Solo Travel in Europe

At some time in our lives we all have those moments when we swear we are going to travel the world and see the sights. I myself have been making that claim since I was a young girl. I was so convinced that I was going to Italy in 2010 so I got my passport, started learning Italian, booked a few hostels and then plans fell through; because my husband was denied a passport.

So instead of making the journey alone, I packed my passport away and focused on traveling around the U.S. We went to a great many places, seeing the sites and along the way camped in a converted suburban. I was completely satisfied with the adventures we were having at home, but it was not the same. I was still longing to see other countries; I wanted to experience other cultures.

Occasionally I would make a comment about wishing I could go to Europe, see England, Ireland, Italy. My husband of 30 years has heard my wishes and desires many times over that 30 years, so he knew how much I longed to see those places. He came to me out of the blue one day in October 2015 and says, “How would you like to go to Europe in January?”

“I would absolutely love to but there is no way I can.” I told him. I knew we didn’t have the funds for a trip like that first and foremost, plus he still didn’t have a passport. Also, we now have custody of our three-year-old granddaughter so how was he going to handle her, the house, the pets and care for himself while I was gone? I just did not see that a trip at this time of my life was possible. The idea was shot down not to be thought of again.

Or so I thought.

Tom came to me again, at the beginning of January and told me to start planning my trip that I was going, end of discussion. After voicing the same concerns I had previously, and a new one that my brother-in-law who was recently disabled and bedridden would be moving in with us, I knew there was absolutely no way I could take any kind of trip right now. But Tom was adamant that he could handle the house and his brother. He also made plans for one of my daughters to come stay with us while I would be gone and she would help him with everything.

After making quite sure he really had everything under control, I, a 45-year-old woman, decided to take the leap and go travel for one month in Europe, alone. I decided to go for it. I would leave in 10 days and I had a budget of $1500.00.

My first course of action was to find a plane ticket. Finding something affordable leaving from Atlanta, Orlando or Miami on that short of notice was definitely a challenge. But after a day or two of searching I had it figured out. To maximize my savings I ended up buying one-way routes on different airlines (Frontier Airlines, Jetairfly and Ryanair). To begin my adventure I would be driving four hours from southwest Georgia to Atlanta, flying to Miami then on to Brussels before my final destination of Dublin.

Frommer’s Guide to Ireland

Once in Europe I planned to take advantage of the trains to get around and one other flight from Dublin to Edinburgh via Ryanair. For my return I would fly straight out of Brussels to Miami, on to Atlanta then the drive back home. Using the method that I did, I spent a total of $650.00 to travel round trip to, and around Europe. This includes using public transportation such as the city bus or subway. But to save a few more dollars I purchased local travel cards (Oyster in London and Leap in Dublin). If those weren’t available I just paid the fare for each ride.

Lonely Planet’s Discover Great Britain

My next course of action was to book accommodations. I knew that I was not going to be staying in hotels during the trip since I wanted the “backpackers experience” so I chose to stay in hostels for the majority of the trip, ones that were centrally located to the center of town that offered free events, tours or inexpensive ones. I stayed brand loyal and scored a small discount for using the same hostel in multiple locations and used member reward points for free hotel stays before and after my flights home. I also rented a room in a private house for twelve nights in Glastonbury at a phenomenal rate.

I booked lodging in each city I planned to stay in, seven of them, and then I booked different modes of travel to get between each location. It took me about five days to have everything booked and in place. My European trip was coming together nicely and the total I was going to spend for accommodations was approximately $250.00. By the time I had the transportation and accommodations booked I had already spent $900.

Now it was time to shake the dust off my backpack and start planning what I was going to be taking with me. I have plenty of experience of living out of a backpack on both short and long vacations, but not one that I would be carrying on my back every day so I had to think about what I really needed. I literally packed bare necessities with the idea that I can replenish in Europe. I bought a few travel books to find out what was free to see and do in England, Ireland and Scotland; the three countries I was planning to visit.

