to be in love?
Not that dating is the be-all and end-all. You don’t always have to have a significant other, of course. You don’t always have to want a significant other, either. A lot of times, it’s perfectly nice, it’s perfectly lovely, to be alone. And I really believe that, despite the thousands upon thousands of words I’ve dedicated to the subject of dating — the words, and hours, and conversations, and mental energy, and the years of my life I’ve spent trying to figure it out, both as a “professional” and as an interested citizen. I really do think it’s okay to be single. In fact, for the majority of the time I’ve spent as a dating writer, I have been.
Nine out of ten times, when you tell someone you’re a dating writer, they say, “Oh, just like Carrie Bradshaw!” I have an annoying canned response to this (“Only with a much smaller shoe budget!”), which the other person will laugh at, out of politeness. What I don’t normally launch into (because who cares, really?) is that the real difference between me and the fictional protagonist of Sex and the City is that she spends most of her life either despairing about her relationship or despairing about her lack of one, while I’m pretty at peace with my single status. If you’ve got a job and you’ve got an apartment and you’ve got a friend and you’ve got dates, then you’re pretty much set. You don’t need a boyfriend for anything.
Except. When it comes to travel.
Because as much as I sing the praises of the lifestyle of the independent woman, and as much as I truly do not need some guy to put together my IKEA furniture or zip up a dress or visit my family at Christmas, when it comes to traveling in your twenties and thirties, a boyfriend is practically an economic necessity.
The idea of the lone traveler is romantic, sure, but the economic reality of traveling by yourself when you’re my age is daunting. Cost-wise, when traveling as a couple the only thing that gets multiplied by two is the plane ticket: you’ll obviously need two of those. But after that, each vacation expense is halved. Meals on the cheap are more cost-effective when sharing. Car rental is prohibitive on your own but affordable in pairs. A hotel room — the exact same hotel room that a single person would stay in — is half the price when there are two people per bed. The way travel pricing works, it makes sense that the animals on Noah’s ark went two by two — it was probably just cheaper to split a stall.
Of course, a good friend, one with whom you travel well, can very easily take the place of a boyfriend when it comes to planning vacations and adventures. But finding a friend in New York who not only has the same travel interests as you but also the same budget and vacation days is like finding a needle in a haystack. And she, of course, would have to be single, too. It’s a universal law that people in relationships prefer traveling with each other to traveling with their single friends. (Which is just as well, really: there’s nothing worse than spending an hour in the hotel room watching Murder She Wrote in some language you don’t understand while your friend has a two-hour Skype date with her boyfriend back home. Headset and all.)
While I’m perfectly content to be single in my New York life, for the past few years, as vacation time approaches, so does the pang of not having a boyfriend. Not just a boyfriend, a travel companion. And not just a travel companion but a travel companion with whom I share an incredible romantic and sexual chemistry. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, especially for a dating writer. But the perfect guy — the travel buddy, the adventure partner, the seat 12B to my 12A — has yet to come along.
So when, in the summer of 2011, I found myself the holder of a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in the world, I decided to hold on to it for a bit before cashing it in for a trip to Bali, or Hong Kong, or Nairobi. I bought guidebooks. I did research. I took my time. I think it’s because, deep down, I was waiting to use it when I had a boyfriend. It would just be more practical to cash it in when I was seeing someone: that way, we could split costs, and the voyage to Delhi would be romantic rather than just mildly dangerous. I thought I was being forward thinking; I never for one moment considered I’d use my ticket alone.
But by December of last year, the ticket was close to expiring, and I had no boyfriend to speak of, no conveniently rich friend with benefits I could entice into a trip across the world. Resigned, and unwilling to let the ticket go to waste, I started researching in earnest, this time looking for a place I could travel to on my own.
Moscow seemed too lonely to visit alone. San Francisco too pedestrian. I wanted someplace foreign — but not too foreign. Someplace different, but where I’d know the language. Exotic, yet comfortable.
I chose Paris.
If you’d like to read the rest, the full story is available via Amazon, for $1.99, which also covers all seven other episodes. (A Kindle or computer/smartphone/tablet with the — free! — Kindle app is required to read.)
More pictures from the series can be found on the collection’s (also free!) companion Tumblr.