Let’s rewind to around two years ago.
In September of 2018, I was backpacking in Warsaw, Poland.
After I had been there for a week or two, Jorge came to visit me. We spent a few days together touring Poland. We visited several interesting places including Warsaw’s Neon Museum. Once Jorge left to return to Spain, I spent a few more days traveling Poland on my own.
My month in Warsaw was tough. I felt like it was time to move onward. Ready to go or not, that didn’t make the decision of choosing a new location any easier. My head was in shambles and it was already necessary for me to decide: where would I travel to next and how on Earth was I going to get there?
The great challenge with long-term travel is that you constantly need to think about what comes next. That is what it boils down to.
Where will you go next?
If you’re not thinking about your next destination while traveling long-term, you might find yourself caught off guard when you run out of time.
You see, many digital nomads like to make it seem like travelers can go anywhere they want for as long as they want.
Unfortunately, that’s not how that works. In fact, that is mostly a myth.
Restrictions pertain to all of us.
For instance, you may not be able to stay in your accommodations after a certain number of days. Availability changes. Other times, you may not be able to stay in a certain country after a certain number of weeks. Visa limits dictate our stay. Restrictions exist.
It is your responsibility to plan around those restrictions.
The 90 Day Schengen Limit
In my case, I was faced with the challenge of having run out of time in the Schengen zone.
As a United States citizen, I was only allowed to stay in Europe’s Schengen zone for 90 consecutive days. Between my month in Greece, my month in Spain, and my month in Poland, that time had mostly been eaten up.
Now, I needed to leave.
I Rushed While Booking a Flight Out
Something came over me that left me feeling incredibly overwhelmed by this impending decision. I could count on one hand how many days I could legally stay in Poland before needing to leave and travel far away.
Up until that point in time, I had traveled within Europe’s Schengen Zone. Thinking about where I may be going next was really stressful.
The roller-coaster of emotions from being involved in a long-distance relationship at that point in time meant that with my emotions now running rampant from yet another upsetting separation, I had to somehow gather myself both mentally and physically, pick myself up, and decide where to relocate to ASAP.
I flipped open my laptop to browse my favorite flight booking website to create a new travel itinerary and I began brainstorming where to go next.
I Wanted to Stay Within Europe
If you take a look at which countries are defined in the Schengen zone area, you will quickly realize that the zone occupies most of Europe.
I saw I could stay within Europe while abiding by Schengen laws if I traveled to one of the orange, yellow, or gray-colored countries on the map above.
I was so emotionally drained by everything that had happened to me throughout that month that I really did not want to dwell on the details of my trip. To keep planning simple, I only looked up flights to the United Kingdom, Romania, and Croatia.
I was only going to decide between those three places (and only those three places) no matter the cost.
Let’s keep it simple, I told myself.
Warsaw’s Chopin Airport is a Major Hub
When I first flew to Poland, I landed at Warsaw’s Chopin airport. Chopin is the largest airport in Poland and it serves the capital. The airfare rates I’d seen in the past had always been so low that I felt extremely confident I could get an affordable rate flying to almost any country by leaving directly out of Chopin.
When I looked up flights from Chopin Airport to Croatia, the prices were reasonable.
Not wanting to dwell on it for any longer than I needed to, I paid for a ticket scheduled to leave two or three days out and went straight to bed.
Next Destination: Croatia
I had a day or two to repack my backpack and prepare for the next phase of my trip.
I made the most of my final hours in Warsaw. I ate a few more pierogies, fed a few birds, and got myself ready to check out.
Leaving for Chopin Airport
On the morning of my flight, things were calm and peaceful. I checked out of the room I was staying in. Since I booked an early afternoon flight, I couldn’t do much with my final day in Poland. I decided to go to Warsaw’s Chopin airport a little earlier than usual.
I would check-in, locate my gate, maybe grab a sandwich or something for lunch, and relax there while waiting for boarding to begin.
Great plan, right?
Here’s What Happened to Me at Chopin During Check-In
I hailed an Uber to bring me to Chopin Airport.
(By the way, for a country where most drivers practically yield a mile away from where a pedestrian is seen crossing the road, ALL OF THEIR UBER DRIVERS DRIVE AWFULLY FAST…)
While my final Uber driver did double the speed limit, I questioned whether or not I would arrive at the airport in one piece.
Once inside Chopin airport, I began to look for the RyanAir gate.
I Could Not Find RyanAir ANYWHERE
I circled all of the check-in counters inside Chopin airport trying to locate the check-in area for RyanAir. I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere.
Confused, I took out my iPhone to make sure it was definitely RyanAir I was flying with. (Sometimes airlines will sub out flights to smaller airlines with lesser-known names.) As I originally thought, my flight was with RyanAir.
At the front door, they had check-in tablets set up that listed all of the airlines so I walked over to those to give them a try. RyanAir wasn’t on any of those home screens either.
I rushed over to the customer service booth hoping to get some answers. Thankfully, the employee sitting there DID speak some English. (Such a blessing since I really struggled with many older people not understanding spoken English in Warsaw.)
When I asked her where the check-in counter for RyanAir was, she informed me that RyanAir does not have any flights departing from Chopin airport.
“Sir, I’m afraid RyanAir is only located at Warsaw’s Modlin Airport.”
What!? Modlin? Impossible. I even checked to make sure it was Chopin.
I took out my phone again and zoomed into the details of my flight.
