Last week marked a very special occasion for me- the farewell to my 20s and a start of a new decade of my life. As most significant dates, my 30th birthday prompted me to reflect on the distance travelled. While I was thinking back to the more “objective” mile stones like getting my masters degree or getting married, I realized that there’s also a more subjective side to what I would consider a significant experience. Growing as a person, overcoming personal fears and shortcomings, trying to make each day better than the one before may have been just as significant in shaping who I am today. And I had to attribute a large part of that progress to travel.
Travelling has this tremendous quality that it, quite literally, pushes us out of our comfort zone. It puts us in front of the unknown and teaches us what we are capable of. It forces us to be surrounded by others when perhaps we would welcome solitude, and makes us painfully lonely when we crave company. It helps us to discover who we are, who we wish to be and what we choose to part with in this life. There are few better ways of personal growth I know of than travel.
In the light of this reflection, I decided to honour the second decade of my life that has come to an end with a little summary of my top 20 places visited in my 20s and to share a few things I came to realise in each of them.
My hometown and birthplace, this coastal town in the north of Poland is where it all began. This is where I spent my childhood and went to school. It is also where the best zapiekanki in the world can be found. Gdynia was where I had learnt all the most important lessons in life, but as I travelled home in my 20s, after having moved out, I came to realise the importance of prioritising. When I first left for university, coming back home meant a hectic schedule with a multitude of precisely timed meetings with friends. Every one had an hour and a half of my time before I had to rush off to see the next person. As a result – nobody really had any of my time at all. I wished I had more time with the closest friends and family, whom I was neglecting just to maintain contact with people who did not always make me feel good about myself. In my 20s, I decided to make more time for people I really care about and say no to anyone in between. Now when I go back home, I can spend as much time as I want to with my best friends as we sit in one of the cosy places by the beach, playing board games with my parents and cousins or taking my grandma for a walk at Gdynia’s boulevard. Spending quality time with people you love is far more important than the number of friends you have.
2. The Australian outback
It was in my 20s when I started to travel alone. I had flown to Brisbane to stay with a friend I had met only a handful of times and after few days of sightseeing with Josh, my first jazz concert and trip to a casino, I made my way to Sydney from where I have gone camping in the Australian outback. Although there were many unforgettable moments throughout this few week long trip of the continent, it was the days I spent in the sun-scorched red landscape that turned out to be most important.
Up until that point I had led quite a comfortable life and in my own and my friends eyes, I was not the kind of person you imagine sleeping in the sleeping back on the ground. I was far from being one with nature, my level of physical activity left much to be desired and I somehow managed to believe that I’m less capable than most when it comes to dealing with the prose of everyday life. So when I arrived at Annie’s hostel in Alice Springs and met a group of people driving out to trek Kings Canyon and see Uluru, I was surprised with myself to jump at this camping trip. Not only did I do it. but I absolutely loved it. I met incredible people with whom I had some of the best laughs and conversations, but most importantly I had to do things I haven’t done before, like cooking a meal for twelve people in the open fire, sleep on the ground underneath the stars or walk for kilometers in the burning sun. I have never felt as free as I did back then, not caring about my looks (or the lovely smell we all had after 3 days of not showering) or how I come across to others. I was out, connecting with others, connecting with the beautiful yet so alien world around me and I was truly happy. Perhaps sometimes we should not believe what we think about ourselves, the stories others told us about who they think we are, but step out of our comfort zone and see for our selves.
I have first come to this quiet town in Sicily back when I was a child and travelled with my parents to see my family, but it wasn’t until my 20s when I returned there alone and discovered the beauty of dolce far niente. While the life in nearby Palermo was filled with chaos of Italian traffic and rush-prompted swear words of the drivers everywhere, Terrasini was an oasis of calm. Here life was slow and deliberate. Each morning, I would start my day by reading a book in the garden, followed by a light breakfast which was there more to accompany the strong espresso than to fill me for the day. I would spend most of my time between the swimming pool and the beach, swimming, sunbathing, doing nothing. In the evenings, when the temperature cooled down, I would drive with my aunt and uncle to one of the many nearby towns and villages to have an amazing pizza, try local speciality or admire a sunset from a stunning location. There was something magical in those night escapades – our meals were a celebration, evening walk almost a religious routine. Italians perfected the art of passeggiata – a leisurely stroll around town with the sole purpose of admiring the world around you and being around people. Perhaps life was not always about achievements and goals reached, but about everything in between. Engaging in the sweet idleness during the day and going on a passeggiata in the evening, were the simple pleasures worth living for.
