I Got Off to a Rough Start in Warsaw… Here’s Why.
Transitioning into life in Poland was far more challenging than I expected it to be going into it. Coming from Spain, and Greece prior to that, led me to feel a bit shocked by the many cultural and lifestyle differences I experienced during my first-ever visit to Poland. This was the third country I’d be visiting on my backpacking trip. Since none of my itinerary was pre-planned prior to leaving the U.S.A. this summer, I’ve mostly been basing my decisions of where and when to travel next on what made the most sense for me at any given time.
My Travel Triangle
Now that I have made this VERY oddly shaped TRIANGLE around the continent of Europe, you can clearly see that travel distance has not exactly been a “top consideration” for me. Instead, I have been basing my travel decisions on other factors such as how interested I am in learning more about a specific country, whether or not I think I can afford to visit for longer than a week, where I can score cheap airfare to, and of course, whether or not I think I’ll enjoy and feel safe during my visit.
In this case, I knew nothing about Poland. When I thought about what tourists might do in Poland, if I can be totally honest with you, nothing came to mind. I had no idea what the country was all about and I hated that I knew so little about its history. That was exactly how I decided Poland was where I needed to go next.
As an added bonus, flights to Warsaw were so CHEAP. (Shop Cheap Flights Here.) As is just about everything else in Poland – at least when you’re coming from a country that uses either the U.S. Dollar or the Euro. With the low cost of living and the favorable exchange rate, you can get a lot of value for your money in Poland. At least finances would be one thing I would not have to stress out about during my visit.
Booking A Long Stay on AirBnB
Because the cost for accommodations was so low, I decided to get myself an AirBnB for my month-long stay in Poland. I committed to staying for one month because I knew I’d need time to readjust to being alone and without my boyfriend again. Since things are less expensive in Poland, I could afford to pay it upfront. At least an AirBnB would make things a bit more comfortable. Of course, the challenge with making any type of “long-term” commitment while staying in a foreign place is that you run the risk of finding yourself unhappy and feeling stuck there.
Everything was fine and dandy after checking into my AirBnB, that is, until I realized I was in the middle of NOWHERE. Err… at least it was… pretty, right?
(TRAVEL TIP: always read previous guest reviews about the location of the home.)
WHERE IN THE WORLD AM I!?
I was so far removed from civilization that I found it hard to believe I was even “in” Warsaw.
I was surrounded by trees and the elderly. I think I must have been living in some type of retirement community or something because there was not a young person to be seen anywhere. I didn’t have a working phone with data, I didn’t have any sense of where to go or how to get around in Warsaw, I didn’t even know where to find food. (That was when I started to actually feel scared.) I could wander around until I found someplace to eat or buy groceries but would I be able to successfully backtrack and find my way home afterwards? I’d have to be careful.
I took a long stroll along a path lined with nothing but trees. Eventually, I crossed a bridge. Over the bridge, I started to find other signs of human life. In that distant area, there was a grocery store which I’d soon realize I’d never again be returning back to. You see, I walked inside the store hoping to buy a few essential items. The numbers that were written on the price tags were a bit high but I assumed they were marked up since the place wasn’t very big. At the register, the cashier rang up my items and in Polish said what I presume was a number followed by the word, “złoty.”
While preparing to hand him a 20 Euro bill, I responded “Huh, excuse me? Did you say ‘swoty’? I’m sorry, do you speak English? …Oh my goodness, is ‘swoty’ your currency in Poland?”
“Are you serious!?”
“Eh, yes,” he replied while seeming understandably confused why such a basic fact about life in Poland might come as such a shock to someone.
“Oh no! I had no idea!! I’m so sorry!” I replied as I urgently shoved the Euros I had taken out back into my wallet. With a line now forming behind me, my anxiety was growing greater and my heart was starting to race. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible so as not to face the people behind me complaining in a language I could not understand. I pulled out my travel credit card to pay. Because it is a travel card, it avoids currency conversion fees which comes in handy during situations like these where there is no alternative. I most certainly did not have any Polish złoty to give the cashier as a payment. I prayed my credit card wouldn’t give me any trouble being charged now in Poland after having just used it in Spain yesterday. In hindsight, thank goodness for that credit card along with its travel notice feature because it WORKED. If it hadn’t, I guess I would have had to awkwardly leave everything behind to go in search of an ATM where I could have hopefully withdrawn this currency I didn’t even know existed.
After I signed the payment receipt, the cashier spent a solid 60 seconds deeply analyzing the signature I’d written while comparing it to the back of my credit card. Back at home, I have never even so much as had a single cashier EVER glance at my signature after making a purchase. In Poland (and most of Europe) the electronic payment systems are more advanced with widespread usage of chips, NFC technology, and pin codes being the standard. There is often no reason for Europeans to physically sign their receipts. I think this cashier was sketched out by me clearly looking out of place and paying with inferior archaic credit card technology. He simply said, “You may have problems here in Poland,” to bid me farewell while handing me my bag of groceries.
Gulp. Gee, thanks.
I exited the supermarket nearly wanting to cry.
I felt ridiculous. How could I be so clueless!? I had come all the way to Poland without even so much as knowing the currency they used. I totally took for granted that just because they were inside of Europe and in the European Union, that they’d also use the Euro too. I didn’t know there were countries in the European Union that didn’t use the Euro! That was news to me! Add to that the emotional turmoil I was experiencing from it also being my first day I was away from my boyfriend since the day we were reunited in Greece.
Just when I thought money was the ONE thing I wouldn’t have to worry about in Poland… even that failed me.
I began my walk back “home.” It was cold, I was lost in every sense of the word, and I new this was both an inner and outer battle I was going to have to somehow find a way to overcome.