Confessions of an anti-tourist

Ireland

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!

Cork, Ireland

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.

*Sigh*

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.

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How to seriously take a vacation

Nic and I camping at Mt. Baldy in Angeles National Forest.

A lot of my friends ask me how I do it, how I obtain a budget that allows me to travel. I certainly don’t have a good paying job and I am still in school, so being rich is definitely not the only requirement to travel. The advice I follow is to have a goal and stick to it; as simple as that sounds it takes patience, planning and a sense of adventure.

There is a balance of priorities. Ask yourself, what is the most important thing(s) you want to do during your life? Whatever it is, make it happen. When I ask myself what I want out of life it is to travel, to love and find peace. So when my friends ask me how I manage to do it, to save money, I can only think, how can I not?

I want to make it clear in my blog that I don’t have a high paying job. I live in southern California, one of the most expensive places to live. Even the gas prices are sky high. I make about $260 a week at my regular job. I have bills like everyone else. I pay $300 a month in rent, $90 a month in car insurance, add that in with buying groceries, filling up my gas tank for $70 and taking care of my cats, it gets exhausting.

It all adds up. Living paycheck to paycheck is something I have gotten used to. But what I do differently is I save a little bit here and there. Even saving $25 a week adds up in the end.

During tax season my second job is doing data entry with my parents for their business. I am very fortunate and try to never take it for granted. All the money I make with my second job I put in my savings account.

Also, I save my tax refund and used that for most of the plane ticket expense. A lot of people that get a refund I hear saying are going ot use it to pay off some bill or car payment. But, is that what you really want to do? Instead of putting all your hard-earned money into responsibility cubbies, make your own happiness a priority and duty.

My last not-so-secret ingredient is to use those vacation hours! I recently read a fascinating article I found on the Expedia website about vacation deprivation: http://viewfinder.expedia.com/features/2013-vacation-deprivation-study

A lot of people don’t use all their paid time off which on a tangent totally boggles my mind. Why would you not use your vacation hours!? I cashed mine out and used it to buy my bus passes for Ireland. It definitely won’t cover my rent/bills while I am gone, but that is a worry for another time. Even if the vacations hours aren’t enough to afford time off, it can cover the cost of part of your trip.

My trip to Ireland certainly won’t be a four-star resort experience, which truthfully doesn’t entice me anyway. You have to be up for adventure and excitement if you really want to get out there and explore. The cheaper, the more time you can go and the less worry you will have when you return to your life back home.

Also, don’t be impulsive and hasty when it comes to buying plane tickets, places to stay, etc. Shop around and make sure you are getting the best deal. This takes patience, but will save you so much money in the long run.

The moral of the story: don’t feel vacation deprived anymore! Start saving a year in advance even if it is only a few dollars every week. Just set it aside and don’t find any excuse to take it out of your savings. A year from now you will be going on the trip of a lifetime and you don’t need to be rich to do it.

 

Transportation on vacation

Katelyn and I

My sister and I traveling to St. Andrews with our new friends who drove us. Photo: Scotland friends

Train, taxis and bus fares can add up quickly if not careful. Booking in advance is my reoccurring theme when it comes to traveling on a budget. Planning ahead is usually how to get better deals and keep the cost down. Transportation is a little different than the hostels and plane tickets since those are set in stone with exact dates.

I do not like to be tied down to plans and schedules, especially when I am on a vacation. Since Ireland is a fairly small country I recommend the bus pass.

I purchased a 13 day bus pass for Ireland which is valid for 26 days. I can travel as much as I want all day on local, city and expressway buses for any 13 days. With the exchange rate actually going down (Yay!) I got two passes together for $592 being delivered to my apartment here in the United States. There are other options on the Bus Eireann website from 3 to 15 days of travel. They even offer a rail and bus pass which I would have bought, but they only offer it for 8 days of travel which is not ideal for the length of my trip.

A few great things about the bus pass:

1. Reservations are not necessary like some rail passes in Europe require.

2. It allows me the freedom to keep my plans wide open to go wherever I want because I won’t worry about the cost.

3. Buses in Ireland can get me almost everywhere I want to go, more in the nooks and crannies compared to the trains.

Buses seem to be underrated. When I went to Scotland in 2009 I did not plan the trip much. I only booked a hostel and didn’t even look into transportation costs. I ended up not being about to explore as much as I wanted because my money was running dry. But there was this one day … the most memorable day of my entire trip if not my entire life. My sister and I were trying to find this one, special castle i saw in my travel book.

We got on the bus and asked the driver to take us to this town the book said the castle was near. We ended up going the opposite way, missed more trains and buses and waiting hours we eventually found a bus driver who would go off his normal route and drop us off at the castle that apparently no one in Scotland ever heard about.

Tantallon castle looks over the edge of a cliff toward the sea. The green rolled all around the castle, the wind blew our hair and I remember looking to the north/east and there is this huge rock protruding out of the water. I wondered if anyone has even been on top of it. There was no one around us at all. This was truly a magical place and I existed there at that moment with my sister.

After we frolicked for a while we realized this wasn’t the normal route for the bus driver so how would we get back to our hostel? We walked for an hour to the closest bus stop. Time didn’t matter much as we ate egg salad sandwiches and waited hours for the next bus to swoop us up. He wasn’t going to Edinburgh where we needed, but he would go that way just for us anyway.

That day really defined traveling for me in ways I can’t even express here. Buses are romantic and powerful. Don’t underestimate the bus in a foreign country. Even if it takes all day it really is about the experience.

Now that Nic and I have the plane, hostels and transportation covered all we need to pay for when we get there is the remaining balance for the hostels, then food and beer money. Ireland seems to be materializing right before my eyes everyday now as it gets closer and closer to July 23.