Sure enough, it read, “Warsaw (Modlin)” right above “Gate Closes: 12:55 PM.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Modlin? How!?
Somehow… I misread it.
I think I told myself so many times that I needed to fly out of Chopin airport that I actually … almost brainwashed myself to see “Chopin” instead of “Modlin.” That is the only way I’ve been able to process it because to this day, I’m still confused about how I messed that up.
What really boggled my mind was that Jorge flew out of Modlin airport days before me. I specifically booked a flight out of Chopin, and not Modlin, because I knew Chopin was just a few minutes away from where I was staying. How did I still manage to miss that distinction while knowing both airports existed? While staring straight at it!?
Mentally Preparing to Miss My Flight
Immediately, I began to panic. So much for being early.
I urgently thanked the lady who helped me and ran outside the airport while trying to hail an Uber as quickly as possible.
I felt so foolish. I messed up.
I Hailed a Second Uber
I nearly wanted to cry at the thought of entering another Uber in Warsaw. I already felt like I risked my life once that day, a second Uber was too much.
Within minutes, I was being whisked away from Chopin Airport to Warsaw’s “Modlin” Airport.
Off to Modlin Airport
What was supposed to unfold as a peaceful and calm morning turned into the total opposite as I sat in the backseat of this Uber trying to somehow (politely?) explain to this elderly man who barely spoke any English that I really needed to get to Modlin as fast as possible.
Of COURSE, for the FIRST TIME EVER in Poland, I got an Uber driver who didn’t speed like a mad man. Even if he wanted to go fast, he couldn’t have. There was an accident on the highway connecting the two airports so traffic was at a standstill.
I had one hand squeezing my stomach because I was so anxious I would miss this flight out of the country and I had my other hand holding the Uber map open with the “ETA” countdown on display. I was rapidly tapping my screen as if Uber were some videogame and tapping the car would somehow help me get there faster.
It was 11:45 AM. The original ETA said I would arrive at Modlin at 12:15. My flight’s boarding was supposed to end at 12:55. That meant I had about 60 minutes to do everything: get there, check-in, go through security, find the gate, and board.
Okay. Probably…. doable??? Right?
You might think that sounds like plenty of time. I only got lucky with that much time to “wager” because I chose to go extra early to Chopin in the first place. If I was late to Chopin (or even just on time), it would have been a lost cause. Still, 60 minutes is not a lot of time to work with when you are in bumper-to-bumper traffic and still 30-40 minutes away from the airport you’re actually supposed to be at.
Rush, Rush, Rush
When the Uber driver got to the airport, I think I had one foot out the door before the car even came to a complete stop. I sprinted inside.
Instead of arriving at the estimated time of 12:15 PM, I actually arrived at 12:35 PM. 20 minutes left to GET ME ON THAT PLANE.
I was met with both good news and bad news.
The Good News
First thing’s first: THERE WAS A SIGN THAT SAID RYANAIR THIS TIME.
The Bad News
Just my luck, I thought to myself as I was met with a long line wrapping around from the RyanAir check-in counter.
The clock was ticking and I did NOT have time to dilly-dally in a line. To make matters worse, there were a bunch of check-in stations, but of course, RyanAir had ONE PERSON WORKING.
A long line… and one person doing check-in. Wonderful.
The universe wanted to reward me for leaving extra early that day.
I contemplated asking if I could cut ahead of everyone. I felt so selfish, but I was desperate. As much as I wanted to do it, I couldn’t bring myself to ask. Between all of the self-inflicted guilt and fear of a language barrier, I decided to risk my flight and suffer in line in silence.
One by one, I waited in line while staring at my clock the entire time.
THANKFULLY, Modlin is Tiny
I’ve never been to an airport so small.
I’ve also never been so happy to see an airport so small.
Seriously, this was the tiniest airport I have ever been to. There were just two flights on their schedule: mine and one other.
I was able to quickly check-in, get through security, and RUN to the gate. “Run to the gate” is a little bit of an exaggeration because once I got through security, the gate was practically on the other side of the door.
Still, I ran because I needed to get onto the airplane. The gates were scheduled to close in a matter of minutes.
Somehow, I Made It to My Flight on Time
I boarded my plane at 12:52 PM: 3 minutes before the gates were sealed.
There was not a moment of down-time from the moment I first arrived at Chopin: no relaxing, no sandwiches, it was a stressful situation to be put in.
At the end of the day, I made it onto the airplane and that is what counts.
I Arrived in Beauvais
From Warsaw, I flew to Beauvais-Tillé Airport in Tillé, Picardy, France. I remember there was little to no air conditioning inside and I had to wait at the airport for several hours.
That airport had two terminals (T1 and T2) and to switch between the two, you needed to walk outside between them.
I am so used to always getting transported by a bus, AirTrain, or shuttle to switch terminals (never mind the high-pressure, high-level airport security like you experience at airports like Newark EWR) that I felt extremely uncomfortable about the idea of casually “walking outside” to walk on my own to another terminal.
I needed to ask several airport staff members for an explanation in English before I felt confident enough to know that walking outside those doors wouldn’t mean that I’d have to go back through security all over a second time…
The signage was not clear, in my opinion. I didn’t want to accidentally leave the airport.
In Croatia at Last
The best feeling in the world was when my feet hit the ground in Croatia and I knew that through all of that mayhem over the preceding 24 hours, SOMEHOW, I still made it to Croatia.
I don’t know if that was pure luck or what.