It was only when I landed in Vienna that I realized I had never traveled alone internationally. Many of my free weekends in the last few years have been spent exploring Wisconsin, New Mexico, Colorado (among other states), mostly alone. I’ve also traveled outside the US, although sparingly and almost always with family. But even during my short study abroad in Sweden, I never spent more than a short time alone.
Luckily, Austria is a welcoming place, and English-speakers are readily found when needed. But even still, traveling alone is a great opportunity to forcibly remember life lessons that we all know but sometimes forget
Technology is fallible, always check the local time
My first lesson was an embarrassing one. After spending hours in the Wien Haubtbahnhof (Vienna City Center train station), I walked up to my supposed platform only to realize that the current local time was 23:30 and my train had left at 22:50. My overnight connection to Innsbruck was well on its way to the western state of Tirol (Tyrol), without me on board.
What happened? I was watching the time like a hawk on my phone. But my faith was displaced, my phone clock was an hour behind, on GMT instead of GMT+01. Earlier that day I had a connecting flight at London Heathrow, and after my phone clock failed to automatically update from (U.S.) central time after connecting to Wi-Fi in the terminal, I manually switched the time zone.
My LHR-VIE flight encountered some technical difficulties at the gate, after boarding and sitting in place well past our departure time it was announced that our plane would not be fixed quickly enough and we would have to deplane and board another aircraft. After deplaning, waiting at the gate area, and eventually waiting even longer for a spot in the takeoff queue, we lost more time that I realized. Further, after landing in Vienna the flight attendant and pilot announced two different times.
After the excitement of my last flight, I had failed to manually update the time zone or set my phone back to automatic. My watch wasn’t set correctly either; I started changing the time in London but had forgotten to push in the dial. The last 90 minutes before my supposed departure time was spent sitting with my back to the departure board, completely engrossed in a book.
Mistake: completely my fault!
Solution: find a nearby hostel, take an early train the next morning, and thank my mother profusely for taking my emotional call and offering to pay for my bed and new train ticket (THANK YOU MOM!)
Lesson: Don’t take phone off automatic datetime. Always verify that devices match local clocks, probably just avoid trusting personal devices in the first place.
Earplugs are a staple of traveling. I never bring them, because I’ve honestly never wanted or needed them on a trip.
At 1 am in a hostel dorm room, I realize the folly of my overconfidence. One of the other travelers had what sounded like severe sleep apnea. I was woken up not by the snoring, but by the sudden gasping of breath. The poor man would snore loudly for several minutes, with each breath sounding more ragged and strained than the last. Eventually he would stop breathing for several seconds then gasp desperately and follow it up with a shaky coughing fit.
Laying in bed I alternated between pity and frustration. This procedure repeated over and over all night. Eventually I put on my noise canceling headphones and laid carefully so they covered my ears fully, but his snores and gasps still cut through.
Mistake: my fault, as usual. Also pretty unlucky to be sharing a small room with someone having severe sleep apnea
Solution: little sleep
Lesson: bring the recommended things, even if you don’t usually need them. When you need them, you need them.
Double check your stuff
My phone charger easily slipped out of the international adapter, and after the third time using it, I failed to grab the adapter and didn’t notice until I was on a train leaving Vienna.
Mistake: completely my fault!
Solution: use extra adapter for the time being (another lesson about bringing extras of the small but essential things!). I went back to the location after returning to Vienna, where the adapter was luckily in the hands of security.
Lesson: never rely on someone else to stop you from forgetting items, but if you’re alone there’s sure to be no backup. Check everything twice :)