Ireland: Part 3
Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Note: In this 3-part series, I mentioned and sometimes linked specific hotels we stayed at and restaurants we ate at on our trip through Ireland, but please note that none of these are sponsored in any way. These were just our personal experiences on our travels through this beautiful country.
If you’ve checked out Part 1 and/or Part 2 of this 3-part series, you’ll be well aware that in June of 2018, my husband, Kyle, and I went to Ireland for a good friend’s wedding. While we were there, we didn’t JUST attend a wedding; we also explored a few more places in the southern half of Ireland on our 8-day trip, and enjoyed (almost) every minute of it.
In Part 3, we’re talking nitty gritty. Because honestly, there was a ton of behind-the-scenes stuff that had to happen for us to even get in the air and across the ocean. There was strategic packing to do; cats (well, a cat) to board; a car to rent; budgeting to do; hotel rooms to reserve; and TONS of planning, decision-making, and idea-generating that had to happen to make this trip possible.
As this was our first trip overseas together, and really, our first leisure vacation together, it was a bit different than any other travel we’d done as a couple. Though Kyle is in the Army, and that means that of course we’ve traveled a lot, those travels have never been leisurely or fueled by decisions we made through our own free will. In fact, they usually involved a ton of time-crunched stress-packing, U-Hauls, car trailers, and confusing toll roads, not to mention blinding rains and maneuvering 25-foot trucks through cramped hotel parking lots. (Read: not fun times.) So planning and executing our trip to Ireland, while still somewhat stressful, was also exciting and completely new.
When we were hesitantly planning on going to Ireland for the wedding, there were a few things we had to work around, namely Kyle’s chemo treatments, the fact that he didn’t have a passport yet, and the fact that we had a cat that needed to be looked after while we were gone, but no family members living nearby to look in on her. We actually weren’t even sure we would be able to go to Ireland until about two or three months before the wedding. This was not an Ideal Situation. Anyone who knows me knows how much of a planner I am. (This uber-planner trait manifests itself in a myriad of pitiful ways, such as me insisting on knowing the ending of scary movies before I watch them. I hate scary movies unless I can plan on being satisfied with the ending. Which. Kind of defeats the purpose of a scary movie. Anyway.) Ideally, I would’ve liked to have been planning – and I mean really planning, not fantasizing about – this trip for a good six months or more before making the trip.
But, you work with what you have where you are, so here’s how my planning went down, in those 2-3 months:
Make a Master List. I made a master list to work off. Things we had yet to do to prep for our trip, things that we couldn’t do until a month before the trip, things we had to do the day before or the day of our departure. This included making a timeline of places I needed to call (hotels, mainly, but also the pet boarding facility for our cat, Bits, and setting up a hold on our mail via USPS online), things I needed to complete online (car rental) and more on-the-ground things like ensuring that we both had updated passports and the right clothing and travel items for the trip.
Draft a Calendar. From the master list of things we needed to do before we left, I was able to cobble together a bunch of important dates we needed to remember for before and during the trip, including the wedding.
Know Where You Want to Go. For a while I’d had a list of things that I definitely wanted to do while in Ireland, along with their general location and when we might like to do them.
Get Inspired. I used my six thousand lists as basic guidelines to work off of, and consulted Pinterest and other blogs, which documented the travels of other bloggers who had been to Ireland before me. Using this inspiration, I was able to flesh out my vacation schedule and timeline, adding places that looked interesting, restaurants I wanted to try, and experiences I wanted to have.
Print a Map. This is helpful if you plan to backpack or drive yourself. I printed a map of Ireland so I could mark the general route we’d be following along the roads in the southern half of the country. Looking at the photos below, you can compare where we were in our first stages of planning (the map on the left) to our final stage of planning and the route we actually took/stops we actually made (the map on the right). You may notice that we ended up nixing some stops that were on the original plan; we also added a couple stops en route that were not originally planned (like our stops in Dungarvan and Cobh).
Budget. This didn’t go perfectly for us, or even well; we did what we could in the time that we had to save money for the trip, but since being able to go had come up a bit unexpectedly given our circumstances at the time, we didn’t have quite as much saved as we would’ve liked, and used some money from our savings.
BUDGETING AND COSTS
The first part of budgeting was research. That section from above called “Get Inspired” is how I did most of this research. It involved reading up on what others had done before me, where they had gone, what they recommended. Check out these posts about driving in Ireland, expenses, and what to wear, which I relied on heavily when planning our trip.