Warsaw has been my happy place ever since I met Ala and Iza in my teens. These two sisters who soon became my dear friends were the reason for my annual trips to the capital back then and even though seeing them (and now also my friend Marcin) is still the primary reason for going there, Warsaw has taken a special place in my heart after I turned twenty. When I was moving abroad, I had conflicted relationship with my country. I was angry with Poland for being too grey to my liking, too sad, having too many complexes. I knew I was going to miss my home, but I was also happy to break away from some of the negativity I noticed too often in my compatriots. The longer I lived in England however, the more I could learn about my own country from a healthy distance and I started to like what I saw. The more time I spent reading about Poland’s past, inspired by Warsaw – a city where every street is filled with history- the more I began to understand my country and its people. Reconnecting with the roots of the culture I was born in allowed me to create a healthier relationship with my country and myself, embracing my Polishness in a more mature, conscious manner and I owe it all to my incredible Warsaw.
Every visit to Istanbul has taught me of the importance of art and creativity in everyday life. Throughout the last few years, Turkey has been going through a rather turbulent time; cultural and political changes resulting in a widening divide within the society. Despite these difficulties however, I feel that the bohemian spirit of this city, is as strong as ever. The youth continue to create and frequent unique spaces, independent cafes and quirky bars, rebelling against the growing conservative tendencies around them. I felt a quiet rebellion brewing in those places, a need for self-expression in a country where one’s liberal voice cannot always be heard. Istanbul inspired me to find my own ways of rebelling against parts of my reality I don’t always agree with. It inspired me to find my voice and channel dissatisfaction into creativity, finding beauty in my anger. Art is not only about visual aesthetics, it can be a powerful way of fighting for our freedoms and by finding space for it in my life, I found a way to fight against the culture of busy-ness and a weapon against mundaneness of 9-5 life.
6. Boa Vista
Thinking about the islands of Cape Verde, most people imagine usually white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, but when I think of Boa Vista I see something quite different. I see my first ever anxiety attack. Upon arrival at our lovely hotel, instead of starting to relax, my head was filled with apprehension. I felt overwhelmed by being on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean, by staying in a secluded hotel in a place where there was only one motor way, leading from the airport to the visitors’ luxury lodges. I felt embarrassed being a white tourist on an archipelago on the transatlantic slave route. The first night was a sleepless one for me. I had suffered from anxiety attacks throughout high school and the early university years, but noticing it could impact my travel was what prompted me to do something about it. It took me a lot of effort next day at the island to find ways to calm my nerves down, but I used the time I had to think to come up with a number of techniques and methods that had helped me in the past. I also, for the first time in my life, began to learn to accept that we cannot always control what happens to us. It was a terrifying thought, but a freeing one. Every morning I walked to the beach, stood in front of the vast ocean and accepted that just as I have absolutely no control over this force of nature, so it is with life in general. The only thing I have influence over is myself and it is my duty to take best care of my health and wellbeing, but ultimately no amount of wishful thinking will stop all the bad things that could happen. So rather than spoiling my holidays with imagining all the possible worst case scenarios, I can just relax and be present. Enjoy the moment, for that’s all we really ever have.
As you might already know from my other posts, Kyoto has been a place I felt drawn to since my arrival in Japan but it wasn’t until I got there that I fully understood its appeal. Coming to Kyoto was like reaching an oasis. I traveled there in the midst of my attempts to embrace minimalism, craving a more mindful life and the city turned out to be everything I needed it to. Differently to Tokyo, here the pace of living was slower, every gesture deliberate. People took their time to serve real, quality food prepared with attention. They bowed and smiled when they passed you on the spacious, quiet streets and were never too busy for kindness and connection.
The city was comfortably modern, yet it proudly displayed its history and cultural heritage, leaving also enough space for nature and religion. Walking around the bamboo forest my husband and I unexpectedly wandered into on our way back from a shrine, I couldn’t help but feel immense happiness. I have never had such a great sense of harmony as I did back there in Kyoto and it inspired me to design my flat and life differently upon return – inviting space and calm, replacing the old rushed, superficial ways with the values and meaning I truly care about.
As you may know from my previous post, a ticket to Singapore took me on a trip down the memory lane. It made me realize that although we tend to feel like we are the same person we have always been, we constantly grow and change. Sometimes the best way to see the distance we have traveled, is by visiting a place we haven’t visited in a while, and notice how differently we perceive it. We never see things the way they are, but through the lense of our personal experiences.
