I would compare travelling the world alone with skydiving – once you’ve jumped, there’s no turning back. And, it’s both nerve-racking and exhilarating. But, surprisingly, for the most part there are significant differences. Prior to my arrival in Prague to study for the semester, I decided to arrive early to try out solo travel for the first time. I was seeking an experience that would push me and unnerve me, all while providing me with an opportunity to get rid of anxiety, discomfort, and jet lag before the start of the actual program. Sink or swim, I thought.
So Sunday night amidst my NyQuil-induced haze I got on a plane having done minimal research and sped off in the direction of Prague. Unfortunately, the little sleep I got on my pair of red-eye flights meant that I broke every jet lag rule in the book and needed to take a 3 hour nap upon arrival. But I woke up fresh and excited at 5PM ready to take on the, uh, day. This was my solo travel experience:
Awkward Moment 1: Meals
What I really didn’t realize about solo-travel was how awkward it is to ask hosts and hostesses, “Table for 1?” As a traveler, I always try to immerse myself into the local cuisine, however I had a bit of a dilemma. All of the ‘Genuine Czech’ places that had been recommended to me by friends, guides, and internet were sit-down places where I had to entertain myself at said restaurants. This not only led to awkward host/hostess encounters but also, frankly, boring and uninteresting meals. The food was good, great even; however, the meal experience was less than excellent.
Awkward Moment 2: Night Life
Going out alone is scary. Being alone at night in a city that you’re not used to is scary. To make up for all of this, I entertained my late-night self by going to shows, randomly. One show in particular stood out as being, well, horrible, but so horrible that I was hysterically laughing the whole time. The black light show I attended, although pretty poorly produced, made for an incredibly entertaining experience.
Traveling alone was scary and it took some time to set my feet, but once I did, the few days I was alone turned out to be an incredibly rewarding experience.
Rewarding Moment 1: Being Selfish
One of my favorite experiences was sitting at the Café Slavia in Old Town, taking in the experience of being in a Victorian-style café, eating little nibblets of Czech-styled garlic bread and reading 50 pages of Guns, Germs, and Steel. Although, most people wouldn’t enjoy that experience, this brings me to a main point about solo-travel. When you travel alone, you can do exactly what you want to do. You have no one to do activities for and can absolutely make the trip your trip. I quite liked that.
Rewarding Moment 2: Forced Socialization
I, by no means, consider myself an anti-social person. However, as a bit of an introvert I sometimes lose myself in my content for silence. Yet, being alone breaks that contentedness and after a few hours I was simply craving socialization. During my tour of Prague Castle, I got that social opportunity. While the three hour tour of the castle grounds was objectively fun, interesting, and insightful, I also really enjoyed the friends I made on the tour. I relished in the opportunity to rub elbows and to interact with individuals with whom I wouldn’t have had the ability to in the business of the semester. From my southern Californian tour guide to the British couple to the Pakistani neurosurgeon in for just a quick weekend trip, I had interesting conversations with new people and learned new things about the world outside of the material of my tour.
All in all, exploring Prague alone before the start of my semester was an incredibly rewarding and fun experience. It certainly didn’t come without its fair share of uncomfortable moments, however, the overall experience was one I greatly enjoyed and thoroughly valued. To you, the reader, I would encourage you to do the same, even if only for a day.