A forest green journal with Celtic knotwork detail caught my attention at a local Barnes & Noble earlier this year. Admiring the intricately designed cover, I thought it would be perfect for writing my travel notes in if I ever had the chance to visit Ireland. I’ve been wanting to go there for a long time, whether in a study abroad program or as a traveler unattached to any studies. Maybe I’d go with family or friends someday.
I didn’t study abroad as an undergraduate and now, as a grad student, I continued to look for programs offered in Ireland. Along with narrowing it down by field of study and educational level, I kept my search within summer sessions. Most of the opportunities that turned up were at the undergraduate level or not held during the summer. So, I started to ease off of the idea of studying abroad in Ireland. It had been my first choice for a number of reasons. The majority of my family ancestry originated there, I took classes in Irish history and folklore at a local community college. In the history class, I wrote a paper about Dunluce Castle, a site in Northern Ireland with a dramatic coastal location. It’s one of a few sites for which I’d love to go into Northern Ireland, the castle being a perfect follow-up to the paper. Ireland, however, is the country, outside of the U.S. that I know the most about in terms of what to see. I could always do so even if I were not to do so as a student.
Saint Patrick’s Day rolled around and I stopped by a store called the Abbey Green Irish Shop, where I snapped the photo below. I’m not usually in the immediate area near it, so going in and browsing seemed like my own way of celebrating the holiday. The owners served Irish coffee to customers looking around at the merchandise. Later in the week, I tried a classmate’s Guinness brownie. I was getting very good tastes of Ireland and little did I know what was just around the corner.
Shortly afterward, I found out by email about a summer Ireland trip offered by my graduate school. The business department was sponsoring it, although it was open to all majors and both undergraduate and grad students. This was my chance. I even had summer financial aid lined up because of a different academic opportunity abroad. The amount I applied for wasn’t enough for that trip, but more than covered the cost of going to Ireland. For just over a week in Dublin, students would attend a seminar, visit several companies and have a few free days to explore. As soon as registration was open, I went to campus early before a class and signed up. Next, I had to get the necessary documents together for travel.
The process of getting a new copy of my birth certificate and a first-time passport was hectic. It had to be squeezed in toward the end of my spring semester and many days, I held off to get work done. Finally, at a local court house, I took the first steps in obtaining my travel documents. I had to go into Philly for the new birth certificate copy and the wait was only a couple of days. Back at the court house, I had my passport photos taken for $8. However, at the passport center at the U.S. Custom House in Philly, I was told to have new ones taken because of a glare on my eyeglasses. A passport photo center was right across the street and there, it cost $26. Then I returned to the U.S. Custom House with my new photos and completed my application for an expedited passport. That was on April 28 and I was concerned about getting back home as early as possible to finish a little bit more work for one class. I needed my passport by May 1 and to assist in having it expedited, a trip staff member provided me with an itinerary. I learned at the court house that it was one of the requirements for getting a passport so quickly. I also had an email from her that stated when students’ passports where needed in order for them to book the flight. The agency rep at the U.S. Custom House asked me to forward it to her and with the itinerary, the application was ready to go.
My passport arrived on April 30 and after picking it up at the U.S. Custom House, I headed to my campus. The staff made a copy for the group travel records and I paid a $250 deposit for my spot on the trip. It was official; I was going to Ireland!
Not only would this trip be my first international one, but it would also bring about my first experience with air travel. Up to this point, there’s definitely been a lot to learn about that and packing to go abroad. I looked around at some carry-on bags, but with so many choices and not knowing yet which airline, I wasn’t ready to buy anything. On the Rick Steves website, I read that sometimes carry-ons could be checked depending on the airline and bag specifications. Although those info tags I saw on luggage at one department store describe the carry-ons as “good for most airlines,” I figured it’ll be best to wait for an upcoming trip meeting. That’s the last one before the trip, so I’ll get all of the air travel details then. I do know that I’d rather buy my luggage in person; I’m fairly picky even with the everyday pocketbook. Hopefully, I can find a carry-on that will double as a bag for the several free days of exploring. As I looked in one store’s luggage options, I started thinking of all those photos I’d seen of people sightseeing in Ireland or anywhere abroad, noting the numerous backpacks among them. I may also need some sort of professional-looking case and small handbag for when our group visits companies.
Other things to take care of (to name a few):
- Let my bank know the dates I’ll be in Ireland
- Travel-friendly carrying item for ID, passport, credit card, money
- TSA luggage locks (I found some on Rick Steves website)
- Tech gadget charging converters
- New phone-to-laptop charging cord
- Update iTunes so new trip contacts will sync to phone
- Travel-sized toiletries
As of now, I’m undecided in regards to what technology to bring. That goes for both computers and cameras. My laptop needs repairs, including a new mouse pad and DVD drive. For a while now, I’ve been using a wireless mouse. However, I don’t want to deal with the extra accessory in my travels. On the other hand, I may want to bring a computer that’s lighter to carry around. I have access to an iPad. That also needs to be ready for the trip, just not with repairs. I just have to download a word processor, such as Pages from iLife, as well as Adobe for PDF files. I also need to get a keyboard that can easily tuck away with the iPad in one carrying case.
Now, to bring my DSLR camera or not? If so, I’ll just keep memory cards with me on the way home. I’ve been thinking of just using the camera on my phone. However, I don’t want to load it up with tons of photos. Also, I know there will be scenes I’ll want to photograph using either of the lens I have for my Canon. It’s just a matter of trying not to bring too much with me.
What to pack in terms of clothes is much easier. So far, I’m figuring on:
- Some business casual outfits
- Comfortable, yet professional shoes
- Slip-on shoes
- Sneakers for exploring
- A mix comfortable pants to wear on the plane, jeans, t-shirts, light jacket
- Sleepwear, undergarments, socks
Places / Sites I hope to see outside of Dublin on free days:
- Titanic Belfast Museum
- Dunluce Castle
- The Dark Hedges (“Game of Thrones” site)
- Co. Tipperary
- Rock of Cashel
- Tullaun Castle
- Co. Cork
- Blarney Castle
- Co. Offaly
- Charleville Forest Castle
Shopping again at Barnes & Noble, I bought a couple of up-to-date travel guides for more helpful info: Lonely Planet’s “Dublin” and Rick Steves’ “Snapshot Northern Ireland.” June 1 brought an Irish festival to Philly’s Penn’s Landing. At one table, I was talking about the upcoming trip and that if I go up to Belfast, I’d love to see the Titanic Belfast Museum. A girl manning the table had been there and said it was amazing, that I’d love it!
One final thought for now. I don’t think there is a Facebook group page for the trip, but I’ll ask about that at the meeting. We’ll have another meeting afterward to reflect on Ireland and having a central spot for sharing photos would be a great addition to do so.