Planning a Trip to Ireland? I’ve Made All the Touristy Mistakes So You Don’t Have To!

I bet you’re thinking Hasn’t Jamie already written a series of posts on planning a trip to Ireland? Well, yes, I have.*

But that was nearly four years ago. I’ve written more since then. So I’ve collected and categorized and linked every other article about traveling in Ireland right here. One stop. Not the travelogues; you’re on your own there. 🙂

That said, everything in that initial series is still valid and important, so you should still start with them:

Travel Daydreams (The best part is the planning.)

Getting the Backstory (Read about it!)

More Backstory. With Accents. (Or watch some movies.)

DIY Vacation (That is, no tour buses for me.)

Narrowing It Down (Plan a trip for your interests.)

Some Sightseeing Ideas (Don’t miss!)

“Official” Tourism (Get help here!)

Eating, Drinking … and Music (Ya gotta do it.)

Let’s Go Shopping (Oh, yes, let’s do!)

Finding the Magic (My favorite chapter.)

Last Thoughts (Lots of little tips, collected.)

But as noted, I’ve written other articles that drill down a little more (driving on the left side, for example), or answer questions you may not have known you had (where or how to get distilled water, for example). There are tips and things I learned sprinkled throughout the stories of my trips, too (the travelogues), but you probably don’t have time to read all that—so I’ve mentioned the most salient points herein. I’ve added a few bits of wisdom too.

And in the last few weeks, three friends have asked me about planning their trips to Ireland … so it’s time to pull it all together.

Planning Your Trip

Let’s start here: when to go, when not to go. You’ve probably heard that it rains a lot in Ireland, and you’re probably concerned. But don’t be. Pack a little rain hat (or buy one after you get there), and go. No, the number of tourists concern me more than the number of raindrops! So I like to go during the “off” season.

In Ireland tourist season starts in April and runs through August. This means a lot more tour buses on the road, longer lines, and so on. Also consider that once it begins to warm up outside, some older historic hotels might be a little stuffy inside, because they don’t have air conditioning. Mind, summer temps in Ireland will probably only reach mid to high 70s (Farenheit)—and outside that’s pleasant—but an un–air-conditioned hotel might feel hot to a Yank accustomed to a/c everything. So it’s something to consider. And check on.

My favorite months? September and October. Tourism has dropped off and the weather is spectacular.

I haven’t been paying much attention to news on visas and passports, but it would be wise for you to look into that a few months before your planned departure. Check with your airlines about baggage weight and carryons too (for example, you may not be able to carry a laptop onto an international flight these days).

There are other items to consider. For example, if I’m asked, I always say Everything takes longer than you think. Getting from Point A to Point B takes longer than you think. The line to get in takes longer than you think. The meal takes longer than you think. My advice is to slow down and don’t cram your schedule. The corollary to this is, Do you want to spend your precious vacation time driving—or doing? There’s so much to see! I get that. But if you’ve only got a week, I would recommend you pick a region and stay in it, rather driving 200 miles one way to see one sight. There are beautiful sea views, old mansions, ancient stone circles and sacred sites, and unusual geography everywhere in Ireland. Trust me. And often the less well-known sites are better.

However—and this is important—your trip is your trip. You may like driving more than I do. You may walk faster than me. Your trip is your trip—plan the one that you want to take.

Getting There and Back

No discussion of purchasing flights here. I’m talking about the actual slog of moving across multiple time zones. It’s hard on a body, y’all.

Many flights from the States are overnighters—arriving in Dublin the next morning, particularly if you fly through Chicago, Boston, New York, Newark, or Washington DC. So plan some low-impact activities—a massage, say, or a walk on the beach or around the neighborhood where your hotel is situated—so you can ease into your new time zone when you land. Here are lots more tips about dealing with jet-lag. If you’re visiting for a special reason—maybe you’re attending a wedding?—arrive a few days early so you can slough off jet-lag and fully enjoy the event. A day-of-arrival massage, I’ve found, is a must for me; Gerry has a cat-nap while I’m gone.

Americans flying home from Dublin for the first time may be surprised to discover that they pass through customs in Dublinbefore they ever get on the plane. This is so convenient, as we were recently reminded when my husband returned home from Dublin through London. When he arrived in Chicago, he had to—

  • get off the plane and collect his luggage
  • pass through US Customs
  • change terminals and go though security again
  • check in his baggage again

—which means one needs a lengthy layover, something the airlines seem to ignore. If there’s even a short delay (and when is that ever the case?), you could miss your connection.

