Papilia loves to share inspiring traveler journeys. Robert Hock shares his first time traveling 'solo.' An exhilarating moment that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.

If you asked me a year or two ago, I would never have pictured myself living in El Salvador for three months on a work trip. It wasn’t on my radar. For those of you who have never ventured out on a solo trip, I highly recommend it. The experience is very eye-opening and gratifying.

In October 2015, I traveled by bus from San Salvador to Antigua, Guatemala.  Your first reaction might be…. by bus?!?  Yes, but this bus was different; you were treated like royalty.  It was more luxurious than some first class airliners. The bus had free wifi and movies, food/drink service, and ultra-comfortable recliner seats similar to a leather lazyboy.  Even though all the amenities were enjoyable, the truly stunning part was getting to see the beautiful countryside of both El Salvador and Guatemala.  The rolling hills, mountains, volcanoes, and rivers were amazingly picturesque from this comfortable bus ride.  (Only drawback would be trying to use the bathroom given the amount of winding roads).

The fun, exciting, and sometimes anxious part of traveling to a new place is that you never know what to expect.  You can always look at pictures and hear other people’s travel stories but you never understand the essence and elegance of a place until you are actually there. Antigua was breathtaking.

The amount of things to do in Antigua are endless: visiting the Cathedrals, viewing the city from above at Cerro de la Cruz, seeing Mayan ruins, buying artisanal goods from street vendors, taking a tour of the Jade museum and factory, or hiking a volcano.  The city also is surrounded by Aqua, Fuego, and Acatenango, three volcanoes that tower over the entire city, much like the tall cathedrals do.

A solo trip to a city that predates Christ provides profound perspective. You realize how wonderful it is to have the opportunity to travel and take in new experiences. Having the freedom of a trip without a timetable; floating through the city on your schedule (which is out of my usual comfort zone) is a very liberating feeling.

The time I spent in Antigua cannot easily be put into words. But it allowed me to better understand how another culture lives with such zeal without much wealth.  It gave me an appreciation for what I have and also reminded me how happy some people are regardless of their circumstance.  It helped me to get back in touch with my faith and gave me a much more positive outlook on everyday life.  Part of my time and reflection in Antigua is unique to me and will always be in my thoughts as it would be for anyone who ventures out to travel alone.

If you haven’t traveled solo, get out there! What's stopping you?!

Tips for going to Antigua:

For really nice executive buses in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras use Pulmantur.

My favorite traditional Guatemalan food in Antigua was at La Fonda.   The rellanos were amazing!

Panza Verde is a quaint upscale restaurant with a great rooftop view. 

Cultural Tip:

Antigua is very welcoming to English speakers and there are a number of people that live or work in Antigua who are not necessarily Guatemalan.  It is a diverse culture with Mayan and Spanish roots.  The Catholic Church appears to be a very strong part of many people's lives.

The top 5 things I recommend that you do in Antigua:

  • Cerro de la Cruz – view of the city.

  • Jade Maya – learn about the history of jade and see the gems being carved and polished.

  • Sit and relax in Parque Central

  • Tour the grand Cathedral at Parque Central, the San Francisco Cathedral and Ruins, and La Merced

  • Other great experiences include hiking the volcano, ziplining or dune buggies.