I grew up in a small, rural town outside of Richmond Virginia, and having never left the country before, took the opportunity to study abroad in London during the summer of 2006. Working with my school's study abroad program meant that most of my trip was scheduled and structured to ensure a safe and easy acclamation to life overseas. My weekends, however, were left open to encourage my classmates and me to explore the country as we pleased. During my first weekend of unstructured freedom, I booked a trip to Ireland, and with nothing but a small backpack each, we hopped off the plane in Dublin and sped to the first pub we could find in Temple Bar. As the night wore on we laughed, we drank and we watched break dancers perform in the streets. We watched fights break out in pubs, only to find the fighters make amends moments later over a pint of Guinness. We carried on enjoying Dublin until exhaustion struck at 2 a.m.
As we huddled in the street and began discussing what to do next, we realized we had forgotten a crucial step in our weekend planning: we hadn’t booked a place to stay. Since this was pre-AirBNB or sophisticated cell phones, we began our trek for a bed at 2:30 a.m. local time the old fashioned way - by calling all of the businesses from a payphone downtown. We quickly discovered that every hostel and hotel within a reasonable distance from downtown was 100% booked. Apparently, Elton John had made a surprise stop on his European tour and the flood of adoring fans had correctly planned ahead and booked all reasonable rooms in advance. With 5 a.m. approaching, our sanity waning and our nerves wrecked, we began desperately hurling options to the group for consideration, some more ludicrous than others. Could we just stay awake the whole trip? Was it safe to ask random strangers for a couch to sleep on for the night? Did we have enough money to pay someone for their room? Did we even have enough money to keep making calls from the payphone?
With daylight breaking through and the streets beginning to quiet, I made an executive decision to stay in the only place I knew that was affordable (read: free), had some sense of security, and a bathroom with running water: the Dublin airport. For the remainder of our weekend, we traveled by the free shuttle bus to the airport at night to sleep in the departure gates, using our backpacks as pillows. For the next three mornings, we woke at 5 a.m. to guard the public restroom for each other as we took turns “showering” in the sink and brushing our teeth. We then caught the 6 a.m. shuttle from the airport to downtown Dublin to pick up where our adventure had left off the night before.
Though time has passed and my travels have expanded to other, more daring places, the core lesson from Dublin has stayed with me to this day: above all else be adaptable …. and know that you always have a home in the airport.
Joell Shepperson is a James Madison University alum, currently residing in Denver, Colorado. She is a passionate product designer, believer in a better healthcare system, and a lover of ice cream, bourbon and good stories.