This article was created for The Travel Project by Erin Schuurs, a graduate student and an aspiring historian/writer.
In 2016, I arrived in Dublin, Ireland’s vibrant capital city. For the next eight days I was going to be exploring the “Emerald Isle” with Contiki. It was my first time joining a Contiki group and I was unsure what to expect, a feeling that I had become all too familiar with over the past few months...
When I landed in Dublin that day, I was not only carrying my physical baggage, I needed a forklift to carry the emotional baggage I’d brought along with me. In the months prior to this journey, my life had become unrecognizable when my Mom was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer that winter. The news floored me. Her chances of survival were slim and she was going to have to put up a hefty fight to beat the diagnosis.
I moved back home to be with her and became her primary caregiver. Over the following eight months, Mom underwent painful and invasive treatments and I became familiar with hospital waiting rooms. It was a world that I didn’t understand, a world I didn’t want to understand, and a place that I wanted – both my Mom and myself – to escape from.
Let’s be honest. The decision to jet-off to Ireland in the midst of all this was certainly not my shining moment. I had been doing some serious adulting over the past months and I didn’t know how I was going to keep going. So, for eight days, I ran away.
Yet it was those eight days that gave me the strength to keep going and to be there for my mom when she needed me most. Traveling through Ireland with Contiki, I developed new friendships, was refreshed by the sea breezes at the Cliffs of Moher and fell in love with the country’s people and landscapes. Ireland is a beautiful country with a tumultuous history but it welcomes you with open arms (and a pint of Guinness, or two).
One of my most memorable experiences was going on a walking tour of Derry/Londonderry with Contiki’s local guide. I had studied Irish history in university, but to actually walk the streets where this history had been made, with a person who had lived through it, made it very real and eye opening.
When I look back on it, what really stuck out, throughout the entire trip, were these moments with people, with locals, who were so generous with their time. Taking the ferry out to the Aran Islands, for example, I met a woman who had grown up there. She chatted with me the whole way, telling me what it had been like being a child on these remote islands.
I got a little lost in Dublin one afternoon, searching for Trinity College, and a gentleman stopped to help me with my map, and each and every night, our tour manager scouted out lively pubs for us where we were always welcomed and some of the best local musicians could be heard. Who knew Cork was the home of some of the best blues music you’ve ever heard?
Through my experiences I was reminded that life goes on; that everyone has struggles but people want to be there for you and they want to help you deal.
Being somewhere new and breaking away from my daily routine helped me process the recent stresses and changes in my life and revealed to me how I had grown and what I still needed to work on. For the first time I felt hope, hope that things just might work out OK, and I gained confidence in myself. I believed in myself for the first time, that I could handle whatever the future held for me.
When I landed back home in Toronto, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I was ready to be there for the people who needed me and I wasn’t going to let them give up. Today, Mom is not yet cancer free but everyday she gets a little bit better. Together, we choose to be optimistic and we’ve begun talking about the travels we’ll take together, once she is one-hundred percent again.
Roaming through Ireland reminded me that travel is a transformative force; it can build you back up when you are down, instill self-confidence, and inspire you to look forward with optimism.
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