My first trip to Europe was when I was 16. I was fortunate enough to go on a school trip where a small group of us went to France and Spain the summer before junior year, road trip style and hitting all the main sights. We traveled by coach bus and it was hotttt. I remember Paris, Cognac, St. Sebastian, and Barcelona. The rest is a blur.
While I look back on the trip fondly and didn’t hate the trip by any means, I have to admit that I did NOT love Paris. It definitely wasn’t love at first sight, and it wasn’t until years later when I visited again that I realized what a beautiful, well-deserving place France is to vacation. There were major differences between the group trip of my teens and my visit 10 years later as an adult with a girlfriend of mine. Both had an impact on how I perceived Paris the second time around.
Have you ever been to a place and felt “meh” about it… just to discover later on that maybe it’s worth another look?
First impressions carry a lot of weight and if you get a bad vibe from a place (or person), you may never want to go back. And I get it. Trips aren’t cheap and if the place kinda sucked the first time around, why waste your money and time for a potentially sucky round two. Go somewhere else, right? But no.
I’d argue it might be worth another look if you change up a few things. The way we experience a place depends on a whole lot of things that have nothing to do with the place itself. Granted, sometimes you just don’t like a place and that’s fair. No matter how many times you visit, it’s just not for you and that’s valid.
But other times, it’s these external factors that play into how much we enjoy our trip. In my case, I tweaked some of them to give Paris another chance and it was a much more enjoyable experience. Let me explain.
To kick this off, let’s start with the obvious question: Why did I hate Paris the first time I was there as a teen?
Well, reason one is because of the way we traveled. It was a group experience and we were all 16-year-old girls. We were constantly doing touristy things and on the move. It was a week-long trip and we packed a lot in. It was also my first time out of the country and I think the first time I was away from my parents for that length of time. There were a lot of firsts and it was all a bit overwhelming.
Now if you know me, you know I hate being busy. I like to enjoy my time and not feel rushed. When I visit places, I want to really see them and observe — not zip around trying to do all the things. That high school trip was the exact opposite, so strike one.
On top of the other reasons I mentioned, I also didn’t speak French beyond a few months of high school French. It felt very foreign to me, as a 16-year-old in Europe for the first time. The real kicker was when a drunk dude spit at us and it landed on my foot. Super gross. No clue what he was mumbling about. To sum it up, all of that left a really sour taste in my mouth.
Flash forward to 2008. My second trip to Paris was with a co-worker friend. I figured Paris deserved a second chance. We had a BLAST and I’ll always remember that trip. What was different? EVERYTHING!
Let’s get into some aspects that affected my overall trip satisfaction the second time around. It made me think about why I hated Paris the first time. Was it Paris? Was it something about 16-year-old me? About the style of travel? Hmm.
The things I mention below count for so much and changing a few of them are worth it when you re-visit a place you didn’t initially love.
Who you travel with
I’ve learned (the hard way) that your traveling companions make all the difference. I’ve had great trips with friends and not-so-great ones. We all have different travel personalities, so choose your people wisely! A family vacation is completely different from a small school trip, solo travel, travel with a significant other, and a girls’ trip.
Think about things like your sleep schedule, your energy level, one’s ability to just go with the flow, how you deal with conflict, and all kinds of things. They all matter and contribute to your overall trip satisfaction.
If you want to experience a place differently the next time around, make sure your travel companion is different. For me, a family trip or one with just Tom is an automatic slam dunk and I learned this little by little over the years. I also learned solo travel isn’t for me.
How much do accommodations matter to you? Will a dark and bare bones hotel ruin your whole trip? Do you need to feel pampered to wake up well rested and ready to hit the town? Are you on a tight budget and will splurging on a hotel stress you out?
All of these questions are worth considering before finalizing your plans. Some of us spend very minimal time at the hotel/apartment and don’t care if it’s super nice or not and others are the exact opposite.
On top of that, the location matters too. No one wants to take an hour ride on public transport just to get into town. Back on my high school trip, our Paris accommodations were outside the city center so every day, we spent time on our coach bus… in traffic… in the heat. I wonder how my experience would have been if we were staying somewhere more central.
Plum guide review: The Airbnb alternative you need to know about >>
Your travel pace and style
This one is HUGE! When there’s a mismatch between you and your traveling companion(s) in terms of energy and expectations, nothing good comes from it. I’ve had several trips in my younger years that involved arguments and hurt feelings.
Consider things like how you like to get around (taxi only or is public transport ok?), what you like to eat and at what time, sleep needs, entertainment style, budget, and so much more.
