Owing to either an unquenchable lust for life or the early signs of an impulse-control disorder, I’ve backpacked on my own a lot. From long stints in Buenos Aires and Medellín to shorter ones in Lisbon and Berlin – you name the place, I’ve probably hobbled into it with the nonchalance that being born with an Australian passport can bring.
And while travelling on your own may seem all mango-smoothies-on-the-beach through the sullen eyes of a 9-to-5 office worker, I’m here to tell you that it can also be the worst thing ever.
In Lost in Paris (Paris Pied Nus), a French-Belgian comedy now streaming at SBS on Demand, we meet Fiona (Fiona Gordon, also co-creator), a librarian living in a blizzard-strewn corner of Canada.
Fiona may live in a real-life snow globe, but she’s been yearning to visit Paris since she was a child. When her Parisian Aunt Martha sends her a letter asking for help, Fiona straps on a giant red backpack and sets sail (or more accurately, boards a flight) into the unknown.
Here are three things that Lost In Paris gets right about travelling alone…
1. Big ups and big downs
Travelling alone is a journey of emotional contrasts. One minute, you’re reeling with joy from seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time and the next you find yourself at the bottom of the famous River Seine, literally fighting for your life, because you’re drowning.
OK, that’s a scene from the movie. It’s usually not that bad. But travelling alone can bring about similar emotional extremes.
A downside to solo travel is losing the safety net that comes with being in your home country, such as having friends, family and your native language to fall back on when things go wrong. So, when things do go wrong, they really go wrong. If you get lonely, or unwell, or leave your backpack at the bottom of the Seine (we’ve all been there, am I right?), it’s easy to fall into a black hole of despair.
But that same unpredictability can also bring about magical experiences. I once turned up to a park in Colombia without any cash, thinking I’d find an ATM or be able to use my card to cover the entrance fee, food and accommodation. I was wrong on both counts. My despair caught the attention of a German backpacker. Soon we were joined by three others, and eventually, I confessed my mistake. They laughed and paid for me – a group of strangers who just as easily could have left me to languish. We ended up spending three days together, sleeping on hammocks, eating pain au chocolat and luxuriating in the warm Caribbean Sea. We’re still in touch – and yes, I paid them back.
2. The mundane moments
Magical moments notwithstanding, it’s worth mentioning the many mundane moments that come along for the ride, or what author Michelle De Kretser, in her book Questions of Travel, calls “the sheer tedium of being a tourist”.
During a scene when Fiona struggles to get through the turnstiles of a Paris metro station strapped to her enormous backpack, it took everything in my power not to yell “I FEEL SEEN”.
You won’t see it on Instagram, but travelling on your own usually comes with long stretches of nothing – staring at subway maps, searching for an ATM, charging your phone, waiting for the train and, for some reason, taking everything out of your backpack at regular intervals. It’s definitely not glamorous, but it’s pretty much par for the course.
3. The realisation that countries are places, not postcards
I’ve often imagined that people living in the far-flung places that we collectively refer to as ‘overseas’ are living thrilling, elevated lives.
But Lost In Paris shows a less glamorous side of Paris than we’re used to. Fiona’s co-star and sort-of love interest, Dom (co-creator Dominique Abel) for example, happens to be a homeless man who lives in a tent by the Seine.
Meanwhile, the film shows elderly characters, including Fiona’s 88-year-old Aunt Martha (the late Emmanuelle Riva) and her friend Norman (Pierre Richard), actively resisting the move to aged care.
Poverty and ageing residents aren’t usually what you’d expect to see when visiting the city you’ve dreamt about since childhood, but travelling alone can open your eyes to how every country in the world is as vast and as complex as your own.
Find yourself Lost in Paris at SBS on Demand:
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