9. San Francisco
San Francisco was a lesson in freedom. The few days I spent there proved to be some of the most powerful and colourful in my life. The cite seamed to be teaming with people who were hungry for change, who were brave enough to leave the convention behind and live differently. They were not afraid of approaching strangers and having a conversation, they were not afraid to stand up for others and fight for their rights. San Francisco had its hippies, artists and men proudly walking down the street in nothing but sneakers and g-strings. It allowed people of all walks of life to come together in one space in atmosphere of mutual respect and acceptance. Sure it had its own problems, it was far from perfect, but it was a city of people who once were brave enough to leave everything behind in pursuit of their goals. For someone those goals were gold, for others freedom or adventure, but regardless of what it was that brought them there, San Francisco was the city of the brave. Having grown up in a highly conformist culture where the widely approved parenting method was to ask children “what will people think of you?” whenever they misbehaved, I found San Francisco a bit of a personal revolution. I too decided to be brave and live in a manner that was true for me, regardless of what others thought. Life is too short to live according to the expectations of others.
As a teenager I was always close to all things spiritual. Until I went to a catholic school I was very religious and I felt deeply connected to the nature and the world around me, noticing the little miracles of everyday life. My sensitivity to the universe and sense of spiritual belonging however, began to give place to logic and reason. Life gradually became too busy to take time to stare at the sky; mind was too filled with to-do lists to notice the intense beauty of the nature around me. Tulum allowed me to reconnect with that long-forgotten sense of spiritual awaking. Between the sacred Mayan wells and starry nights on the beach, Tulum has brought me a number of unique encounters and situations that made me feel like my old self. The un-busy Anna, who was able to see beyond what was immediately in front of her. I have voed to hold on to that part of myself for as long as I can. Sometimes I lose the sight of her in the chaos of everyday life, but I make sure to look for her whenever I notice she’s not by my side. I invite more quietness and nature into my life, so that she can come as well. Because she helps me to remember what really matters in life, just like Tulum reminded me of her those few years ago.
My first trip to Pakistan was a challenge to my Europe-centric outlook on life. Despite dancing myself an open minded person, I noticed that the moment I stepped out of the plane I was judging my surroundings. I found the tank at the Islamabad airport scary and allowed plenty of stereotypes fed to me by the Media to influence the way of looking at the world and people around me. I felt overwhelmed and a bit lost in the culture, which I had thought I was familiar with. It all changed however when I went to a cafe in Islamabad. It was a warm, sunny day in the middle of Pakistani winter and as I was sipping my latte in a cafe in Kohsar market, surrounded by young Pakistanis on their MacBooks, I realised I could be anywhere in the world. Maybe our realities were not that different and it was just me focusing on the differences rather than similarities? The more things I found in common, the more open I became to all that was new. I came to love Pakistani food, deliciously sweet doodh pati, the greenery of Margalla Hills, and beauty of the cars passing me by on the streets. I came to love Pakistani people and appreciate not only what we have in common, but what makes us unique. Most of all however, I learnt to leave my prejudice at home when I travel.
Going to Canada for my friend’s wedding offered a valuable lesson in the art of…walking. Having a bit of time until Sandra’s big day, Jo and I decided to explore Vancouver’s nature and went for a hike in Stanley Park. Coming from Europe, Canada’s wilderness left me breathless. The changing landscape and the sheer size of the nature reserve were incredibly impressive. Despite having an injured foot (from walking over 30 km in one day in heels while exploring New York), I managed to spend the entire day outdoors and not even the pain could ruin the stunning views. I felt giddy with excitement – a bit of nature, physical activity and fresh air left me feeling like a little kid exploring the world. I never saw myself as an outdoorsy person, but Vancouver made me realise how much I missed the rugged nature, the vast open spaces. Perhaps we all have a little Canadian within our hearts, just waiting to return to the untamed wilderness?
As an introvert who loves to read, I can happily go through a weekend completely alone, enjoying solitude and finding comfort in my own company. Each visit to Madrid however, left me wondering if in the right circumstances I too, could be energised by the company of others. Each visit to Madrid was a trip I took with others and involved visiting somebody. I spent ever moment of my stay enjoying conversations with friends and family over delicious food and I loved it! There are few better things in life than a good conversation in an unhurried, artistic atmosphere and I can’t help but feel that Madrid consists of such encounters. Madrid is the one place that always awakens the dormant extrovert in me and reminds me of the importance of real connection and time spent with others.