In my small backpack I managed to fit the following:

1-pair of jeans (I would be wearing the second pair)
2-pair of bed pants
4-sets of underwear and socks
1-small toiletry bag
2-travel books
1-water bottle
2-phone chargers
international plug adapters

Then I set off on my solo backpacking month in Europe.

By the time I landed in Dublin, Ireland I had already been traveling for 23 hours. Once there I hopped on a city bus and made my way downtown to find the hostel I was staying at. The hostel I chose was Paddy’s Palace and it was very centrally located to everything in Dublin. Literally, it’s right around the corner from the train and bus station, and across the street from the Customs House. It is a few blocks from famous Connolly Street and the General Post Office, the sight of the 1916 Easter Rising, and just a half mile from Ha’penny Bridge. It was very reasonably priced at €9 (about $11) per night.

All of the sites and attractions in that I visited were free of charge and I didn’t leave feeling like I had missed anything. However, while in Dublin I did pay €22 (just about $25) for the Hop On/Hop Off tour bus that drives around and listened to the stories along the routes. With my hostel stay of two nights minimum I received a free trip to Glendalough, Kilkenny and Wicklow, worth €25 (about $28).

After spending three days in Dublin I took the train north to Belfast for the next two days. While there, I paid for a 4-bed mixed dorm room and ended up being the only occupant at Paddy’s Palace and took another one of their guided tours, this time to Giant’s Causeway for £29 (about $32). This trip included a stop at Carrick-A-Rede, where you can enjoy the views of Mull of Kintyre and Rathlin Island in Scotland across the Irish Sea or walk across a traditional rope bridge built by fisherman to harvest salmon. It had some amazing views along the coastline between Dunluce Castle and Ballycastle.

From Belfast I passed through Dublin again on my way west to Killarney for two nights at, you guessed it, Paddy’s Palace. I paid for a 6-bed female dorm room and was once again the only occupant. I took the day tour around the Ring of Kerry for €25. The Ring of Kerry is considered to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world. You see a wide range of scenery from rugged cliffs, small villages, peat bogs and mountain ranges. This tour makes a few stops along the way for photo and site seeing opportunities. From Killarney I headed back to Dublin before heading out the next day to Edinburgh, Scotland.

I flew Ryanair to Edinburgh and spent the next three days staying in a 30 bed mixed dorm at Budget Backpackers Hostel for £7 (about $8.50) per night. While there I once again paid for the Edinburgh Hop On/Hop Off bus tour for £22 ( about $26), a trip through the Edinburgh Dungeon for £13 (about $16)  and a day trip to Stirling Castle (£15 admission not included) with Timberbush Tours which included a stop along the way at Loch Lomond for £38 (about $41).

From Edinburgh I headed south on Virgin Trains to London, England for two nights at St Christopher’s Inn. While in London I did have time to take the Original Bus Tour for £29 and visit the London Dungeon for £21 before heading to Glastonbury to spend 12 days doing genealogy research.

Once I was already in Glastonbury for a few days I decided to take a break from the massive amounts of historical records I had been reading to tour the town, visit the Glastonbury Abbey ruins and take a trip up to Bath. While in Bath I stayed at St Christopher’s Inn and I toured the Roman Baths for £15.50 and took a day tour to Stonehenge (£16.30 admission was not included), Avebury and a few of the Cotswold villages like Lacock and Castle Coomb through Madmax Tours for £39.

During this 12 days I even had the pleasure of visiting the town of Nunney and seeing Nunney Castle which my Prater ancestors owned before it was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1634 during the English Civil War.

When it was time for my trip to come to an end I took the train back to London then down to the Brussels airport in Belgium. Since I arrived late in the evening and I was taking an early morning flight out I chose to just find a quiet corner and sleep in the airport. By this time I was nearly broke and completely ready to go home.