The second part was (what else?) drafting a list of general costs we’d be looking at, and making sure we could afford them. I researched hotel costs, car rental costs, ferry costs, costs to board a cat, plane ticket costs, how much it would cost to have cell service and internet over there, and a bunch of other stuff that I’m probably forgetting.
Since we were working with a time crunch, I am 100% certain that our budget could’ve been pared down by a substantial amount. That’s why I highly recommend planning, comparing prices, doing all those responsible things that you know you’re supposed to do before you travel internationally. Much like all our other plans with this trip, we worked with what time we had. Please note that some of these amounts were in euros, which (as of the day I write this) is at a conversion of about $1.13 for each €1. Here’s what our expenditures looked like:
$202.50 for 8 nights
Our cat’s boarding reservation was done via our regular veterinary clinic. Since we were going to be gone the week of July 4th, the vet clinic said that spots were filling up fast with pets whose owners would be away for the holiday. We put our cat through the necessary checkups and vaccinations to guarantee her a spot at the cross-town boarding facility in Clarksville and scheduled the dates that she’d stay there.
When we finally dropped her off before our flight to Ireland, we made sure to provide toys, food, and dishes for her, in addition to her carrying case, where she likes to sleep sometimes. If we’d had someone living near us that we trusted to go into our house to feed her/care for her while we were gone, we absolutely would’ve done that instead. Bits did not like her boarding experience. (But then again, she doesn’t like much of anything).
$1,996.99 for 2 tickets
$60.20 for travel insurance
Apparently nowadays you have to buy not only the tickets for the actual plane ride, but also the seats you sit in. This is an optional cost, but one that we went ahead with, because we didn’t want to spend an eight-hour flight sitting next to strangers; in the end we sat by strangers on one or two of our flights anyway, since those were the only seats left.
Purchasing your seats ahead of time can help guarantee that you won’t be bumped to another flight. Airlines always over-book their flights because they want to be sure they’ll make a profit, and they can’t do that if people switch their flights, back out, or simply don’t show up. I have personally had bad plane experiences where I didn’t buy my seat ahead of time, or didn’t confirm my seat as soon as I arrived at the gate, and was bumped to another flight (which, as you can imagine, I was not happy about in the least). Which leads me to the last part of this tip: every time you get to your next airline gate, CONFIRM YOUR SEATS. Even if it feels redundant, I always do this to save myself some of the anxiety that comes from wondering if you’ll even be on the flight you paid for.
We also made sure to purchase TRAVEL INSURANCE for this flight. Since things were still a bit uncertain with Kyle’s health at the time, we wanted the ability to change or cancel our flight if we wanted to, and having insurance gave me some peace of mind after spending so much money on plane tickets.
Since we drove ourselves to the airport in Nashville, we had to pay to park that vehicle for 8 days while we were gone. And since we rented a vehicle in Ireland, there were times when we had to pay for parking there, too.
Any time you park somewhere while traveling, whether it’s at the airport, on a street, or in a parking garage, I would advise making a note of exactly where you parked so you can find your vehicle when you’re ready to go home again, wherever “home” is that day. Finding your vehicle is so much easier if you marked its coordinates on your phone’s map app, or just made a note of the street names or name of the garage it’s parked in.
In Ireland, the parking situation can be a little strange if you’re not used to paying for parking meters. There are usually meters near the parking spaces or in the parking lot itself, and you PAY FIRST, as soon as you park, before you go off on your adventures. Basically, you’ll enter your information, pay, and then stick the parking ticket onto the dash of your car so the Garda can’t ticket you. Some places in the U.S. have you pay after you get back to your vehicle, but that’s not the case with many Irish parking meters. For parking garages, you’ll pay on your way out of the garage.
