I remember the first time.
I was 10 years old, tucked away in my room reading. As I turned the pages, I marveled at their ability to swallow me whole and spit me out somewhere far from home. I did not yet know the thrill of physically stepping foot in these faraway places, of the way my heart would thump when a plane touches down somewhere new.
On this evening, the man who inspired my love of travel, my dad, threw open the door to my room and said, “Pack your bags! I’m taking you to Paris.”
I can trace my love of spontaneous travel back to this moment. A little girl who had never traveled abroad, who would miss a little school for a jaunt to Paris, suddenly learned that one dull, everyday moment can be followed by one of pure excitement. To this day, I’m ready and willing when someone asks me to pack a bag and go.
We first spent a few days in London. I remember the train ride, being in the window seat, between London and Paris and stepping out onto the platform with the sound of French around me for the first time. There was a Metro strike and we walked everywhere, stopping into pastry shops for a quick jolt of fuel. I felt adult for the first time in my life, making my own selection of a raspberry tart with a light dusting of powdered sugar, my eyes barely peaking over the counter. On a back street, I devoured my first truly elaborate, multi-course dinner. Sitting across from my father in a tiny brasserie, I sampled whatever was placed in front of me. The one time I looked at a dish in hesitation, my father switched our plates and winked.
I was reminded of this story a couple weeks ago when I attended VEMEX in New York City — Visit Europe Media Exchange — where writers have the opportunity to connect with representatives from European tourism boards. During the luncheon, I told this story in response to the question: How did you start writing about travel?
On this first trip to Paris, before our departure, my father handed me my first travel notebook. I wrote in it every evening, recording my 10-year-old observations. I found this journal recently, and had forgotten that my father had scribbled his own notes too, after my dated entries, probably after I had fallen asleep from miles of walking and one too many croissants.
Today when I have the opportunity to spontaneously travel, I still grab two things before I’m out the door: a notebook and a pen. I have returned to Paris several times since this first trip, and as I’ve wandered the back streets I wondered: could one of these restaurants be that tiny brasserie from all those years ago? The pastry shop where the baker patiently waited as I made my decision?
The streets and bridges of Paris will always have that mystery for me, an intrigue that compels me to return and keep looking for the doors and windows that remain so vivid in my memory.