Traveling long term has been an absolute dream come true for us and we try to be thankful each and every day by remembering how hard we worked to get here and our opportunities in life that made it possible in the first place. I believe at some point we have all fallen into the Insta vortex of amazing travel photos from the long-term traveler glorifying the perfect pose or sunset. Something that you never see or hear about are the challenges of long-term travel because that’s not sexy and doesn’t get you likes and followers. Our blog is for us, by us, and about us and as much as we want people to read it and follow along with us, we are not about to hide any truth of our long-term travel experience. We want to capture our true experience, so we may always reflect back on our years abroad.
All that being said one of the greatest challenges for Lauren and I while traveling has been satisfying the need of feeling like we have had a productive and purposeful day. This was never an issue in the first several weeks in Panama and Costa Rica because of how exciting and scary it was to start our adventure. However, the longer we have been playing tourist the harder is has become to satisfy our craving of feeling productive. This need is likely also partly due to getting older because if I was doing the same thing right out of college it would have been one big party and I never would have looked back. We knew before leaving that we wanted to do some volunteering along the way and thought it could be the perfect opportunity now to help us feel more purposeful.
At the start of our travels we learned about a website called workaway.info where you can volunteer to help a family or organization in exchange for a bed and meals. We attempted to volunteer in the summer in France but unfortunately had to cancel with the Schengen Zone time limitations mentioned in the My Humps – Camel Desert Ride post. We decided to give it another try, this time in Ireland and it has been one of the highlights of our time abroad. During our time volunteering in Ireland we truly enjoyed spending our time helping our host family and ended each day feeling productive, purposeful, needed, and appreciated. We are so happy our first workaway experience was a great one and look forward to more volunteering along the way.
We chose a dog and horse rescue to volunteer on because we are both animal lovers and Lauren was in serious need of a dog fix. We devoted most of our two and a half weeks in Ireland to volunteering and made some wonderful friends in the process. Lauren and I were both extremely anxious, excited, and a little scared while on the train headed to the Charleville station to be picked up. This being our first volunteering experience abroad we had absolutely no idea what to expect and focused on keeping an open mind. Learning that the family was new to workaway and we were their first volunteers made us feel much more comfortable knowing we were going to figure this out together.
The animal rescue is located on a dairy farm with a beautifully renovated farm house where we were provided our own room. We were also greeted by the furry family of dogs the family has collected over the years. Some of the dogs were kept because they never found a home and they strive to never put down any animals. We quickly learned who was the head of the household when Millie charged at us with her adorably stubby little legs, barking up a torrent of warnings. We don’t know exactly what Millie’s back story was, but she definitely has a serious Napoleon complex and does not take kindly to strangers in her house. It took three or four days for Millie to warm up to us, but then we were slave to her every whim to be held or petted with a swift kick from her stubby paw. Our reward at the end of each day of hard work was to cuddle up on the couches with the dogs in our laps and watch TV by the fire.
The work we did for the family was humble and rewarding. Each morning we would get up and help feed the dogs, horses, and donkeys and then clean up after them. I averaged about five wheelbarrows of horse poop a day which over two weeks added up to about 50 wheelbarrows or 5 cubic yards or half a dump truck load. Definitely going on my resume. The afternoons were the best part of the day when we got to walk all the dogs. We loved getting to know each one of their unique personalities. I had never been around hounds before and grew to love their clumsy thirst for a good scent to follow. One of the hounds, Skully, I called the little tractor because he would pull me so hard sometimes when we got on a scent, he would till the dirt with his paws. Another hound, Murphy, loved food so much it looked like he was attacking his bowl every time he ate and would devour his food in, no joke, three seconds flat. We learned of a new breed unfamiliar to us called a lurcher which is a cross between a greyhound and a scent hound. Lurcher’s are popular hunting dogs in Ireland which explains why they see so many come through their kennels as they frequently get lost on the hunt.
Some of our favorite stories over the two weeks volunteering:
On our first day of work I remember a Lauren calling to me softly. She was cleaning up the open area where six of horses were free to walk around her. I peeked out of the stable I was mucking out to see a horse towering over her. She wasn’t scared but was confused because the horse would follow her when she tried to back away slowly after giving him some pets on the nose. He followed her around for several minutes before moseying over to me in the stable. Come to find out later this horse, Storm, just likes cuddles.
A few days later the same horse came up to me for some cuddles when I was standing by the string keeping them all penned up. He stopped for some pets and then decided the grass was greener on the other side and walked forward pushing himself and me through the string keeping all six of the horses in. As all six of them saunter past me I ran to get help thinking I had somehow royally screwed up. They told me nonchalantly that they occasionally do this and not to worry, phew!
