Pondering in Poland: Why I love solo travel
Each year, I try to take at least two or three trips just for me. When people ask who I am traveling with, some are caught off guard when I tell them, "Just me," as if they aren't quite sure how to react to something they don't understand. But others applaud me and tell me they wish they could travel alone, and my response is always, "Why can't you?"
My recent trip to southern Poland is a prime example of why I love to travel on my own.
Before such a trip, I do a moderate amount of research and cultivate a general idea of what I want to see and do, and possibly even book tickets for certain excursions. But when I inevitably face an unexpected wrench in the spokes or find myself changing my mind (which tends to happen quite frequently), I am able to revise or cancel plans thanks to my ability to be flexible. After all, it's just me dealing with the last-minute schedule amendment.
Although I woke for my Barcelona-to-Krakow flight at 4 a.m., arrived at my Krakow apartment at 1 p.m., and could have easily plopped down on the bed for a pre-wander nap, I instead chose to rinse off in the shower, put on fresh clothes, and saunter outside in the 90-degree heat for a 2 p.m. free tour of the Old Town. "I'll nap later," I told myself, eager to take advantage of my new place adrenaline (or N.P.A., trademark pending).
But after the tour, I was surprisingly replenished with a new wave of energy, so instead of trudging home for that aforementioned nap, I opted to visit a guidebook-recommended milk bar on a quiet street in the Old Town for a plateful of pierogies and a tall, cold Polish beer. With only 90 minutes until the start of the Chopin concert I had penciled in, located just a few blocks away on the opposite side of the Old Town, I decided to push through and go straight to the performance hall, concluding that an early bedtime would be an adequate compromise for the long, hot day I had endured.
If I had been with a second person throughout this 17-hour day, I may have surrendered to the idea of a post-flight nap or possibly would have rescheduled the tour and/or the concert for another day, not only to appease my traveling partner but also to assuage my anxieties about not feeling in "top form" for touristy activities. But because it was just me, I could roll up to the free tour, plane-brained, with an iced coffee in hand, and choose whether to finish the tour, branch off earlier, stop for a snack at the university's cafe, or sit at the milk bar for a few moments of pierogies and peace.
Throughout the trip, I welcomed similar thoughts at various moment, wondering how my trip would have been different had I shared it with a travel companion. Would I have been able to book my last-minute single seat on a bus to Wroclaw? Could I have decided to end my day-long bike rental after just three hours due to the immense heat? Would I have gone on the beer tour on my final night in an attempt to connect with other travelers, or would I have just settled on a last-night dinner with my fellow traveler?
It's hard to say what I would and wouldn't have done if I weren't alone. And this post is not meant to cast a shadow on the travel that I have experienced with other people, as I travel with others almost as much as I travel solo. But embarking on such experiences on my own gives me the freedom, flexibility, and creativity to make the trip what I really want it to be, and to change my mind on a whim if that end goal varies at any moment during the trip. I consider that liberty to be one of the overlooked but underrated benefits of traveling solo.
Have you ever traveled alone? If so, what are your favorite aspects of solo travel? Please comment below!