Nicola Kenny reflects on past adventures and offers advice for planning fulfilling and beautiful trips.
With many restrictions still in place, it seems like regular travel is still a long way off. However, even if the pandemic stops us from embarking on any sort of physical adventure, it does not shut us out from our most valuable travelling resource, imagination. The relaxed pace of life and the new availability of time that has emerged during the pandemic may provide the perfect opportunity for you to plan your next big adventure.
During my years as a university student, travelling has meant everything to me. In the summer of 2019, I set out on a great, rolling adventure. And though I did not know it at the time, this journey would come to be one of the most important experiences of my life so far. Following an incredibly difficult year on a personal level at UCD, I set out for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a month, opening myself up to the world once again. One thing led to another, and in a pleasant twist of events, I found myself with newfound friends travelling to other various festivals in Ireland and abroad as an artistic contributor. Before I knew it, another friend pointed me in the direction of a Swedish Community Farm, where I subsequently lived for a few months. During this adventure, I regained my voice and discovered a sense of purpose and connection with others that I had thought was gone forever. Little by little and then all at once, everything was okay again. While we can no longer travel as freely and enjoy these kinds of experiences, I hope to share with you what I have learnt about the process of planning and undertaking such a trip.
“breaking things down and creating a solid foundational plan will allow for organic and meaningful experiences to unfold as you travel.”
Initially, organising a big adventure can be overwhelming. However, breaking things down and creating a solid foundational plan will allow for organic and meaningful experiences to unfold as you travel. While everyone is different, finding a clear purpose for your travels will provide guidance in your planning. As you start out in the process, there are some big questions to ask. What kind of trip do you want this to be? Why are you going? Mapping out some of these ideas in a notebook can be a constructive place to start. On my big adventure, travelling was about reaching out to others, venturing outside of my comfort zone, and getting in touch with who I was. We live in the age of information. Why not use this to your advantage as you look for inspiration? You can dip into podcasts, books, and conversations, drawing ideas from what is happening around you. Be open to whatever comes your way. Looking away from devices and social media may enable you to form your own ideas and create an authentic adventure. Remember, this should be an enjoyable experience for you. Allow yourself to search widely and dream big.
Once you have discovered your purpose, you can start to think about where you are going and how you will get there. In an age of environmental consciousness, why not think about visiting places closer to home and adopting new forms of travel? This summer past we had the opportunity to experience the joy of travelling within Ireland, appreciating the beauty of what exists on our own shores, and in some cases, neighbouring European countries. Boats, trains, and buses make this kind of travelling affordable, accessible, and environmentally friendly. They may even allow you to bring a bike on board. These options become favourable when you consider the time spent waiting around in queues at airports. Apps and websites such as Trainline, Rome to Rio and Omio are excellent planning resources. For quite some time, I have personally been baffled by fellow students opting to travel long-distances in the pursuit of meaning. The costs associated with experiences such as the J1 alone are difficult to comprehend. Why not reframe the core of the journey to be about the process, and take the time to enjoy the experience that is the very nature of your adventure? From my experience, beauty and pleasure can be appreciated with this approach.
Another important consideration in planning is accommodation and company. When choosing where to stay, it may be worthwhile considering settling in one place for some time rather than moving around regularly. This is a positive from an environmental perspective, and also offers a unique opportunity to truly embed yourself in a community and experience the culture. Websites such as Airbnb and WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) provide useful information on this. When you are considering who you would like to travel with, you may need to think back to your travelling purpose. While adventuring as part of a group offers the opportunity to share collective memories, solo travelling allows you to open up to new backgrounds, pushing you beyond your comfort zone. My experience staying on the farm in Sweden taught me this. Here, I lived with a Steiner community, working in the fields, and foraging by the day before gathering by the fire to share stories at night. It was through this immersive experience that I grew, forging close bonds with others as we formed something of a collective. The ideal situation for me has been travelling alone, finding places where there are opportunities to stay for extended periods and get to know people on a deeper level.
One of the most exciting areas to think about when planning your big adventure is the itinerary and activities. If you are going to stay put for an extended period somewhere, organising your trip around major local events can be a lot of fun. This may also allow you to work and support your travels on a budget. During my big adventure at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I gained employment at a local Arts Centre where I was able to see shows for free while working alongside people from all over the world. The nature of the festival encouraged conviviality. I stayed up all night chatting and dancing with others, making dear friends along the way. There were also plenty of opportunities for downtime. Amidst the madness of the world’s largest arts festival, my new friends and I spent our days cycling out to the sea and heading off on hikes. It was magical. Of course, what you do will depend on your interests. A good old traditional diary will allow you to plan everything out, but do remember to take photos and screenshots as you go along. Avoid typical tourist traps when you arrive by tuning in with locals to find out what is happening. While planning is essential, make sure you don’t forget to live in the moment.
So, during the long dark winter months ahead, why not treat yourself to a notebook, and allow yourself to dream and get ready for your next big adventure. While the pandemic may appear to be lasting forever, little by little, we will come out the other side. There are positive signs of hope ahead, and as soon as we can get moving again, we will. And when this time comes, as Dr Seus would say: “You are off to great places! Today is the day! Your mountain is waiting…so get on your way.”