It’s funny how I remember the exact moment my sense of wanderlust was instilled in me, considering I’d been abroad and travelled so many times before. Growing up I was fortunate that my family often went on vacation. They were what I consider the typical family vacations, south to Orlando, Florida, for Disneyworld, even further south to spend a few weeks at a resort in Mexico, and a few Caribbean cruises, as bless my mother’s heart, she is a cruise fanatic. My father was born and raised in Ireland, which has provided me my Irish citizenship, and thus, a European Union passport. Growing up my parents would take vacations together without my sister and I, most memorably to China for two weeks which they booked on less than a week’s notice. In University, a flyer for a student conference in the Czech Republic caught my eye, so after securing funding from the school, I was off to Prague on my own. Then a few years later, my decision to go to Ireland by myself to visit my sister who lived there didn’t seem like a big deal at all. Suffice to say, it’s clear the travel bug was always in my blood; it just laid dormant until I was twenty five.
At the age of twenty five I became single for the first time in almost eight years. To say years of subconsciously feeling held back from doing the things I really wanted to do suddenly burst out of me would be an understatement. My sudden desire to see and experience so many things – both locally and abroad – took over me in a way I could have never foreseen.
I was going through a period at work where things were quiet and work was slow. Thankfully I have friends who are as crazy and spontaneous as I am, as what started as a joke one minute ended up changing the course of my life. Talking to my friend Andrea, who found herself in the same work rut I was, we were joking about how we should just take off, get on a plane and go anywhere. This was a Wednesday. After an hour of conversation and the cliché ‘are we really going to do this’ questions, followed by another hour of coercing our parents to let us use their credit cards without asking too many questions, flights to England and Ireland were booked, departing in less than three days.
The first few days in London, England were fantastic – your typical tourist experience that can be read on any travel blog. It’s what happened after that no one saw coming. Literally, no one. We hoped on an Aer Lingus flight over to Dublin. Not even a full day into our Irish adventure and I received an odd message from my mother reading “All flights in Europe are grounded!” I showed Andrea, laughing and joking about the extent to which my mother was obviously exaggerating. But oh, she was not exaggerating. Not. In. The. Slightest.
After street shopping and taking lots of silly photos with the Grafton Street monuments and memorials, we stopped into what would become our favourite pub in Temple Bar, the Auld Dubliner. We ordered pints and pie, and as we waited, we watched the BBC breaking news. It would seem a volcano, Eyjafjallajökull as the world would come to know it (although not pronouncing it!), had erupted in Iceland and was interrupting European airspace at an alarming rate. Andrea and I just looked at each other, with a mutual ‘oh my god’ moment being shared without saying a word.
In the days that would follow, the now infamous 2010 ash cloud changed both who I am and the journey I was on. Andrea and I moved from our hostel to stay with my future brother-in-law’s parents, who lived in Dublin and were our angels while abroad. With a roof over our head and familiar faces to feed and keep us company, we were fortunate to treat our unplanned week long extended vacation as just that. This is where I need to give huge props to the companies and people in my life. The organization I worked for at the time, The Centre for International Governance Innovation, told me not to worry about the extra time I was missing, they would not dock my vacation or my pay for what was considered an Act of God. Air Canada, with whom I’d booked my flights, kept rescheduling me on to the next flight, and then when that day of flights was cancelled, they would get me on to the next one. Not once was I given a hard time, never told I’d have to pay change fees or the price difference in flights, nothing. Air Canada earned my lifelong respect during this experience, as they made what had the potential to be a horrible ordeal a smooth, seamless process.
Andrea and I spent our days having the time of our lives. With my return date unknown and analysts predicting I could possibly be stranded for up to a month (a month!) all I could do was make the best of it. News organizations from the Globe and Mail to The Dean Blundell Show on 102.1 The Edge, called and interviewed us for their Canadians Stranded Abroad segments. I drank in Irish pubs who gave me free pints because they felt bad for me. I saw far more sites than I should have seen in what was supposed to be three days in Dublin. I made friends with my fellow stranded travelers and have maintained those friendships to this day. By the time the ash cloud cleared – which, for the record, the sky was clear and sunny the entire time I was there – I was genuinely sad having to come home. I’d never before felt such a rush of adventure. It’s something that can’t be described until you feel it, but when you do, there’s no turning back. The wanderlust has already set in.