SOLO /feat. Prague
photography & words by @iamgadriana
“People often say they have not yet found themselves. But the self is not something you find, but something you create.” – Thomas Szasz
It’s also said that traveling is the only thing in life you can buy to make you a truly richer person. But have you ever given yourself the opportunity to travel alone?
This idea may seem superficial if you live in a city where safety is something you take for granted, however, in most of the American continent (especially in my native country Mexico, of which I can speak from my own experience), the simple thought of a woman traveling alone is an absolute negative due to the lack of safety. However, much of Europe is safe enough for you to embark on a journey with yourself, your thoughts and no one else.
Since I was little girl, I longed to become one of those women I saw at the airports with a small suitcase; independent, courageous or important enough to travel on their own. Without knowing their academic or professional training, I always wanted to build a future that would allow me to have that kind of life, without having to explain it to anyone and to overcome the fear that people could mistake my independence for solitude.
Last year, and while doing a monotonous daily chore, I realized that never in my life I had made a trip from start to finish on my own (that wasn’t for work or where I didn’t share time with someone at my destination), as well I had never traveled solo to a place where signalizations weren’t in a language I understood. You may think I was exaggerating, but that idea coupled with the fact that I’ll be turning thirty this year, made me jump out of my seat as if I were sitting on deadly weed which I had harvested myself. “Thirty years without a trip of her own.” I created in my mind my own shameful headline for the second chapter of my life. The next morning and without hesitation, I bought a flight to a destination I had always wanted to visit: Prague. I wanted to prove myself that I could be alone and, at the same time, have the emotional intelligence to not feel alone.
“After asking for the first “table for one” I got rid of all the possible embarrassment that could have crept into my luggage.”
Being my first time traveling alone with no other purpose than to challenge the hours I was going to be talking to myself, I planned a short 3-day trip and an unambitious itinerary. Although I wanted to visit the most representative landmarks in the city, I also wanted to take the time to stroll, get lost in the streets and see what happened when going into a bar for a glass of wine by myself without waiting for someone else.
One of the things I enjoyed the most was finding my own thoughts. Sitting on a terrace and watching people go by without the pressure of being at an hour in a specific place, gave me the physical and mental space to reflect on things I had never thought of before. I repeated locations on my own whim and decided I wasn’t going to visit certain places because they weren’t in my interests, no matter how much of a “must visit” the travel guide indicated it was. I made the trip the way I wanted because I only had to make myself happy.
And, personally, the most positive part of the whole experience was giving priority to what I considered essential and I didn’t have to comply with the whims of a second person. If for me a glass of wine at breakfast was a priority, I did it. Period. Because after asking for the first “table for one” I got rid of all the possible embarrassment that could have crept into my luggage. If I wanted to take a break, I could do it as short or as long as I wanted. If I wanted to walk an hour to get to a hipster cafe a friend recommended and order a matcha with hazelnut milk and two packets of stevia, no one would laugh at me.
On the negative side, the hardest part of the trip was arriving at the hotel every night and realizing that I had no one to whom I could share everything I had seen, even harder than trying to understand the Czech and Russian signs on the metro (which, by the way, is super cheap). So, the second night, I decided to make a call with my boyfriend on the phone while applying my skin care routine. It wasn’t about filling the empty space in my dark room, but about speaking for the first time in the whole day using my mother tongue and with phrases that weren’t “thank you”, “please” or “table for one”. It seems ironic, but when you travel you also learn to value your everyday life details, even the most insignificant ones.
Although I met a person the first night with whom I talked about politics, books and tourist traps for hours (if you go to Prague, please change your money at the airport, never in the city), I spent most of my time immersed in my thoughts, from the most transcendental to the most insignificant and dumb ones, and there were many times when I found myself laughing alone. A book that I know by heart, my boyfriend’s jacket, my camera which has accompanied me for years to different destinations and my most comfortable shoes were the few things that gave me the familiarity I needed in order to stay sane; they were a connection to myself and some of the initiators of casual conversations with locals.
I traveled with a notebook as if it were a traveling companion. Not because I needed to cover the loneliness that awaited me during the next few days, but because of the mere reality that I always forget the things I want to write and that, ironically, get lost when I need them the most. How many ideas have remained in my mental limbo for not taking with me one of these 2 euros notebooks. Lots of ideas that, of course, I always look forward to share with you.
“Traveling alone is one of the most rewarding selfish decisions you can make to enrich yourself both mentally and spiritually.”
Finding yourself isn’t about seeing you reflected in the elevator’s mirror or looking at your inverted image on a spoon when you’re about to embark on your first solo brunch, but the inevitable reality that you depend on yourself when you’re lost, when you take bad decisions that only you’re responsible for (i.e, taking the wrong line of the subway, turning on a similar but incorrect street, taking the wrong line of the bus again or ordering a dish in a restaurant with a description you didn’t understand well). Your true self will come to light in the happiest and most difficult situations, and you’ll not have any audience judging your emotions except for your own (or what you show in your instastories, if you decide to do them during the trip). Not only you’ll grow as a person, but you’ll build an inner self that you feel proud of in good and bad times.
Traveling alone is one of the most rewarding selfish decisions you can make to enrich yourself both mentally and spiritually, as cheesy as it might sound. You don’t need much: a new destination, some savings (keep in mind you can make the trip as expensive or as cheap as you want), a suitcase filled with your connection goodies and a small leap into adventure.
Be prepared for pre and post-travel questions, as many people will be surprised that you’ve decided to travel on your own. In my very, very short experience, the quickest and simplest answers to give are: “because I feel like it”, “because I have some leftover money” and “why not?”. Of course, if you want to tell them the complete story of how you like to travel to
find create yourself, you can always do it (or give them the direct link to this article, which is what I’d recommend).