I am fortunate enough to participate in non-rev travel. This has its obvious ups and downs. I know where to find free WiFi in Houston International. I’ve spent dozens of nights sleeping in airports. And I’m certainly no stranger to being stuck in cities I’d rather not be in. When I was marooned in Paris last November, I was faced with the difficult decision of how to spend the next 24 hours.
I was exhausted from a brief romp around Spain and there were three options:
A. Hang out in the airport. Simplest choice. Free internet. Nothing new.
B. Go stay in a hotel. Similar price point. A real bed.
C. Go explore Paris. Do something.
Before I continue, let me explain that I am not an outgoing person. I have a hard time talking to strangers unless there’s something specific I need from them (time, directions). Wandering around a city by myself for any length of time doesn’t sound appealing — even if that city is Paris.
When’s the next time you’ll be in Paris? nagged the little voice inside my head. The brave one. I had never been in France before and the opportunity was rare. But where would I go? What would I do? I know exactly three words of French.
So I did what I do best. I posted on reddit.
In the time it took for me to grab an airport coffee and a croissant, I had a single reply. That was enough.
Leaving the airport was easy. Managing to find the only ticket salesman who spoke no English was easy. Arriving at Gare du Nord 15 minutes later than my gracious host was expecting was easy.
I had no idea what a flat cap was but it was still easy to find Skyler. There’s a very specific expression people get on their face when they’re looking for someone they’ve never met. It’s a mix between where’s that one last corner jigsaw piece and what have I gotten myself into. I’ve learned to instantly recognize this expression over years of meeting strangers from the internet.
Skyler is a product manager at a mobile app company based in France. He had moved to Paris a year prior with his Parisian girlfriend he’d met stateside. He told me about his hobby project, an iPhone app that uses the accelerometer to track your descent while sky diving. Unlike most internet strangers I have met, Skyler is an avid sky diver.
We rented bikes from one of those automated kiosks and set off across the city. A dozen blocks and three near-collisions with pedestrians later, we arrived at a bar built over an abandoned train yard. I did not have the foresight to take photos. We grabbed a beer and I asked Skyler why he replied to my post. “Boredom, mostly”, he told me. The Parisian girlfriend was out of town, and biking around Paris with a stranger sounded more fun than chipping away at his skydiving app.
It was decided that we had to have dinner at an actual french restaurant and we set off again. I used the bell on my bike to ding at Parisians who dallied in the bike lane. There were fewer near misses.
There was more beer as I deliberated over the menu. Everything on the menu was three times as much as it would cost at home. When’s the next time you’ll be in Paris? I shushed my frugal nature and ordered braised pork with a tarragon rémoulade. I didn’t take a picture of the meal either. It was without a doubt the best meal I’ve had in my life. We were soon joined by a developer friend of Skyler’s who greeted us with a hearty bonjour!”. We proceeded to bar hop across Paris.
Bars are the same everywhere. Drunk biking however, is not. Biking along the Seine at night is a highly recommend experience. We bounced over the uneven cobblestones and dodged tourists, our path illuminated by the streetlights above and barges below. The night culminated in the certainly frowned upon and possibly illegal scaling of the Louvre Pyramid.
That was freaking cool, I thought as I slid down that pyramid. Watching the video now, I’m thinking the same thing — but not because of my new profile picture. For most adults, making new friends outside of classrooms and offices is no easy task. You have to strike up a conversation, have common interests, and make plans. With some luck and a single post, I circumvented the whole process, successfully using reddit as a human search engine.
Voilà, instant friend.