How To Avoid The Bizarre 'Paris Syndrome' On Your Vacation To The City

For many, a trip to Paris is at the top of their bucket list — but not every visit is a dream come true. Most people who travel have probably experienced one or two symptoms of culture shock, like feeling homesick or anxious. "Paris Syndrome" is considered an extreme version of that, as travelers are devastated that the trip they had invested so much in (monetarily and emotionally) turns out to be less than what they'd hoped — from dirty streets to anticipated sweet treats turning out to be tourist traps — but there can be more serious symptoms, too, from nausea to even hallucinations. Even with preparations, the best way to stay safe is to take care of your mental health, before, during, and after your trip.

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Japanese psychiatrist and professor Hiroaki Ota made note of these symptoms around 40 years ago, and at one time, around a dozen tourists, primarily but not exclusively Japanese, were thought to suffer from "Paris Syndrome" annually. There is even a rumor that the Japanese embassy in Paris has a 24/7 hotline set up to help those experiencing symptoms like those described by sufferers of Paris Syndrome, although there's no information about how one would access such a hotline, and the embassy itself has denied that they have one. Whether or not you believe several tourists needing treatment a year while in Paris merits its own syndrome, this bizarre phenomenon is the perfect reminder to take care of yourself and stay safe while traveling.

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Paris can feel isolating

"Paris was pretty sad... families sleeping in the streets, depants [sic] man face down in the subway, harassment at every tourist destination," one user shared in a thread about expectations on Reddit's r/travel. Between being an expensive destination, having one of the most stressful airports in Europe — and not always living up to the romantic ideal — there are definitely reasons for someone to be disappointed in Paris, but the reported symptoms associated with the syndrome are more serious than that. While the usual explanation for why tourists react badly to Paris is that they expected a cleaner, more friendly city than the reality of the French capital, the reality may not be so frivolous as some disappointment. One explanation is that the city can feel extremely isolating to outsiders.

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"People make you feel bad for not knowing their culture or speaking their language," TikToker RealPhDFoodie said in a tearful video, explaining that the city can be isolating if you are traveling alone, especially for those who don't speak French. It's also worth noting that the majority of tourists reported to experience Paris Syndrome are Japanese, and some Japanese tourists have complained about facing discrimination and bigotry while in Paris, which would certainly make the feeling of being an unwelcome outsider far more severe.

Experiencing a mental health crisis while traveling is common

As bizarre as it seems to have people suddenly come down with serious mental health conditions in Paris, this phenomenon is not as unique as it might seem. According to the World Health Organization, travelers separated from their families and familiar environments while abroad are at higher risk for mental health issues. In fact, they are among the most common issues travelers have to seek medical care or even be evacuated for. Being disoriented from changing time zones and differences in culture can make things worse.

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Taking care of your mental health, especially if you know that you have an existing mental disorder, can protect you from Paris Syndrome and similar travel-related mental health crises. Talk to your medical team before you leave, do everything you can to reduce stress on your trip, and make sure you can bring your medications with you on your international trip, because some common medicines aren't allowed in other countries. While you may be able to overcome regular feelings of disappointment when a trip doesn't go as planned, a genuine mental health emergency like sufferers of Paris Syndrome experience may require the assistance of a professional to prevent it. 

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