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Paris with a teen who wants to explore on his own

Hi all,

Next week I will be going to Paris for a conference (just a few days and we'll be there longer than that). I'm bringing my younger son along because it's his spring break. He is 17. I've been to Paris 4 or 5 times - still my favorite city in Europe! - but this is his first time in Europe. He's pretty independent minded, and told me he's really looking forward to exploring the city on his own while I'm in my conference for one of those days (the second day is just a half day). He's got a cell phone, we've got TMobile so we can use the mobile connection, but I guess I'm a little nervous about him exploring on his own (I can get over it.)

My questions are on where to suggest he go, and what to suggest he stay away from/watch out for. He enjoys the city experience like me (and unlike my husband and older son), and likes music, food, shopping, and the occasional educational experience. ;) (We are going to Normandy at the end of the week, so we'll be in museums and having the big educational experience then.) I will of course update him on the hazards of pickpocketers, scammers, and tell him to hide his phone away or hold it very securely.

My conference is at the UNESCO building. I thought he'd probably like to walk down by the Eiffel Tower, or over to the Ile-de-la cite and wander around by Notre Dame. He could also walk down the sidewalks of the Champs Elysee and see all the shops. But are there any specific destinations you'd give your favorite 17 year old to see? Or am I crazy to let him do this on his own? Obviously he'd just be on his own in the morning and afternoon. And likely only for one day.

Thanks for any suggestions!

Posted by
341 posts

And obviously now I'm seeing the news about the strikes and protests...so will have to keep an eye on that and adjust plans accordingly....

Posted by
15037 posts

He'll be fine. The worst thing that can happen is getting pickpocketed or lost. I'd suggest he start with a 2-hour morning guided tour with Paris Walks, and then just go from there. The guide will be able to suggest interesting places to explore at the end of the tour, depending on where it ends.

The Champs Elysees is boring. He'll see the Eiffel Tower all the time. I'd head for a couple of the oldest neighborhoods in the center, Les Marais and/or the Latin Quarter.

Posted by
2466 posts

I'd let him go to the 6th arrondissement, the 3rd and 4th arrondissement and take it from there.
I'd make him "pickpocket-proof", too - especially his phone.

Posted by
6876 posts

I say let the kiddo do his own thing and let him select his own path instead of constructing one for him....he's old enough to figure it out (this is less than one day, I think you're worried too much). He'll thank you for it later, and it will turn out to be a great trip for him to build his confidence and establish his independence. He's clearly signaling that he's ready to take this step.

Posted by
6720 posts

I'm with Agnes. Let him do his own research. Make sure he is pickpocket proof; he should put the hotel card in his hip pocket so if he does get lost he won't have any trouble getting back. Then let him plan beforehand and do his own thing.

Posted by
3699 posts

Yes: Why isn't he writing in to comment on the itinerary suggested above? His best experience is already at hand -- cutting the apron strings. Doing advance planning himself is essential for travelling. Mom can enjoy hearing about it at the end of his day.

Posted by
3485 posts

I was about twelve , when on numerous trips into Manhattan , my father , who was in on business , would turn me loose for the day with " Meet me at five , and watch out for traffic " Independence is the best thing in the world , The only suggestion I would make is to arm him with two things - a city map , and just as importantly , a pocket compass . After all , while looking at the map , how else would one determine in which direction are you facing ? My current compass is one I picked up at Les Invalides eight years ago .

Posted by
43 posts

Last year, when we were in Paris my son was 16 and it was his first time there. He was invited by the daughter of our B&B host to hang with her and her friends a couple of nights. One night, he was tired after a long day and had plans with her, but a required dinner with us and some friends first. So he went back to B&B on his own (it was a ways, it's in the 16th) on the metro. Rested, changed, found his way to the resto in the 6th, then found his way to wherever he met the kids and they went off to hang by the Seine, and found his way back to the B&B for the night, then met us the next day (at NOON, typical teen) at the Jardin du Luxembourg. On his way to the restaurant there was a problem on the metro and it was stopped for ages. He figured it out. Got out, hailed a cab, whatever.

