One of my goals for my semester abroad was to take a solo trip. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, but I knew that the experience would be crucial to learning more about myself. After sitting on the idea for some time, I decided to go to Kraków, Poland for a few reasons. First, I have Polish heritage on my mother’s side. I grew up eating some Polish foods prepared by my grandmother: pierogi, babka and kołaczki, to name a few examples, and I was very intrigued by the possibility of having Polish dishes in Poland. Though I was most familiar with the country’s culture in terms of food, I was also interested in the nation’s history and nature, making the trip very appealing. I ultimately decided between Warsaw and Kraków and booked a four-night stay in Kraków due to the wide array of attractions available as well as walkability.
I booked the trip about a month in advance and anxiously waited for Friday, March 24 to arrive. I imagined every way in which my vision for an ideal solo trip could be shattered: missing my flight, roaches in my Airbnb, losing my passport. Unsurprisingly, none of these worries of mine came to fruition. I did have a slight issue checking into my flight to Kraków, but it was quickly resolved. I made it to my Airbnb near Stare Miasto without any problems, where I checked into a perfectly normal Airbnb. I proceeded to go to dinner and ate a whopping 24 pierogi of eight different flavors; fittingly, my favorite type ended up being “Kraków Style.” The meal resulted in a very full stomach and lengthy reviews of each pieróg variation in my family group chat.
As the trip progressed, it went almost entirely smoothly. Saturday was a packed day. The morning was spent visiting Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, a very interesting historic site, before picking up lunch. I then attended a walking tour and learned a lot about the history of the area, like the association between Kraków and dragons, and made pleasant conversation with other travelers. In the evening, I participated in a vodka tour.
I was apprehensive to attend the tour as a solo traveler, but given the well-known connection between Poland and vodka, I felt as though it was not an opportunity I could let pass me by. I showed up at the starting point and was immediately welcomed warmly by two older British couples vacationing as a group. They were extremely easy to talk to and amusing as well, with various entertaining comments. Also on the tour were a younger couple and a middle-aged man from Las Vegas. The group was led by a young, charismatic Polish tour guide who kept conversation – and vodka – flowing. In all honesty, it was a very educational experience. I tried several different vodkas very different from what I’d previously encountered and learned more about Polish culture in conversation with my tour guide. It was also productive in allowing me to push beyond my comfort zone. By the end of the night, I was taking silly selfies with others in the group and talking about niche video games with my tour guide.
Sunday was spent on a relaxing day trip to Zakopane, a resort town in southern Poland. I took the funicular up to the top of Gubałówka and enjoyed the view from the mountains. On the way back to Kraków, I received a message from my tour guide, saying he hoped I had enjoyed the tour and offering recommendations for further things to do in the area. I assured him that I had had a great time and took him up on his recommendations. He offered to meet me at one of the bars frequented by humanities students, a specific suggestion that piqued my interest. I was hesitant to make plans with someone who was hardly an acquaintance of mine while alone in a foreign country, but I ultimately decided that his offer seemed genuine.
I was incredibly glad I said yes. We went to a few different places: a beautiful outdoor bar, a tiny hole in the wall where one of his friends worked and a third, more artsy place. I was able to ask him a lot of questions about his experience living in Poland and felt as though speaking with him allowed me to connect further with my own heritage. We talked about everything from slang to school curriculums over the course of a few hours. I enjoyed the evening immensely, finding it fascinating that I was able to make a friend over the course of a few days.
Although it’s unlikely that I’ll ever see him again, I’m grateful that I had the chance to exit my comfort zone in meeting up with him and learn more about myself over the course of my first solo trip.
Madelyn Kye is a junior from Long Island, N.Y. majoring in Writing Seminars and International Studies. Her column reflects on her experience studying abroad.