I had a good time on my solo trip. Never once was I afraid to go somewhere or to walk down the street alone, in the dark, on a street I had never seen before. I did however learn that in order to travel alone you must really enjoy quite a bit of quiet thinking time and spending time with alone; which I do!

Travel Journal Entries:

20 January 2016 – Well after nearly 23 hours of flights I have finally made it to my first European destination. This town reminds me so much of Manhattan, it is very busy with workers, merchants and tourists. The buildings too as they are very large and tall. One main contrast though is the age of the buildings here in Dublin; you can see that many of them are centuries old.

I ventured out this afternoon once I checked into Paddy’s Palace Hostel and dropped off my backpack. My destination was St Patrick Church, however that plan failed. It was just a few blocks walk from the hostel to the Connolly Street bus station where I needed to catch the number 13 or 40 bus to reach the church. Unfortunately I wasn’t using a very to scale map and the bus driver failed to tell me when my stop was. I ended up five blocks past my destination and once I backtracked using the directions a few bus riders gave me I still did not find it. Instead I decided to make my way back to the hostel before it got dark so I could eat, charge my phones, shower and talk to Tom.

I also wanted to reflect on the days’ activities and record a few thoughts about Brussels, Belgium and Dublin, Ireland.

First, Belgium Airport layout is unlike any American one I have ever seen. Not only was the trek from my arrival gate to the ticketing agent to connect to my Dublin flight odd but it felt like I was being paraded through the border protection checkpoint kind of like cattle. Furthermore, it was very strange to me that flight passengers literally zig-zag through duty-free shops. You are meandering through expensive jewelry, shoes, sunglasses and any other trendy item being peddled. I even witnessed a kid of nine or ten years of age hocking products as well.

Finally, I am accustomed to seeing American movie stars all over the U.S. because our culture is to worship them. But all over the walls and displays was interesting to see.

Plans for tomorrow are tour of Glenadough, Kilkenny and Wicklow. After that, who knows!!

21 January 2016 – Today I took a guided tour of Glendalough, Wicklow and Kilkenny. All are beautiful places with literally centuries of history. While hiking the green trail at Glendalough I made my way from the lower lake up to the ruins of the old church and cemetery. I was in awe at the beauty, the condition of the stones for the age they are.

I then followed the trail along past a flowing waterfall and river until I found my way to Saint Kevin’s Monastery ruins. It was a large area with massive headstones and stone slabs along the floor indicating that someone had been buried beneath them, in the church floor.

Saint Kevin’s is surrounded by a massive cemetery that has continually been used since 700AD. Once again the stones marking the graves are huge, nearly six feet tall and so warn from age that nearly all of them are unreadable.

Wicklow itself was nothing exciting. Apparently it was only popular because the movie Braveheart was filmed here. Kilkenny was a different story altogether.

This town has been around since before Ireland was even a country. The castle there was built to keep the Vikings and others out. It had been lived in by the Butler family for 300 years until 1965 when the final owner sold it to the Historical Preservation Society for £50. The town was old and far more than I expected.

Tomorrow I am taking the train up to Belfast for a few days.

22 January 2016 – Today so far I have taken the city train, the Luas, to see the National Museum. At the moment I am sitting on the regular train, just pulling out of Connolly Station to make the 2hr 15min trip up to Belfast where I will be staying for two days.

One thing I have noticed by not taking the commercialized tours and staying in the preferred hotels is that I actually see the real Dublin. I have no problem venturing off the beaten path, in fact, I prefer it. I see the true city and its people. I see the struggles, the dirt, and the graffiti.

When I do get the chance to talk to someone who lives here I ask about homelessness, and they tell me there is a lot.

In fact, some of my dorm mates at the hostel actually live there. One gentleman, Jim, has lived in various hostels all over Ireland for 12 years. He doesn’t work and receives social welfare.

