PARIS, FRANCE — As I stroll down the grand boulevards of Paris, I look down occasionally, consulting my paper map: Boulevard Raspail, Boulevard de Montparnasse. These are the large roads which I can see on my paper map, but what I'm searching for is a small hot chocolate place I once read about in a book, marked on my map between the outlined roads. It's always the smallest streets where I feel the most welcome. These are the shops I see from the buses and tramways that I yearn to enter as they whiz past me, the shops where I can afford to eat, where I can continue my search for an artsy map of Paris like the vintage one of Boston at Black Ink in Harvard Square.
I was naive, which may be understandable considering it was my first trip to Europe and the first time traveling alone. I didn't know that my AT&T plan was so terrible that I had zero internet access in France. (Use T-Mobile or Sprint or the AT&T family plan for that, FYI.) Fine, I thought. My program does require us to buy SIM cards so let's chance the French companies. After 20 euros went down the drain as I tried to recharge my phone, I decided that I was going to manage without mobile data this summer.
Don't get me wrong: I have access at my host family's house and in the classroom. But as I roam around Paris, it is with a pre-planned itinerary, bus routes and metro stops saved as screenshots on my phone, with a large paper map in my pocket. I always feel so conscious about using a paper map; even the other tourists seemed to be judging me for it behind the screens of their phones, with navigation apps open. I once mentioned this to my roommate, and she just looked at me quizzically. "Do you think Parisians know their way around every single part of this huge city? They carry maps, too."
I have nothing against Google Maps; it's a great tool when you are crunched for time, or in the beginning when you really have no idea how to get home. However, I very much enjoy searching for the nearest train station, switching to a tramway for the above-ground view, hopping off when it's just too slow to take a random bus and then changing to the metro when I'm tired of the charade. Internet access on the go is a privilege, not a guarantee, and this summer has more reinforced that more than ever.
And besides, there's nothing like the feeling of being hopelessly lost and suddenly recognizing a familiar landmark or a shop which leads back to familiarity (or chancing upon the much awaited hot chocolate shop, L’heure Gourmande, only to find it packed with tourists).
Maya S. Bhagat ’22 is a Crimson Magazine and Blog editor in Lowell House.