As a teenager, our trip to France and Spain was jam-packed and we had so much to see and do in our short time there. We had a tight schedule of where to be when and getting from point A to point B involved that hot slow-moving coach bus I wish I could forget about. At least I learned that I get queasy on bus trips when the driver is a heavy braker. Good to know!
Upon visiting France again as an adult with my friend, we had no set plans. We wandered wherever the wind blew us and stopped at places that looked interesting. We mostly walked around and saw whatever felt right. When I visited again, I was at a different life stage. We were working professionals who planned everything ourselves. We didn’t have to be on a bus or at a certain place at a certain time. We did what we wanted, when we wanted. Game changer, my friends.
There’s a lot to be said for doing it your way and traveling with a likeminded companion. It’s so important to be upfront with a potential traveling partner about your expectations and what you’re looking to get out of the trip. Sometimes I’ve let the excitement for the destination overshadow these initial conversations and that’s ended badly.
Talk openly and honestly and that way, you’ll know if you’re a match or not before taking the next steps. There’s no one right or wrong way to see a place. And lastly, just because you’re great friends doesn’t mean you’ll be great traveling companions. I might have also learned that one the hard way.
My high school trip to Europe was in the summer so you can imagine how sweltering it was and how fun that was without air conditioning. For someone who hates the summer and hot temps in general, the heat sucked the life out of me. I’m sure if I visited during a cooler month, maybe my opinion would have been different. My trip in 2008 was in December and it was great. Coincidence? I think not.
Your French level
I know it’s not practical to assume we all know a little bit of the local language every time we travel abroad, but learning a few words goes a long way. Understanding what’s going on around you and being able to communicate — even a little bit — makes travel so much more comfortable.
I had been taking French lessons at the Alliance Francaise before my trip so I felt way more confident the second time around. Learn as much as you can before you go about the culture and language. Only good things can come from that. Along those same lines, here are some of my top tips for first-time travelers to France you definitely want to know before you go.
Must-know travel vocab for your France trip (w/audio) >>
I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience France as a teen and again in my 20s (totally unaware I’d be living here in the future!). Both trips were learning experiences that I’ll never forget!
What about you? What makes a trip amazing? Have you ever visited a place and hated it the first time, just to discover that maybe the place wasn’t the problem? What type of traveler are you?
P.S. To be more prepared for your trip to France, check out my eGuide titled “75 Beginner France travel tips for a standout trip.”
How funny. First overseas trip from Australia- 2 days in Paris. Just disliked it intensely.. confusing, cold and a terrible toilet problem that I only tell my best friends ( not what you think). Had me vowing NEVER to return .
But now – other than the Covid years – I manage to visit nearly every year – thanks to a wonderful lady from sydney Australia who takes small personal tours and opened my eyes to the beauty that is France.
My eyes well up with tears each time I arrive – even now after more than 10 stays ( weeks at a time).
It digs under your skin.
Speaking of that. Our beloved pets do that too. I understand your pain with your pup – I too am now in that situation- unbearable… can’t think of a better word.
Hi Karen! I can’t even imagine what toilet problem you ran into. Not sure if you mean you were sick or if it overflowed but I feel you on both counts. I totally forgot to mention that the night before flying home from Paris on that trip w/a girlfriend in 2008, I got BAD food poisoning. But we had so much fun that it’s now a distant memory!
I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your pet. It’s so hard. They mean so much. I actually broke down today after seeing a young Cavalier in the park. The love lives on and it’s a rocky road. Sending love to you as you heal. I’m right there with you.
Mike S says
Thanks for another great blog! Each of these topics deserves a separate post lol. I have usually travelled alone and my most memorable experiences revolve around interesting human interactions with locals, not necessarily based on which tourist attraction was my favorite.
I remember I was in London and I asked what a rocket salad was. The waitress was Italian and she looked confused when I asked her what that was. She brought out a piece of the salad and I realized that the British borrowed the French word, “roquette” while in American English, we use the Italian term “arugula”. When I saw the salad, I was like “oh, that’s arugula” and she said “you know arugula?”. It was an interesting transaction but oddly enough, one of my most memorable during my trip to London.
You are spot on with travel compatibility. I think that’s why I travel alone. I like to wake up fresh and early, get a jump on the long lines, have lunch and then take a nap (in a decent hotel with A/C), and then start the second half of my day. Those high energy super-planners, definitely not for me.
