What I learned by Traveling for the First Time Alone Pt. 1

I did not leave the confines of the Czech Republic very often growing up. In 9th grade, I went to Spain with my mom to gorge on awesome food and get a sunburn. 24 hours in a bus was not fun, but we did it again the next year anyway. We did not explore, we went to the same beach, and ate at the same hotel. I don’t want to talk about that sort of traveling.

In the freshman year of high school, my class went to England. My classmates and I had fun cursing in Czech with no one around understanding what we were saying and doing other foolish things. We spent most of our time on a bus, going from one place to another and at the end of the day we were glad to go to bed, listening to dim reggae music from the Jamaican grandpa bellow the attic where we stayed. I don’t want to talk about that sort of traveling either.

It was not until I flew off to Mexico after high school, like everyone from the center of Europe does, that I really understood what traveling and living in a different country for a few months could teach me. Here are some of my early lessons.

Lesson #1 — Talking to an experienced traveler helps with stress.

An old German lady spoke to me about how the future is not that bad and helped me find my luggage. That exchange left me feeling warm and full of faith in humanity.

Lesson #2 — Having a real conversation is what a language is for.

It’s 2AM, I’ve been waiting in Germany, at the Düsseldorf airport for 14 hours. I’m siting next to a guy who is also waiting for a flight. I feel an urge to talk to someone to keep myself awake and so I ask tentatively:

”Hello, do you speak English?”

The answer was no. Damn, I thought to myself, now I have to speak German if I want to talk. I made my decision and brushed the dust off of my German. What ensued was a two hour discussion, often interrupted by pauses during which one or the other was trying to grasp the meaning of the sentences just said. I felt alive. I thought to myself, now I understand why I put the effort into learning the language — to chat at 2AM at an airport.

Around 8AM that day I spoke to a Mexican guy and had a wonderful conversation in English this time. Turns out people don’t mind talking to you if they’re waiting for a plane.

Lesson 3 — Have a map.

I arrived in Mexico, hopped on a bus, and I wondered what I’m doing with my life so far from home, at 9PM I reached my destination — Mérida, the capital of Yucatán. I did not have Internet access, nor a map of the city, nor have the city saved in the Google Maps app as an Offline Area. I was lost. I asked a policeman in broken Spanish and knew at least the direction I was supposed to go. I was nervous, walking through Mérida, with my suitcase. Fortunately, the street numbers followed a straight-forward system and clutching the address of the hostel in my hand, I found it.

Lesson 4 — There are different ways of living.

As I settled, all the things that were new at first became normal. This is where I have breakfast, this is where I cook, this is where I teach,… As I looked around, I realized that other people had their own routines. They were different from mine, but they all worked. I realized that how I lived back home in the Czech Republic was also only one possible way of living. And what I also saw was that no matter the country, people still found time to make stupid jokes, and laugh at them. Living for 10 weeks in a totally different culture made me understand that though the surroundings may change, people are in a way still the same.

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