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I Really Don’t Have a Plan

paris-franceI’ve never been a planner. Other than personal and professional commitments, I have never tried to plan out my life, choosing instead to live by the philosophy “let’s see what I see.” Leading an unexpected life brings far greater rewards than if I stuck to a single path, where I’d miss out on so many wonderful surprises.

I have, of course, extended this way of being to my travels. When arriving in a foreign destination, I can tell you some of the things I’d like to see and do, but don’t ask me to stick to an itinerary. This may be the reason why I prefer traveling alone, and why I avoid/disdain tours. So, when someone asks me to help plan an itinerary for Paris, I tend to shrug my shoulders (how Gallic of me) and say, “Why don’t you see what you see?”

It’s harder to say this to someone who writes to say they’re visiting Paris—for the first time ever—and have only two nights to spend in the city. “What would you recommend I do with such limited time in the city?” they asked.

Two nights (and therefore, two days) is hardly enough time. I nearly hyperventilated just thinking about what kind of itinerary I could recommend to someone who had never before visited Paris. I can’t even begin to imagine trying to explore Paris with such time restrictions. But just before the moment when my panic threatened to paralyze me, I took a deep breath and remembered why she was asking me. This woman wanted my perspective, so that’s what I gave her.

“If you have to pick a landmark,” I offered, “visit the Eiffel Tower. After all, I reasoned, she’d get to see the most magnificent view of Paris while earning “tourist points” for having been there, done that.

“And if you want to do a museum,” I continued, “choose the d’Orsay. The Louvre would take up a full day, and you still wouldn’t see half of it.” I did tell her seeing the exterior of the Louvre with its iconic glass pyramid was a must, particularly when approached through the Tuileries.

But what I really recommended to this woman was that she take the time to explore the streets around the Eiffel Tower after coming back down to earth; to stroll the arrondissement and explore the hidden courtyards or jardins that give Paris its true character. And then I suggested she make her way by foot over to the 6th arrondissement. “Buy a baguette or a crêpe before sitting on a bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg, enjoying an afternoon treat just like the Parisians you’ll be sitting with,” I told her.

But I really wanted her to see that Paris was so much more than the list of “Top 10 Paris Landmarks” that many tourists seem to carry with them. I wanted this woman to get a sense of Paris. To soak it up and let the city flow through her lungs and her veins. But with just two days at her disposal, I needed to find a way to compress that particular experience. So I sent her to the Marais. “Grab a falafel on the rue de Rosiers and then just wander around,” I suggested. “One day in the Marais reveals the Jewish quarter, the Village St-Paul, the Place des Vosges, a free museum (the Carnavalet) and the Musée Picasso. But even without a map or a plan, you’ll discover so many wonderful treasures that are the real Paris. Sit in the little park and watch the neighborhood kids play. Eat at a restaurant that doesn’t offer an English menu, because that’s where Parisians eat. If it’s a nice day, cross the Seine to the Ile Saint-Louis, buy a sandwich and drink from the local boulanger and have yourself a little lunch picnic on a bench down by the river. This is the real Paris.”

After sending off my reply, I wondered if this person—a complete stranger—would appreciate my more whimsical approach to trip planning. I hoped so. But I had to be realistic, because I know that some people just want to check things off their list.


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6 Responses to “I Really Don’t Have a Plan”

  1. Suzanne says:

    Love it! That’s exactly what I would say to someone. Well done :)

  2. Ebby says:

    I completely agree!! I fell in love with Paris for precisely this reason. It’s such a great city to just wander. My personal faves are walking down rue de sevres and browsing the galleries, walking through the beautiful tree lined paths in Luxembourg Gardens, sitting drinking wine everywhere just watching the world go by!

  3. Sarah says:

    Well, I can see that we are all in agreement with Linda! I don’t think people realize the true magic of Paris, because they get caught up in the “Top 10″. There is so much more! As someone who travels to Paris at least once a year (lucky me!), I have been fortunate enough to simply wander the city and just BE. When people ask me what I did on my trip, I just smile and say, not much. They don’t get it! Ah, Paris! Just the thought of being there quickens my pulse and makes me sigh with delight!!

  4. beaumidi says:

    I think your suggestions provide a visitor with better ideas than those guidebook/mapped out visits. But some people must plan every minute. I agree that to fully experience a city or country one should experience the local & ethnic cuisine in as many varieties as possible. Don’t follow the tourists to lunch/dinner, eat a bit later than usual. Find out more about specific neighborhoods, architecture and history of specific areas ahead of time, attend local cultural events. Take your time and you’ll take home much more.

  5. Mllecher says:

    Sounds great except The Picasso Museum is closed for one more year!

  6. Virginia says:

    Oh Linda,
    You’ll laugh or probably nod and understand my reaction to this mission you were given. I teared up! Silly me. I love Paris so much I find it as hard as you do to press it into a tiny window. When asked by friends now I overflow with ideas and places I obsess about and ….well you know. The Marais is my love but then the Palais Royal for photographs, the Musée Rodin, and of course our la Tour Eiffel. I tell everyone that they must go to her feet and worship! They should take as many photographs as they possibly can. She is our Paris you know. The bottom line is that Paris is too big, too magnifique , too romantic to squeeze into a few days , a few months……oh HELL, a few lifetimes!

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