My point is, independence is a great thing and I can't think of a better place than Paris. He'll be fine and he'll do great and he'll never forget it. At his age, I too was allowed to head into Manhattan alone for the day and I felt very independent and grown up and I've not forgotten that feeling to this day.

Have fun!

And yes, he should he aware of pickpockets and of his surroundings in general. But that is true anywhere.

Posted by
43 posts

I should tell you, that I am an overprotective mother hen from HELL. And I still felt perfectly comfortable letting my son loose alone in Paris. Go figure!

Posted by
776 posts

My kids, growing up in a city, were very used to the " Meet me at five , and watch out for traffic" approach when we traveled. And this was before the day of cell phones. Nothing bad ever happened but I don't know that I heard everything. Paris has a youth culture that he should search out. A place to start is the art squat on Rue de Rivoli. If he's into film perhaps an interesting movie for him to watch is Paris Je t'aime with little snatches by an assortment of directors. Then there's the big topic of Paris street art which he can research on his own.

https://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/paris/articles/59-rivoli-the-art-squat-of-paris/
https://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/paris/articles/59-rivoli-the-art-squat-of-paris/

Posted by
129 posts

I've had two sons go through this experience and he will have a wonderful day.
Make sure he has a good map.

My suggestion would be to start at metro St. Michel. He can walk the streets there, head down around the Sorbonne, Luxembourg Gardens, St. Suplice, etc.
There are lots of cheap eating places, souvenir shops and young people around Rue de la Huchette and the other little streets around there. There's always music by the fountain in Place Saint-Michel.

Then he can browse the book shops in the area and the stalls along the Seine. He can see Shakespeare and Company. (He could read A Moveable Feast before you go.)

Notre Dame and the islands are right there.
After those areas, he can cross the Pont Neuf and walk over to the grounds of the Louvre. He could even take the Seine cruise from the Pont Neuf.
He can pass through the Tuileries, see the Place du Concorde and head up the Champs Elysees.
There is now a 5 Guys on the Champs Elysees. He might want a snack and to be able to tell his friends he ate there!

Whatever he chooses to do, I would suggest he write out a plan. This doesn't have to be a strict itinerary, but it would be helpful so he could maximize his time. I would give him a budget for food/snacks and then he can hunt for places that meet his budget.
Definitely let him know that he is a prime target for the petition girls. He shouldn't stop or respond when they approach.
I hope you have a wonderful trip.

Posted by
1092 posts

I have never been to Paris (yet), but I took my then 16 year old son to New York City under very similar circumstances. I basically agree with other posters, but I do think it is OK for you to give suggestions or give a list of "Yes" areas and "No" areas to visit. I gave my independent son permission to go out on his own against the advice of my Mom and everyone else. I will also say to tell your son that it is OK also if he isn't feeling it to hang out near the hotel. It turned out that my son felt a little overwhelmed once we got there and ended up not straying too far. Once my conference was over and we were together, I still put him in charge of figuring out the subway and deciding where to go. Neither of us will ever forget that wonderful time together.

Posted by
129 posts

Vandrabrud makes an excellent point about putting him in charge.
I always put my sons in charge of maps, metro stops, reviewing the restaurant checks, etc. It's an easy way for them to learn travel skills.

Posted by
8493 posts

At fourteen one of my kids had to fight to get his Walkman back from another teen in the metro, so hiding the phone advise is good.

But really the only thing out of step when out on his own at fourteen was spending his money destined for going up the Arch of La Défense on burgers et MacDonald's. But adolescent boys need lots of food, so I needed to give him more francs that day.

Your son will be fine.

Posted by
1806 posts

No, you are not crazy to let him have solo time. He's 17 years old. If it was my teen, I'd encourage him to develop his own plan for the day based on what interests him, but wouldn't stress too much if he didn't. Sometimes just wandering with no set itinerary one can stumble across something unexpected and fun. But if I really wanted to try to influence some of his choices, I'd point him to something like the Atlas Obscura website: "Hey, you like music - go find Serge Gainsbourg's house with all the graffiti and get some photos, or go search Pere Lachaise for Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf's graves and learn why they were important figures and listen to some of their music on Spotify!", or "I saw a great article online listing all the outdoor and indoor markets in Paris by neighborhood - maybe you'd like to stop at a few of them to eat breakfast or lunch and buy souvenirs" - but ultimately I'd still let him decide.

