Chalk it up to inexperience or youthful stupidity, but last summer's trip to the Czech Republic was three weeks of slapstick (in hindsight) traveling. What do I mean by that? Well, it ranged from almost missing connecting flights to missing trains to being delayed. In short, it was a memorable inaugural solo trip for me, albeit exasperating on at times. I know this post is going to have people laughing at my ineptitude, but believe when I say it's taught me what to do/what not to do. Let me be a lesson to everybody embarking on their first solo trips and avoid doing what I did!
To begin, I was supposed to get to Prague Saturday morning after flying overnight, but due to being inept and/or not paying attention to the dates, I realized my flight arrived Friday evening. Lesson #1 was learned: check, double check, and triple check when your plane leaves; it still boggles my mind that both my mom and I failed to catch that big error. The second moment where things started to unravel is when I (thankfully) was trying to check in my luggage and realized that my flight (Washington National to New York JFK) was set to depart in a mere three hours. Whoops. However, I attribute my parent's decision many years ago to set roots 20 minutes away from the airport as a very, very smart one-I got there with plenty of time to spare. The downside was that I apparently didn't get an email letting me know my flight to JFK was cancelled. Yeah, this trip was getting off to a fabulous start. Thankfully I was able to be rerouted, taking a slightly longer route by flying to La Guardia and then having to take a taxi to JFK. Only, my flight would land at about 6:30 and the cutoff time for international check in (for me) was at 7. Let me also add that this was in New York City on a Thursday night, aka rush hour. To make a long story short, I missed my check in by a mere five minutes-cue internal screaming and panicking. After talking to some attendants, my travel plans got changed even more. Instead of flying directly to Prague, I would fly overnight to Amsterdam's Schipol Airport, have a five hour layover, then land in Prague in the evening. After what happened the whole day, I was just happy to be on a plane. At this stage of my journey, I mercifully landed at Vaclav Havel Airport, got a cab, and crashed in my hotel bed.
After my excellent two-week program in Prague ended, it was time to go around to the rest of the country: Plzen, Brno, and Olomouc, in that order. Making it to the train station was the easy part, but that's when bad luck struck yet again. Fun fact: apparently Czech train stations will sell you tickets and not warn you that the train is about to leave. As I walked up to the platform, I was greeted by the sight of my train leaving literally as I got there. Oh boy. I did manage to find another train going to Plzen, but it stopped about halfway there for another city. While the station worker I talked to assured me that yes, this second train was indeed headed to Plzen, I was feeling very nervous about my prospects of making there on time, let alone being stranded in the Bohemian countryside. By the way, did I mention that when I was booking my hostel in Plzen back home in the US, I somehow forgot to book it starting the day I arrived? A recurring theme was I unintentionally did my best to get myself stranded, yet Lady Luck took pity on me. I was able to book a solo room in the hotel 50 feet from my hostel (the hostel was part of a steak restaurant, hostel, and hotel run by the same people), which was a welcome respite. At this point of my travels, I regained my dignity and managed not to get lost or nearly abandoned.
Going from Brno to Olomouc involved being bussed roughly half an hour to a little train station in the countryside, then taking the train for another 20 minutes to Olomouc. However, being the genius that I am, I thought the ticket was for the bus ride all the way to Olomouc. In hindsight, I guess I was just a wee bit too eager to get to the city and misinterpreted what was going on; I'm kicking myself for panicking. As a result, I took a bus three stops down towards the outskirts of town before realizing that no, I'm an idiot and need to walk back to the train station. Swallowing my pride, I got off and trudged back in the rain and waited for the bus. From there, everything went swimmingly and no further incidents occurred.
The next little incident wasn't as big as the previous three, but it was embarrassing. The last morning I was in the Czech Republic, I was in the Moravian city of Olomouc, and I had to travel back to Prague to fly back home. To ensure that I could actually get back safe and sound, I work up at 4:30 to get to the train station. However, from my hostel, I needed to take a tram to get to said station. The previous night, I asked one of the hostel workers how to get there, and he provided me with the tram stop. Simple enough, right? I thought I was set. However, the morning of, either the direction was wrong or I took the wrong tram, but I ended up going in the opposite direction of the station. (As a side note, when you're starting to panic, your ability to observe just how many people are up at 5 AM increases tenfold.) Sucking up my dignity, I mimed anxiety to the best of my abilities and showed the tram driver the piece of paper indicating I wanted to get to the train station. He nodded his head and dutifully took the scared looking American tourist all the way there. To conclude this part of the trip, I did get to the station in time and yes, I made my flight.
Appropriately enough, the trip concluded with yet another bump in the road: a weather-related delay, this time in New York. The moment I landed back on American soil, it started to rain, which was ominous. My flight arrived around 5:30 PM and it was supposed to leave just before 9 PM. Easy enough, I could deal with a few hour's worth of layover. However, Mother Nature decided that I hadn't suffered enough with delays and cancellations, so it started to rain harder, resulting in my flight getting pushed back later and later. Eventually, as planes started to arrive and leave, despair sunk in for me and my fellow travelers. One agent told us that if no planes arrived, our flight would leave bright and early in the morning but we would be put up in an adjacent hotel. Finally, a beautiful plane arrived, marking the end of my journey. I arrived home half past midnight, but despite the delays, I was grateful to be home.
What can I conclude from all of this? I know it was frustrating yet it was a great lesson. Over the course of the last week of my Czech trip, I realized that no matter what, there was no need to panic. Yes, it would be great if I could avoid these incidents, but travel is about the unpredicted moments. I ultimately got to see more of the country than originally planned, and I feel all the richer for doing so. This also was the moment that told me I was capable of traveling by myself, despite the evidence in this very post. In short, it was the best vacation I've had.