Going it Solo
As I walk through the terminal in Vienna my mind races. Alone for Spring Break in a foreign country where I cannot make out any part of the signs I see ahead of me. People rush by, sure of their destinations, while I stare at the printed directions to my hostel feeling the nerves of the adventure for the hundredth time. This is my first solo trip; and of course I chose to go to three cities in Eastern Europe where my only knowledge comes from books and web sites. Looking back now I learned, I enjoyed and I thrived. And I picked up a few tips along the way.
As an only child I am blessed with caring, slightly paranoid parents. This is why I was required to create an itinerary listing the names of my hostels, my plans for each day and train and flight information for each in-between trip. In addition I printed out directions from multiple locations to my hostel for my initial arrival and any traveling I planned to do within the cities. The process was tedious and took a fair amount of time, however when I first stepped off the plane in Vienna I found all that work to be my greatest preparation. As I made my way to the metro (I intended to use public transportation for my trip to save money) I picked up a map of the train system. Armed with these bits of paper I navigated my way through the city and straight to my hostel without a single hitch.
Solo Adventure Tip 2: Be Ready to Stray From the Plan
My time spent in Vienna I stayed with my plan perfectly, visiting Schonbrunn Palace, dinner at the Danube Tower, trips to the historic center and museums and even a bit of shopping added in. However when I made it to my second destination of Prague I seemed to disregard any sort of plan. It started with dinner at a local pub where the sound of someone speaking English instantly got my attention. I asked her to join me at my table and found she was a college student from Florida. We instantly hit it off and moved our encounter to multiple bars and clubs for the remainder of the night. No plan I had made could have foreseen meeting such a wonderful new friend, which is why sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
To continue to save money I stayed in dorm-style hostels, all rooming at least 8 other travelers. In Prague my roommates seemed as anxious to see the city and experience the nightlife as I was. My first full day I inadvertently went on four back-to-back tours with one of the roommates; we did not returning to the hostel until 6 a.m. the following morning. I had spent all of Vienna alone and therefore welcomed an exploration buddy for the day. After another tour the next afternoon, this time to Kutna Hora an hour outside of the city, my new friend and I met up with our other roommates and headed out for another night on the town. By the final day in Prague I had made new relationships that made my experience unique and unforgettable.
Solo Adventure Tip 4: Enjoy the Sounds of the City
My trip from Prague to my final stop of Budapest was on an overnight train where I on-off slept for nine hours. When I finally arrived at my destination I considered myself a professional traveler. I checked in to my hostel, packed my travel bag and set out for another day of exploration. I had recently found that I no longer wanted to put in my headphones and listen to the music I had brought from home. I wanted to hear the city, listen to the language and embed myself into this culture that I only had two days to experience. Then I heard the chanting. March 15th is the celebration of Hungary’s Revolution; the streets were filled with colors of the flags, famous buildings had platforms for passionate speakers and every age group was represented around the festival grounds in the city center. As I listened to the singing of the national anthem by scores of Hungarians while walking among them, I felt that I had been a part of something I may never experience again.
When I successfully arrived back in Madrid I was thrown into several conversations where people were wondering what it was like to travel alone. Everyone else I spoke to had gone in pairs and groups; some even felt the thought of eating alone was awkward, never mind going on a solo adventure. My reply to their inquiries was and still is the same: I loved it. I loved waking up whenever I wanted to. I loved going wherever I wanted to. I loved breaking for whatever I wanted to. And the pride I feel in having traveled alone at 20-years-old to Vienna, Prague and Budapest has given me a sense of confidence I could not have gotten anywhere else.