I would have to say our favorite memory is the one night we took our host up on the offer to accompany her to an Irish line dancing class. When we walked in the door, I immediately noticed there were about 8 ladies for every man in attendance. We started off with some simple line dances like the slosh and the electric slide and moved on to couples’ dances. In a flash the male dance instructor stole Lauren away leaving me standing uncomfortably by the wall, clueless of the steps for the current dance. Here I am in a foreign country at a dance class by myself at my most vulnerable thinking at least they speak english, well sort of. I quickly learned how kind the people are here because I stood there for only a couple of minutes before a nice lady would come up to me and offer to show me the steps of the dance. This happened a few times throughout the night…I had my eye on that dance instructor! Good thing he was wayyyy too old for Lauren. Several times during the night while dancing and talking with the ladies I was asked who I was here with. When I said my wife the reaction was the same every time, they would about choke and ask how old I was. They all thought Lauren and I both looked like we were about 15 years old. The most memorable dance was the final dance of the night, a traditional Irish céilí line dance. It started with two lines of four people facing each other. We would advance and retreat twice together holding hands all the while attempting to do some crazy step number. The middle of the dance is still a blur of confusion, but I remember at the end we advanced as a line and broke at the last minute to grab the partner across from us for a few intense spins together. When all that was over, we moved onto the next group of four to start the dance all over again! I was sooooo dizzy by the end from all the spinning. The dance was something like this video I found on youtube.
The close second favorite memory was when were asked to help with moving seven horses from one pasture to another. Lauren and I were dropped off on a road armed with a stick and nearly empty bag of feed, to shake for noise. Before being dropped off, we were given a quick lesson in how this was going to work. The horses were going to be brought down the road led by one of the family and we were in position to make the horses turn into the pasture and stop them from continuing down the road. And oh, by the way hopefully they won’t be in a full gallop.
Lauren was the brave one standing in the road with the stick and bag while I secured the next turn with some string and my arms. While waiting in anticipation, Lauren gave me her very best “You shall not pass” Gandalf impression in preparation for the horses. From around the corner we could hear what sounded like the gallop of several horses. Fortunately, Lauren’s acting practice paid off and they all diverted as planned and into the pasture led by the brave family member running in front with the lead horse to keep them all together.
We had weekends off from volunteering and were able to visit some towns in the south of Ireland.
For our first weekend get away we chose to check out the well-known city of Cork. In all honesty our first impression of Cork was not the greatest because to us it looked like a typical small European city which we have grown a little jaded of. We did find a few diamonds in the ruff to enjoy while in Cork. Saturday, we spent walking around the English Market and checked out the Elizabeth Fort. Lauren loved discovering all the vendors in the English Market which was like an indoor farmer’s market. There was even a little vegan stand where we grabbed lunch. At the Elizabeth Fort we learned about the history of the fort dating back to the early 1600’s and also got ourselves in a bit of a pinch!
Tired of cities and missing all the animals already we spend our second day just outside of Cork at the wildlife sanctuary of Fota. This is Ireland’s only wildlife sanctuary and is known for their successful breeding programs for many exotic species under threat of extinction. They had small islands within the park for the monkeys to roam around freely and also let kangaroos and wallaby’s roam freely around the park. It is located on an island so there is no worry about the animals escaping. The lemure’s had us cracking up with some of their human like behavior’s and poses for the camera. We did feel bad when we started seeing some of the caged animals like the lions and tigers pacing along their worn paths in the cages signifying anxiety, which we learned at the Jaguar Rescue in Costa Rica.
While walking the streets of Cork we were struck by another trip altering epiphany! In the brief time we had spent in the countryside we found ourselves much happier much like we had been while hiking the West Highlands Way. We knew before leaving on our adventure that we are not city people and so it came as no surprise when we realized how much we have been missing nature. We decided then that we are just done with the concrete jungles of Europe. Simply sharing this thought aloud with each other was such a relief, but also came with some angst because we had been planning to meet our parents again in Europe. We already planned to leave Europe flying to south east Asia for a few months to escape the Schengen Zone so as not to become international fugitives. Deciding not to fly back to Europe has opened up new possibilities to spending more time in other places and perhaps picking up a short-term job. My dream job right now is to find a high adventure job like a whitewater kayak guide. The most likely host for this dream is New Zealand, the adventure capital of the world! We will see how my luck goes whenever we get there…..