Of course, Customs in Dublin adds to the time you need to allow in the airport on departure day. We like a relaxed, stress-free departure day, and here are some tips for that: Winding Down, At Last. Hint: turn in the car the day before you leave.

Getting Around While You’re There

Speaking of driving, Let’s Talk About Driving on the Wrong Side. This is the question I get asked more than any other. Is it hard? Is it scary? When I answer this question, I say: No, it’s not hard at all—because everyone else is driving on the left too.

There are other ways to get around if you prefer not to drive: bus, cab, hired car, Uber, train, DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit), LUAS (tram/light rail). This link gives you bus, cab, and car options, with approximate costs. Look here for information on DART and Irish Rail options; here for LUAS.

I may have discussed this elsewhere—in fact I’m sure I have—but you can bring your portable GPS from home more cheaply than what you’ll pay to have one in your rental car, even after you purchase the map chip for Ireland and the UK. (Be aware that the GPS tends to choose direct routes, which in Ireland might mean an unpaved one-lane. You’ve been warned.) I know you all have smart phones now, but sometimes reception is slow or nonexistent. If you like a little adventure, great! If you don’t, plan on a backup: whip into a gas station or bookstore and pick up a detailed map book. There are planty of opportunities to be lost in Ireland; you’ll be glad you’ve got all the bases covered.

Here’s another option: private tours. I wouldn’t pay for a place I could easily get to and easily circumnavigate. But as I said in this post, Gerry and I tried to guide ourselves through Howth, in a car (with stops), and didn’t see much, so I have to say I think a tour guide would be a good investment. The links in this article are specifically about Howth, but these guides offer many other tours. (Here’s another corporate tour outfit based in Dublin.)

A Brief Aside About Lodging

A quick reminder that while B&Bs are often expensive in the US, they can be a relatively affordable alternative to a hotel in Ireland. And don’t forget Airbnb, which really opens up the opportunity to stay in a home—especially in a city like Dublin. We’ve stayed in B&Bs and hotels, and of the latter we’ve stayed in high end and (ahem) low end. During our 3-week honeymoon trip we experienced the entire range, and at the end of that trip I wrote up a Hotel Comparison, which may be of interest.

Quick Power Tips

What is VAT?

Tax—and as a non-EU resident, you can get a VAT refund on some goods. In fact, with the electronic system in place since 2012, you are never charged VAT at all, but are issued a card (by any retailer on the system), which is scanned every time you make a purchase. You register the card online at some point during your trip. However, you still must “check out” of the country, by visiting the Horizon electronic kiosk at the airport or from your own computer when you get home. If you fail to report the purchases added to the card within the specified period, all the VAT you avoided will suddenly appear on your credit card bill. Ooops!

Should I pay in euros or dollars?

You may be offered this option when paying with a card. Choose euros.

How do I keep everything charged up on a long trip?

First, purchase an electric plug with multiple USB slots to facilitate charging in airports, because what’s provided is never enough. I’ve also purchased multiple adapters—one each for camera battery, laptop, Kindle, and CPAP. No one has to share. And I have a good-sized zipper bag that all cords, chargers, and adaptors live in; when I’m packing, I grab and go.

I travel with a CPAP and have trouble finding distilled water in Ireland.

Me too. Bottom line? Things are just different, especially with retail. Where you buy certain things. Where you can’t buy things that are easily available in the US. Like distilled water. 89 cents a gallon in the US; 17 euro for a half gallon. Here’s help.

Why does my hair look like crap?

Because the water’s hard. Here’s what to do about it. You’ll never have a bad hair day again. 🙂

I may have over-shopped. Help?

Many retailers in Ireland are well equipped to ship your stuff home for you. Take advantage of it. Don’t carry something around your whole trip or, worse, forego it because you don’t have room in your luggage.

Doing the Special Things

Forget the touristy stuff; you don’t need it! And you really don’t need to kiss the Blarney Stone (ick). Incline your thoughts this way instead: Ireland has a long and proud (and occasionally tragic) history, as I’ve noted before. I cannot stress enough that it will enhance your experience to have a basic awareness of Irish history. Even if you just read Wikipedia. Even if history really isn’t your thing.

Culture is important too. Here are some miscellaneous articles about the “Irish way.” If you want to drill down, check the book list here.

That said, your trip is your trip! So plan to do the things that are meaningful and special to you, whatever they are. Love a junk shop? Afternoon tea? Indulge! Look for the magic. Here are three more miscellaneous articles that might be of interest.

Are you bookish? Ireland is famous for its writers, and if you love books, it’s a great place to soak up the literary culture (and to buy books—there’s a bookstore in every town). Here are some posts that might be of interest.

