The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This past summer I went out of my comfort zone. I traveled to Prague for a month to study abroad. This was the first time I had ever traveled outside of the United States alone, and I was scared about everything. Completing this journey, however, was worth all of the stress and anxiety that was thrown my way.
After a tear-jerking goodbye from my mother, I went through security at Salt Lake City International Airport completely alone. I was carrying two bags and trying to untie my seemingly untiable shoes. I was frantically trying to get my passport and boarding pass out during the process, which was again, nearly impossible. So, as you could imagine, I was crying in the security line, surrounded by a bunch of frat bros getting ready for their last trip before school started. It was an AWFUL start to my “life-changing” experience. The whole flight process after TSA felt like a blur. I was on the plane, off the plane in Paris, back on a plane, and off the plane in Prague. I didn’t even sleep through any of my flights. Instead, I just watched The Princess Diaries over and over while food and drinks were handed to me. I think I concerned the people I was sitting next to. Eventually, I was in Prague, the “City of a Hundred Spires”. And that’s when I saw some familiar faces. For this trip, I was with a group of other students who went to my university, so I was somewhat comforted after being really uncomfortable for 24 hours.
After meeting up with the other students, I made my first purchase in the Prague airport: a bottle of water. I was parched and ready to crack open a nice, cold, still water. I bought the first thing that I saw, a water bottle with the words “Natura: Jemnĕ Perliva”. I sat down with the rest of the group and started drinking my water only to find out that it had been sparkling. Don’t get me wrong, sparkling water is great, but after thinking you were getting still water then already chugging half the bottle, it isn’t so wonderful. So, you could say that this move was strike one. I was already messing up with the Czech culture and I hadn’t even been in the country for more than 2 hours. After this mistake, I learned what the words were for “sparkling” and committed them to memory.
Our ride to our “flats”, as the Czechs would say, was smooth and very beautiful. We dashed through the city, going down roads that were NOT built for the van we were in, and eventually got to where we were staying. Our program got us these apartments in Praha 10, the “hipster district”. These accommodations were right out of an IKEA ad. There were coffee shops at every corner that also sold pints of beer. There was not a fast food restaurant in sight. It was amazing. We weren’t close to tourism, so so we truly experienced living in the city.
The authentic city experience included taking public transport. We were given public transport cards, similar to the ORCA cards in Seattle. With these, we could travel anywhere inside the city limits, and we used them to their full advantage. Prague is famous for its trams. They are everywhere and they are so efficient. All of the stops are in Czech, which was difficult at some times, but we made it work through lots of Google Translating. This public transport made it so easy to see all of the city in a day. Our group used this public transport to get everywhere, from going down the street to get McDonald’s McFlurries (which are so much better in Prague by the way) to going across the river to see the Prague Castle.
The culture in Prague was spectacular. Everyone stares, so don’t be afraid. They are slightly judging you, but the people are well rounded and overall friendly. They would help me pronounce Czech words, suggest restaurants to me, and would even help me find where I needed to go. One time at the grocery store, I was using self-checkout and the machine started to beep. I was flustered because I did not know what it was saying or why it was beeping. I think everyone around me could see that I was nervous and was willing to help translate the machine for me.
One of our tour guides was just like this. Because we were studying the Holocaust in Prague, we were taken to the Jewish Quarter. Here, we were led by David, a resident of Prague and a member of the Jewish community. He was very interesting, to say the least. He was a millennial, so he was trying to connect to us and make us laugh as much as he could through the Tik Toks that he would show us. Sometimes, he said some completely unprovoked and out-of-pocket things, but he was also very knowledgeable of the city and its culture. After our tour with him, we asked for some good places to go to dinner. He showed us one of his friend’s restaurants and, when we expected him to leave, he sat down and had five pints of beer with us. He told us a lot of information about himself as if we had been his friends for years. Then we left, and we never saw David again.
After spending almost a month in Prague, I still feel like there are things for me to see and do. I experienced so little of the city and its people, so eventually, I want to go back. Prague has so many amazing sites and so many amazing people. It is completely underrated and needs to be seen. So, here are some travel tips and ideas for when you go to Prague!
- Go into every church you see, if you feel comfortable. Stumbling into churches was one of my favorite activities! The architecture was amazing and they are the coldest places in the city! Make sure you bring a shoulder cover for respect and that you are quiet.
- Don’t be afraid to want something that feels like home. I was somewhat homesick throughout this trip. And one thing that cheered me up was going to McDonald’s. This is not taking away from your experience, and it’s okay to miss home.
- Bring comfortable shoes and wear ankle braces if needed! Most of the streets in Prague, even outside of the city center, were cobblestone. So, if you want to be comfortable and not break an ankle, bring walking shoes with enough stability!
- The Potraviny’s are NOT sketchy! These are little convenience stores all over the city. They have snacks and drinks for really cheap! Everyone gets things from them and they are super nice to have around!
- Do the touristy things! It’s a fun and effective way to learn about the city! Some of my best memories are from the tours we took inside the castle and the walk across the Charles Bridge! Make sure that when you are walking around, you watch your bags—it’s helpful to have a front-facing satchel/wallet! The pick-pockets are rampant in the tourist-heavy areas!
- The food in the Czech Republic is very mild. So, even the pickiest of eaters will have something to eat! Don’t let this deter you from trying the food. It’s delicious and very cheese, meat, and potato-based—so much that I had fries with every meal! And, remember, ranch and fry sauce do not exist in Prague. You sometimes get ketchup if the waiter knows that you are American, but you mostly dip your fries in tartar sauce!
- The legal drinking age in the Czech Republic is 18! So, if you are of age, try one of the Czech beers! The Pilsner is always good when it’s on tap. Never get a bottle from a bar, they are so much worse! Sometimes beer is cheaper than soda or even water! If you don’t like to drink, that’s okay! Try some Kofola! It’s like Coke, but much more herby. I didn’t like it, but everyone else on the trip did!
This was such an amazing experience, and I hope that everyone gets to experience the beauty of Prague! Ahoj, as they say in Czech!