Doolin, County Clare, Republic of Ireland | January 2003
A narrow road knifed across the island from Dublin to the west coast. Old stone walls lined the road and kept back the moist, rolling green hills. Inside the car, our lips were buttoned by stress and exhilaration – our eyes blazed – as the force of each passing car blew the hair from our eyes. Winding through the hills toward the coast, we managed to find our way to the sleepy village of Doolin just as the feeble glow of the winter sun faded into dusk.
Despite the cold that riddled my body, my friend and I practically vibrated with excitement. Even the absence of a proprietor at the hostel did little to dampen our spirits, though the angry Russian man shouting at us hastened our departure to Gus O’Connors Pub down the street – pretty much the only street in tiny Doolin. The smell of earth, ice, and salt hung heavy in the foggy air. Fishing skiffs bobbed in the ocean.
Down on Fisher street, frigid gales screamed across the Atlantic, breaking the sea against the rocky harbor and sending glittering nets of water skyward. We clambered into the warmth of the pub, quietly thankful for the simple walls and fire that kept the howling wind at bay. The night passed away as we ate and drank pint after pint of Harp lager, laughing at our silly exploits and those of our new-found bar mates.
I was away, in a far off place, calling out “cheers” and “sláinte” time and again. And warm. Warmed by the peat fire, the countless pints, and the companionship of shared experience.
Few things about my first trip abroad were perfect, but the memorable night I spent in Doolin marked the beginning of a welcome infection that I carry to this day. I’m referring to that ubiquitous and run-down term, the so-called “travel bug.” You know, for as common as the term is, there are shockingly few definitions on the Web. The best one I could find was “the urge to travel.”
That is a simple and non-controversial definition, but might there be a more complicated, more interesting meaning? My travels abroad have been fairly localized to Western Europe, but with each successive trip I seem to be getting farther from that night in Doolin. On later trips I would casually mention this slow transformation to my wife, disappointment evident in my tone, and stare off across the plaza, lost in the attempt to recapture a feeling that burst into being one cold January night years ago. This was an important realization because, despite the illness and homesickness and cancellation of the latter stages of that trip, it was when I fell in love with the journey.
I had, in other words, been infected by the travel bug.
A broad word like “travel” has so many activities and meanings crammed into it that a good first step toward understanding the phenomenon was realizing that everyone probably has their own “strain” of the travel bug. What attracts me to traveling probably differs from what attracts you to traveling. This is also why it’s an incurable affliction – any “vaccine” would be only good for a single person.
Flashbulb memories from my recent trips popped into my head, and the shared pieces came together pretty quickly: my travel bug is the desire to utterly immerse my senses in the foreign. The taste of the food and drink; the sound of the music and patrons; the smell of the sea air; the warmth of the peat fire; the sight of the colorful little fishing village. Doolin brought all of these components together in an almost magical way. But, much like other illnesses, you can never predict when the magic will strike; you can only set the stage (or lick public keyboards, as the case may be).
Is my desire to travel now just a subconscious quest to relive the experience in Doolin? Yes. I don’t know. Maybe.
What is evident is that for me, the act of traveling entails two goals:
- Simply have fun
- Completely immerse myself in the foreign
The absence of this kind of total immersion won’t break my trip, but perhaps it’s the thing that compels me to keep traveling. I believe it’s this quest for immersion that is changing my travel style to a deeper, slower one since it’s been difficult to find Doolin-esque scenarios on my whirlwind trips.
Next time you’re planning a trip, give a little extra thought to what’s “bugging” you. Maybe you’ll find the cure that sends that bug into remission. I assume you’ve got the travel bug – how did you catch it?
Original photo by michaelgslattery via Flickr under Creative Commons
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