By Travel with Kate, on April 16, 2015

How Paris changed everything

I don’t believe travel is an isolated event or an indulgent use of time or money. Journeys abroad create new and unexpected avenues like nothing else can. Here is the story of how one night in Paris led me to find my passions, my career path, and the love of my life.

Ten years ago, during my senior year of college, I studied abroad in the City of Light, living with a local family while I went to school. Toward the beginning of my semester, the eldest daughter in the family, Mathilde, invited me to dinner. When we got to the restaurant in the 9th Arrondissement, I was surprised by the décor. It wasn’t Parisian. It was Mexican. Reams of colored paper hung from the ceiling, highlighter-pink margaritas adorned the tables, and Mariachi music rang from the speakers.

Mathilde and I joined a long, picnic-style table where 13 of her friends already were seated. Mathilde announced to the group, “This is my new American, Kate.”  Then she introduced each friend, shouting over the music: Marie-Celine, Caroline, Felicie, Clemence, and on the list went.

I smiled and waved, as that was all I could think to do. And I swiftly ordered my own highlighter-pink margarita to help my French.

That’s when something caught my attention.

The music had stopped and lights came on, illuminating a dance floor. A group was gathering to take a salsa-dancing class. Struck by the wild idea of learning to dance salsa in Paris, I asked Mathilde if she wanted to join the class with me. She replied that if I wanted to learn salsa in Paris, I should talk to Sam. Then she pointed down the table to a young guy with a shaved head, dark eyes, and a big smile.

The author, at 22, strolling the Champs-Elysees

The very next night I found myself dancing with Sam at La Coupole, a famous nightclub in the 14th Arrondissement. There, I learned the basic step: one-two-three, five-six-seven. (Actually, it was the un-deux-trois, cinq-six-sept from the teachers on stage.) The experience was exhilarating but I realized quickly that learning salsa was going to take more commitment than I had expected. Even though that night was the last night I danced for a long time, a seed had been planted.

Six months later, I was back in my hometown of Los Angeles, working a desk job at a TV production company in Hollywood. Despite having gone to film school (I was anticipating a career as a TV and film producer), the job felt more like an anchor than a springboard. I yearned to be out there in the world, longed for first-hand experiences with different cultures and ways of life. I started reminiscing about that night dancing with Sam, who went on to become one of my dearest friends in Paris. And then I thought, “Why don’t I try salsa dancing here in Los Angeles?”

By the weekend, I’d signed up for classes. And within a few months I was dancing in salsa clubs all over the city, four nights a week. Salsa was no longer just a hobby; it had become an obsession. I loved it for the fun of dancing, and because of the warm and amusing people I was meeting each night. I realized that few individuals in my life knew anything about the Los Angeles salsa community or the worldwide salsa movement I had discovered. To get the word out, I decided to make a short documentary about my experience.

Back in Paris at 26, shooting my travel videos.

I already was an independent film producer at the time, but never had made a documentary before. Also, this was going to be my first time in front of the camera. In the process of making the film, something clicked. I loved the experience of serving as an on-camera interpreter into new worlds for my audience. I couldn’t get enough.

I ended up selling the film to Current TV. This led me to get my masters in broadcast journalism, work as a video producer for AOL and the Huffington Post, and go back to Paris to shoot a travel series. Ultimately, that series became the first episodes of my Youtube series, Travel with Kate, a show that follows me around the world connecting with locals.

Today I am an on-camera filmmaker, host, and blogger specializing in inspirational travel entertainment. If it wasn’t for that semester abroad in Paris, that invitation from Mathilde, that Mexican restaurant and, of course, Sam, I would not be engaging in a career so perfectly aligned with my passions and my strengths. Paris made me who and what I am today.

Now I bet you are wondering about the part where I found the love of my life. Well, more than two years ago, I went to London to make “Travel with Kate” videos and got to spend time with my old friend, Sam. While we were there together, something suddenly clicked for us, and we’ve been together ever since. We plan to be together for a very, very long time. It turns out that Paris changed everything.