In Sweden, I must make more decisions on a daily basis than I ever have before in my life. Making decisions has always been difficult for me. I have a hard time trusting myself, especially when making decisions about money. Can I really justify buying anything?
I was invited to a reception this week at the U.S. ambassador’s house in Stockholm. I decided to make a trip out of it and see Stockholm while I was up north. I faced many difficult decisions during my trip: when should I go? How long should I stay? Where should I stay? What should I see in Stockholm?
I felt very empowered making all of these decisions. I was completely in control of my life. I could go wherever I wanted and rest whenever I wanted. I also became aware of the consequences of my decisions. These were my responsibility.
For example, my train from Alvesta to Stockholm was delayed by 6 hours. Most of my first day in Stockholm was spent in Alvesta, so I decided to stay an extra day in Stockholm. I tried to change my return ticket to Friday night, but my ticket was not refundable. I had to buy a new ticket. This was an unexpected expense. I agonized over this decision for an hour before choosing to purchase a later return ticket.
Then I thought I could simply book another night in the hostel. Turned out there were no beds available. Now I had to find somewhere else to stay. This proved to be very difficult last minute. I spent my first night in Stockholm comparing last minute rates and student discounts for hostel and hotel rooms. Finally I decided to book the cheapest hotel in a neighboring city outside of Stockholm. Paying for an extra day in Stockholm really motivated me to make the most of every moment I was there.
At least I got the hardest decisions out of the way in the beginning of the trip.
I frequently doubt my decisions, but as my trip in Stockholm progressed, I began to realize I can trust my instincts. With every purchase I made, whether it was an activity or food, I asked myself was this experience worth this money to me? Every time I answered myself with a resounding yes.
I had many wonderful adventures in Stockholm: I went to the observation deck at the top of Kaknästornet, a television tower; I toured Drottningholm Palace, its gardens, and its Chinese Pavilion; I explored Skansen, an outdoor museum; and most awe inspiring to me, I traversed every part of Bergianska Trädgården, a botanical garden national park of Sweden. I saw plants, architecture, and living history that will stay with me forever.
The confidence I gained from my larger decisions transferred to my smaller decisions, and the successful outcomes of my decisions outweighed any bad choices, like when I repeatedly went in the wrong direction. Traveling anywhere involves constantly choosing which way to go. I get lost really easily. Even though I have a terrible sense of direction, I discovered in Stockholm that if I could visualize a map in my mind, I could generally go in the right direction. This increased my confidence in these decisions.
I got to practice this type of decision frequently in Stockholm. In Sweden, street signs are tiny plaques on the sides of buildings. They usually blend into the building and are useless at 5-way intersections. In Stockholm, the pedestrian and vehicle traffic move very quickly, the buildings are distracting in their magnificence, and the public transportation is almost too good with many bus and subway lines to pick from. I was immediately swept up in the city hustle.
I don’t have data on my phone, so I can only use Google Maps when I am in an area with WiFi access and a paper map is only useful if you can find your current location on it. To make things more confusing, there are many crisscrossing bridges, bike paths, and staircases throughout Stockholm. I had to cross a spaghetti bowl of bike paths, roads, and railway tracks to get to my hostel. Google Maps is not very useful in Sweden. The app doesn’t specify which exit to take from the train or subway station or which side of the street to catch the bus. I quickly learned that different exits take you to different streets or in some cases, to totally different levels of the city with streets built over other roads. Also Google Maps doesn’t differentiate between bike paths and vehicle roads and often refers to bike paths by their official names which are not visible when you are walking on the bike paths. Add in end-of-summer road construction, anxiety-producing large crowds, and a language barrier, and it was no surprise I was frequently lost.
I had to rely on my instincts. I followed train tracks and waterways whenever I could and asked store owners in touristy areas for directions. I swallowed the panic that rose in my throat every time I realized I was lost and persevered through the frustration when I couldn’t quickly find my way. There were many times I wanted to just sit down and scream, “I’m lost! Somebody help me! Somebody teleport me to where I want to go! I’m over this!”
Instead of giving up, I learned how to make directional decisions. I learned how to read the subway maps and how to use the subway. I learned that the subway lines ran to every corner of the city. If I wandered around long enough, I would discover a glowing blue T that glorious beacon signalling the subway stairs. Also Swedish public transportation is very forgiving. In Växjö, the buses run every 10 minutes on weekdays, and in Stockholm, many of the buses run every 6-8 minutes. Even if you missed a bus or got on the wrong train, it really wouldn’t take too long to rectify the situation.
As I continued to learn from my decisions, I became proud of every choice I made. I am a competent decision maker. I can navigate a city that is twice as large as the largest city I have ever visited. I can make purchases without feeling guilty. I can live without doubting myself. The magnificent sights of Stockholm are unforgettable, but what I really gained from this excursion is greater confidence in my decision making abilities.