Traveling to Ireland: Then and Now


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My daughter is now high up over the Atlantic in an Aer Lingus jet flying toward her first visit to Ireland. It is a strange feeling knowing that she’s up there in the vast sky in an oversized tin can, with hundreds of strangers, flying though the dark night and will wake up on the West Coast of Ireland very early tomorrow morning.

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I kid you not…there seemed to be more preparation for this trip than for the invasion of Normandy. It took weeks of preparation: phone calls, emails, shopping and reading guide books. Stopping by for a short visit with some nearby friends on the way home from the airport, I reminisced about what it was like to travel decades ago. I scraped together one or two hundred dollars, got a student ticket on Icelandic Air, flew to Iceland to refuel, and landed in Brussels, Belgium a couple of hours later. It was easy to find a place to stay anywhere and, if one was adventurous, one could get by on a paltry sum. I carried a backpack, wore a pair of lace-up boots and a long plaid skirt. I probably had two changes of clothing. No camera. No laptop. No iphone.

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(That’s me…in June 1972, writing a letter home.)

Back in the dark ages, there were no cellphones for texting or calling; no Skype for face-to-face contact. Intercontinental telephone calls cost a fortune, so I simply never called home. Instead, I wrote letters…a steady stream of them as I wandered around Europe. The pace of life was so much slower that one could actually sit and reflect and write a letter about one’s experiences to loved ones.


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(Me again, to the far left, aside an Irish ruin in Sligo.)

Traveling in those circumstances really felt like you were getting away, having a real adventure, experiencing life beyond the familiar. I spent almost a year traveling like that and had many ups and downs. I don’t recall ever making a phone call to complain about anything or ask for help. I was simply awed by the big, wide world and the experiences I was having.
When I came back to the US I was a changed person…more confident with a much greater awareness of the vastness of the world and both the challenges and opportunities it presented.

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On the other hand, before leaving, my daughter spent several weeks booking places to stay. Who knew that every single bed in Ireland would be occupied during the month of September? The price of hostels and B and B’s has skyrocketed so there is no such thing as budget travel any longer.  The carefree experience I had is now nonexistent. There are now so many disenfranchised people adrift throughout the world, as a single woman she has to be careful about where she goes, who she meets and especially where she spends the night.

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She had to purchase an iphone so she could take photos, email us, have a phone plan she could use in Europe and a GPS app to help her find her way as she drives around western Ireland. We debated the merits of various shoes for hiking through peat bogs and jackets for the endless rain showers she will undoubtedly encounter in her travels.

I still have the wool red plaid skirt I wore on my first trip to Europe. I have about a dozen photos, black and white and of very poor quality, in an album from that trip. I don’t know what became of the boots, the backpack or the black woolen cape with a hood that I sewed onto it while in Europe to keep myself warm.

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I wonder how she will fare. Will Ireland still be as magical as it was for me nearly fifty years ago? Will she meet kind, and sometimes not so kind people along the way? Will she be lonesome? Of course she will. Will she feel like she really was able to “get away” and take a break from being an American for a couple of weeks? I hope so.

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I can’t wait to hear about her adventures when she returns. No, we will not be calling her, nor she, us. She will text us her whereabouts as she moves around, a request I made of her. She did text my husband early this morning to say she arrived safely and was driving to her first destination, but she will not be sending us daily messages or photos. This is her journey and she needs to give it her full attention to make the most of it.

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An avid musician who plays the violin and the musical saw, she has suggested that she may come home with a set of bagpipes. That wouldn’t surprise me at all!

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Update: Just received this photo a couple of hours ago. She made it to Ireland and the Cliffs of Moher on her first day!

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13 thoughts on “Traveling to Ireland: Then and Now”

  1. Your daughter is going to have her trip, on her terms, in her way. I read your piece and remembered my first trip to Europe. I travelled alone, but to Paris instead of Ireland. Like yourself, that trip changed me, as this trip will your daughter. Nothing like being by yourself, in a place that is unfamiliar and unlike home. You learn what you are made of for sure. Looking forward to Part Deux…

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    1. Definitely on her terms! She traveled quite a bit in her 20’s but has been homebound for the last several years due to her 4th and 5th open-heart surgeries. In a way, this is a celebration of her ability to be out in the world again. My first solo trip was also to Paris…a hard place to land, but I eventually got more comfortable once I got the language under control. You may have read some of my earlier posts about that experience…. That plaid skirt and boots were first worn in Paris, then went to London, then to Ireland, then to…… You get the picture! Ah….memories. I, too, am looking forward to Part Deux!

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  2. Beautiful pictures. You are so right, travel has changed. Hope your daughter enjoys her trip. Kathy, being Irish and having family still in Ireland, would love to visit it one day. Who knows?

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    1. You must go! From what I’ve learned about you and your wife, I think you would really enjoy the slower pace, chattiness, and wit of the Irish. Not to mention, the countryside is G-o-r-g-e-o-u-s! It’s an easy and welcoming place to visit.

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  3. What an exciting trip for your daughter – loved those photographs. I, too, traveled as you once did many years ago. It was a different world then, and I’m glad that I got to travel that way.

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  4. Traveling is almost impossible to put into words. Actually there are no words for stepping out on your own and finding your way solo in a new country. I know your daughter will have a great time.

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