Me, Myself and I

Image Credit: Sam Forson

Travel editor Colleen McShane discusses her solo trip to the Giant’s Causeway and the calming effect of natural environments.

Travelling alone is a multi-faced experience: it can be one of the most productive things you do in your life and, simultaneously, an incredibly solitary experience. It all depends on how you approach the process of planning, journeying, and socialising alone. As a student who has been commuting multiple hours to and from university for five years, embarking on a solo trip was a scenario I was already equipped for. With the addition of many long-distance relationships spanning from across the country to across the globe in Norway and America, the possibility of solo travel is one that weighs heavy on my mind constantly. However, I learnt that taking small steps makes the process of preparing for a solo trip much easier than diving head first into it, especially if the destination is an unknown continent - unless, of course, you are more of a spontaneous person than me.

Travelling alone is a multi-faced experience: it can be one of the most productive things you do in your life and, simultaneously, an incredibly solitary experience.

Earlier this year, I headed north from my small coastal town in the East of the country; I ventured to the Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim and stayed one night in one of the local hostels nearby. It took over four and a half hours to complete a journey that is usually three-hours long - courtesy of the unreliability of public transport and the traffic that is distinctive of Irish roads. Luckily, I was in possession of a wonderful playlist and two literary classics I enjoy revisiting, Jane Eyre and The Awakening. I booked this trip for inspiration for my research on Kate Chopin’s 1899 book The Awakening, hoping to gain inspiration and insight into the solitary epiphanic emotions her protagonist feels along the unknown coast. The coast by my home seemed too familiar to me to evoke these feelings, and I had visited the Giant’s Causeway during my school days. That childhood trip evoked emotion, and I wished I could experience those again in my adulthood. 

Upon arriving, I realised I had forgotten to account for the possibility that the Irish weather could spoil my experience in the natural world, as I was met with spring showers and forceful winds. Whilst I have always appreciated the beauty of nature on a sunny day, rain can easily ruin my mood - which is arguably a very relatable experience. 

I took a twenty-euro tour in the rain, my socks got soaked, and my freshly straightened hair curled on the ends like a 1960s housewife. Nevertheless, as I stood upon a rock jagged and haggard with legends and myth, I watched the clouds dispel and the sun emerge for a very short greeting - which not even the most advanced camera could have done justice. The rain did not stop and continued to spit thin droplets, yet golden rays reflecting off the water affected both my mood and my relationship to my surroundings for what felt like a mere second. This moment dispelled the doubts I had of loneliness as I became one with the natural world around me, physically and metaphorically. Epiphanic would be a good word, however; within a moment so fleeting there was no time for self-reflection or epiphany. 

Those feelings emerged once I returned to the hostel room. I would usually find the sound of the rain loudly pattering down on a metal-like roof infuriating; there, however, I was brought back to the fleeting coast with sandy feet and a tranquil mind. 

Solo travel seems less lonely when you are travelling to meet someone you care deeply for. For me, this year it was nature, as cliché as that may sound. Next year, hopefully, it will be my long distance friends.