When I prepared for my journey back to Prague as the Summer 2019 CEA On-Site Alumni Ambassador, one of the things I thought about most was how much time I would spend alone. I just graduated from a small liberal arts university where I lived with four of my best friends and couldn’t go anywhere on campus without seeing a friendly face. I felt so surrounded by people that I craved alone time and would cherish those (rare) moments when I would have my apartment to myself, even if it was just for a few minutes.
As I was preparing to go abroad again, this time without other students or a pre-established program, I felt equally excited and nervous about all the alone time I would have in the upcoming months.
When I arrived, I was hit with the reality of true independence. Aside from my hours in the CEA office, my days are mine to fill. I am free to do exactly what I want without consulting, coordinating, or checking in with anyone.
Like living in a new place or with new people, living and traveling alone take time and effort to settle into. In my time here, I am working to find a balance between establishing a routine and encouraging myself to explore. I want to enjoy the daily, habitual experiences of being a resident in Prague that include things like taking public transport to work, cooking meals in my apartment, and regularly attending a church on Sundays. At the same time, I want to engage in unique adventures like visiting tourist attractions that I haven’t been to and traveling to new places on the weekends.
Here are some simple tips that have made my solo life and travels abroad more enjoyable:
1. Always bring a book, everywhere you go.
On the metro, in a park, at a café—the list is endless! Having a book always gives you something to do and sometimes helps you feel less alone, because it gives you an activity to focus on. While living or traveling alone, pulling out a book still allows you to enjoy the ambiance of the setting while entertaining yourself. Sometimes, I find myself so wrapped up in my book on the metro that I almost miss my stop! My favorite book I’ve read recently: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.
2. Join a free walking tour.
Most major cities have free walking tours daily. A quick Google search will give you multiple tour companies, how to sign up, and where and when to meet. I love doing these tours on one of my first days in a new place, because it helps me get oriented within the heart of the city, presents the opportunity to meet other travelers, and gives me a little history, too. Then, I can spend more time at the sites, museums, and experiences that sound most interesting to me. The tour guides are also an excellent resource for insider recommendations and local knowledge.
3. Eat a local meal at a sit-down restaurant.
Traveling alone may cause you to shy away from eating at a sit-down restaurant because, let’s face it, it’s awkward to ask for a table for one. But finding a local place gives you the opportunity to try the cuisine, sit among locals, and enjoy an incredible meal. One of my favorite experiences was eating at an authentic restaurant in Munich, Germany. After selecting something off the menu, my waitress corrected me in broken English, “No, you have our schnitzel; we’re famous for it.” That was the best schnitzel (and one of the best meals) I’ve ever had.
4. Ask someone to take a photo of you.
I’ve gotten home from outings or weekend trips alone and realized I don’t have a single photo of me in that place. While the photos of cathedrals, scenery, food, etc. are beautiful, you’re going to want at least one photo with you in it to remember your travels. Work up the courage to ask a stranger to snap your photo. My go-to to ensure a quality photo is always to ask someone who’s carrying a nice camera or a millennial who seems like they take Insta-worthy photos.
5. Leave your apartment/Airbnb/hostel.
Curling up in your apartment with Netflix for hours can be tempting, but push yourself to take advantage of all the city has to offer. Being on-the-go can be exhausting, so find ways to relax and explore at the same time. Take an activity like journaling, writing a letter, reading a book, or eating a meal, and find somewhere out-and-about to do it. One of my favorite things to do after work is to cook dinner and pack it up for an evening picnic in a park during sunset. Hanging out in a café or a museum will make you feel part of the local culture.
Living abroad and traveling alone are wonderful, but can be challenging at first. Lean into the advantages, like making your own schedule and doing exactly what you want, and be intentional about making the most of your experience.
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