A trip to the south of France seems like an ambitious project for a broke college student to take on by herself. Luckily for me, my family owns a tiny apartment in a small, idyllic town overlooking the Mediterranean Sea called Menton.
A sunny place famous for its lemon trees, magnificent gardens and cobblestone streets, Menton finds itself between the border of Italy and the most legendary gambling city in Europe: Monaco. I spent childhood summers in Menton soaking up the sun at the beach, learning how to scuba dive and enjoying delicious Nutella crepes by the harbor. In short, total and complete paradise.
At least that’s how I remember it. As I entered my junior year of college, I worked hard to save money so I could revisit my favorite childhood memory, only this time as an adult with my friends and most importantly: no parents. It helped that I already had a free place to stay and speak fluent French, after growing up speaking it at home. My best friend and I booked our tickets in early April and found ourselves on our way to our dream destination less than a day after finals wrapped up in May.
Thirty-six hours later, we arrived. Though baggy eyed and jet lagged, we felt ready for the adventure of a lifetime. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
Apparently a lot. Not even 10 minutes after we landed, I realized I forgot my green card at home, which granted me permission into the United States. Without my green card, I wasn’t allowed back into the country. I suppose amidst my frenzy to pack every color bikini imaginable, I forgot the most important document in my possession besides a passport. At that moment, I began to realize I might not be as great of a planner as I originally believed.
The rest of the trip followed a similar pattern of misfortune. As we walked that evening to purchase much-needed groceries, we noticed that Menton becomes an absolute ghost town and all the stores, including the grocery store, close by 7 p.m. It turns out we came during dead season and the only people in town consisted of retirees in their mid-60s. None of the bars stayed open past 8 p.m. and the town basically cleared out by that time anyway. This left us with nothing to do but stay in our tiny apartment with no Wi-Fi, no TV and at that point, no food.
The next day we rushed to the grocery store. We loaded up our carts with chocolate éclairs, cheeses and baguettes and proudly marched to the checkout counter. And then? Credit card declined, mine and hers. Apparently in France, card readers only accept cards with chips in them, which ours obviously lacked. We paid in cash and ran to the nearest ATM to retrieve more. Unfortunately, my friend got a travel card specifically for this trip, and the pin number refused to work so she found herself unable to withdraw cash.
We then spent the next few hours on the phone with the bank, and since we still didn’t have Wi-Fi, a landline that worked or an international phone plan, about half our savings were probably spent on these phone calls. Yet another lesson about planning learned the hard way.
We needed a drink. The nearest big cities were 30 to 45 minutes away and a taxi ride there and back cost about $60 each way. Evidently, France hasn’t heard of Uber yet. During the day, we could take the train, but every time we wanted to go somewhere, the train company was on strike. On top of that, the ticket machine couldn’t read our cards and it didn’t take cash. However, it did accept coins. That meant awkwardly exchanging a 10euro bill at some restaurant for what seemed like 50 coins each time we wanted to ride the train.
We coughed up the cash for the taxi fare and headed over to Monaco, where seemingly everyone drives a Lamborghini and owns around 20 designer purses. That night, we got turned away from a bar for being American, but did manage to get into one of their biggest and most luxurious clubs, Jimmy’z. The place was empty on a Thursday night (most likely why the bouncer let us get past him). We returned the next night, only to find the club packed with gorgeous six-foot models in floor-length gowns, wealthy political executives and famous race car drivers, basically all of Monaco’s finest. Meanwhile, I’m hanging out in my Forever 21 crop top and feeling pretty out of place. We never returned.
Overall I refuse to think about how much money I wasted on unexpected expenses. In my attempts to temporarily set up Wi-Fi at our place, I inadvertently spent $50 on the wrong plan, purchasing a phone plan instead of one for the internet. Another $50 went out the window when I had someone overnight FedEx my green card to me so I could cross the border legally.
I never realized how much work actually goes into a great vacation—it always seemed so easy when my parents took care of everything. Don’t get me wrong, France is beautiful and we made the most of our time there. But next time I visit, I hope to have learned from my mistakes. Most of all, I hope I remember to pack my green card.