In general, I’m the kind of person who has a plan. Whether I’m running errands, deciding what to do with my evening, or looking ahead to the following summer, I am usually trying to employ some sort of strategy to my actions. In fact, I recently elicited a blank stare from Matt when, on the way to our beach vacation, I asked what he would prefer to do for each of our meals. I was already putting together menus and a shopping list in my head; he wasn’t thinking any farther than the cup of coffee he was enjoying after a long work week.
I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy a little flexibility when I’m traveling. I’m not the kind of person who schedules every day down to the minute. I like having the option to swing into a shop or museum that catches my eye or to tarry at a sidewalk cafe if the people watching is particularly interesting. Overall, though, I tend to do a lot of research before a trip so that I can feel like I understand my sightseeing options and can start each day with a good plan of what to do.
I like having a plan. I like that I know what I have to look forward to on my trip. My plan gives me confidence that things will go well, and let’s be honest – it helps me feel in control.
This attention to detail and passion for being well-informed is what makes me great at planning custom vacations, but I also catch myself becoming stressed or unnerved when something goes awry. For example, when M and I decided to take a day trip from Prague to Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic, a misunderstanding caused us to miss the last bus back. I had a few moments of panic before M was able to talk me off my proverbial ledge and we formulated a new plan.
I’ve learned, though, that sometimes the best thing you can do is to abandon your plans, even if you’re running late, missing something else, or unsure of what the final outcome of your decision might be. This lesson was reaffirmed in Ireland on a vacation we took with M and his parents, when a spontaneous detour led to what would become one of our favorite memories from the trip.
After waking up in Belfast, we spent the morning and early afternoon exploring the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Giant’s Causeway. A cold rain had poured down on us for most of the first part of the day, soaking through any clothing that wasn’t completely waterproof. Someone – who shall remain nameless – experienced a case of the grumpies as we reached the Causeway, further dampening the mood. Overall, though positively impacted by the awesome sights we were seeing, the day was falling a bit short of how I had envisioned it.
Our final destination was Galway, five hours south, which didn’t seem all that far away when I was planning the trip. I greatly underestimated, however, both the amount of time we would want to spend at the Giant’s Causeway and how much more slowly a group of four people travels than two. Thus, we found ourselves making our way down the western coast of Ireland as darkness fell, with hours to go before we would reach our hotel.
The miles rolled along under our wheels, but it felt like one of those dreams where your feet are leaden and you just can’t move forward. As the sun sank lower, my blood pressure elevated further and further. I knew the group was tired, hungry, and ready to be done for the day, but we were only about halfway to where we needed to be. I also knew that some of the stops I had hoped to make along the way were now impossible. As the main trip planner, I felt responsible for what I worried was everyone else’s discomfort. I was also disappointed that I was missing out on pieces of the itinerary I’d built.
Then, suddenly, my mother-in-law pointed out a castle in the distance. It sat alone on a small hill in the middle of the rolling green countryside, looking dignified and lonely. Something about it had struck her, and when she expressed the desire to take a closer look, the decision was made to turn off the highway.
My heart sank. Another delay. I didn’t quite understand why we had to take the time to go see what would be at least our fifth or sixth castle of the trip when we still had so far to travel. Maybe I was just tired, cranky, and hungry (the last one being the most likely culprit), but this deviation from my already-not-going-according-to-plan plan was irksome.
But then we got closer, our arrival perfectly coinciding with the setting of the sun, and the castle and its grounds came into view.
It was magical, like we had wandered into a storybook. Golden rays of dying sunlight fell lightly on the lush green fields, illuminating the grass with glorious color. Fluffy sheep grazed under the watchful eye of the proud castle, oblivious to the gorgeous twilight scene surrounding them.
And the magic was only beginning.
Unanimously, we decided to continue up the road a bit to see what there was to see further along. Our journey took us out onto the Mullaghmore Peninsula, a small bit of land that juts out into the ocean in a series of sea cliffs and rolling hills. After passing through the little town of Mullaghmore, we soon came upon some cliffs covered by shaggy green grass. They tumbled down toward the foaming waves. It was wild, beautiful, and windy enough to take your breath away if the scenery hadn’t already stolen it. Best of all, a double rainbow had appeared over our heads.
Sea birds swooped and dived as we exited the car and stood awestruck, giddy with the good fortune of having happened upon this place at such a spectacular moment. We marveled at the sights, took lots of photos, and hugged each other in delight and gratitude at having been granted this experience. All of my concerns about our long drive to Galway had evaporated into the briny wind.
Eventually, we resumed our loop around the peninsula as the sun continued to descend into the ocean on our right.
A short distance away was another pull-off, and this one offered a view of the castle beyond more sea cliffs. The waves thundered against the rocks in a white-foamed cacophony.
More photos were taken and more smiles were shared, but mostly we just stood and watched the sun slowly descend below the horizon.
By the time we finally got back in the car, we were no closer to Galway. We were still hungry, still tired, and still had over two hours to go before we could collapse into our hotel beds for the night. But we were filled with joy and the satisfaction of a day well spent. Getting caught up in the beauty of that sunset over the Mullaghmore coastline had reminded us, and me most of all, why travel is so powerful, transformative, and emotional.
So many parts of that day hadn’t gone according to my plan. But sometimes, the best decision you can make is to throw the plan out the window, let it get carried off by an ocean breeze, and take the detour.
We later learned that the castle we chased is called Classiebawn Castle. It is not open to the public, but as you can see there are plenty of opportunities to view it from afar. I personally think the place benefits from the distance because it gives it an air of mystery.
To access the Mullaghmore Peninsula, turn right off of the N15 onto Burrow Road (R279) in Chiffoney in County Sligo. R279 will take you to the town of Mullaghmore and then loop you around the peninsula. If you’re hungry or in need of a rest, there are some lovely hotels and restaurants right on the harbor in Mullaghmore.
This post was originally published on July 2, 2019, and last updated on July 2, 2021.
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