Postcards and Passports: A Traveler's Tale
I did not grow up traveling. In fact, when I was born, Poland was still a communist country with closed borders. Obviously, that changed a lot with the fall of the Berlin Wall and with Poland joining the European Union. Even though my family did not travel for leisure, my dad traveled abroad for work a lot and would bring back postcards from destinations he visited. That first sparked my interest in travel, making me want to visit these places. So I guess I get my wanderlust from my dad.
After my first year of college, I decided to take a gap year and come to America as an au pair (i.e., a live-in nanny). My main goal was to work on my English; I believe that the best way to master a foreign tongue is to live where it is spoken. I also wanted to visit some iconic American destinations such as New York or California and learn more about American culture in person instead of from a textbook.
Traveling has been an eye-opening experience for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and continue to learn more with each trip I take.
I also travel because I find other cultures fascinating. I like to meet new people, try new foods, and immerse myself in new cultural experiences.
How I Plan My Trips
The lengths of my trips vary, ranging from a day to two weeks at a time. I like to take at least one or two trips each year that last a week or longer in order to fully relax. I typically visit family in Poland and do some traveling in Europe while I am there.
I also like traveling in the States. The United States is such a big country, and there is so much to discover here.
Most of the time, I travel to places fairly close to home. For instance, this summer, I plan to focus on the American Midwest. I can just hop in my car and go to a new state park for a day or make it a weekend camping trip. I am about to start car camping this year, which means I can start my weekends earlier by taking off right after work on Friday without having to worry about pitching a tent at night.
Leaving earlier allows me to enjoy my destination and take pictures before the crowds arrive.
How I Decide Where To Travel Next
I travel internationally, domestically, and locally every year.
Typically, at the beginning of the year, I decide when and where I will go based on the season and my work projects.
I like to plan my longer and more expensive trips for the shoulder season so I can get better prices and avoid larger crowds.
I start by picking my longest (one week or more) vacation for the year, which usually involves traveling through Europe while visiting my family in Poland or road-tripping in a new U.S. state. Once that’s settled, I plan shorter trips, such as local road trips and weekend getaways, around my larger vacations.
I used to be good at thoroughly researching for each of my trips, trying to learn everything about a location – especially as it pertains to staying safe while visiting a new country.
For instance, I also always get travel insurance just in case. Now, instead of coming up with a definite checklist of things to do, see, and taste, I give myself space to be spontaneous and travel at a slower pace. Sometimes, if I am on a weekend road trip, I don’t decide where I am going until a few days before and often take locals’ advice for things to do.
Exploring the Unknown: How Travel Transformed My Life
When I was younger, I wanted to go everywhere, but now, I don’t even keep track of how many countries I have visited. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s at least 20 so far, but I tend to visit the same countries multiple times. Since I never traveled growing up, it’s been a goal of mine to check out a new place every year when I visit family in Poland.
One of my most remarkable adventures was studying abroad in Guangzhou, China, when I spent an incredible summer getting to know Chinese languages and culture with a group of strangers. I find Chinese culture so fascinatingly different from Western culture. I was able to navigate the city with the little Mandarin I learned in class, bargaining with local merchants, indulging in Chinese cuisine, visiting countless temples, and even venturing to Hong Kong on my one day off. I was even given a Chinese name. I go deeper into that story on the blog.
I feel like my bucket list keeps getting longer. If time and money weren’t an issue, I would travel more frequently.
Favorite Memories Of Meeting New People
One of the best parts of traveling, especially solo, is meeting people.
My very first solo trip was an organized tour of Italy. I was in my early 20s and didn’t have anyone to travel with, so I decided to book a trip by myself. I had a lot of fun and met a lot of amazing people on that trip. One memorable connection I made was with a young woman named Alicja. We have kept in touch over the years, and, each time we meet, it’s always in a different country.
In my junior year of college, I spent a semester studying abroad in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, where I lived with a group of five Chinese students. I became close friends with one of my roommates, Wen. When the semester ended, I invited her to visit me in Poland, and together we traveled to several European countries. It was an exciting and memorable final summer before graduating and starting a full-time job.
Why I Started My Blog
I started Curious Wanderess because I wanted to organize my travel memories in one place so that I could easily share them with my family and friends who are often looking for inspiration or travel recommendations.
