That’s the single best word to describe independent travel.
In planning my semester with Champlain Abroad, I decided that I wanted to take one solo weekend trip (to my mom’s initial disdain). And the more reading of independent female travel blogs that I did, the more the idea solidified in my mind and became not a want but a need. As long as I did my research and chose somewhere that would put everyone’s mind at ease in terms of safety, there wouldn’t be an issue.
I flip flopped between destinations; and when my first long weekend, still open, began approaching, I asked a professor for a recommendation on regions in Ireland to visit.
“The Dingle Peninsula,” He said, no hesitation in his reply. So came the studying of how to get there, what to do, where to stay and eat, and who needed cash over credit. Reflecting back on it, the process was long—five hours spent one Sunday afternoon, poring over my ninety open tabs and scrolling through articles furiously—but not as painstaking as I imagined it would be. Two days later, a trip for Dingle and Killarney was completely booked and the excitement to go was insurmountable.
I was leaving on a Thursday night, and the morning of, nerves settled into my stomach. Though I wasn’t leaving the country, the reality of embarking on this journey in a new area alone was sinking in. Needless worrying about whether or not I was going to forget or lose important items, then if I was going to truly enjoy going by myself. Seeing sights and venturing where my friends haven’t yet gone; not making memories that I’d recall later on and laugh about with someone.
And needless it was; because when I arrived at my hostel in Dingle, I stumbled in on a casual open mic session, a fire burning in the corner. The air was cozy, and strangers were creating a community together. The three nights that I was there, I had new roommates who came from all over Europe (and California!). It was a place bustling with new, bright-eyed faces, and everyone wanted to know about everyone else’s journeys. Immediately, my sense of loneliness vanished. I entered Champlain College’s study abroad program as a non-Champlain student and knowing nobody; and like going off to Ireland as a stranger, I was able to go off to the opposite coast alone and bond with other female solo travelers. We were all there for the same purpose, and that was something incredible.
During the days, we went off on our separate ways. My first day in Dingle, I cycled Slea Head: a five hour loop around the Dingle Peninsula. There was no need to get back into town at a certain time, and I was allowed to stop as frequently and for as long as I wanted. And when everything was sore, I could walk my bike along the side of the road and not have to keep pace or feel like I was holding anyone up. I returned my rental bike with I’m-on-top-of-the-world-(aye) knowledge that I had accomplished Slea Head, and walked around a bit before choosing dinner.
I reveled in being a little selfish this weekend—what do I want? What looks like a good place? And there was no judgement when I devoured a burger and chips and then decided to grab an ice cream. Or the next night, when I ordered fish and chips and then a fried Snicker’s with ice cream–do yourself a favor and get that. And no reason not to stop by the water after and gaze on the last of the sunlight dipping below clouds and lands.
The next two days were more up in the air. And that was something I’ve always craved: total spontaneity. I didn’t know where the day would take me, and let a laissez-faire attitude sweep over me. In the end, I found myself in a spiritual and cultural center; walking along the Dingle Bay to catch a free glimpse of the resident dolphin, Fungie, and to sit with the panoramic views of Dingle’s rolling green hills around me and a journal in front of me; and on a mile or so long trek through Killarney to the National Park where I toured Ross Castle for two euro, learning a thing or two about Irish chieftains of the fifteenth century and their massive bedrooms (shared with all fifteen or so of his children). The weekend ended at a pub to listen to live music, where an old gentleman busted out the words to “Someone Like You” and the song “Last Christmas” filtered through the speakers once the musician had finished her session.
The adventures that I had independently are invaluable. I gained a new sense of confidence: to trust myself, decisions, and sense of direction in more ways than one. To exhale my worry and to let the wind blow whichever way it will. You might not think major change can overtake you in just three days; but I promise, independent travel does just that. Something breaks away. There’s a release.