The glorious freedom of travel

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this innate  burning desire to travel. To experience places I’ve never been, to do things I’ve never done. To go far outside what’s comfortable and familiar, and discover the new and the wonderful. It’s a joyous kind of freedom, the ability to travel, that’s only really a relatively new phenomenon when it comes to human beings.

But I think it’s about more than simply travelling to a new place – it’s a journey, and it involves learning so much about yourself that you’d otherwise never know. It’s about discovery, sure – the discovery of places, cities, history, and geography, but it’s also about self. You learn so much about who you are and what makes you you while travelling, since you’re put in different situations with different people and in places you’re unfamiliar with. You’re given the freedom to put the day to day bullshit aside and just learn to be you. To put it simply, to travel is to learn.

I think one of the most important lessons travel can teach you is to be true to yourself and the people you’re travelling with, and if you don’t think you can do that, you shouldn’t be travelling with them. You also have to adapt quickly and wear so many different hats. I’ve learned how to be a photographer, a cartographer, a budgeter, a planner, a life coach, a list maker, and so many other things. I’ve learned about compromise, about the value of honest, open discussion, and the beauty of simplicity.

On a recent trip to the UK, Ireland and Paris with my mum, I learned that generational gaps can be even more pronounced when travelling. I love to take a map and just walk a city, since it allows you to stumble upon tiny worlds known only by locals that are often overlooked by tour guides or pamphlets. You can get to the heart of a place, and discover what it is that makes people fall in love with it. This is made harder by taking your mother who has 30 years on you and tires much more easily. The lesson there? Next time I travel with mum, we’ll do a river cruise.

Irish Fairy Trees and the Art of Storytelling

Ireland is a land nourished by stories.

Whether those stories were Gaelic myths or Christian bible stories, the Ireland we know today has been carved and shaped from storytelling, and they’re still prevalent to this day.

On a recent trip to Ireland, I heard first hand one of these brilliant stories, and how their meaning still holds true.

Irish Fairy Trees or Hawthorn trees rise out of the brilliant emerald landscape, like lone hands reaching for the sky. The white colouring of their flowers is stark in comparison with the green of the vegetation and the soft rolling hills in the distance. And yet, even when farmland has been cleared of all other trees, the Fairy Tree remains. This is because Fairy Trees are protected, and to cut one down is extremely bad luck. This belief is held so strongly that a recent upgrade of one of Ireland’s airports was halted so that a road could be built around a Fairy Tree, costing the Irish government an extra few million euros.

Their importance lies with a myth dating back to the original inhabitants of Ireland, who believed that these trees were gateways between the world of human beings, and the world of the Tuatha Dé Danann, or the fairy folk. Such portals were often protected by magic, or supernatural beings like Leprechauns or Pookas. Today, you might even find them with a stone circle around the base of the trunk. Due to the fantastical nature of the trees and the gateways they protect, a host of superstitution surrounds them. It’s still a commonly held belief that if you happened to chop down one of these trees, you’d be in for a world of bad luck.

So, it stands to reason that cutting down one of these trees would be taken incredibly seriously. The airport story is just one of thousands of instances of Irish workers refusing to remove a Fairy Tree in case they invoke some kind of fairy wrath. There’s another famous story about the car manufacturer DeLorean, who chopped down a Fairy Tree in Belfast when they were building their factory in the 80s. Many Irish people believe that DeLorean failed to become a success because they refused to heed warnings about saving the tree.

No matter what you believe, it’s a fascinating story. Ireland is still a very Catholic country, but they also hold fast to the old beliefs, evoking magic and fairies to explain the inexplicable. It’s beautiful and one of those amazing parts of the human story that stays with you long after you’ve returned home.