Glad you liked this one, Mike. So funny about the rocket salad. I have some funny accent stories that have tripped me up. Let’s just say that deck in a NZ accent doesn’t sound like deck. I’ll have to share that one someday. And the time my non-native English speaking husband understood a northern Scottish accent better than me. hahaha
This made me laugh out loud with complete understanding – I feel you on all fronts! Oh yes, yes, yes – time of year in which I travel (fall and winter!), my travel companion(s) (husband rocks!), logistics, type of tourist I am (low key, wander around at my leisure), lodging (comfortable and cozy, not bare bones thankyouverymuch!). I had that student tour experience in Andalusia, Spain – and someday, I want to return to Sevilla and Cordoba with my husband to be able to fully appreciate those cities without feeling like cattle on a bus.
Solo travel is not for me either, after trying it in southern Germany and Austria. I loved where I visited (Munich and Salzberg) but I’m the kind of person who likes to share experiences with someone who is a like-minded traveler, so I didn’t get as much out of it as I will when I go back with my husband.
Oohhh I SO hope you get to visit Spain again with your husband one day soon. Your Sevilla was my Paris. Group trips as a teen leave a lot to be desired. Yeah, about solo travel I just feel kind of let down that I have no one to share the fun with. I have no problem amusing myself but without someone to turn to to say “wow that’s delicious” or “look at that view,” it just feels like a let down for me personally. So much more fun w/my husband. I feel ya. 😉
My first trip to Paris was great. Better than I expected. I combined a trip to the international air show with afternoons and evenings in St Germaine. In the city I traced Hemingway’s footsteps and ate at some great cafes and bistros just around the corner. My first stop anywhere was Napoleon’s tomb. Then at midnight after dinner a barge ride on the Seine. I sat in front of the Monets at the Musee ‘de Orsay for an hour and tried to figure out how he did it with such careless brushstrokes. My driver stopped where the Concord had crashed, and asked me if I knew where I was. It was one of the most fascinating places on the planet.
So glad to hear your first trip to Paris was a good one! It’s great when that happens. 😉
I didn’t enjoy my first visit to Paris, either. It was on 2006, I was in my early forties and had spent my entire adult life dreaming of going to Europe, but for a variety of reasons (money, time, other obligations), I hadn’t made it there yet. My then-fiancé (we married a few months after this trip) was a high school teacher, and he was given the opportunity for us to be chaperones on an EF student trip to London and Paris (at our expense, not free), and so he signed us up as he knew how much I wanted to go to Europe (he had lived in the UK in the past and visited Paris several times while doing so, and he loved both cities).
It was a whirlwind trip – just 7 days. We went to London first, for 3 days, and I had a wonderful time. The hotel was basic, but in a fairly central location in Bayswater, so we walked and took the tube and saw lots of things (we weren’t required to stay with the group all the time). Then it was time for Paris, and that’s when things went downhill.
First – the tour didn’t take the faster (but more expensive) option of taking the Eurostar from London to Paris. Instead, it was a long bus ride to Dover, then the ferry to Calais, then another long bus ride to Paris. Second, the Paris hotel wasn’t in Paris at all but outside the city, in a location next to an RER station, with no restaurants or shops nearby. We had to take a 30 minute RER ride every time we wanted to go into Paris. Third, and worst, is that without realizing it, I was not hydrating properly on this trip, so by the time we got to Paris, I was feeling sick from dehydration (nauseated, exhausted), and so I just didn’t enjoy myself. The only fond memory I have is that my fiancé (now husband) arranged for the two of us to have dinner at Le Jules Verne on the Eiffel Tower. And to top it all off, my debit card was compromised in Paris. I didn’t lose any money, but my card was frozen (and at the time, I didn’t have a credit card). So, I had no money of my own and even had to rely on him to pay for all the extra bits and bobs not included in the tour, even buy a few souvenirs for me.
Fast forward to 2016. I was planning a nice vacation for us for our tenth anniversary. We had traveled to various places since that fateful trip, but hadn’t returned to Europe. I looked into Italy, the UK, various other places, but couldn’t decide. Finally I thought, we not give Paris another shot, this time doing it our way (not on a tour). I found a beautiful short-term rental apartment on rue de Furstenberg in Saint-Germain, and we had an amazing week together in Paris – saw some major sites (Eiffel Tower, Musée d’Orsay) but also just walked, sat on cafe terraces drinking cafe while people watching, bought croissants from a boulangerie, strolled the Jardin de Luxembourg, ate in tiny bistros. And I fell in love with Paris.
Since then, we have gone to Paris (and Brittany) multiple times, and we are now planning to retire in Rennes in a couple of years.
Hi Lynda, thank you for sharing your experience. It sounds all too familiar and come to think of it my high school trip might’ve been with EF. Long bus rides and non-central accommodations make for a perfect storm of how to hate a place. It’s crazy how changing a few things can make all the difference. I’m so glad that you’ve had many wonderful trips since that first one in 2006!