And that’s it, friends! Hope this planning page has been helpful. I’ll update it as I write more.

(*You have been able to access the first post by clicking Start Here in the menu above and then looking for “How to Plan Your Trip to Ireland.” And you still can. This page will be the Start Here link from now on.)

 

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Travel Daydreams

This is the time of year—cold, possibly snowy—when some of us stay inside more. Some of us stay in with a fire in the fireplace and a nice glass of wine, some of us stay in with Netflix on the tube or a good book in hand … and some of us stay in with our travel daydreams to keep us warm.

Whether you’re planning something fun for a week this summer or the trip of a lifetime next year (and you know who you are!), it’s good to, you know, think about it. A lot. Do a little forward planning so you can make the most out of your precious time and your hard-earned money.

I’m not talking about logistics, though. Oh sure, getting a flight, a hotel, a car—those things are important. But you can do that, right? You can call a travel agent or do it yourself. There are dozens of storefront and online companies that are eager to help. (Here are two articles—Top 15 Most Popular Travel Websites and 23 Best Travel Websites to Save You Money—with plenty of sites to explore.) I’ve been known to google things like “how to get from Livorno to Tower of Pisa”—Livorno being a popular port on some Mediterranean cruise line itineraries—and come up with fantastic blogs and other firsthand accounts that include step-by-step directions complete with street names, bus numbers, and walking time.

I love the Internet!

No, what I’m talking about is deciding what to do, what to look for, what to eat, what to buy. You may not know how to tell a tourist trap from a genuinely wonderful experience. You may not know where or how to pick and choose which experiences to pursue and which to save until next time. You may want mementos of your visit but don’t know what to buy or where. Sometimes you’re doing these things on the fly after you’ve already arrived. But you may have a friend who’s already been where you’re going, and if that’s the case … you ask.

Right?

The one place I’ve visited often enough to be of help to you is Ireland. In fact, this topic recently suggested itself because in the last couple months, several people have approached me asking for suggestions about what to see and do in Ireland on a week or ten-day vacation.

But … there are so many possibilities! The Republic of Ireland is about the same size as the state of Indiana, but the culture is ancient and deep. There is a lot to see and do, and you can’t do it all in one trip. You’ll want to narrow it down a bit. I can help with that.

So over the next few posts, I’m going to give you some suggestions about …

Getting the backstory
You’ll want some background information about the Republic of Ireland, its people, culture, and history, because a little bit of knowledge will enhance your visit exponentially. This is easier than you think, and isn’t one bit like studying for an exam. Honest.

• Narrowing it down
Different people have different interests (and thank goodness for that). It’s a simple process to craft an itinerary that’s perfectly suited to your interests if you know what’s on offer.

• Taking in the human culture
You’ve got to eat and drink every day. I’m not going to recommend restaurants so much as I’ll suggest how you can enjoy specifically Irish food and drink. You’ve got to kick up your heels a bit, too, so we’ll talk about music and special events.

• Finding the unique
You’ll want to take home a memento of your trip, won’t you? You don’t have to buy a plastic leprechaun, you know. I’ve got some suggestions for souvenirs that you’ll enjoy for years.

• Finding the magic
Some of my absolute favorite experiences were ones that just … happened. Completely unplanned. I’ll tell you about them, and give you some tips on how you can leave room for magic to happen too.

Hang on and watch this space. I’m going to tell you what I tell my friends. 🙂

Sheep, Co. Kerry. One of my favorite photos ever.

Sheep, Co. Kerry. One of my favorite photos ever.

Travel: There’s an App for That

I spend a lot of time planning my trips; I love the anticipation itch that planning scratches. Still, as you know, even a well-planned trip can go off the rails—a missed flight, for example, or an unexpected case of pneumonia.

But I spend more time at home than I do traveling. I’m not a frequent flyer. So it never crossed my mind that there are dozens of apps to make travel easier.

Some years ago I worked for Mike Hyatt, and I’ve followed his blog for some time (along with about a hundred thousand other people). No longer at the publishing company where we met, Mike is now a popular public speaker and author, and as such he does a lot of traveling. So you can imagine my delight when I found this blog post in my in-box: “Are You Using These Top 5 Travel Apps?

Here’s a sample:

1. TripIt. This is “command central” for my travel details. My assistants and I use it to maintain all my transportation and accommodation information. When they book a flight or a hotel, they forward the information to TripIt. The program parses the email and creates neat records with all the details. It tells me when flights are delayed, the travel time, my seat assignments, confirmation numbers, and whether or not the flight provides wireless Internet service. It gives me similar information about hotels.

