PRAGUE – I felt ecstatic to be invited to Youth Journalism International’s Global Conference in Prague, but excitement and fear mingled as I realized this would be my first solo adventure in a foreign land.
Little did I know that the journey to Prague would be equally as memorable as the conference. From the Lufthansa losing my luggage multiple times to flights delayed for hours, I was in for a chaotic solo journey.
Upon arriving at Heathrow Airport, a frustrating surprise awaited me – my suitcase couldn’t be checked in without an additional fee. I couldn’t help but think, ‘’What a scam!’’
It was bad enough that I wasn’t sure how I would navigate through this large airport, but now I wasn’t even sure if I would make it to Prague. Tensions rose and me and my mum argued, but there was no point in arguing if I wanted to make it to Prague, so she kindly paid the fee.
Navigating security, I strutted through feeling like an Olympic runner passing the finish line. But I was naive. I learned about taking headphones off before going through the scanner machines, and that I would be searched more than my luggage.
As I walked closer to the plane, my mind was haunted by TikToks I had seen of women squished between manspreaders in the middle seats. The kind smiles of the cabin crew on-board quickly put me at ease and when I got to my seat I realized my fears were groundless.
I wasn’t trapped between anyone and had no annoying kids kicking my seat. People were in their own worlds and just hoping for a safe journey. It was actually quite peaceful.
As the plane took off, I felt like I was on a roller-coaster and then the journey was smooth. I even had time to watch Mamma Mia 2 and sing along to my heart’s content at the back of the plane.
I had completed my first flight and now it was time for a swap to my next plane. I arrived in Munich, Germany, hopping off my plane thinking to myself, ‘’Wow, I made it here alone!’’
But my layover slowly turned into an unexpected saga of delays and boredom.
Text notifications from Lufthansa airlines flooded in, announcing a three-hour delay to Prague.
The sunshine faded and I found myself staring out at the dark German sky as I envisioned sleeping on the airport floor. I regretted arguing with my mum and was hoping she would turn up to save me. Likewise, I was missing everyone at YJI and I hadn’t even met them yet.
With my flight pushed back, I sat on the airport seats, bored out of my mind, wasting time by calling my sisters and mum. Luckily it was only an hour time difference, so it didn’t feel like I was harassing them at an inappropriate time.
The airport, large and modern, became my playground as I wandered around with only my tiny travel bag. I’d mindlessly left my money in my checked bag, so I was forced to rely on the leftover drops of plane water for sustenance.
Shops at the Munich Airport, which had been a bustling hub, were closing fast. Lufthansa airlines tried to make up for it by handing out 20 euro vouchers for food.
Rushing to spend it before everything shut down, I ended up with soft drinks and enough chocolate to last a lifetime – turns out, chocolate is an airport favorite.
Thankfully, the window seat on my flight offered a silver lining. Tired but elated, I gazed at Prague’s city lights at night – a beautiful sight from the sky.
I thought I had escaped from British weather, but upon landing in Prague, rain pelted against the window. I watched as the airport crew battled in the rain to quickly transfer suitcases to the airport, excited to be reunited with mine.
But, of course, another text notification awaited: my carry-on didn’t make the trip with me. Cue frustration – in three hours of delay, you would think they had more than enough time to transfer my luggage.
The first days in Prague meant going without toiletries and clothes, but YJI came to the rescue.
The conference turned out to be a blast, and I almost forgot about my MIA carry-on. Mary Majerus-Collins, an associate editor, kindly helped me retrieve it – a few hours and a fun bus ride later, I had my belongings back.
Before I knew it, the fun at the conference was over and it was time to go home. In only 10 days I’d learned a lot about journalism, Prague and myself.
Nervous at first, I now didn’t want to leave. Saying goodbye and hugging everyone became a mix of emotions. We even joked that hopefully this time, my luggage would make the journey with me.
Arriving at Prague airport, my luggage had to be paid for again (these airlines really made a profit) but luckily YJI’s leaders stepped in, again being reliable safety pillars.
At least this time, I had a conference buddy to navigate the airport with – Lyat Melese from Virginia.
Soon the time came to get on our planes – of course mine was delayed again, but for a shorter length this time. I hugged Lyat goodbye and then waited for my plane.
I’d learned my lesson and didn’t check my carry-on at the airport this time.
My new layover in Zurich, Switzerland, greeted me with a short bus ride to the city’s airport that initially felt like a potential kidnapping.
But I found my gate and hopped on my plane without a problem. The ride home was a mix of conference reminiscing and eagerness to see my family.
Of course, London welcomed me with rain, and a text notification that now instead of my carry-on, it was my checked suitcase that hadn’t made the trip.
I had to improvise for a few days, relying on my sisters’ clothes and spare toiletries, until – many complaints to Lufthansa airlines later – my suitcase finally made it home, slightly bruised, but intact.
My first solo trip to Prague was a whirlwind of emotions, but it taught me the value of independence and self-reliance.
From the chaos at the airports to the breathtaking beauty of Prague’s streets, I discovered the thrill and challenges of traveling alone.
With newfound confidence and an adventurous spirit, I hope to embark on more solo journeys, knowing that each one will be a unique tale of its own.
Anjola Fashawe is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International from the United Kingdom.