You know something’s about to be really good when a local tells you it’s his favorite drive in all of Ireland.
I was cozied up to the bar at a small pub in Connemara with my map spilling in all directions while I planned a route from Galway to Clifden. The thing is—that’s not a very long drive, and I had a lot of time to fill since I had no other travel plans than arriving in Clifden that day.
The bartender placed a steaming mug of soup in front of me, turned my map around to face him, and asked me how he could help. Once I described my general “lack of a plan” plan, he snacthed my pencil and traced a route on the map that would take me from the small town of Oughterard to my destination, Clifden, with what he claims is “the most scenic drive in all of Ireland” in between.
That’s a pretty lofty claim all in all. Ireland is large and, well, gorgeous through and through.
I had already driven the Ring of Kerry. Verdict: gorgeous.
And driving Slea Head Drive on the Dingle Peninsula? Also gorgeous.
Not one to argue though—plus, his conviction was convincing!—I folded my map and finished up my bowl of soup and slab of Irish brown bread. A plan was in place. And I really needed a plan, and the kind help, because after nearly a year on the road traveling, I have reached a near exhaustion point. I love traveling Ireland, but I fly home in just a few weeks, and it’s all pressing down on me: the weight of finishing a huge journey that consumed my life, the pressure of planning next steps post-travel, and even just figuring out where to stay tomorrow night.
In short, I needed advice and a helping hand. My kind bartender eased the stress of feeling like I alone was propelling myself through the final weeks of this round the world trip. Using the pencil-drawn route on my map, I drove the R344 through the Lough Inagh Valley, then shifted course and drove down to Clifden.
Within minutes of turning off of the N59, craggy hills greeted me. The landscape was nothing akin to the lush verdant greens of the south. Instead of the bright green hues of Killarney and Dingle, muted green tones dart between rocky brown hillsides.
With intermittent sun as a companion, I pulled my car onto the shoulder of the road to hike around a pretty lake I had spotted. The drive echoed my thoughts. The beauty of the Irish countryside peeped through my weighty thoughts like the sun emerging from behind clouds.
It was finally hitting me that this trip born from an impulsive decision to work and travel the world for a year would end soon.
As I perched on a rock in contemplation, the nearby sheep alternated between extreme annoyance and purposeful indifference. In my 20 minutes of meandering not a single car had passed on the lightly used road.
It was just me out there in the world in a near silent landscape, just the odd bleating of a sheep here and there for company. If I turned my back to the road, I could imagine myself a million miles from the nearest person: not a road nor man-made structure in sight.
A wave of loneliness hit me.
It’s a bit sad to sit on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, with only the bleating of sheep for company. I traveled solo for a large portion of this past year. And while I wouldn’t change that at all, I also loved sharing my journey across Southeast Asia with Laura, my travels in India and Nepal with my cousin, and a sprint through Italy and Croatia with Jenn, a close friend from back home. But traveling with other people brought its own issues, difficulties, and headaches. There were heated arguments, days of deep travel fatigue, and more than a few “hangry” breakdowns when no one wanted to make the next decision.
But traveling solo brought its own issues, too. Like when I was sick and scared in Laos. That was one of my darkest nights. Having survived that, I can look at this down period toward the end for what it is: a natural evolution of life on the road.
Overall, the balance of both types of travel was perfect for this trip. Friends and family joined for parts of the trip, but in other places I meet fast new friends—like Pauline and Linda in Australia—who may not be friends forever, but they fundamentally changed my trip for the better.
Finishing this trip solo makes sense—this was a journey for personal transformation above all else. So the solitude with a dash of loneliness creeping in is OK—I know it’s over soon and there’s something beautiful about taking this time to remember every high and low of this grand adventure around the world I was so fortunate to take.
So, I oohed and ahhed my way across the Lough Inagh Valley, I passed by Kylemore Abbey, which I visited four years ago on my last trip to Ireland with my dad. I finished the day at a bustling but remote hostel with new friends and eight days to camp out at one place, get to know new people, and hike through the adjacent Connemara National Park.