Before my first transatlantic flight to the Emerald Isle, I did the requisite amount of planning to get my visa and other such legalese out of the way. Other than finding my first couch surfing host, I did next to zero planning for what to do after I landed in Dublin. My initial host, Conor, surfaced through a miraculous connection: he happened to be my former college roommate's sister's partner. And while I fully intended my stay on his couch to be a short-term request, it quickly stretched from October well into December. With the holiday's approaching, Conor and his family extended an invitation for me to spend Christmas with them and a trip to County Kerry.
Following the festivities, we all returned to Dublin where my former roommate sat me down and delivered a dose of reality. It was time to get off the couch and start carving out my own path.
When I initially moved to Ireland three months prior, I brought along a sizable backpacking bag, a trusty duffle bag, and my old laptop backpack. Typically, during my shorter trips, I'd leave most of my luggage at Conor's place, knowing I'd return. But this time was different; there were no plans of returning anytime soon, so I decided to carry the whole collection going forward.
It's December 30, 2017. The clock strikes nine, and I find myself waiting outside Dublin Bus Station with my three bags in tow. I purchased a bus ticket to Donegal, a town situated in the northernmost county in the Republic of Ireland. I tried to catch some rest during the two and a half hour bus ride, but the anticipation of what awaited me kept my mind racing.
Now, for those not well-versed with Irish geography, it's a common occurrence for a single town or city to bear the same name as the respective county. So, for instance, Dublin City is nestled within County Dublin, and similarly, Donegal town resides within County Donegal. However, it's important to note that just because a town shares the namesake of it's county, doesn't necessarily imply size or population of that town.
By the time I arrived, with the time approaching midnight, an impending storm filled the air and brought waves of showers. Even worse, I quickly learned a hard lesson. Donegal town appeared to be nothing more than a large roundabout with a handful of businesses scattered around the perimeter. With spotty cell service, I roamed the streets in search of a local establishment with an accessible Wi-Fi connection. After a quick search, I found that there was a hostel situated on a side street just north of the roundabout. I made my way to the location but was disappointed to find the front desk unattended. I attempted to call the phone number posted on the website only to hear it ring directly to the phone at the unattended desk.
I made my way back outside to find the wind picking up and rain beginning to fall. As I wandered the empty streets, my focus was to look for a dry place to take cover. I now had to weigh my options for where to spend the night: find a free place outside in the elements, approach the local police station for help, or to spend some of my limited money on the only hotel in town.
As I was in this process of consideration, a car approached and revealed itself to be the local Gardaí, an Irish police officer. He said he noticed me loitering around town and recommended I go to the hotel due to the bad storm brewing. Now, for anyone familiar with hurricanes, tornadoes, or the like, in Ireland a "bad storm" is not much different than a mild summer thunderstorm. But still, they were right, I wasn't mentally prepared for my first time sleeping on the street to be in the rain.
The clock had long passed midnight when I finally found the hotel. I thought it reasonable to expect a substantial discount at that time, since it seemed unlikely anyone else would also arrive that late. As I approached the front desk, the clerk greeted me with a weary smile and offered a standard room for 50 euros. Knowing what I know now, that was indeed a discount, however still felt like a steep price for the circumstances.
With cold and damp clothes, the weight of my bags on my shoulders felt like an apt metaphor for the uncertainty that loomed over my future. Once I reached my room, I quickly dropped the burden I had been shouldering. The room itself gave me solitude from the chaos, a place where I could finally collect my thoughts and contemplate my lack of preparedness for this trip.
I turned to confront the mirror that hung opposite the bed. My beard, knotted and tangled from humidity and sweat, reflected the thoughts swirling my mind. As I gazed at my reflection, the weight of an uncertain future bore down on me. I paced the room, combing the dampness out of my beard.
What can I do now? Why did I let this happen?
I had been given three months of hospitality and yet I was in the same situation as when I arrived. For a temporary reprieve to thaw both body and mind, I stood in the shower with hopes to clear the mind. However, there was no way to spin the truth: it was time to face the music and accept the consequences.
When I stepped back into the room, the scene laid out before me became clear. I needed to shed my baggage, literally and metaphorically. I proceeded to empty every bag through and through, separating cloths, electronics, and trinkets I brought from home. With each item I pulled out I had one choice: keep it or toss it. With one rule. Everything I choose to keep must fit into one single bag. Everything else gets loaded into the remaining two bags and taken to the thrift store.
The more baggage I chose to discard, the better I felt. The more I focused solely on what I needed, the easier it became to distinguish the rest. The next two hours were spent choosing and packing to optimize for space and the items I needed for my impending travel life. After all was said and done, I slept for a few hours, woke up early, and took advantage of the hot breakfast at the hotel.
When I stepped off the bus back in Dublin I walked to the first available thrift store and offloaded 2/3 of my belongings.
While I did enjoy some adventures during my first three months in Ireland, I became complacent when I didn't need to fend for myself.
Getting rid of most of my stuff allowed me to travel more agile. Looking myself in the mirror and opening myself up to alternatives gave me the chance to learn how to survive as a backpacker in a foreign land. Once I started paying my own way, I started spending money. Once I started spending money, I was forced to actually get myself out of it. From there I found the job that would change my life forever.