The Bradt Travel Guides founder travels a lot – but still sometimes needs to remind herself how much she likes it
I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go to Poland tomorrow. I want to stay in my nice cosy house. I don’t want that long journey from Devon to Luton, an airport hotel and the five o’clock wake-up call. It’s winter. There’ll be snow in Zakopane. If I have to go away, I want to be somewhere warm, to feel the sun soaking through my clothes and see the bright greens of another country’s summer. This trip is all prearranged, of course it’ll be lovely, but I don’t want to go.
Even after 50 years of adventurous travel I’m still anxious, rather than excited, in the lead up to departure. It’s partly about going solo, without a companion to discuss plans and stir up the imagination. People ask, “Have you packed yet?” and try to get me to share my excitement. I make an effort to oblige, but the anticipation just isn’t there.
It’s only in the aeroplane that I can settle down to the pleasure of the moment. I always try to get a window seat so I can look out at the patterns of nature. Clouds like lumps of plucked cotton or scoops of ice cream; patchwork farmland and broccoli rainforests; huge expanses of empty savannah with perhaps the glint of a green-bordered river making its way to the sea; the marvellous tree-like pattern as tributary branches feed into one mighty river trunk that broadens to a delta.
I want to nudge my neighbour and say, “Look at that!” but they are usually reading or watching a movie. And oh, I do so hate it when the flight attendants ask us to close the window shutters so people can sleep.
But despite all this, it’s Poland tomorrow and I don’t want to go...
Fast forward. I’m back in my hotel room in Zakopane getting ready for dinner. My face is pink from the cold and I can’t stop smiling to myself. I’ve just returned from a walk through the snowy pinewoods of the national park.
As soon as my luggage was in the room I was out exploring. The pavement was a deep, slippery canyon cut into the drifts of snow that must have fallen earlier in the day; people were out with shovels, clearing the pavement outside their houses. One man was removing snow from his roof, suspended (I hoped) by a rope that I couldn’t see, so his mission looked impossibly dangerous.
Where the houses ended, a broad path led up through the forest towards the craggy Tatra Mountains. It was utterly silent save for the crunch of snow underfoot and the occasional evening serenade of a bird. A black-and-white world in the fading light, patterned by white caps of snow on the black feathery conifers.
The last verse of the Robert Frost poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, ran, unbidden, through my head.
‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.’
It was getting dark, I had to find my way back and, yes, I had promises to keep. But I’d remembered why I love to travel.