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Public Transportation: Your New Best Friend in Ireland and Beyond

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Intercity buses: Crowded, right? And noisy, and dirty, and downright strange sometimes?
Dear hesitant American student:
I’ve been where you are, I promise: anxiously looking up tour buses, figuring out where you can go from your host city, and weighing it against costs of groceries and mail home, and everything else. I know it’s easy to see the buses and trains around you as just another wild card in a new place, not worth the effort.
But that’s not the whole story.
Before you write this traveler’s best friend completely off your resource list, I’d like to share you the ways the buses and trains here can not only help you out while abroad, but completely transform your stay somewhere new, helping you blaze your own trail and craft a unique, authentic experience wherever you go.

1. Save on the journey, spend on the destination.

The adjustment from dollars to Euros or pounds can be a daunting one for many. With the weekly cost of groceries, of medication and school supplies and everything you need to live comfortably in Europe, the possibility for travel can quickly seem out of reach.
When you take advantage of public transit, though, weekend trips don’t have to break the bank; my last round-trip ticket from Galway to Doolin was five Euro less than a private tour bus would have cost. That sum might not seem like much at first, but these little choices add up over a month or semester, and help you spend your money where it really counts: on a Gaeilge poetry book or other memento of your trip, extra souvenirs for your friends, or a letter home. And if all else fails, save your money for a cup of coffee when it’s pouring down rain– trust me, you’ll need it.

2. See what you want, when you want.

Sure, you can easily find a tour shuttle that’ll take you directly to the Cliffs of Moher, and enjoy that postcard-perfect view for two hours, before going home. But in doing so, you’ll have only a short while to visit, and may not have a choice of when you go, which can be frustrating. Luckily, public transportation allows a whole new level of autonomy when you’re traveling.
Regular buses to and from each city mean that you can linger for a while in a place: overnight, enjoying a full trad music session instead of bits and pieces, or for a couple hours, taking extra pictures and learning more about a new place. And of course, if you’re quiet like me and would rather avoid the onslaught of tourists, you can visit all your must-see places before they get too crowded, then hop on your bus and head home later with all the more amazing memories.

3. Take the scenic route.

Chances are, you’ll want to see as much of your host country as possible while you’re traveling. This can actually be surprisingly difficult, even in a country as compact as Ireland. There’s so much to see, and you’ve got to prioritize, especially if you’re planning to take trips further afield, into the UK or beyond.
When you take a less direct bus route, you get the chance to see some of these things: the wild Atlantic coastline, lively towns and beautiful scenery you might miss out on otherwise. You may not have time, with a full course load and busy social life, to hike through the rugged Burren region,  explore small harbor villages, or attend an (in)famous matchmaking festival. Taking a bus with stops at these places, though, will help you not miss out on Ireland’s more hidden gems.

4. Meet the locals.

When you ride local buses, you’re engaging with your host country as it is, and attaining a better understanding of its people as they live their daily lives. This is invaluable not only to learn more about the reality of another country, and to learn how to blend in (since it’s nice not to feel like a total outsider), but to really gain an understanding of others’ lives.
Friendliness runs deep in Irish culture, but often in larger cities like Galway and Dublin, people are focused on getting from Point A to Point B and haven’t the time or inclination to chat. The bus is a bit more leisurely, and all sorts of people ride it, so you never know you you might meet. And who knows? Maybe that chatty stranger will know the perfect hole-in-the-wall pub for dinner, or have suggestions for places to visit in the area. You’ll thank them later, naturally.

5. Sit back, relax, and open yourself to new adventures.

I’m a writer; stories are my lifeblood, and I always seem to find them riding the bus (or perhaps, they find me). Maybe it’s the fact that I’m existing at a slower pace, watching the waves crash out the window, letting someone else do the planning for once. Maybe it’s liminality, a sense of in-between, as I go to explore the world, or the realization that everything is open to me today, with all the possibility therein. You don’t have to be a writer, though, to appreciate these little moments of wonder.
Take a bus somewhere new, off your beaten track. Walk to a castle. Watch the mist as it swirls around the treetops, northbound to Mayo.
There are so many adventures just waiting for you, and now is the chance to find them, and make your own travel magic.
Sketch Ree Mead studies Interdisciplinary Narratives & Creative Process at the University of Redlands and studied abroad with IFSA at NUI Galway in the Republic of Ireland in fall 2017. They served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.