By Abigail Fowler
Special to The Arkadelphian
The life of a freelancer is one of a person who doesn’t “work for themselves” but has a plethora of bosses with varying needs and deadlines known as “clients.” Since my director position in the luxury floral sector took a dive as all events in Manhattan were cancelled during the pandemic, my life dramatically took a shift from the NYC world of a “shark” (as I was called) to the freelancing world back in Arkansas. One plus side to the change is that I can work from anywhere.
Thus a 5-week trip to Paris was formed while on a phone call in February 2021 with an old NYC roommate who was kind enough to invite me to stay with her and her family in Saint Jean de Luz and Paris while freelancing. It was hard to say no, so I didn’t.
When the time came in August to fly out, the trip insurance I bought was well needed. Checking in at the airport, I discovered a rule about passports in France. There is a pre-expiration cutoff. Every passport of a person traveling into France must be within 6 months from expiring. Mine was 5 months and 3 weeks from expiring so I wasn’t allowed on the plane.
This resulted in going back home, calling the government passport office to schedule an expedited passport, flying to New Orleans’ office 2 days later to be approved for a new one, flying back to Little Rock so that I could reboard a new flight 24 hours later. By the end of that week, I had one very stressed-out-looking passport photo and a trip shortened from 5 weeks to 4 weeks in one of my favorite countries. All the while working as many hours as I could to get ahead on client deadlines before I took a much-needed break for 3 days once I arrived.
Knowing my way intimately around Europe, I bought a train ticket as soon as I landed to head to a little town called Saint Jean de Luz for a one-week beach stay. Train travel in Europe will always be my favorite (except night trains over the Swiss Alps- those are awful even in a sleeper car). Logging onto the free Wi-Fi, the 4 hour trek passed quickly with a lot of projects completed by the time we arrived at my station.
As you would expect, small towns in Europe have limited public transport. They are infinitely better than the US about it, but aspects such as their bus systems are designed in those small towns for French use only. It isn’t very common that an American will need full directions in English. My friend wasn’t able to meet me at the train station, but thankfully a friend of hers was there and kindly aided in my utter confusion on what app to download and credit card payments were needed to buy a bus ticket.
Arriving at the gorgeous beach house, the days of that week were spent exploring, surfing, cooking amazing food, and catching up on all the gossip as two girls do at a sleepover. The nights, however, were spent with only a bit of sleep and staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning to complete client work before 10 PM EST so that updates would be waiting for the businesses the second they logged into their email at the office the next day. There always has to be a compromise.
When the first week ended, my friend and I split up: she went on holiday with her mom and I met her sibling back in Paris to stay at the family apartment in the 16th arrondissement (their word for neighborhood).
Having focused that first week on relaxing more than working, the remaining 3 weeks had to be in reverse order. My friend had suggested getting a WeWork membership. My first week in Paris, I was a little hesitant to spend the money. “Why would I waste my savings on an office building when I can work in cafes?!” I kept thinking to myself. Instead, I got a membership to my favorite museum (free entry all the time, initial fee of an annual membership is usually the price of 1 day pass) and spent the mornings at the d’Orsay and the afternoons bouncing between cafés and the apartment to work.
It was an ideal situation because an afternoon in France equals the early morning office hours in America. What wasn’t ideal, though, was the obvious mix of personal time and work time. It’s easy to work from home when you’re working from your own home in Arkansas; where a two bedroom newly-built apartment is cheaper than your single-room rent price in a 3 bedroom loft in Queens so you can convert the second bedroom to an office and close the door… however working from home in a mix of someone else’s apartment and cafés gets tiring and can leave you feeling more like you accommodated for others more than you focused on productivity. So I caved and got a WeWork Paris pass.
I should have listened to my friend earlier and caved sooner. There are nearly a dozen WeWork offices throughout the city. If you get a monthly pass, you simply need to pick one as your “hub” so that any business mail you receive can go there. Then you can bounce around the other gorgeous office spaces in historic parts of the city as you sign up for “day slots” in the other offices. Having so many options throughout the city gave me the rare opportunity to explore new neighborhoods in the mornings, work in the office based in that neighborhood for the afternoons/evenings, then spend my nights on dates and hanging with friends, exploring Paris.
Having the wonderful opportunity to be a local in a foreign city for a few weeks is an experience I will always jump at the chance to do. It truly is a different view. Spending 4 years in NYC, for example, I would take the 15-minute subway ride to Central Park around 6 or 7 AM to have a coffee at the boat pond while watching all the Upper East Siders walk their pure-bred dogs (or have a dog walker do so) before the tourists flooded the paths of the park. It was nice, tranquil, and I always got a good book in. The Eiffel Tower at 7 AM, on the other hand, was spritzed with influencers in gorgeous designer dresses trying to get the perfect shot and funniest video before traffic became too bad to walk in the streets and before onlookers were out to muse at their “influencer in the wild” actions. Towards the evening hours, as I walked home from the office, those same influencers could be spotted yet again in the 8th and 1st arrondissements taking their “Eiffel tower from a distance” shots taken by their boyfriends or friends who were also dressed lavishly as they swapped spots for their “grams.”
Paris was more alive than I had ever seen the city due to the post-vaccine social life. I made sure to use my office time wisely so I could keep a work-hard, play-hard mentality. Workdays were long and the jet lag hit by week 2. The nights were worth all those long days. Getting ice cream with a guy who worked in the stock market and picked me up on his motorcycle to spin around the Eiffel Tower as it lit up for the evening; going clubbing near the Moulin Rouge and discovering Parisian’s love of all things 1970’s; watching Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point” in an indie movie theater after having beers with an acquaintance-turned-friend-turned-“bro” in a short amount of time were just a few of the many highlights of my last years in my twenties. I word it as such because the trip ended with my 28th birthday. Two of my absolute best friends from Germany and Ireland came out for a day trip in Paris that started with breakfast at the Eiffel Tower and ended with a touristy dinner across the street from Saint Chapelle where the champagne and giggles were endless.
Boarding the flight home, sleepy eyed from the birthday celebrations the day before, I was only 3 days behind my normal work schedule and had an infinite number of memories that made it all worth it. Biggest bonus? Freelancing in Paris meant I had a constant stream of income instead of operating at a loss.