I also wanted to share my content in a way that would be meaningful to other travelers. On my blog, you will find travel tips, guides, and itineraries along with inspiring photography.
One of my main goals is to show working professionals how to fit more travel into their lives. To me, travel does not just mean visiting faraway destinations but also places nearby. There is so much to see in your own country or state. You just need to look around.
How I Manage My Work & Travel
I fully utilize my company’s paid time off (PTO) policy. Fortunately, my PTO includes sick days, personal days, and vacation days, allowing me to combine them all together if needed. Plus, my company also provides a generous number of paid holidays.
Since the pandemic, I have enjoyed the perks of working from home. It is nice to save so much commuting time, and it’s very satisfying to take off for a trip right after work. Benefits have always been a deal breaker for me while interviewing for jobs, mainly because I have a family overseas, and it’s always been my priority to visit them once a year.
Now I can work from Poland and spend time with family at the same time, leaving more of my vacation days for travel.
Forrest Gump Spot
Major Challenges That I Have Faced
Time and money are the main obstacles keeping me from traveling as much as I’d like. Apart from those speedbumps, becoming a dog mom has made travel more of a challenge because of all the places that aren’t pet-friendly. Fortunately, most of my travels are outdoors, and I’ve been surprised to discover a lot of pet-friendly destinations in Europe. I look forward to taking my dog with me next time.
As a solo female traveler, there are also safety concerns. That’s why I always do thorough research on a new destination before anything else.
I want to make sure I respect local cultures by acting and dressing appropriately without drawing attention to myself.
I typically travel with little to no cash, instead withdrawing money from an ATM when I get to my destination, or I just use a card if that is an option.
Other than that, I am always aware of my surroundings and trust my gut, as I know that no one is watching over me.
How GAFFL Helps Solo Travelers
I think GAFFL is a great way to connect with like-minded individuals who share similar interests. It’s easier to get out of your comfort zone when you know that there are other people out there doing the same things, and there are always people to meet up with. It makes it easier to start solo traveling.
I really like to read blogs about destinations I am about to visit. Bloggers tend to share a lot of useful information with their readers, especially in terms of insider tips.
When it comes to apps, some of my favorites are Roadtrippers for planning road trips, AllTrails for hiking trails, iOverlander for finding free campsites, and TripAdvisor for finding restaurants. They all include recent reviews, so you have the most up-to-date information.
Most Exciting Travel Experiences So Far
This year has already been an exciting year for me, largely due to a couple of road trips in Europe.
First, I took my parents to a new National Park in Poland, and then I enjoyed a journey through the northwestern region of Spain – an area called Asturias – with my childhood adventure buddy. Both places have been on my list for a while, and both destinations are more local than touristy, which was a super exciting and unique experience.
Now, I’m getting ready for a road trip to Washington State for two weeks this summer. Two years ago, I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest while road-tripping Oregon, and I’m even thinking about moving there. I can’t wait to revisit the PNW again. Who knows, maybe I will like Washington State even better.
My Advice For Solo Travelers Preparing To Travel Alone
First, you need to consider how you define travel. Travel does not have to be expensive or cover vast distances. Yes, it is nice to visit a foreign country occasionally, but you can much more easily book a weekend trip to a domestic destination or even take a road trip.
Explore what is in your own area. I’m sure there are some hidden gems that haven’t occurred to you. We don’t tend to think of our own cities or states as travel destinations.
Second, think of how to best utilize holidays. Plan your vacation around holidays from work so you don’t have to take as much time off. Third, utilize work travel to the fullest. If you travel for work – for instance, to attend conferences – stay an extra day or two to explore.
Things I Wish I Would Have Known
I wish I had started solo traveling sooner. It took me a bit of time to feel comfortable traveling to international destinations or even wandering outdoors by myself. Now, I do it all the time, and it is so much easier to meet new people, especially when you have a dog with you (though to be fair, I haven't traveled solo since becoming a dog mom).
I also wish I had done more study abroad programs while in school or any other programs that allowed me to move abroad for a little bit. Living abroad and interacting with locals is the best way to experience a new destination.
I have learned a lot about myself through travel. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and navigating a foreign country and foreign language can be challenging and scary, but it is also rewarding.
In the end, you realize that there is more that unites us than divides us. You will meet the kindest people and have the most amazing experiences. Through these experiences, you will become more open-minded and more appreciative of your own culture.