Thursday, June 8, 2017

ireland: the logistics

Our recent trip to Ireland was one of the first trips where I was going to and traveling in a country where I didn't know anyone or have someone else make the plans. I've done a bit of traveling over the years, but I've always either stayed with people who lived there or traveled with my family. This was really the first time I've travelled somewhere completely new and without knowing a local! So it was exciting to completely make up our itinerary from scratch, but it was also a bit overwhelming to figure out where we wanted to go in Ireland. There is just SO much to see, and every place is more interesting and beautiful than the next. You could spend a year exploring all of Ireland and still not have seen it all. On top of that, there are so many different ways of traveling through the country. From hopping on a tour bus and having it shuttle you to all the highlights to backpacking across the country camping, there are so many options. We went pretty middle of the road when it came to all aspects of our trip - we visited three cities, saw a lot of the major things to see, and just thoroughly enjoyed our time in the country.

It seems that so many of you guys are going to Ireland in the near future, so I am going to talk about the logistics of planning our trip and an overview of where we went. I'll have a few more posts about our time specifically in Dublin, the Ring of Kerry, and Galway in the near future!

flights // Ideally the way to fly to Ireland is overnight - that way you "sleep" on the plane (sleep used loosely as I don't know how anyone gets a good amount of sleep on the plane), land in the morning, drink a large coffee, and then spend all day exploring! Stay up all day, and by the time it's 9 PM, you'll fall into bed, and then you'll be on normal Ireland time the next day!

One VERY important note about flying back into the US is that Ireland is one of a few countries that has pre-clearance customs. I had never heard of such a thing in all of my travels, so I was shocked when we spent about two hours before our flight back to the US going through customs (on every other international flight I've ever gone on, you go through customs in the airport in the US you land in). Even though we got to the Dublin airport about 2.5 hours before boarding started (I'm a bit nervous about missing flights), we were running to the gate and were one of the last people to board because I got randomly chosen for extra screening. So really take that into account when coming back! I would plan for at least an extra 1.5 hours more than you normally do.

packing // We went to Ireland in the beginning of June, and boy did we get incredibly lucky with the weather! It was like the perfect early fall weather I wish I lived in all year round - cool enough to wear jeans and a shirt, and really only needing a lighter jacket at night. We discussed packing plans a few weeks ago, and for the most part, what I showed there was what I brought! For packing, I would suggest the following
  • If you are doing both cities and country, and are bringing a big suitcase, I really liked having two jackets. I brought my rain coat for when we were out in the country exploring, and then had my J.Crew field jacket in the city. If you are only going to bring one coat, I'd suggest a sleek rain coat, something like this cute packable rain coat from Cole Haan. My raincoat is red, which was fun, but you'll blend in more and it's more versatile if you wear a darker one. 
  • Bring a small umbrella to keep in your purse. On days where there wasn't a large amount of rain in the forecast, I just wore my regular coat and then used the umbrella the few minute of showers throughout the day. 
  • I wore my short rain boots only once, when we arrived in Galway and it was pouring. Otherwise, I wore my leather driving loafers (currently 25% off!) basically the whole time. I'd suggest something similar, either loafers or sneakers (something fun like these slip ons from Steve Madden!). You'll be doing a ton of walking, and want to be comfortable. 
  • Things I wish I had brought: my baseball cap. It's very windy on the coasts, and it would have been nice to have something to keep my hair under control. 
  • Extras: we used this converter for the outlets, and then also brought a travel strip so we could charge multiple items at once (a tip I learned from Jessica recently). Phone and computer chargers worked great, but if you are bringing hair tools, make sure they are the dual voltage ones. I'd also suggest an extra phone pack - I have this one from Anker that I used all the time, and never had to charge it while we were there!
  • My sister gave us Lonely Planet's travel book for Christmas, and we really liked having a book on us for quick references and to get the inside scoop on places without using our phone data. 

phone use // On other international trips I've gone on, I've always purchased the international data plan from Verizon...which frankly, isn't too great. When I went to Santorini, I got 1 GB of data for like $50 - I basically couldn't use my phone other than to quickly check our location. One of my readers suggested getting an Irish SIM card instead, which was such a great suggestion. Before you leave the US, make sure you phone is unlocked (I just called Verizon and asked). If you are flying into Dublin, you can buy a SIM card at the airport. There's a SimLocal in the terminals (they supposedly install it for you), or you can buy a card from the little convenience store outside of the arrivals gate/baggage claim (which is what I did - here's how you put one in yourself). I got a 7 GB card for 20 euros - I didn't get texting or calling, but our data lasted us the whole week, which included a ton of navigating and instagramming. We really couldn't have done anything if it weren't for having that data!

money // Ireland uses the Euro for money (note that Northern Ireland uses pounds though, so be aware of that if you are traveling there - we did not, so it didn't matter for our trip). We ended up using about 100 in cash for things like parking, tipping (10% is considered the norm), and smaller purchases. Just about every place takes Visa and Mastercard though, now typically the "chip and pin" version of cards that most of us probably are already forced to use the US. Some places will offer you to pay in euros or dollars - our banks didn't charge us for using our cards internationally, so we just paid in euros. Check with your bank to see what their policy is, and make sure you let them know of your travel plans.

travel in the country // There are a bunch of different ways to travel, from public transportation to tour buses, to renting a car, even biking the whole country! We chose to drive so we could be on our own timeline, and even though we didn't take a tour bus on this trip so I can't compare the two, I am so happy that we had our own car for this trip. We could stop when we wanted, could stay in locations as long as we desired, and really got to actually experience the country rather than just being bussed through it.