You received some suggestions made with the absolute best intentions, but I just don't agree with a few: a) I would not be signing up my 17 year old for a guided walk. To me, that's like saying "Hey, I don't trust you'll use your best judgment so I've found a tour guide that will babysit you for a couple hours while I'm at work to put my mind at ease!". Now if he decided on his own he wants to do a guided walk because he feels he'd learn more about what he's seeing, then great. But any savvy kid with a smart phone and a burning interest in a specific topic could create his own self-guided walk. b) if arming a teen with a city map and a compass makes you feel better, at least pass along the advice to use both discretely. Nothing screams "I am from out of town and have absolutely no idea where I am or what I'm doing" more so than standing in the middle of the sidewalk with map open, staring at a compass to try to figure out if you are headed in the right direction. I've seen lots of tourists in my own city doing that with maps - the compass is a new one. Were I a pickpocket or scammer searching for my next target, I might mistake a solo teen glancing at his iPhone as a local, but I'd absolutely zone in on that teen if he's pulled out his map and compass. I usually have a street map from the hotel floating around the bottom of my purse when I travel, but it's only there as back-up to my iPhone. I can use a maps feature on my iPhone to show me exactly where I am and plug in the address of where I'm headed to get both walking or public transit directions - it even shows me which direction I'm facing as I move around right in in the maps app. But if I wanted a separate compass without a map, well there's an app on my phone for that, too.

I'd make sure my teen leaves in the morning with his cell fully charged and arm him with a portable charger to top off his battery at some point without having to find an outlet. I'd give him enough money to get through the day if he was planning something that had an admission cost, plus money for public transit, lunch and drinks/snacks - maybe extra cash if he sees something like a cool tee shirt or hoodie he wants to get as a souvenir.

Posted by
1955 posts

Gosh, not being a parent myself, I can't speak as a fellow parent. But, reflecting back on my life, I was pretty much 60% self-supporting at age 17, then 90% self supporting at age 18 (was on parent's medical plan for 1/2 of that year), and purchased first house when I was 19 years old along with my 21-year old husband (with no financial help from parents).

So with the disclaimer that I don't know your son (everyone is different), I would think he is capable of exploring Paris on his own, making good decisions, and if he makes a bad decision or two (that wind up being not that big of deal), it will all be part of his education and likely make him more confident as he goes about life. We are all just basically the sum total of our genetics, education, and experience in life.

How very lucky is he is be going to Paris (thanks to your generosity) at such a young age.

And, yep, tell him to protect his phone like gold. Make sure he learns a few key French words and the tips for gracious interaction with Parisians.

Safe travels.

Posted by
31 posts

I am going to Paris in June with my 17 year old daughter, her best friend and the friends mom, so I can understand where you are coming from. I put my daughter and her friend in charge of figuring out what they wanted to do, or not do, but I have been doing a lot of the logistics once they decide. They are both seniors (as I suspect your son might be), and between school and college applications and scholarships, they are both busy so it's easier for me to do things like buy tickets for what we need to plan ahead. I think giving him some options would be less overwhelming than just asking him to figure it out on his own. One thought, is there anything he wants to do that you don't have a huge interest in like a particular museum or climbing to the top of Notre Dame? Good luck and have a great trip!

Posted by
341 posts

Thanks everyone! We're used to wandering around NYC (my older son goes to college in Hoboken. NJ), so he's pretty savvy about exploring a big city. It's not that I think he can't do it, in fact, I know he can. Just wanted to make sure I wasn't overlooking something super obvious that would warrant caution that I'm not thinking about. And also, I really appreciate all the suggestions. He'll use his phone as his map - he's 17, and a paper map is a pretty foreign concept. He'll probably be posting Snapchat videos along the way. LOL.

