If you’re looking for a spot to head this fall and don’t mind a little rain, run (not walk) to your computer and book yourself some plane tickets to the green isle!
This post is loaded with information. In it you can find 15 tips for road tripping in Ireland and Northern Ireland as well as my personal travel video and photos.
(video by my wonderful husband)
How to Road Trip in Ireland: 15 Tips and Tricks
- Use the TripIt app. TripIt is such a neat little app where you can enter any and all of your plans to keep track of your itinerary. This app syncs your email confirmations for flights, events, hotels, and more so that you don’t have to manually enter everything in. It was one of the most helpful tools used on the trip because it was easy to forget which hotel we were at that night and how we should dress based on what we were going to see or do.
- Book your rental car and hotels in advance. No one, and I mean no one, wants to show up after an 11 hour flight and scramble to find a hotel and rental car. Furthermore, no one wants to find a B&B with a perfect little view and realize there’s no vacancy. Book your hotels before you go to avoid any hold ups. When I travel, every moment is precious, and I don’t want to waste time chatting it up with the concierge or hanging out at a pub to use their Wi-Fi to search for hotels. Book your rental car on credit, not debit, to save some money and be sure to let them know you want an automatic. Even if you know how to drive a stick, combine that with driving on the other side of the road, in the rain, on narrow streets, and through a million roundabouts and you’re bound to hit a curb. Tyler surprised me with a manual car and even though he did well driving (minus a couple curb bumps) it was ultimately more difficult and I couldn’t be his designated driver if he wanted to do some whiskey tasting which slightly put a damper on his fun. Let’s just blame this one on Top Gear.
- Buy tickets to things you definitely want to do prior to your trip. A great deal of places in Ireland allow you to purchase a ticket online that’s good for 30 days. We skipped a lot of unnecessary lines (Guinness in Dublin was one of the most notable ones) just having tickets ready, and the best part was that we didn’t even have to choose a date or time in case our plans changed. Not only did we skip the lines, but it also helped us budget our trip better and feel good about arriving with a decent grip on how much the trip will cost as a whole and what kind of room we have for food, souvenirs, etc.
- Bring an internationally equipped GPS system. This was our one misstep which I didn’t think was really all that bad when all was said and done. Tyler downloaded an *unnamed* app to help guide us along that promised to run without Wi-Fi. Long story short it didn’t and we wound up winging it most of the time. The good part about Ireland is that the signs are very clear and most places you’ll head off to are obvious (if you’re visiting Tullamore D.E.W. you head towards Tullamore). But, if you want to have a little safety net in the event you find yourself lost, I suggest coming locked and loaded with this item.
- Pack a travel umbrella and make sure it’s sturdy. We consciously left our umbrellas at home thinking that they would be super easy to find. We passed them up at the airport because everything is more expensive there. Then we got into town and realized we could not find one anywhere! Grocery stores, souvenir shops, department stores, it was like a wild goose chase that never ended. We finally found one and it was flimsy and broke constantly with the wind (you can see it breaking in the video above at Kilkenny Castle and then again at Giant’s Causeway haha). I strongly advise to find a sturdy umbrella that folds up and pack it! Even if you plan to ditch it when you’re there, it’s a very good investment in that type of climate.
- Keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to deviate plans. On my first trip overseas we visited London and Paris and I learned quickly to keep my eyes open for places and experiences that might not be on our radars. When we were riding the Tube we made a stop at Monument and I nearly lost Tyler on the train when I booked it off. It’s called Monument – there had to be something there! And there was. All narrow 311 steps of it. Anyway, there were a few things like this on our Ireland trip that came to be meaningful to us. We stumbled upon an old cemetery/church in Kilkenny called St. Canice’s Cathedral, later finding out that our last name, McElhaney, is rumored to mean “son of a follower of Saint Canice.” We were so thrilled we had made it there to this random little spot!
- Book on an international airline to get perks like several full meals and included alcohol. We flew Aer Lingus. Let me preface this by saying that I am not a good flyer at all. If I could paint a picture of what I feel like on planes it’s like Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids: “I have an announcement too, there is a colonial woman on the wing.“ The pilots of Aer Lingus top my list for most honest people on earth. We got a play-by-play the entire flight that read something like this, “Hello, in about 2.5 minutes we will hit a small patch of turbulence for roughly a few seconds and then we will be free and clear for another 15, in which we may hit another few seconds of turbulence. I will update you then.” This flight was so smooth with no cause for concern, but hearing the pilots tell us “We’re okay people!” made me feel like I was cuddled up in a warm towel with eucalyptus trees and playful kittens all around me. Very relaxing. And free wine helps the cause too.