Mike goes on to name four other travel apps he finds useful, including one called Uber, which allows you to book limousine service from your iPhone. Don’t assume it’s too expensive, he says: “I find it is often much cheaper than a rental car.” I can affirm this: Gerry and I booked limos from LaGuardia to midtown Manhattan and they were cheaper than cabs.

So read this article—you may find something very useful for your business or pleasure travel. Best of all, Mike encourages his readers to leave suggestions in the comments—and holy cow, are there some good ones:

• Gate Guru: It gives a list of all the restaurants, snack stands, and shops in the terminals of most airports.

• Seat Guru: Find low airfares, pick your ideal seat on the plane, and get real-time flight alerts with the free SeatGuru app.

• GlobeConvert: Currency and units converter.

• HotStop: Local transit directions (subway, train, bus, ferry, bike).

• Bedbug Registry: self-explanatory.

• AroundMe: Quickly identifies your position and allows you to choose the nearest bank, bar, gas station, hospital, hotel, movie theater, restaurant, supermarket, and so on.

Check it out!

Forward Planning

I like a nice itinerary. I like setting it up, plugging in the immoveable items (like, say, a wedding: that date won’t change), and then moving things around on it ’til it all works. I like a bit of detail. I like having all the important confirmation numbers and departure times in one place for easy reference. I like my lists of things I want to see and do.

An itinerary doesn’t mean I’ve planned every minute of every day; it only means I know where I’ll be sleeping on any given night. Where I’m going to have breakfast (most important meal of the day, you know!). It includes a list of things I’d like to do, but there’s always more on the list than can be done, and I know that going in. A vacation becomes what it will be as it unfolds from day to day; a little structure, though, helps me maximize my time by focusing on the things I reasearched long ago, while giving me options for a Plan B if something has changed.

I’ve been working on my itinerary for months—ever since I bought the flights last fall. Things get added, things fall off (’til next time). Hotels get researched, then decided upon and booked in spare moments. The car gets reserved. I remember I want to look for this thing or that thing. Now I have a detailed, day-by-day plan. In addition to the list of potential things to do, I also have a list of books I’m interested in buying and a list of things to get at Tesco (a large grocery store chain), because there are certain foodstuffs I want to bring home. Like Sarah’s Wonderful Honey. (No kidding—that’s the name. And it is.)

I love my lists. 🙂 Go ahead, you can tease me all you want. I can take it.

I’ve been glancing over the itinerary just now … it’s looking like this is going to be a parks and churches trip. Soon I’ll tell you all about it.

Anticipation, Antici-PAY-yay-shun

I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, planning a trip is the next best thing to taking it. You can stretch the anticipation out for weeks.

I love the excitement of making the decision to go. Yes. On that day I’ll leave. On that day I’ll head home. Now I have a framework on which to hang the magic that is a visit to a country not my own.

I love thumbing through the guidebook, looking for ideas of what to see. If it’s someplace I’ve been before* I’ve probably already been to the main sites and I’ll be looking for something different. I also use the Internet, of course, but I almost always start with the guidebook.

I love deciding on a tentative list of things to do, then locating them all on one map. When I do this, synergies become apparent: what order to do things in, say, or maybe noticing that one thing that is so far off the beaten track I need to make a decision about whether to do it at all. Time is limited, always. Locating things on one map also helps decide on where to look for a hotel or other lodging.

I love skipping around on the Internet looking at hotels. Does this one have parking? Does that one have (unexpectedly) a swimming pool? Pack a suit! I love having that confirmation number in my file.

I love that if you zoom in on Google Maps—mostly if you’re looking at a large city like Dublin—you can see all sorts of venues large and small, from museums to churches to restaurants. And I love the street view aspect too: I just got a good look at the storefront of a cheesemonger I plan to visit soon.

I love choosing to read literature by authors from the country I’ll visit.

*And there’s a special wonderfulness about returning to a place you’ve been before, right? I love reminding myself of restaurants I want to return to or ones I’ve read about or been recommended by friends or ones I saw on the last trip but couldn’t get to … I love making that list of things I want to be sure to pick up, like the Moulton Brown hair care product I love.

Oh yes, the list.

I love making the itinerary. I have the dates of departure and return. I add the other things as they crop up. We’re going to a wedding out of town; that’s on the itinerary. All the lodging reservations are listed, day by day. Those things don’t change. Everything else is fluid. There’s a list of potential things to do or see, but we’ll decide on the fly when to do what. So many things can happen … and often do. 🙂

I’ve had to squeeze out the time to do all this in odd moments, usually late at night. My days are consumed with work and other responsibilities. But the smile you see on my face is sweet anticipation.