And no worries about me planning it out for him and telling him what to do. I can just give him suggestions as a first timer in Paris, and he'll decide what he wants. :) But everyone's suggestions will at least give him a starting point of what to research and decide from. Thanks again!

Posted by
494 posts

Give him a handful metro tickets, remind him to hang onto the used ones until he is out of the system, have him download the RATP app and go for it.
He might like the area around the Sorbonne. Just sayin'.

Posted by
8493 posts

Read your post again. Suggestions: Centre Pompidou, Marais, the Atlas Obscura places mentioned above (great idea), Latin Quarter, Ile de la Cité and Ile St. Louis (less interesting). Walk across bridges, Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower. Musee de l’homme at Trocadero has an exhibit on the Neanderthals starting next Wednesday. Go up Montmartre via rue Lepic at metro Blanche, not via the stairs down at the bottom. See the vinyard on the north side of Montmartre. And be sure he has plenty of money to eat, unlike the pittance I gave my poor kid.

Posted by
153 posts

A little hint for your son; many Parisian bus stops now have USB ports in them so one can charge one's phone while waiting. Might come in handy if he has his GPS function and maps turned on his phone all the time draining his battery. I might also suggest that he get familiar with the Paris buses. They will keep him above ground actually seeing Paris, rather than underground on the Metro watching everyone else fiddling with their cellphones.

Also, make sure he gets a Navigo Decouverte rather than fiddling with a carnet of tickets. Even if it does not pencil out financially, the convenience and freedom to jump on and off transport on a whim will more than make up for it in spontaneity.

Posted by
45 posts

Have to agree with many of the other posters- let him plan what he'll want to see. Definitely have him put a business card or paper with the hotel's name and address hidden away in a hip pocket (or sock- whatever works- along with a few Euros in case of emergency). He'll need to be aware of pickpocketers trying to separate him from his money- otherwise, he'll do just fine.

Posted by
8889 posts

You've had plenty of replies, so I am just saying the same thing again.
Give him a map of Paris (one of the free ones the hotel has at reception) a métro map (probably on the back of the free map, a supply of métro tickets and tell him to have fun. He will.
Paris is full of gormless tourists not looking where they are going. He won't be out of place.

When I was 18 I worked through the summer and blew the money on a trip to Paris in September. On my own. I just wandered everywhere. Total fun.

Posted by
7205 posts

Having taken multiple groups of teenagers to Paris over the last several years the first thing I'd do would be to sign him up for one of those fun group bike tours that take you through some of the most interesting parts of the city. We've always used Bike About Tours and have been happy with them. After doing that on his own (without parents) and at least getting a bit of the feel of some of the highlights of the city - then it will be easier for him to decide where he wants to go back to and explore more on his own.

Posted by
494 posts

Definitely spring for a Navigo pass. It allows one to go wherever they want without counting metro passes. Bring a photo, 3 x2.5 cm.

Posted by
546 posts

Let him go. He will be fine. Alexander the great conquered the known world at that age.

He is his own man by now. He will be just fine.

He will meet someone, fall hopelessly in love (he is 17 after all) (in Paris) come home late have a whirlwind romance that he remembers all his life. And mope all the way home.

At least I hope so.

Posted by
3485 posts

Aarthurperry's post above pulls at the heartstrings . This story by the great English author , W Somerset Maugham , has long been a favorite of mine , a touching coming of age tale , that will leave " a smile on your face , and a tear in your eye " , please watch this - https://youtu.be/-Jqq6yNYbHA

Posted by
1842 posts

I suggest you get for both him and you the Paris Metro app. It's great because you can type in a destination and it will show you how long it will take and where to transfer to other lines. We used that in addition to a good city map.

We are taking our 18 and 16 year old grandsons to London, Paris and Cannes in June. The 18yo will be researching a Studies Abroad program. It offers a semester in Paris in the Fall or a semester in Cannes in the Spring, with the chance to intern at the film festival. He has already spent 6 weeks in Paris as an exchange student. We plan to turn them loose at least one day in Paris and one day in London to strike out on their own.