€1,036.00 or $1,187.42
At the hotels and B&Bs we stayed at, breakfast was always included with the price of the room, with the exception of the Marion Lodge Guesthouse. Faithlegg House Hotel was a bit of an unusual setup, as the room we reserved was one that had been blocked off for guests of the wedding. (If you’ve ever planned a wedding, you might know that hotels will often give special discounts or packages for wedding guests.) That’s how we were able to get our 3 night-stay at Faithlegg to include breakfasts each morning, and one dinner. Here is the breakdown for each place we stayed at, with prices:
Faithlegg House Hotel, Waterford: €470 for 3 nights (bed, breakfast & 1 dinner included)
Robeen House B&B, Killarney: €190 for 2 nights (bed & breakfast included)
Marian Lodge Guesthouse, Galway: €90 for 1 night (bed only)
Paramount Hotel, Dublin: €286 for 2 nights (bed & breakfast included)
€537.88 or $636.93
Our car rental was reserved with Enterprise online, where we were able to choose the car type (make/model plus whether it was automatic or manual) and the location and time of both pick-up and drop off. They had no problem with us picking up our rental vehicle in one location and returning it at a different location. Since we were arriving in County Waterford by train, we picked it up there, and then we returned the car in Dublin on our way to the airport to go home. (When we returned the car, Enterprise shuttled us to the airport, which wasn’t just a walk away.) We chose to rent an automatic; I figured it was already going to be difficult enough driving in a different country on the opposite side of the road. Just remember that an automatic is going to be slightly more expensive to rent, as most vehicles are manual over there.
Kyle also made sure to call our INSURANCE provider and ask if they covered us while we were driving in a different country; since they did not, we made sure to purchase the insurance offered by the rental car company.
We only needed to buy gas for our rental car twice while we were driving it around the country, but it was more expensive per gallon than it was in the U.S. at that time, so if you’re planning on using a rental car, be sure to budget for gas (aka petrol) as well.
€33.98 or $40.24 for 2 tickets
We reserved our train tickets online. They were surprisingly affordable, and I loved having the experience of being able to relax on the train as we sped south with the sun going down. We got to see some of Ireland’s farmland right away after arriving.
A couple notes: we opted for flex-fare tickets on our train (on the Irish Rail or Iarnród Éireann), which meant that even if, for some reason, we arrived earlier or later than expected and we weren’t able to get to one train’s departure time, we were allowed to get on a different one. Essentially it was a way to purchase a train ticket for one ride from Dublin to Waterford, but you could get on any train at any time of the day. Much more flexible for unexpected travel delays.
The other tip I wanted to share is to give yourself PLENTY of travel time in between your arrival via plane and your departure via train. Our plane landed about 2 hours before the last train to Waterford of the day, but we still arrived at the train station with only about 5 minutes to spare. That didn’t leave a whole lot of room for error. I would’ve been much more comfortable if we’d had another hour of cushion time.
€40 or $47.02
Since we rented our own car for travel in Ireland, we only used a cab twice. Once to get from the train station to our hotel for the night, and another the next morning, to get from the hotel to the Enterprise car rental location. Compared to most other travel methods, I think cabs are a ridiculously expensive mode of transport, but that doesn’t mean they’re not helpful when you need them. Taxis are plentiful all over Ireland, and we really enjoyed talking to both our drivers. But I would probably look to other modes of transport like train or bus before using taxis for the entire trip.
Fun fact: Uber and Lyft aren’t popular in Ireland because drivers who get paid for taxiing passengers must have a taxi license.
€50 or $58.77
We were sold bus tickets to Dublin’s buses upon exiting the airport, when we were desperately in need of transportation to get us across town to the Heuston train station. I would’ve preferred to go to a bus station to buy our tickets, since buying them from two guys on the street felt a little shady, but they gave us pamphlets with the bus routes and information, told us to get on the next bus to Heuston station, and explained that we’d be able to use these bus tickets to get on the Hop On/Hop Off bus tour of Dublin next time we were in the city. Even though it wasn’t the most budget-friendly option, and certainly not the most traditional, we went with it. We were, as I’ve mentioned, on a time crunch.
LESSONS LEARNED & FINAL THOUGHTS
We love reminiscing about our trip to Ireland. It was such a beautiful, homey country, and it felt like we barely started to get to know it before we had to leave. Nevertheless, there are some lessons that we learned on our first overseas vacation, and some things we’d do differently for next time, which I’ll mention here.
