Somewhere in Ireland. Photo: Nic Velarde
There is a guy that comes into my work everyday and orders the same coffee. Two shots of espresso over ice. As he stirs in his agave and cream, so thematically and certain he tells me he is thinking of going on a vacation. I instantly light up and want to give endless advice on how he should go about it, as I always assume people want to travel how I travel.
I am learning that not everyone enjoys hostels, hiking and not having an itinerary. Those people probably don’t come here and read my blog with any interest.
He is a realyl cool guy though. He has been to Australia enough times and wants to go somewhere new. He then says the magical world … Ireland. I thought I heard a flute piping in the background.
I get excited and start telling him all these cool things he should do. And then of course, whenever I start talking about my trip to Ireland I mention how to avoid all the crazy summer tourists. Yes, I was one as well, but that is definitely not the kind of experience I crave.
Meeting the locals, doing cultural things like eating their foods and drinking their beers, having conversations, going dancing, and also exploring the landscape. But I sure don’t feel like a cliche tourist while doing it.
I am respectful and want to learn and embrace that culture not just see it from afar.
But now I am getting ahead of myself. Back to this guy at my work who wants to go to Ireland.
So before I can get far enough into what he should do while there he drops the P-word bomb. He found a Package deal on Groupon. Cool I love that site, they have cheap massages, but I wouldn’t trust them to plan a trip for me. I wouldn’t trust anyone to do that except myself.
He said the price is right at about $1,500 leaving from Los Angeles and includes airfare, board and rental car for nine days.
It seems too cool to be true. My ticket to Ireland alone cost $1,025 from San Diego.
Hostels for two around $1,000. Bus passes for two $500.
Food, beer and pub money $500 each.
And some extra, accidental costs it all added to about $5,000 for two people. But it was for three weeks. Three weeks in Ireland to do as we please!
A neighborhood in Cork, Ireland. Photo: Nic Velarde
I think to myself, do people really buy vacation packages? So I started looking into it and yes, yes they do. That is why I am struck with the questions “Really? Why?”
Going off on your own to explore and do whatever you want is so freeing. That is the beauty of a vacation to me. I guess some people really enjoy the relaxation of a vacation while some (like myself) enjoy the spontaneous adventures.
Relaxing doesn’t enter my vacation. It comes to me when I am at home and have homework to do and I don’t want to do it. So I relax instead. Or when I am sick and watch movies all day. But not when I am in a foreign country.
So back to what I was saying before about being respectful of a culture and wanting to experience it fully. I have to remember that everyone wants something different out of their vacation and to avoid being judgmental I will embrace my bias in what I think a vacation in a foreign country should be.
I learned this a lot while in Ireland last summer. One day my boyfriend, Nic, and I were on a tour around the Ring of Kerry, one of the most popular spots in the Irish countryside. Quaint towns, amazing edges of cliffs, ocean views and lots and lots of people.
Our tour bus took us to the most beautiful stopping points. At the places that would be great for hiking and exploring we were only given minutes there. Yes, MINUTES! As in the words of tour bus driver, “Enough time to take a few good pictures.” I wanted to scream and run away from the bus.
Then when we went to towns we had over an hour. UGH. They even dropped us off at a restaurant in a hotel for lunch with no other options around.
So we ordered the second worst fish and chips of the trip (the first was in Cashel at a Mediterranean restaurant that didn’t serve Guinness. We should have left at the”‘No Guinness”). It isn’t like we are snobs about our fish and chips, but it was a fancy hotel FOR TOURISTS. We didn’t want to eat there, but it was lunch time and had no other choice.
Then we get to Lady’s Point. A magnificent view of Irish green country. All we wanted to do was explore. But we only had ten minutes for a photo opportunity.
I tried hard to swallow my judgment of the tourists. Everyone is crowding one area of the mountain to get a sweet picture of this place they didn’t really experience, and neither did we. I felt like I never even went there. I saw it, but I didn’t get to know it.
And that is why I strongly dislike tours and tour buses. It’s a facade of an experience in the country.
So, I try to tell this guy I think he would have more fun doing his own trip. But he is set on doing it because it eliminates the hassle involved in a planning a trip.
That is half the fun, or at least one-eighth of it. The planning of which hostel is cheaper, slightly less shady, and in the best location. Picking out what county to stay in and for how long. What plane ticket to buy, what bus pass to go with. Then finally getting there and not knowing what to do next. That is a good part of the pre-travel experience.
I want to just yell at him, “You will be missing out on so much!” There won’t be the opportunity to change your plans on a whim because something cool came up.
And staying in a hostel forces you to make friends with people in your room and in the common room at night. That is how you find people to go out with at night or explore with in the day. That is how you make life time friends.
That is how you discover you can understand French when you’re drunk.
Hostels usually have kitchens so you can experience grocery shopping in a foreign country. And there are so many different travelers from all over staying at hostels that are all hanging out in the kitchen as well.
Taking a bus may take longer but sometimes the struggle of bus times makes it all the more fun. Although, I will admit, having a car for a day or two would be nice to go to more remote places to hike that buses don’t go (that’s a post for another time).
But if we had a car in Ireland we never would have been forced to hitchhike after our bus left us. We met really amazing and generous people to give us a ride back.
Nic and I got closer. But I also got out of my comfort zone so many times. I got closer to my soul. My soul got closer to the earth.
Fight the herd and go on your own trip. It is hard to plan and scary but so worth the experience. The country will thank you for really getting to know it by the end.