A Solo Girl Travels…Un-Solo!

When I turned 15, I started itching to travel. Ever since, I’ve made a point to plan a trip right around my birthday, every year. I’ve almost always traveled solo, enjoying and reveling in the time alone, learning and experiencing new things in the unique way you do when you travel solo. Korea, Canada, Florida, Washington DC, wherever I went…these trips molded me, created me as who I am, and helped me understand how I fit into this world. I coveted these private adventures. I held them as secret adventures, private moments that shaped me. Experiences that only I truly understood.

Recently, I broke my code of solo travel to team up with my new partner in life for some mountain biking adventures. I haven’t been disappointed. I have a great new travel partner. We turned out to be great travel buddies on our trip to California for Downieville and decided to try it again for the Single Speed World Championships in Ireland. I haven’t put my solo traveling behind me. I probably never will. I’ve enjoyed this new way of traveling though and am enjoying some future adventures that we are planning – all bike related! We were successful in traveling together across the country…and now the domestic traveling duo are going international!

I decided to write about my…un-solo adventure. It’s a new type of experience for me and it turned truly new when we met up with a fellow Single Speeder shortly after our arrival in Ireland. It’s amazing how one person can change the group dynamic so completely…and the entire trip experience. It also became a test of my resilience, determination and ability to compromise (or just hold my tongue…)

Phunner and I arrived at Ireland’s Shannon Airport early Saturday morning with bikes on our backs and bags on our shoulders. We packed lightly so we could feel mobile. One carry on each for two weeks of travel plus a messenger bag each. After hours being hunched up in the airplane and sleep deprived, I found the trio cumbersome. I was already regretting the messenger bag. At 5 feet and 100 pounds, I think my luggage weighed more than me.

Carry on, Messenger Bag and Bike Bag

We walked out to the curb in front of the airport and caught the bus from Shannon to Limerick. We were a tad unprepared. I hobbled and dragged my bags as fast as I could to the bus stop as the bus was rounding the corner. Phunner decided to book off without me. At 6’2 and at more weight than me by about 60 pounds, he was able to hurry down to the stop. In my attempt to run the last few yards as the bus passed me, I dropped the messenger bag and decided to just drag it the rest of the way. What’s a girl to do?

We arrived in Limerick at 8:00am in the morning (about a 45 minute bus ride) and proceeded to put our bikes together.

After spending about 45 minutes putting our bikes together outside the station, we went in search for a storage location in the bus station to put our bags for the day so we could ride around on our bikes. The luggage leave area was closed (Saturday) so we asked the bus station manager what to do. He gave us the go ahead to store our bags in a back room of his office for free (awesome!) and we headed out to explore Ireland, find a local bicycle shop for a seat adjustment and then to enjoy our first cup of good European joe. Along the way, we ate breakfast at The Sage Cafe upon recommendation from that all knowing and all powerful tool, the internet and were not disappointed. Our traditional Irish breakfast was fancy, tasty and filling. The Sage Cafe was my first encounter with what would turn out to be a loving infatuation with British Scones.

Irish Breakfast at Sage Cafe

After a beer at Clohessy’s, biking along the pier and a nap in front of King John’s Castle, we were feeling the honeymoon of our arrival in Ireland.

We realized it was coming close to time to meet up with our fellow Single Speeding Companion (SSC) so we picked up our bikes from the lawn and pedaled our way back toward the bus station.

While waiting for our SSC, we munched on fish and chips on the bus station steps and talked about how awesome this trip was going to be…and how a part of us really wished we were just going to be riding our bikes around Ireland…rather than meeting up with someone who rented a car. We had a real intimate encounter with Limerick using our bikes as our prime mode of transportation.

You could tell that SSC made it as soon as the SUV careened into the driveway for the bus station going the wrong way. That must be the American…

Our travel companion had arrived…

SSC was the kind of traveler I was not. Loud, unorganized, and always late. While SSC went to find his own meal of fish and chips, Phunner and I loaded the car with our bikes and gear. We grabbed an ice cream and hopped in the car to our next leg of the trip, Cork.

The travel to Cork was my first experience of SSC driving. It’s terrifying. He leans over to look through the passenger window as he’s barreling down the freeway, gets distracted by sunglasses, water bottles and snacks and tends to swerve around the freeway while looking where to go on a map. Being in the back seat, I awoke from attempted naps several times in a panic that we were crashing. This became a recurring scene in our daily travels.