Air Con: Travel in Ireland in the summer might not be as mild as you’d expect. While we were in Ireland, the country was in the middle of a pretty lengthy drought, as I believe I mentioned once or twice in this series. We were there at the end of June/beginning of July, and it was 80 degrees most days. This was highly unusual and not at all what we’d been expecting, even for summertime. But one of the weird things we experienced while we were there was the utter lack of air conditioning at any of our hotels. It makes sense, as the country so rarely gets as hot as it was when we were there. We had to sleep with no blankets some nights and risk the monsters under the beds eating our toes, it was so hot. We had our windows open, curtains drawn. We begged for ice and extra bottles of water. It was just one of those strange things that happened during our visit, and something you might not think about if you’re planning a summer visit to Ireland. However, the temperature sometimes got as low as the 60s in the mornings, so pack for a range of temperatures!
And speaking of packing according to the weather: because of the drought, we didn’t need rain boots at all. So unless you’re planning on hiking up muddy mountain paths or through cow fields, I would leave the galoshes at home and just waterproof your shoes, at least if you’re traveling to Ireland in the summer months. This saves a ton of space in your luggage and strain on your back from carrying it. Look out for another post on what to wear for a summer vacation in Ireland!
Photos: One thing I didn’t do before my trip that I really wish I had done was make sure my phone had PLENTY of storage on it for all the pictures I planned to take. If I had a real camera, I probably would’ve opted for that over my phone – but if you do bring a camera, make sure you can keep it safe. Also, make sure you bring your charger and adapters wherever you go!
A lot of my photos in this series are recycled from Instagram, which is where I documented our travels as they were happening, and that’s where my best photos went. One thing I noticed when writing this series is that I didn’t take very many photos while we were in Ireland. I wish now that I’d taken more, but at the time, I felt self-conscious about being seen as touristy. How stupid is that? I WAS a tourist. I should’ve taken as many photos as I wanted, and totally not cared what other people thought of me. I should have thrown out the clichéd image of a tourist eagerly snapping photos. I shouldn’t have let the fear of looking like a person with their nose to their phones, viewing the world through a screen, stop me from taking photos to document my travels.
That being said, I’m not TOO disappointed about not having that many photos. Since I didn’t spend all my time trying to get the perfect shot, I was able to really appreciate the sights in the moment. And I was still able to capture the gist of our travels in the few photos I took.
Food: Even though I went into the country thinking, “I’m only going to eat authentic Irish food to get the full Irish experience,” that’s not what happened. Though we did enjoy plenty of “traditional” Irish food like stews and dairy, we also mixed it up at times and got pizza, kebabs, and even a full-on Italian dinner at one point. It’s like when you visit a big city – say, Chicago – you’re not JUST going to eat Chicago deep dish pizza, you’ve got to try some of the city’s other selections or you’ll bore yourself.
Know Your Tastes: When planning your Irish adventure, try to pick places to explore that you will enjoy. This requires knowing yourself a little. If you’re a city person who loves night life and shopping, cities might be it for you; if you like a quiet night at home, leave plenty of downtime for yourself and plan to check out museums or beaches. Kyle and I LOVED the more rural, naturally historic feel of both Waterford and Killarney, but we could’ve spent less time in Galway and Dublin cities. If we ever get to go back to Ireland, I think we’d try out one or two AirBnB houses, making them our central hubs to explore from and come back to for relaxing.
Take Chances: Another thing I’d do differently next time is to let myself take crazy chances. Do the things you don’t have time for, or that sound like they’re too much trouble. While you’re halfway across the world, THAT is the time to make concessions for the expensive and unusual. Take the ferry miles out into the void. Rent kayaks at night. Maybe even alter your schedule (*gasp*) and stay in a different hotel than you’d planned. If I had this trip to do over again, I’d also put more importance on things we WANT to do and I’d worry less about what other people are thinking of me, or what’s considered “touristy”. I mean, Ireland thrives on tourism, as do a lot of popular travel destinations, so if they didn’t want touristy behavior, they shouldn’t cater to tourists. I’m kind of serious, but also kind of not, because it sounds rude to put it like that and I’m basically Canadian and being rude doesn’t really come naturally to me. What I’m trying to say here is, go out and DO CRAZY THINGS. You’re in a different country! Though that seemed like a scary thing to me on this trip, next time I’ll try to think of it as “liberating”.
If you’ve read this series of posts about our trip to Ireland to the end, THANK YOU! Be on the lookout for separate-but-related posts with tips for packing, planning for travel, and more, and if you liked this post, check out 21 Ways to Prepare for an Extended Vacation.
Where did you go on your first big overseas trip? Did you learn anything new? Will you do anything differently next time? I’d love to hear about your thoughts on your own travels in the comments below!