Driving on the Left Side of the Road a.k.a. Holy S&*t!

Yes, that's a 2-lane road

Yes, that’s a 2-lane road

Have you ever driven on the opposite side of the road? If so, whether it was left or right depending on your country of origin, you’ll relate to what I’m about to say. Upon getting in the rental car at Cork Airport I constantly reminded myself for at least the first 100km to stay on the left side of the road AND to go left at the roundabouts, of which there are many in Ireland. I also drove incredibly slow for the first couple of days and pulled off the road countless times to allow “the locals” or as I’ve come to call them “bats out of hell” to pass my tiny Nissan Micra.

While Ireland, for all intents and purposes, is a modern country, it’s roads still harken back to the days of the horse and wagon. What would pass for a one lane road in America is definitely a 2-way thoroughfare, to be sped down as quickly as possible. Beautiful hedges full of wildflowers such as fuschia, meadowsweet, and this cool little puff of a blue flower that I have yet to identify line the road, sometimes on both sides. There are hidden sticks and ditches and rocks and many small, but mighty car adversaries. This is why I recommend getting full coverage when renting a car in Ireland, but that is a discussion for another time.

Praying for a pull-over

Praying for a pull-over

I vocalize a lot when I drive in Ireland. Gasps and cries are quite common, especially during the beginning of a driving trip. The longer I drive, the more comfortable I get, so those cries turn into little mews of distress when passing a lorry (truck) on a tiny country lane. It also takes my spatial orientation time to adjust to the fact that the steering wheel and safety belt are on the other side of the car and my passenger side is now to my left. I noticed something this trip.  At first I kept my tires towards the white line in the middle of the road. But often there was no white line! So I kept close to the middle anyway. As I increased my mileage it was like a switch was flipped and I began to trust my peripheral vision and found myself much closer to the hedge, giving those beasty vehicles and coaches the room they deserve.

Returning my car rental was a completely different story. Here’s what I noticed:

-I almost made it up to the speed limit! You know, it’s funny, I’d see a speed limit sign increase right as the road narrowed. Go figure. Average speed on small roads is about 100 kph (62mph).

-I passed cars and trucks! This is no small feat as getting a straightaway with good visibility is not common. It’s more of a recipe of hold your breath, pray, trust your intuition, look and go!

-I began to recognize the tourists. They often drive vehicles with D in the license plate (for Dublin) and can be seen, as I was, driving at a snails pace everywhere they go. I hope the next car I rent has C for Cork. I’d like that.

- I began to feel a sense of ease when getting in the car. I felt I could handle whatever the roads brought my way. I was tested coming out of Killarney National Park in County Kerry. This is a HUGE tourist area and giant coaches can be seen taking up precious space as they navigate a very small road. My first trip to Ireland I scratched our family rental car on this stretch. I was with my mom and cousin and as we rounded a blind bend with rocks sticking out from our side, a tour bus came around. Here was the scenario: Screams all around, a quick pull over to get out of overwhelm and scraaaatch on the side of the car. Not good. I navigated this road with no scratches and only small gasps of annoyance. Progress!

SignsAll of this said, driving around Ireland is a fabulous way to see hidden gems and get out of tourist traps. There are signs all over the country side pointing towards stone circles, old burial grounds, strange little museums, and artisan foods. It’s how I explored the Priest’s Leap, Borlin Valley and found Mannings Emporium, my new favorite place for coffee in West Cork. The challenges are well worth the rewards.

If you’re thinking how brave I am, a solo female traveler, driving alone in Ireland, know this:

I was scared, but did it anyway…

I suppose this is one of my gifts. I’m afraid to do a lot of things, but I don’t let it stop me. I urge you, if you have the desire, to give it a shot. Here’s a bit of advice from my friend Ger Kavanagh, Cork city born and bred:

When entering a roundabout with uncertainty about where your exit is, get in the interior lane and go around at least 3 times. Once to find your exit, twice to find your exit again, and 3rd times the charm, change lanes and take your exit!

Do you have any stories from driving abroad? Share in the comments below!

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The Transition Zone

RainbowTraveling changes your brain chemistry. Day-to-day patterns are interrupted and you are forced to think differently. It happens in small ways sometimes. For instance, when using a European keyboard. The @ symbol is in a different spot. When making a call the phone sound goes boop boop instead of one long tone. Or you find yourself using new words, words like mobile and skip (trash can) and devilish.

Sometimes those differences happen in slightly bigger ways; like not being able to connect to the internet at the drop of a hat and you need to because you’re supposed to be working. Medium trouble right there.

And sometimes big trouble happens. Some travelers encounter life endangerment. Luckily that hasn’t happened to me.

What I notice when I travel is that on some level I have to let go of my life back home in order to truly enjoy myself. Or at the very least loosen my grip on the strings that tie me back home. This is liberating and scary all at the same time. Can you relate?

You might miss this conundrum if you’re only traveling for a week. But when you’re planning on traveling for 8 weeks like I am, at the beginning there is this transition zone where you can feel neither here nor there.

Then comes the breakthrough…

Yesterday was my break-through day. I awoke to sun, then rain, then a beautiful rainbow right out the window. I could see it without my glasses. I went exploring all day and came home to cap the evening with another rainbow, this time fully arced and shining as the sun dipped towards the horizon. Today I find myself driving with more confidence and taking on more of a Traveling Spirit. This requires a sort of flexibility that normal schedules usually don’t allow. Unless you’re Irish. Or live on another island like Hawaii or Orcas.

I’ve decided on a phrase or mantra for my trip. It’s a bit long, but it has every single reminder I need as I embark around the Emerald Isle. It’s a pretty good reminder for being at home as well:

Make plans. Follow through. Let life in. Let life change you. Change your plans. And sometimes, let them go.

Thanks for reading. Comment below if this post grabbed you. And please share any travel wisdom you have!

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Talk to me before you go to Ireland…

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I love Ireland. I want to share my knowledge and excitement with you. Here’s how: I am in the process of starting an Irish Travel Consulting Business. Are you planning a trip to Ireland in the next year? For the … Continue reading

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What in the world is True Love? (An interactive blog post)

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It is a sailing knot. (No really, it is. I encountered this knot at my birthday party at a bar in Seattle.) An ideal lover or mate. Or as William Butler Yeats says: “True love is a discipline in which … Continue reading

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Are you going to “meet me” or are you going to MEET ME?

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Two Sides of a Coin… On one side, let’s say Heads (cause that’s often where the block is) lives this concept of lower case “meet me”. In a relationship where “meet me” is used, people are constantly coming from a … Continue reading

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