Langley Times reporter Miranda Gathercole recently returned from a trip to Prague (in picture) and Ireland.

COLUMN: Lessons learned while travelling abroad

Times Reporter Miranda Gathercole recently returned from a vacation in Prague.

It was one of those online spur of the moment purchases.

While cleaning out my email late one night, I stumbled across a “last minute vacations” newsletter — and within 20 minutes — had booked my flights to Ireland, departing just two weeks later.

I was thrilled to be jetting across the world solo. So many of my friends have spent months backpacking through Europe and Asia, and I wanted my own two-week taste of living out of a suitcase.

But because I booked a somewhat all-inclusive trip, with my accommodations, transportation and even meals provided, I very quickly slipped into vacation mode, and naturally, turned my brain off.

It was great. I ate the local food, sipped on the local brew, took in the local lore, and made dozens of new friends in the process, including one girl from Calgary who convinced me to join her in Prague, Czech Republic the following week.

We booked our flights the night before leaving, found a cute little Airbnb apartment by the Vltava River, and arranged with the apartment owner to have a taxi driver pick us up at the airport.

We were both so excited as we got into the cab. The weather was amazing and hot, the driver was blasting feel-good summer music and the tourist brochures he left on the backseat showed us the river cruises and quaint restaurants that awaited us.

But suddenly, the driver took a sharp right turn, drove up across an overpass and down into an area of the city that looked like no place for two young Canadian girls. There were no cars or people around and the buildings, painted bright yellow and white, were covered in graffiti and thick films of dirt.

A sense of dread came over me as I realized just how vulnerable we were. Judging by my friend’s pale face, she was having the same thoughts.

We were in a foreign country in Eastern Europe that we both knew nothing about. We don’t speak the language, had no local currency on us, and were at the mercy of this taxi driver to deliver us to safety.

Eventually, our driver pulled up outside a rundown looking hostel, and threw our bags out on the sidewalk. We tried to explain to him that we had booked an apartment that was supposed to be across the street from the John Lennon Wall, but he was adamant, through his broken English, that he had taken us to the correct place. My friend finally bit the bullet, turned her data on her cellphone, and made a very expensive international call to our Airbnb.

Turns out the driver had the wrong address.

About 20 minutes later, we finally arrived at our accommodation, and it felt like we were in another world. Besides a run-in with a drunk Australian man dressed as Elsa from Frozen on the Charles Bridge, and a midnight battle with three massive black spiders the size of my palm in our apartment, our first night in the Old Town area of Prague was unbelievable. I have never seen a place with such beautiful architecture, and so alive with people, no matter what time of day or night.

The education gained from experiencing new cultures is incredible, and isn’t something that can be fully translated through a travel blog or a filtered Instagram photo.

Then again, there is something to be said for travelling prepared, and the next time I venture off to a foreign city, I think I will at least Google it first.

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