Sometime during the beginning of last year, I realized that my teens and my 20s had disappeared, and I was quickly approaching the dreaded ‘middle-age’. I also realized that somehow, in the hustle and bustle and grind of everyday life, I had manage to attain the academic and professional goals I had set myself but remained sadly unfulfilled on a personal level. The reason for this was simple: I loved travel and yet I was unable to actually get to do any travelling, thanks to my hectic work schedule.
- Travel Tip: Make travel a priority, stop thinking of it as an option.
Now here’s the thing about travel: for a true traveler, it’s never predictable. Visa requirements meant that I would have to enter Europe via France, before continuing onto my next destination: Greece. Although my travel agent assured me that one night in Paris was enough, the traveler in me begged to discover this city of love, an appropriate nickname I must add.
Travel arrangements were relatively simple – flight to London to visit my growing nephew and spend a weekend, before continuing on to Paris. I booked a one-way bus ticket from London to Paris via Megabus ( less than GBP 20) and arrived at the London Victoria Megabus Terminal for my 10.30 p.m. bus, with decent time to spare.
- Travel Tip: During overnight journeys, ALWAYS turn up in your PJs. Screw public opinion, its comfort that should matter all the way.
The Megabus staff checked our tickets and passports and allowed us to board, no fuss. I fell asleep as soon as the bus pulled away, only waking up when we were at the border and our passports and visas were re-checked again. Sleepwalking my way back to the bus, it was hard to resume my nap because of the sudden excitement levels within the bus. The reason was soon clear – we were (the entire bus was) about to be loaded into a train carriage whilst the train crossed the Euro-tunnel.
It’s difficult to casually sleep knowing that you are travelling via the Channel Tunnel, literally under the sea.
- Travel Fact: The Channel Tunnel is a 50.5-kilometre rail tunnel linking Folkestone, Kent, in the United Kingdom, with Coquelles, Pas-de-Calais, near Calais in northern France, beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover.
Needless to say the excitement also meant that everyone on board the bus became temporary friends, as most were experiencing this for the first time and wanted to share the wonder. It was 6.30 a.m. when I finally reached Paris and began my 2nd adventure – mastering the metro: relatively simple once you get the hang of it, but frazzling first thing in the morning. Add to that the fact that none of the staff in the station spoke a word of English, and you get the general gist.
- Travel Tip: always, always, always do some research in advance. It’s great to go with the flow, but this will save you time and energy.
For once, I was grateful for my control freak instincts and the fact that I had researched all aspects of this even before getting there. I made my way to Ternes, an upscale neighborhood in Paris, close to Champs –Elysees.
- Travel Fact: The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is a boulevard in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, 1.9 kilometres long and 70 metres wide, which runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle, where the Arc de Triomphe is located.
Finding my way to my Couchsurfing Host’s quaint apartment was a bit of a challenge, and it is a shame that I finally had to get a Taxi just to find the place.
Now, couchsurfing – that was a scary first time for me. For those new to the trade – the concept of couch-surfing is simple. You crash on a stranger’s couch. If you’re lucky, your host may sometimes even have a guestroom with decent facilities. The idea and purpose are simple – to live and mingle with a local and explore the city from their perspective. For those of you who are balking at the idea of ‘roughing it’, do remember than 5-star hotels and boutique resorts make you a tourist, not a traveler. It’s not a bad thing – you’re just in a different category than I am.
- Travel Tip: When/ where possible, always couchsurf. Finding a place to stay is just part of the Couchsurfing experience. More importantly, it’s about human connection.Be it stories, songs, food or your favorite coffee shop, Couchsurfing is about sharing and connection. Be open to giving, receiving, and discovering the unexpected.
I guess the sentences above already give you the idea that my couchsurfing (CS) experiences have been more than ideal. As I stood outside his door at 7 a.m. on a weekend morning, I hoped he was awake and would appreciate the book of recipes of Bangladeshi cuisine that I scoured Nilkhet (biggest bookstore in Bangladesh) to find. But, of-course, I had no idea how things were going to turn out with my first CS host ever, and there was only one way to find out. Taking a deep breath, I knocked. And waited.