We traveled to Cork and set up at Blarney Camping & Caravan. I thought we may be “roughing it” a bit but the campsite felt a little like a luxurious escape from the death cab SUV. We set up tent and sought out the nearest bar in town.  It turned out to be a locals bar and we walked in on a fish roasting party where the fishermen in the area were sharing their daily finds with others from town. It was apparent that we were not from town…being that there was no kitchen at this bar (turns out typical in Ireland AND Wales to have pubs with no kitchens…) and the locals weren’t offering up any of their fish…we headed into Blarney to find some food.

Phunner had warned me about SSC’s ability to down beer. Apparently, he claimed the name “Boozy” after passing out face first in his tent at the European World Championships and the name has stuck with him ever since. A few beers in at the local Blarney Bar, I was driving us into Blarney. We ate at the Muskerry Arms where Boozy downed a few more Guinness. The Irish music began and our eyes started to get a little droopy from the long day and we headed back to the camp site for some much needed sleep.

Trip Map Day 1: (zoom out to see full route)

Day 2, we woke up made coffee in the campers kitchen and packed up the car with all our stuff.  We had a hot and filling breakfast at Mackey’s Coffee House which serves breakfast ALL DAY! We headed out to the very famous Blarney Castle and made out on our mission to kiss the Blarney Stone (pun intended). Before we made it up to the castle and to the stone, we lost SSC three or four times to what we began to coin as “the placards.” Any time a sign with any type of WORDS was posted ANYWHERE, we would lose SSC. He is a slow reader and likes to read EVERY WORD on EVERY PLACARD he sees. Along the trip, we started corralling him AWAY from placards that we spotted first. Phunner and I made it to the castle, up the castle, throughout the castle and back out before SSC was half way done. Time to kill, we strolled along the poisonous garden and took pictures of the poisons mentioned in Harry Potter. We sat down on a bench…strolled to another bench…read some placards…sat on another bench…and were still waiting for SSC. Hungry, I spotted SSC’s bright yellow jacket and attempted to move him toward the exit…

We drove in to Cork and were in search of lunch. Again, we found a place with beer but no kitchen (An Brog). A very cool little bar with a lot of memorabilia on it’s walls and a great reputation, we sat and looked at the menu. SSC ordered a beer and I, who had been starving while he read all those placards, refused to order. When I get hungry, I get cranky. We moved on to the main strip of Cork, had lunch and explored the town. Not a lot to see in Cork…not a particularly beautiful place to stop in for long…we headed out to Dublin.

Dublin is about 2 hours from Cork.  We parked on the street and went in search of…beer. I was started to get less excited about this activity as every place we went to had three types of alcohol: Guinness, Bulmers Apple Cider and Budweiser. I like beer. Bulmers is okay. I hate Guinness (gasp! Shhh!) and Budweiser?? Really??

We had beers at Mssrs McGuire where Boozy got really friendly with a local blonde haired Irish lassie. Phunner and I were feeling pretty tired from 1) Boozy’s exhaustive approach to driving, 2) a little jet lag, 3) traveling all day and 3) we wanted a good night’s sleep so we could explore Dublin in full the next day. We finished our beers and waited around for Boozy to finish up with his lady friend (and lady friend’s boyfriend…awkward…). They invited us to a bar about a half hour away which Phunner and I were clearly not interested in. We said goodnight to Boozy’s lady friend and headed to The Four Courts Hostel.

Boozy, feeling guilty for missing out on his lady friend’s suggestion, decided to head back out to meet her. Cool, maybe Phunner and I could have a little alone time. We stayed in a room with four French guys, one of which had a horrific cough. Phunner is a deep sleeper, me, not so much. I got virtually no sleep between coughing, Boozy coming in and creaking of metal frame beds. We were in a mixed 8 person room that was full of guys. As the solo traveler speaking, if you are checking in as a solo girl, it might be worthwhile to ask who is staying in the mixed person room. I wouldn’t have cared either way but other solo girls might have been a little put off with a room full of dudes (especially since the Frenchies turned out to be super inconsiderate).