We rented through Enterprise - we booked our car online, and picked up the car at the Dublin Airport (we had spent two days in Dublin first where we relied on ubers/taxis). Things to note about renting and driving a car in Ireland:
  • They drive on the opposite side of the road. This can be a bit scary, especially the first time you have to go around a roundabout (which there are heaps of)! I would say if you are a confident driver at home, it won't take very long for you to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road. Many guides say that having a good navigator is key to driving here, and as the navigator of our car, I agree ;) Because I was focusing on where we were going, CR could focus on where to drive. CR actually really took to driving on the left, and I think will miss it!
  • Most people will tell you to book an automatic car if you aren't used to driving on the left side. We booked an automatic, but ended up with a manual car when we picked it up because we weren't really paying attention to that detail when getting the car. CR and I are both manual car drivers at home, so it ended up not being a problem for us. But if you do not drive a manual car every day, then definitely make sure you get an automatic! 
  • Insurance issues are somewhat confusing. Ireland is one of the few countries where credit card insurance typically won't cover rental cars. When booking online, we chose to basically take all the insurance we could (so the CDW and then the excess insurance offered online). When we went to pick up our car, we also paid an additional ~$75 to lower the potential deductible from $1200 to $100 - we both agreed that we'd rather pay a little more in the chance that something happened, especially on the tight roads we were going to encounter later on in our trip. In the end, renting a car cost us about $440 for one week with unlimited miles. 
  • Some of the roads, especially in the Ring of Kerry, are pretty incredibly tight. If you follow along on instastories, you know what I mean! Take it slow, pull over to let locals pass when possible, and be on the lookout for sheep ;)

accommodations // I have really enjoyed using Air BnBs on my travels - it is really nice to come back to a home where you have a bit more space and where you can "live like a local", even just for a few days. There are a range of other options, of course - hostels are a big thing in Europe, and you can get a bed for like $45 in most cities, and hotels are always an option as well. For the AirBnBs, typically you have to book them for at least two nights. We had great experiences in all three of ours (email me if you want the specific places!). I just make sure to read the reviews and keep open communication with the hosts - it really was a wonderful way to experience "living" in Ireland for a week!

food and drinks // Before we left, Katie said to enjoy all the scones and seafood chowder, and boy did I take that to heart! European bakeries are really the best in the world, and so we had a great time sampling various croissants and scones with jam every day. I'm going to cover specific restaurants when I cover the cities we visited, but some of the food items we had the most were scones with jam, fish & chips (my favorite!), guinness stew, seafood chowder, and all the bread. There are all sorts of restaurants, obviously, but we tried to stick with more "traditional" food. If you are gluten-free, a lot of restaurants have GF options, and all have really clearly labelled allergy information. If you are a beer drinker, CR always asked about local breweries and had those, or went with Guinness. I'm a cider girl, and quickly grew fond of Orchard Thieves (technically a Heiniken cider, but not something sold in the US).

where to go // I had such a hard time figuring out where in Ireland we wanted to go. By size, Ireland is the size of Indiana, and no offense to Indiana (I live in Ohio and am from Wisconsin #midwestisbest) but there is SO much to see and do in Ireland that the size of the island is very...misleading. We could have spent a week in every city we stayed in, and still not have seen everything we wanted to! Another big thing was trying to figure out what was worth seeing and how much time we wanted to spend there. We could have really rushed around and seen more cities and managed to make it to Northern Ireland too, but I really wanted to also have it be relaxing and have time to explore, so we decided on a mix of somewhat popular touristy things and the relaxing exploring things.

So what we planned was to fly in Dublin, stay overnight two days, drive down to the west coast and stay in Killarney for two days as a jumping point for the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula, and then drive to Galway to spend two days in that area before heading back. We ended up losing a whole day in Dublin due to a flight cancellation, and during the trip we wish we had done things a little differently, so based off our experiences, here are my recommendations if you want to go to similar places:
  • Day 1: Fly into Dublin. Check into your hotel/AirBnB, take a quick shower and change, and then go out and explore the city (more on that to come). 
  • Day 2: Explore Dublin
  • Day 3: Dublin > explore along the way (we loved Killiney Hill south of Dublin and Port Louise) > visit Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney stone > stay in Killarney overnight
  • Day 4: visit Killarney State Park and then drive clockwise around the Ring of Kerry. Stay in a bed and breakfast towards the end of the Ring of Kerry
  • Day 5: Drive to and around the Dingle Peninsula > Cliffs of Moher > Galway (stay in hotel/Air BnB)
  • Day 6: Explore Galway and/or go to Aran Islands for the day. 
  • Day 7: Drive up to Kylemoore Abbey. Drive back to Galway and back to Dublin
  • Day 8: Cry about leaving Ireland

We were discussing how disappointed we were that we couldn't spend more time in Ireland as there is so so so much more to see than we were able to, but as CR put it best, if we saw everything on this trip, we'd have nothing to come back for! So here's looking forward to future trips to the Emerald Isle!