Ireland is a wonderful first European adventure! It has lots to offer in terms of scenery and activities, and although we highly recommend it for a family holiday, it would be just as wonderful for single adults or couples. Planning a trip to Ireland is not difficult, and with a little research and preparation it is easily half the cost of tour packages!
Our first trip to Ireland was in June of 2017, and it was also the first time I took charge of planning the itinerary on a family trip. I started by talking to family members who had visited Ireland previously, but honestly, that didn’t help me at all. I got confused by all the strange names, and even when I wrote them down, my spelling of Gaelic words made research a challenge! A friend of mine suggested the Rick Steves guide to Ireland, so I went and picked up a copy. I literally read the book cover to cover before I started planning our time in Ireland.
Since we were only going to be in Ireland 7 days the first time, and I wasn’t sure that we would ever go back, I decided to take us in a counter-clockwise trip around the island. We definitely would not be able to see everything we wanted to see, but it would give us a feel for all but the southeast corner of Ireland. To be fair, I probably crammed more into those few days than I should have, because we spent about 3 hours a day on the road, on average. Lots of driving. But on the other hand, it was a marvelous adventure, so I don’t know if I would change anything, if I could go back and do it again.
Our second trip to Ireland was even better, because we knew where we wanted to focus our time. We were there for 10 days in July, 2018, and again, I was in charge of planning the itinerary. This time, I took input from the family of places or activities they really wanted to see and do. Our time was much more relaxed, and I didn’t have to spend quite so much time planning, as we returned to several BnB’s that we really liked the first time around.
Here are some ideas for planning a trip to Ireland:
1. Use Google flights to find inexpensive flights. We use this site exclusively, and our tickets were less than $400 a piece in 2017, and less than $600 a piece in 2018. We bought tickets both times in November before our trip. To avoid adding extra costs of checked luggage, we each wore a small city backpack, and carried on a rolling carry-on.
2. Ireland requires rental car drivers to carry insurance. We called our credit card company (which includes rental car insurance), and they provided a letter guaranteeing insurance for rental car coverage, which saved us a bundle while we were there.
3. Rick Steves travel guides are worth their weight in gold. Pick one up as a handy starting place.
4. Jet lag is a real and terrible thing. Plan on staying close to Dublin your first night- especially if you have just endured an overnight flight from the States. We chose Trim for both trips, because it is a lovely town with lots to see, but is less than an hour from Dublin. It gave my husband a chance to get used to the “backwards” driving, without any crazy narrow roads.
5. Call your bank and let them know you will be traveling to Ireland. Any debit/credit card purchases will be charged normally, but there is a conversion fee for withdrawing cash from an ATM. We did not use the currency exchange in the airport, as they also charge a fee- and for us it was more cost effective to withdraw from an ATM. I withdrew 500 euros at the beginning of the trip, so we would have cash on hand for those places that only deal in cash- and there are far more of them than in the States.
6. Laundry is an issue. One thing that was a challenge for us, since we travel with just one small carry-on each, is washing clothes mid-trip. Laundromats in Ireland are, in our experience, not self serve. You do have the option of dropping off laundry and then picking it up the next day. However, since I like to air dry quite a few of our items, I wasn’t comfortable using the drop and go method. The only way to mitigate this was booking an AirBnB accommodation (be sure to message the host and check that they do in fact have both a washer and dryer!) with laundry services midway through our trip. You’ll have to spend a few minutes figuring out the European style washer and dryer, but it’s a LIFE SAVER…and money saver, by not having to pay for checked bags or full service laundry.
7. Speaking of checked bags: one thing to consider is that rental cars are quite a bit smaller than most US cars, and trunk space can be an issue. We were able to fit our 4 small carry-on rolling bags, backpacks and a few other items in both cars that we rented, but there really was not a lot of leftover room.
8. Save space and effort in packing by planning to visit a grocery store the day you arrive. We purchased laundry detergent, shampoo and conditioner, razors, toothpaste and toothbrushes, Kleenex, etc at Tesco, on our way from the airport to Trim. Easy peasy.
All in all, both of our trips to Ireland were simply amazing. We absolutely loved the beautiful country side, quaint villages and friendly Irish people!
Here are the itineraries for both trips: