Two weeks ago I went on a trip for work to meet some students at Cologne Airport which is only 15km, or a short train ride, from the city centre. My inbound flight arrived at around 2pm and, as I had an overnight stay, I was fully intending on taking the short trip into the city and making the most of the opportunity to explore a city I had never visited before in a country I have only ever briefly stepped into (literally).
I left London with grand plans of navigating my way into the centre of Cologne on public transport and I had a list of places in the city that I wanted to go to. However, after landing a little later than expected and waiting longer than I would have liked for the hotel shuttle, I really didn’t have the energy to explore. Before this trip I’d never really travelled alone and, although I was on the same flight as some of our students heading home, I was responsible for getting myself to Cologne, I couldn’t rely on anyone else to help and I couldn’t just be a sheep following the herd as I’m guilty of usually doing when travelling with others.
There’s a part of me that wants to hit myself in the face for taking the easy option. Had my hotel been in the city centre I wouldn’t have been able to flake out, but my mandatory travel for the day was done and I didn’t have the mental energy to keep going once I knew I had reached my hotel where I would be safe and comfortable for the night. I’m usually physically tired after a weekend in London with work, add a 5am start and a flight on top of that and you’d expect it to have been physical tiredness that put me off sightseeing but actually I feel like it was the mental strain of travelling on my own yet still feeling responsible for a group of students while navigating my way through an airport I’d never flown from and an airport I’d never flown to. Once I made it to my hotel, after walking the length of Cologne airport to find the shuttle pick up point and waiting for thirty minutes before calling the hotel and the shuttle finally arriving fifteen minutes later, I was mentally done for the day. I just couldn’t face the thought of making my way back to the airport terminal and navigating my way into the city on an unfamiliar public transport system.
I have the confidence to travel by myself and cope calmly in new situations but I would never have dreamed of taking this trip alone a couple of years ago and that’s why I still have limits as to what I can achieve in one day. Travelling solo and encountering so many new places and situations in one day takes up a different kind of energy that I can’t quite describe, an energy that makes you mentally tired rather than physically and made my head ache in a place it’s never ached before. My new experiences energy allowance for that day had all been used up. Like I said before, if my hotel had been in the city I would have kept going until I got there, just because I had to but I’d made it to where I needed to be. Sometimes you’ve got to know your limits and when to let yourself stop. For me that was relaxing in the hotel and getting a pizza delivered to my room rather than travelling on an unfamiliar public transport system and wandering alone around a new city. By the next morning or even just a few hours later, after a bit of time to have a warm drink and relax, I would have totally been up for going into the city but since I hadn’t arrived until mid afternoon and didn’t want to be out by myself in a strange city too late at night and I had to be at the airport at 10:30 the next morning to meet a new group of students I wasn’t going to get a second chance.
I know that technically I had plenty of time to enjoy being a tourist and that many people would have loved this opportunity and would have got more out of it than I did but I don’t regret my decision to take it easy, relax and enjoy the hotel. Sometimes you have to listen to yourself and respect your limits both mental and physical. Seasoned travellers would have taken on this challenge with no trouble and would also probably laugh at me calling this a challenge but before I went to university four years ago I probably wouldn’t even have considered visiting a city in my own country by myself let alone travel solo to a foreign country. I’ve changed a lot over the past year in particular, my confidence and therefore my abilities have grown so much but there is still further to go. One day I will fly to a new country, navigate their public transport system and explore a new city all in one day but for now I have to appreciate that I can do all of those things but in baby steps, not all in one day. I’ve had some amazing adventures over the past year but I was never travelling alone. I’m being real in this blog post, proving that you that you don’t always have to be the perfect traveller to enjoy travelling. Yes, I missed this opportunity but I’ve had many over the last year and there will be many more to come.