- Try at least one B&B. I’ll be honest: I don’t like B&Bs. They make me feel like I’m staying at my friend’s parents house and it’s uncomfortable. That said, I knew I had to try out a B&B in Ireland and I found the perfect one. I am begging you: please go to Dingle and please stay at Pax House. This will forever be one of my favorite places ever and Pax House really helped solidify that. It’s roomy enough where you don’t feel like your privacy is invaded, the breakfast in the morning is delicious, and the people that run the place are so friendly and helpful. They have really thought of everything there. Plus, if you’re homesick for your dog or cat they have you covered with a furry cuddle.
- Get out of the big cities! Don’t limit your trip to Dublin. Explore as much as you possibly can. I’m adamant that this is where most people make mistakes while traveling. I have to admit that while I really liked Dublin and Galway, the more remote areas were my favorite spots. It was nice to hop around and experience different scenes that you can’t find back home. The narrow winding roads lined with only green and livestock were pretty surreal to me. It’s totally okay to be a tourist, but you’re never going to find anything if you don’t get a little lost!
- Enter Ireland with an open attitude. Tyler and I were approached by a gentleman on the street in Dublin and we both brushed him off assuming he was going to ask us for money. The man persisted and we quickly realized he was trying to give us directions! I’m thankful that happened on our very first outing to really set the tone for the people of Ireland. Everyone is exceptionally courteous, helpful, and polite. I’ll never forget being at the Titanic museum in Belfast and the man helping us with tickets drew us a map of all the places we should head the next day. He would finish each sentence with, “Tell ’em Rory sent ya!” (Truth be told, our little boy was almost named Rory after that sweet little man, but Rory McElhaney seemed to edge on a certain pro-golfer.)
- Weigh the pros and cons of traveling in the fall to Ireland. Expect more rain and cooler temps, but no lines at attractions and better photo ops. We saw photos of people waiting in line to kiss the Blarney Stone and cringed until we got there and were sixth in line. If you’re into photography, it’s much easier to get a photo without a fanny-pack-wearing, camera-around-the-neck, sneakered tourist. I always prefer to travel off-season for these reasons alone.
- Purchase a Wi-Fi memory card. Tyler introduced me into the world of these magical little pieces of plastic and I’ve never looked back. I use this ALL the time, not just on trips. Basically it’s a memory card that you can connect your phone’s Wi-Fi to and upload photos without having full internet on your phone. This is amazing to be able to edit and view pics without internet and then posting a photo or two once you’re fully connected to keep friends and family in the loop about your current travels. Plus, if you’re like me, I stress over the thought of hundreds of photos needing to be uploaded and edited. It’s much easier in smaller batches. Besides, everyone wants to see and wanderlust from their Netflix induced comas at home!
- Carry on luggage only! If you’re traveling without children I highly suggest taking your trip with only a carry on. Not only will you save yourself some back pain moving from hotel to hotel, but the odds are in your favor to avoid lengthy lines at the airport. On our way back into the states we didn’t go through customs in Ireland, rather we did upon arrival in Chicago. The lines were insane – we heard an employee saying it was the worst they’d ever seen it – but we saw a small kiosk with a sign that said “carry on only” and checked it out. There was ONE person ahead of us in line and then we were good to go! If you can get away with this, do it. In the video and photos I’m wearing two of my favorite travel accessories: my bag and boots. I have the Marc Jacobs bag in both black and persimmon and always carry one when traveling. These bags are extremely roomy and I love that the top has a zip pocket so that my passport and tickets can stay safe inside. I have worn the Chinese Laundry boots to over 15 countries! I had originally bought Hunter boots for Ireland but bailed on them because they took up too much room in my luggage. These boots actually roll up and help keep the majority of your legs covered from rain. I highly suggest purchasing weatherproof non-slip pads for your shoes since the weather can make everything slick.
- Scope out other places I have not listed! I’ll let you in on a little secret as to how I find the best spots when I’m traveling: Instagram. I search the airport I’m flying into and click on the location to see photos tagged from there. Then I select photos that are beautifully staged and good quality so that I know I’m dealing with someone who isn’t just passing through. Once you get to their individual page, look at all of the places they’ve photographed to see if anything piques your interest. Also check in on TripAdvisor, Foursquare, this book, and old episodes of James Nesbitt’s Ireland which is pure gold if you ask me.
- Take time at each stop to not only photograph everything, but to put your phone and camera away to soak it all in. This tip isn’t exclusive to Ireland, but it’s definitely worth a mention. People often criticize those snapping photos at events, on vacations, etc. and say they aren’t actually experiencing it themselves. The photos and videos I have from each vacation I’ve been on are absolutely priceless to me and if I didn’t have them I wouldn’t remember half of what I did. That said, some of the best times I had were unplugged. That’s where not being able to receive calls and texts while out and about comes in handy!
If you have any questions about itinerary, hotels, activities, and more, I’d be happy to help you out! Just drop me a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.