For our second weekend away from the daily grind we listened to ourselves and found a town nearby with some nature nearby to explore. Killarney National Park was the first national park created in Ireland in 1932 when the estate of the Muckross house was donated to be preserved for future generations. The town of Killarney is nestled right next to this 25,000 acre park and made a great place to plant our flag for the weekend. Walking from the train station to our hostel we quickly grew to like this cute lively town. We loved the charm of the Christmas lights strung around town plus the little Christmas parade we caught through the middle of town for the kids. Arriving in town the day after black Friday we did some thrifty winter shopping to keep from freezing when we visit Germany next. We were told by our host family we had to visit the John M Reidy bar while in Killarney so Lauren and I put on our new clothes and went out for a night on the town! The bar was uniquely carved up into several different rooms all with its own bar creating many little nooks for conversation. It also had a big outdoor area which would have been awesome in the summer, but we didn’t stay out there long in the cold, brrr. Back inside the last room we discovered had a singer with his guitar performing classic Irish hits requested by the crowd. He didn’t go for our request when we shouted out “Baby got back!” it was worth a shot. We sang along to the one or two songs we recognized and enjoyed the cozy ambiance of the crowd. The crowd and singer grew so close that at one point a woman trying to leave was given a hard time by the singer about her big shopping bag and that he swore had nothing but knickers in it. To all our surprise when she looked away for a second, at her friend beckoning her at the door, the singer snatched a bra out of her bag waving it around over his head yelling “I told you all she had knickers in there!”.
The next day we rented bikes from our hostel to cycle a circuit around the park and take in the surrounding beauty. The bikes we rented were nice enough for the day except for the incredibly uncomfortable position of the seat on my bike which was not adjustable without a hex head tool. I miss my tools. At least biking in the cold winter air had one advantage, it numbed my butt once we got going! The circuit that we were to cycle was a series of paths I had seen on maps.me and thought lets go! It went well for the first few miles until one of the paths we were on slowly narrowed and changed from a smooth crushed gravel path to an unmaintained hiking trail. Looking at the map I could see where we would meet back up with another trail which was almost certainly another gravel biking path, so we pushed on into the woods against Lauren’s better judgement. The trail got progressively rockier and in no time we were dragging our bikes up, down, and over rocks, through prickly bushes and into a remote little field that didn’t even register on maps.me. I had taken us about as far into the woods as one year of marriage allowed me to and saw the fire in Lauren’s eyes as she said, “That’s it we’re turning back like we should have at the end of the bike trail!!!”. I followed her, silent as a monk, until we were back on the gravel paths when I affectionately referred to our time in the woods as our BIKE HIKE! We unknowingly invented a new sport!! How could she not be excited about this?
Anyways, we continued along the bike trails around the three lakes nestled in the mountains to our halfway point where we had lunch at a little café. On our way back to town we stopped for a tour of the sixty-five room Muckross house built in 1843. I was glad to get back to town and off of that uncomfortable bike seat after our 12-mile bike ride.
Our last hoorah in Ireland was few days in Dublin because everyone that visits Ireland must learn how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness! We really liked the vibe Dublin was giving off to us just like Glasgow in Scotland it feels like a young person’s city. All around the city Christmas lights had been strung up which really got us in the mood for the holidays and excited for all the Christmas markets to come in Germany and Austria.
At this point in our travels we have toured several breweries and as brewery connoisseurs we thought Guinness did a great job with their tour. One of the most fascinating facts we learned about the Guinness brewery was how it got started on a 4-acre parcel with a 9,000-year lease. Now that is a long-term business plan. The idea of a 9,000-year lease just tickled my curiosity and I wanted to read the lease to see how things like rent escalators for inflation were handled. It’s not easy to find a lease signed in the 1700’s. The brewery eventually bought out the lease and the surrounding lands as it grew to own the brewery outright.
I was also fascinated by a video we saw about the coopers making the casks for the beer in the old days. They used crude tools and worked all of the wood by eye making the watertight casks like artisans. I kind of want to try to make my own one day when we get back using just hand tools to further appreciate their skill and to see how long it takes me! We tried to find the answer to how many casks one cooper could make in a day, but our best guess was between 3 and 5. Of course at the end of the brewery tour we got to pour our own perfect pint and enjoy it!
Following some more advice from our workaway host, we hopped on the train out of Dublin to the nearby town of Howth to walk a loop following the cliffs along the sea. We enjoyed the beautiful views along the way and tried our hardest to spot England across the water, but no such luck. After the hike we checked out the little town and found a tiny farmers market for lunch and a treat.
That evening back in Dublin we bought tickets for a historical theater not knowing what to expect. We were in a group of about ten people and moved through rooms with different sets and actors telling us of the history of Ireland. We were also warned the actors might engage with us and asked to just go with it. In one room the actor picked a local woman to perform an Irish jig for everyone and when she refused him several times, he turned to Lauren next. Lauren obliged and while she gave us her best Irish jig the actor made me yell at her to dance faster. It’s a good thing we went to that Irish dance class! Not sure where that played into the history of Ireland, but nonetheless it was entertaining for all.