I’ve always heard that Ireland was really beautiful - lots of lovely green scenery, old castles, quaint little towns and who hasn’t heard of the Cliffs of Moher – if not from Harry Potter then surely The Princess Bride? I’d like to say that these were all reasons that I decided to go to Ireland, and indeed they are reasons why it was on my radar at all. However, the decision was completely random and purely because American Airlines was having a sale and round trip tickets to Dublin were dirt cheap! I talked my daughter, Sabrina, into coming along (not too hard to sell an all-expense trip to Ireland and nine days of quality time with her awesome mother) and started planning our trip.
A lot of people who go to Ireland seem to book a bus tour where you get on a big bus with a lot of other people, a driver and a tour guide, and are taken around the country. Personally, I don’t like being trapped in anyone else’s agenda, I’d rather trap other people in my agenda. So how do I create my plan? I usually go through three steps – read a good guidebook or two, do some online research and ask people questions.
A good place to start for any trip is to find a good travel book. I ended up getting two for this trip, Discover Ireland by Lonely Planet and Ireland 2015 by DK Eyewitness Travel. There was a lot of similar information but this way Sabrina and I could both discover the places we wanted to visit. Of the two, I preferred the DK book, mainly for the illustrations. That may sound ridiculous to say but it really helped get me excited about seeing places by seeing the street maps that they included.
Once we had some idea about where we wanted to go, I got online. The websites for the specific sights we were interested in were the obvious starting point. From there, Tripadvisor.com and Frommers.com are two great places to look. Not only do they list attractions and activities, but there are thousands of reviews from actual people who have visited these places. There are also reviews of restaurants and hotels so you can make your decision on more than just a nice looking website with pretty pictures. In addition to all of that, there are many trip reports that you can use to model your vacation off of, which is really helpful to get a basic plan started.
Once I have an outline of the things I'd like to do and when I'd like to do them, I start asking questions. If you know people who have recently traveled to where you are going, that's a great place to start. If you don't, there are travel forums out there where you can get your questions answered. One good one is IrelandYes.com but my favorite is the travel forum on TripAdvisor.com. Their Ireland forum is one of the most helpful that I’ve discovered. There are several "Destination Experts" that tirelessly answer similar questions over and over and are (almost) always extremely nice about it. Based on some of the feedback that I received, I changed my itinerary so we would get to places when they were open and not plan on more than was possible to see. I also received some very detailed scenic driving routes, suggestions on which bed & breakfast to stay in and restaurant and pub recommendations. Personally, my trip would not have been nearly as nice without the advice I received here.
So with all of the information we gathered from the travel guides, websites and forums, my daughter and I compiled a list of what we wanted to see, from most important to least. From there, I put together our plan.
Okay, so it may look a little crazy but I like to be more detailed so I’m not standing in another country wondering where to go. I include more things than are possible to actually do so there is some flexibility depending on how I’m feeling that day or what the weather is doing. Most importantly, I figure out where I want to eat. (There exists a separate list of restaurants I wanted to try in each town we were planning on visiting.) When you are jetlagged and hungry, you set yourself up to have some crappy meals. As you may have guessed, I really dislike crappy meals so I try to avoid them whenever possible.
We decided to start and end in Dublin, doing the Southern loop of the country. Our interests were castles, churches, scenery and booze so although we were very happy with this itinerary, it wouldn't be the best plan for everyone. We planned to hit Midleton, Blarney, Killarney, Dingle, Galway, and the Connemara area. I tried to get in as much as made sense but there were things that I knew I would have no time for, like Cork or Kinsale. I also didn’t want to jam too many things in because driving in Ireland is not like it is in the US. Places definitely take you longer to get to as you think.
Having an itinerary sets you up for a good trip, but there are other things to think about. I wanted to have a cell phone to use while I was there. Adding an international plan to my cell would have been really expensive so I decided to unlock my iPhone and get a local sim card. Most of the calls I was planning on making were in Ireland, the sim included data and texts to US numbers were inexpensive so this was the best decision for me.
I also wanted to have a GPS since I was renting a car. I was anxious about driving on the opposite side of the road in the opposite side of the car so having the GPS would make it easier to figure out where we were going. I borrowed a Garmin from my sister and I purchased the latest Ireland maps to load into it. Before we left, I set up all of our lodging and the main sites we were planning on seeing into the Garmin to make it simple to get to our next destination.
I also wanted to get a road atlas, just in case the GPS didn't work correctly or we wanted to take a different way. OSI Official Road Atlas Irelandwas highly recommended so that's the one I ordered. This is something you can get almost anywhere in Ireland but I wanted to get it before we left so I could start planning my routes.
Overall, Ireland is a beautiful country with welcoming people. In the upcoming weeks, I'll talk about our trip and what we ended up doing as compared to what our plan was. It didn't always match up but we always made the best of it and had an amazing trip!