“When you get lost in Krakow, make sure you find yourself in time to come home to me”
Last spring, I needed a break. A breather, from life. Without too much thinking, I booked a trip to Europe. Arriving at my grandparents’ house at Slovakia felt like just what I needed, a breath of fresh air. But for some reason, I kept feeling the urge to run. I thought “What better way is there to satisfy this urge than travelling more?” I booked a trip to the first place I could think of that I hadn’t been to yet that was close enough to travel by myself to. Krakow, Poland.
Three days, as a solo, female traveller.
When the day I was leaving arrived, I woke up more than excited. Of course, as an eating disorder recoverer, I had more nervous thoughts in my mind than excitement, my mind was spinning. Looking back, I can see why, as I had made so many mistakes on this trip that if I had known this then, I would have crawled into a hole right then and there and stayed home. But I didn’t, and I made tons of mistakes. If you’re ever considering being a solo traveller (which I encourage more than anything), this post is a must read for you.
I have always been a very careful and observant person. Before I leave my house, I must check to make sure every window is closed. Before leaving school, I must double check that I have every single textbook to save me time going back to get it. I triple check plane and train tickets to make sure I have the exact time I am leaving, and plan weeks ahead what I will need to bring, what time I need to leave, etc.
I very much did that with this trip aswell. I checked the time my bus was leaving like seven times, to the point where my grandparents were calling me crazy. What I did not realize though was that I was not triple checking the right information.
When you’re by yourself it is easy to miss an important detail that might just make you end up sleeping on the street, or being driven by a van that is actually a shuttle to the airport rather than a tour bus.
Firstly, I had to take a bus to Ruzomberok in Slovakia, that is where this bus was supposed to be waiting. I was waiting for it to arrive. After an hour and a half, a VAN shows up. Literally a damn car. “Are you going to Krakow?” the driver asks me. I was obviously hit with a wave of panic, as, my apparent “bus driver” is some random man in a car that is taking me to the Krakow airport?! After a few seconds, it became clear to me that he was legit. I said yes, and he asked for my ticket. He read the name, and then let me in the car. The car did have the name of the bus company that was on my ticket, so I knew that it had to be legit. Now, of course that does not mean much, but then I noticed they let in a family of four, so then it was absolutely clear to me that I neglected to read the ticket properly. Or, should I say, I did not know!
I had done many travels with tour buses. Oftentimes, there is no push to book in advance unless you 100% could not miss this bus. I usually did, just out of safety. But many times, I just knew that the bus would be there. If I had not pre-booked it this time around, I would not have gotten on this bus. Now, that would not have been such a dangerous thing, because worst case, I hop on a bus back to home. But what if this had happened when I was already in Krakow and I just trusted that the bus would arrive? And I wouldn’t be let on it? Where would I sleep that night? How would I get home? No one had told me that I would not get on the bus unless I pre booked.
The only problem is the fact that I truly had no clue that it worked this way. And this may be a problem for many other travellers, and they may run into some trouble. If I had not just checked the ticket time seven times, but also tried to find out what exact type of vehicle was taking me there, it would not have been as much of a shock. My advice is read every tiny detail. Every single one. Even in my situation, when I knew to book a trip in advance that had not even been necessary to book, I still neglected this step.
I was told by many people who had gone backpacking to just BOOK A HOSTEL! But, this was my very first time going to a new country all by myself where I did not know anyone. So, I followed my family’s wishes and booked a hotel for 82 Euros total for the two nights. A beautiful, spacious room with it’s own kitchen and bathroom and even closet. It was freakin’ luxurious. Not that I really needed that kind of luxury for 41 Euros per night, I thought, hey, why not? It is close to the Krakow Centre, and my first time solo travelling, I might aswell treat myself.
Well. Not so much.
Instead of getting too wordy; I will leave you a link to how I almost ended up sleeping on the street.
As I embarked on this journey, I thought “I’m by myself, I am going to need to be fully stocked in case of emergency.” In all fairness, I have always had this mentality when it came to travelling. Unfortunately, it has only proven useful a few times. However, when I was travelling solo I thought I must be extra stocked up.
This resulted in me carrying two backpacks and three bags of clothing and food. I wasn’t entirely wrong, as if something had happened, having food closeby is important. But the mistake I made was meal prepping a smoothie for three days. I basically carried one litre of smoothie that ended up fermenting and tasted disgusting. Stocking up could easily have meant on granola bars. Not fresh fruit that costs 30 cents per pound in Poland.
If you are travelling solo, please for goodness sake, do not overpack.
4. Making friends with Strangers
I must be honest, some of the best moments from my hotel searching was asking strangers for directions. Strangers are incredibly friendly, and always seem interested in where you’re from or what you’re doing travelling by yourself. Of course, we have learned at a young age not to take candy from strangers so I am in no way suggesting we turn off our danger radar, but I mean selecting friendly looking strangers (also, busy looking strangers. Those are usually the harmless ones, as their focus is on their task at hand), and asking them for directions, what a written sign means in English, or where the train station is.
For the first time, I was completely by myself in a whole country where I knew no one. That was probably the most breathtaking and terrifying feeling I had ever known. But even after a few hours, it gets a touch lonely. Whether I needed directions or not, my go-to became going up to any friendly looking stranger. There is a form of magic to interacting with humans for only a few seconds. Knowing this is the first and most likely last time I will ever talk to them. I began to remember faces and voices and they become part of this short adventure. The friendly security guard inside the mall when I couldn’t find the grocery store. The tall young guy who worked at the bike store who helped me find my hotel. It’s the little things about a city that make it what it is. Not the shiny castles where all the tourists go (I mean, that too.), but it’s in the way people interact with each other. With travellers. The way people don’t make eye contact with you on the street the way they do in Canada. The way they appreciate vegans by creating an entire food aisle dedicated to plant based foods. This to me, was what makes a city a city. This is the raw nature of it that I wanted to appreciate.
The beauty in travelling solo is that it really does not feel like you’re “travelling solo”. It’s much different to travelling with a friend. I found that as amazing as travelling in pairs is, it (evidently) has me focus more on the person than the city. I found that by myself, I was more aware of my surroundings. I was aware of every persons face, every word written on the street sign, every food item I ate. On top of learning how to handle difficult situations by myself, troubleshooting, practicing patience and calm, I also gained a whole new understanding of what living in the present moment means.