Travel Diary: An American in Europe (at 30): Part One – Paris, France

30. A number I have dreaded for about the last five years. To many people, especially those over the age of 45, my outspoken fear of turning 30 was met with an eye roll, a laugh, and a warning of what’s to come. But 30 has felt like the first obstacle in a race to mortality. A race I want no business in.

But, like death, 30 was inevitable. So I chose no other option but to embrace it. The path I have taken so far in life has been quite non-traditional. I am a college graduate, born in Kansas City, Missouri and I have lived and worked in New York City and Los Angeles. I have never been married nor do I have any children. In 2017, this is not the path that many of my peers have chosen.

While someday I do hope to marry the love of my life and have children I am grateful for this “vagabond” trail I have tread. Yet as the years go by I start to feel like the time to settle down is approaching and something I should consider. So as I celebrated my 30th birthday I knew this was the year I should take on my life dream. It was time to put into action the trip I had started planning right after I graduated high school 12 years before. I was going to backpack through Europe without a concrete plan, with no guidance, and I would take on this trip by myself.

I spent about three months planning this trip with a few rules to abide by. No concrete obligations. No set dates. And remain open to anything. There were obviously things I knew I had to see: The Louvre. Big Ben. The Eiffel Tower. And experiences I had to plan on: Drink Scotch in Scotland. Eat cheese in France. Say no to a prostitute in Amsterdam. But everything I read urged me to be open to anything and never overstretch yourself. Ever since I was a kid, I have been drawn to traveling and experiencing the world outside my midwest town. So the fact I was venturing farther from home than I had ever been there was a lot of pressure for it to be as great as possible.

Packing for the trip was a slight adventure which raised many questions; How many American Sports teams T-shirts should I pack? Will they have Twizzlers there? Can I finally wear socks with my sandals and not be a social outcast? The answer to the last question is forever a “No”. This part is where I am forever grateful for the internet. Every answer to every question was available at the click of a finger. Pack light, better to pack four to five outfits, and frequent the laundromat then carry an extra 10 pounds and have a nightmare of a time finding what you need. Also the time when my girlfriend taught me the art of packing everything into organized labeled ziplock baggies may be the moment when i realized I truly loved her.

Booking the travel was a lot less stress than I anticipated. The key is to travel from major cities like New York City and Los Angeles. I saved myself about $400 booking a cheap one way ticket to Los Angeles and flying directly to Paris instead of booking a round trip flight from my home in Kansas City to anywhere in Europe.

The 11-hour flight was a daunting task for me. I am six foot seven inches tall or as the Europeans call me: a 2-meter giant. Flying on planes has always been torturous and uncomfortable. But the longest flight I had ever been on was five hours. So a flight over twice that was terrifying to even comprehend. This is where the miracle of exit row seating saved my life. With the wise investment of an extra fee of choosing my own seat, I was greeted with more legroom than I had ever had in my entire life.

The flight left Los Angeles late Saturday evening. 11 hours later I landed in Paris Sunday afternoon. Thanks to the legroom I had plenty of sleep and the adrenaline of being in the City of Love and in a continent I had never stepped foot in was enough for me to hit the ground running.

Paris, France was, surprising to say, the city I was least excited about traveling to. The history and beauty had been something preached to me my entire life. And although I am quite the romantic and a sappy, sensitive Giant, traveling to Paris alone wasn’t all that alluring to me. Yet all it took was a short car ride for me to fall in love with this city.

By the time I had my bags put up in my hostel and I was ready to hit the town, the sun had set on the city. As my driver took me to the city center I was mesmerized by the beautiful architecture surrounding me. As he drove I marveled at the narrow streets and tight squeezing buildings. Driving by the Moulin Rouge the bright neon lights and colors of all spectrums was mesmerizing. But, as he drove a few more minutes he made a left turn that I will never forget. As he rounded a curb I was greeted by the incredible Arc De Triomphe.

My entire life I had seen pictures of this monument at the end of the Champs De Elysees, yet as I laid my own eyes on it lit up on this Sunday evening chills ran down my spine. And right behind the Arc was the breathtaking Eiffel Tower. At this moment I realized I was living out my dream. Two monuments I was told my entire life were so beautiful and something you had to see, were staring at me. The beauty translated in person in ways far greater than any picture. The sense of beauty and accomplishment were overwhelming and I knew I was right where I needed to be.

The rest of my time in Paris matched a similar narrative. The Louvre was as incredible as I had hoped. Seeing the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo in person was surreal. The sheer size of the museum was incredible and the architecture of the walls and ceilings were nearly as impressive and beautiful as the art itself.

The amount of museums in this city is inspiring and exciting. The city’s dedication to preservation and exhibition of art displays a sense of appreciation for Culture that is illuminating to a man who has spent his entire life living in a country that isn’t even 250 years old. The sense of history and achievement staring at you with every turn is beautiful. Whether it’s the Notre-Dame de Paris or the Sacre-Coeur, I was laying eyes on buildings older than I had ever seen.

This was what I loved most about Paris. The city is a constant reminder of the history and culture and how even though times have changed and so much has progressed, the most beautiful things remain the buildings created hundreds of years before.

This was a lesson I learned time and time again as I ventured through Europe. As an American stuck in the middle of my giant country on the Western hemisphere I have always known there was so much more to discover. Paris was an amazing start, but it was just that, only the beginning of a journey I had dreamed of my entire life. What I saw and experienced was greater than I ever could have planned for or imagined. 30 never looked so good.