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.
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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.
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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.”