Lisbon is my city of music. It is the only place in the world where the DJ in a club played Lambada especially for me (three times, to the dissatisfaction of my friends and few others who were still in the club late at night). It is also the place where I fled to after I had a nightmare of a night in …, which finished my friendship with a girl I used to consider a true friend. It was a city that welcomed me with open arms when I was disillusioned with people and which soothed my soul with live music. Lisbon reminded me of how important music has always been in my life and how whenever life shows me its harsher side, music can always make things better. The magic time I had in this beautiful city and the experience of fado taught me to manage my stress and sorrow by listening to music.
One of the most incredible things about New Zealand was the kindness of its people. From the moment I landed in Dunedin, I had strangers going out of their way to help me. I have never felt so safe traveling alone as I did on these outskirts of Earth, where everyone showed nothing but kindness. From the kind couple who drove me from the airport straight to a place that was half an hour out of their way and invited me to their house for tea, to a girl I had met briefly few years earlier in Barcelona, who not only let me stay with her but took great care of me, showed me around and took me to the breathtaking Moeraki Boulders. It wouldn’t have been such an unforgettable trip if it wasn’t for the openness and help of the people I met there. In the world of bad news and horrible acts, it is good to know that the world is also full of kind people like the ones in New Zealand.
The visit to Mauritius showed me how fun trying new things and stepping out of your comfort zone can be. Instead of spending the two weeks sunbathing on the heavenly beaches on this stunning island, I decided to try something new. I am usually not the most active person, choosing a good book in the shade of a palm tree over a volleyball tournament on the sand, but Mauritius had so much to offer that I simply had to try something new. So I ended up kayaking, trying (and failing) at water skiing, driving motor boat (simply because I asked the Mauritian who was taking us on a tour if I could try), praying in Hindu temple and getting invited to a stranger’s house for dinner, swimming in a waterfall and walking on the seabed in nothing but a helmet with a loosely attached oxygen hose and a belt made of stones. As I look back on my life, some of the happiest moments are the times I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried something new. A life well lived is a one filled with experiences that help us grow and keep us excited about the world.
Moving from London to Oxford turned out to be a bigger change in my life than when I moved from Poland to England. My partner just moved to Manchester and we went from seeing each other every day to living in separate cities and seeing each other twice a month, which made the decision of moving much easier for me, but also meant I had to build a new life in the new place. I was lucky to have wonderful flatmates and to have found wonderful friends in my new job, but the experience made me realise how important it was for me to be my own person. I never saw myself as someone dependent, but Oxford made me realise how much I relied on my partner emotionally. Oxford helped me regain that independence, and subsequently strengthened my relationship with my now husband by teaching me independence. From having to build a social network from scratch to driving a car in England, Oxford helped me to build my confidence in myself by being self-reliant.
18. Sri Lanka
The trip to Sri Lanka was a very different one. It was the first place I visited just with my mum and was my first encounter with Ayurveda, the Indian holistic approach to health. Aside from the wonderful massages, meditation and diet I enjoyed courtesy of the Lanka Princess hotel, I understood how intertwined our bodies and minds are. Looking at my wellbeing from the perspective of the Asian medicine proved quite revolutionary and sparked my interest in the link between our psyche and physical health. Since that trip I have never looked at my body in isolation again and learn a great deal about treating some fairly seriously health problems I used to suffer from with a careful observation of myself. Perhaps it is good to have your culture’s way of looking at things challenged by a different system of beliefs, perhaps there is wisdom to be found in knowledge that is different to the main teachings of what we grew up with?
I was in my early twenties when my housemate got back from Starbucks announcing she has just bought a ticket to Bangkok and since she was scared of going on her own, I had to buy one as well. Without thinking about it, I sat down with my laptop and five minutes later I too was planning my first trip to Thailand. What started as a completely spontaneous trip, turned into one of the most amazing few weeks of my life. Although I was hardly the most adventurous or carefree person you’d ever meet, saying yes to that trip has given rise to many more yeses in my life. I got to see and do things I never would have imagined myself doing and I was forever grateful to my crazy friend who wouldn’t take no for an answer. That trip to Thailand gave me confidence to continue to seize the opportonity long after the person who started it all was out of my life. I learnt that by being open to the chances that knock on our door we often invite unforgettable experience into our lives. Spontaneity is the best cure to boredom.
Finally, I had to add London to my list. Moving to London at the end of my teens and building a life here in my twenties has been the greatest adventure of my life! This city transformed me, challenged me and taught me more than I could ever imagine. It became my second home and a place that turned me into the person I am today. It made me embrace all kinds of weird, showed me the world by bringing people from around the globe into my life and gave me everything I ever needed. This is where I made inspiring friends and met my husband and it will always be my home away from home.