Another dorm mate, Dee, a 28 year old South African woman is actually married to an Irishman and has three children ages 7, 5 and 2. She too receives social welfare and because she and her unemployed husband fight constantly, she stays at the hostel to avoid conflicts with him. That means she is gone from her children for days at a time. That is something I cannot understand. I know my kids would drive me crazy and I would need a break from them at times but I’ll be damned if I would choose to leave them and my home for weeks at a time just to avoid conflict with my husband. He would have to leave.

24 January 2016 – Well I made it back to Dublin from Belfast in plenty of time to exchange currency before my train ride to Killarney. I am damn happy to be rid of them damn Pounds. They are so much less value compared to the Euro or US Dollar. Unfortunately when I leave Ireland on the 27th I will be using Pounds again for the rest of my trip.

So my thoughts on Belfast and Northern Ireland; let’s just say I did not feel like I was I Ireland at all. They are definitely British. Often I saw the Union Jack flying proud and the Irish accent is also very absent. I did a tour yesterday to see the Dark Hedges, Dunluce Castle and Giant’s Causeway. I am glad that I made the journey north to see Belfast but I doubt I will ever return as I prefer Dublin so far.

While in Killarney I’m hoping to see the National Park. I do know that tomorrow I am taking the Ring of Kerry tour.

25 January 2016 – Waterville, Ireland – This town on the coast of the Atlantic is where Charlie Chaplin vacationed for many years. He even built a house here.

It is said that while he was in town one time at a local pub an announcement was made for those participating in the “Charlie Chaplin Look-a-like” contest to come forward. Having a bit of fun he entered to contest. After some time for the judges to get a look at the contestants they took some time to decide the winner.

Finally he entry number was called and he went to the stage to receive his award. He received a cup. He was disappointed by the award but walked off the stage as directed. Next he heard another number called to the stage and he decided to go back and ask what was going on. He was informed that he had won third place in the contest and he tried to tell the judges that he was the real Charlie Chaplin. They did not believe him and shooed him off the stage.

He then went to the barkeep and showed him his passport to prove who he was. The judges never returned to judge another contest.

Only Charlie Chaplin could win third place in a Charlie Chaplin Look-a-like contest!

Skellig Islands, inhabited for 2000 years by a group who worshipped the sun. Their diet was the fish they caught in the Atlantic Ocean and they lives in beehive shaped huts. When St Patrick made his way across Ireland converting Pagans he came across these people who refused to convert unless they could worship their sun too. St Patrick agreed and the Celtic cross was created.

26 January 2016 – Killarney, Ireland – The more time I spend in this country talking to the people, hearing their history, not the American taught history, the more my heart aches for the people. For a thousand years they have had to constantly fight to live and worship as they wanted to.

Ireland has always been a nation of poverty, faced with oppression and discrimination all because of religion. First they were Pagan forced to convert to Catholic when St Patrick, who himself was a Pagan enslaved and forced to live in Ireland for 12 years, trekked across this country converting people with offers of education, a home and a way to earn a living. It’s no wonder why so many people either sent their children to the Abbey or monastery. Conversion literally became a means to survive.

31 January 2016

I am on the train from Edinburgh London bound. I will be there for a couple of days. Plan to take the tour bus around to see the sights, take the Thames river cruise and visit the London Dungeon. If I am able, I want to see the Tower of London.

8 February 2016 – On the road to Bath, England – I have noticed that the people of England are not much different from those in America. I see every class, from the stoic businessman to the common beggar on the street. On more than one occasion I have been bumped by someone on their phone talking about an “account”. Frequently I have been asked for some spare change by some of the same people sitting on the same bench or on the ground in front of the same business, only on different days.

I have even encountered the clueless druggies who will openly discuss what they’re buying from who and for how much. Or even their legal troubles in full earshot of many strangers, AND LAUGH about how high they were or bitch that their stupid lawyer can’t get the charges dropped.

For the most part our two countries are more alike than we care to admit. We all have the same common goal of making a home, living and taking care of our families.


3 thoughts on “Solo Travel in Europe

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