by Mike Shea on 13 July 2013
In June and July 2013, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit my ancestral homeland, Ireland. You're not going to hear a bunch of colorful metaphors about he beauty and wonder of Ireland in this article, however. If you want to get a taste, take a look at our photos of our trip. Yes, it was a wonderful, awe-inspiring, trip of a lifetime. Instead of waxing poetic about that, though, the rest of this article will offer some tips to handle the difficult logistics of an American visiting Ireland.
"Everything you've heard about the driving in Ireland is true," warned our seat companion on the flight over. Driving in Ireland is really difficult. Here's why:
For this reason, I really recommend considering a bus or guided tour. There are numerous disadvantages to a bus tour such as being forced to hang out with the same group the whole time, following a prescribed path, having limited time determined by the tour; but not having to drive in Ireland would be a huge advantage.
Another option is to travel with someone who is used to driving in Ireland or even hiring a driver. This isn't the same thing as one being confident they CAN drive in Ireland - look for a veteran whose already done it a few times.
On our trip we traveled from a central holiday club in east Clare to all of our destinations. This meant we had a lot of long round trips from places like the Dingle Peninsula. Even sites close by like Ennis and Derry still took two to four hours round trip. We saw some wonderful sites, but every day was six to eight hours in a car.
I've talked to a lot of people who visited Ireland and most of them recommend hopping from one bed and breakfast to another. Many times the B&Bs will arrange for you to hop to the next. This prevents a lot of the hassle of driving back and forth and lets you take one short trip between sites. A tour will have all this arranged for you ahead of time.
Ireland has poor internet service. I don't know if our experience is the norm, but our wifi access in our resort was 500k up and down (as a comparison, our home internet connection is 50 megs down and 25 megs up, nearly 100x as much bandwidth. In short, don't expect really great internet access while in Ireland.
Phone service is spotty across the island but my GSM phone connected often. Instead of renting a burner, I chose to upgrade my plan with some European travel minutes (60) and some European travel data (200 megs). I didn't expect to use them much and didn't end up using it at all, but it was nice to have in case of an emergency. My in-laws never got any sort of phone and had no problems over a three week trip. As long as you run your phone in airplane mode, shut off all cellular data access, and don't plan to use it except in extreme emergencies, you can probably get away without any additional plan.
I love to pack light when I travel and this trip offered the best advantages for doing so. I had no real problems living out of a backpack weighing a total of nine pounds. There were some things I brought that I didn't need like a neck pillow, eye-shade, long underwear, and braided clothesline. There were only a couple of things I wish I had brought that I didn't have. Number one was a good iPhone case like the Otterbox. I dropped and shattered my iPhone three days before coming back to the States. That cut off a lot of my entertainment since I didn't bring anything else. Thank the gods, Michelle had both her iPhone 4 and an iPad so I always got to use the one she wasn't using. If you rely on your phone, as I did, make sure it's heavily protected.
I wish I had brought some travel sunscreen. On our boat trip to the Aren islands and to see the Cliffs of Moher from the sea both Michelle and I got sunburned. Leave it to us to get sunburned on an overcast day in Ireland.
Traveling out of a backpack with one change of clothes worked great for our seven day trip. I can't stress the advantages of packing light enough.
Instead of bringing paper guide books, we downloaded the ebook of Rick Steves' guide on our phones and it worked perfectly. I can't recommend his book any higher.
Since my iPhone was my only electronic device and the regular iPhone adapter works up to 220, I only needed a single UK adapter. It was cheap and let us plug in two devices, though we only needed one two-port USB charger for both of us.
You'll want to bring some euros over with you when you go to avoid terrible exchange rates or fees. We brought 300 euros and it lasted the whole trip. Michelle also had a Capital One card that could be used with no fee. That made a big difference. Most credit cards will have a 2% fee. Call your credit card companies before you go to ensure they won't cut you off when you get there. A lot of services only accept cash so you'll want to make sure you have it on you.
You'll want to have some sort of money pouch to carry your passport and cash.
As much as you can plan and prepare for a trip like this, you won't really understand the country until you've been there. After a seven day trip, I felt like I was just starting to get an idea how to get around and what to see. Try to plan as much as you can to understand what is going on but recognize that nothing will go like you think it will.