Trip Map Day 2:

Day 3, I woke up super cranky and tired. I worked on waking myself up with a cappuccino at Bewley’s Cafe. We checked out the shopping on Grafton Street and then headed over to the Guinness facility for a tour of the museum and the Gravity Bar. What I love about traveling with Phunner is that it’s like I’m traveling alone still. I can do my own thing, enjoy my own experience but when something funny happens or I want to share something cool I’ve discovered, he’s right there to be in on it. There is no bickering, no uptight decision making. We just explore, wander, meet new people, laugh and have a great time. That’s what traveling is all about. We usually have a general idea of what we would like to do for the day and generally get around to exploring the things that we would like to explore. We like to wake up at a decent hour, have breakfast at a quicker pace, and get started on our day of finding out new things and meeting new people.Traveling with Boozy really upturned this routine for us. He wakes up late, forgets simple things, takes too much time to get ready and inevitably forgets something somewhere that he has to find before we go. Then, once we are out and about, he isn’t sure what he wants to do but FINDS new things along the way that he must do…like look at old stone shit. In every town.

We checked out the The Guinness Storehouse and even if you are like me and don’t like Guinness, it’s a cool place to visit. It’s a building that was leased for 900 years by the starters of Guinness, has an amazingly cool lay out, a lot of Guinness memorabilia, a breathtaking museum and has a fun gift shop as well. The Gravity bar is up at the top of the building and you redeem your ticket for a free beer. We purchased a few items for friends back home and Boozy decided to buy a 6 pack of Guinness as well. On the way back to the car, one of the Guinness exploded and got all over my shirt and socks I bought. Sigh.

Boozy made an awesome comeback by using a candy bag and a bottle of water to wash the socks. They were as good as new. Since I was the non-Guinness lover, I was the sober one in the group and was designated driver. We drove around and around to get back to the main road. This is where Phunner and I aren’t as compatible. He criticizes my driving. I consider myself a decent driver. I’ve driven for many years, many miles and in many countries. I have had some experience driving. Phunner just freaks out occassionally when he thinks I’m being a stupid driver OR if I make a mistake. It happened in Cork. It happened in Blarney. And now it was happening in Dublin. Embarrassed, I held back tears and continued back to the hostel. I don’t like feeling embarrassed, especially in front of other people. I vowed I wouldn’t drive again. And I didn’t.

When traveling solo, your embarrassments are yours. Your fears are yours. Your mistakes are…yours. All the little things that are culture shocking or awkward are yours to experience and process on your own. When traveling with others it’s more public. Driving on the wrong side of the road, in the wrong side of the car, trying to find your way down the street with a bus coming straight at you is stressful. With passengers in the car, it’s even more stressful. All the learnings and lessons are for all to see and there for others to interpret and judge. The reflections are different. The experience is…different.

We had drinks and dinner at Fitzsimmons and beers at Temple Bar. We called it a night earlier than normal as I was exhausted from no sleep and we were heading to Wales for some mountain biking the next day.

Trip Map Day 3:

Three days into my Irish trip, I realized it was going to be much different than my other international trips. I was traveling with a partner I really enjoyed but with a travel buddy I was not compatible with. The next 9 days of travel were challenging, terrifying, exhilarating, interesting and testing. It’s not that one person is better than another or that one person is a better traveler or not. Some people were meant to travel together and others NOT. I learned a lot about my own traveling requirements and habits during our trip in Ireland. I like getting a good night’s rest. I like having a schedule (even if it’s a loosely drawn out one). I like traveling WITHOUT a vehicle. I like traveling on a budget.

One of the big difficulties during our trip was the splitting up of expenses. We all tried to act like it wasn’t a big deal who paid for what but truth be told, I was on an extremely tight budget, Phunner was paying for a good portion of my trip and our travel companions had less regard for the cost of certain things that we ate, certain places we stayed, etc. It also turned out that Boozy kept track of every single thing he bought for the group. If I had known that I was to pay 1/3 or in the case in Wales 1/4, I would not have agreed to some of the beers, food orders or hotel stays that we ended up participating in.  I found that I LIKED being on a budget. It made me feel less tied down. I felt more exploratory. I liked finding that local spot. One of my favorite moments on our trip was finding a gas station that sold bread and cheese and eating a sandwich in a soccer parking lot. I was sticker shocked by how much the trip cost because of traveling with companions.

I am an organic, backpacker, roam the world kind of traveler. I like walking, riding my bike and wandering through streets I don’t know. I love meeting locals, asking questions and hearing stories. I am a solo traveler who survived traveling…un-solo.

Trip Duration: August 18, 2011 – September 5, 2011

For more of my Ireland and Wales experiences, check out my other blog postings that will be out shortly. http://www.cperigen.wordpress.com

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2 thoughts on “A Solo Girl Travels…Un-Solo!

  1. Pingback: Happy Anniversary, E. Coli! « Trust Your Journey

  2. Pingback: An Irish Journey: Day 7, Limerick to Kilfinane « Trust Your Journey

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