by Kyle Dugger
Ireland is a country my wife and I have always wanted to visit. It took a few years for us to make it happen. Getting both of our schedules to sync up was quite a challenge. Finally in the spring of 2016, we decided that we were ready and started researching places to visit and stay while we were there. Instead of using a travel agent to plan the entire trip, we chose to create it ourselves. Having complete control of our travels, we were not tied to any schedule. Below is a summary of how we planned our trip.
We purchased a large map of Ireland and three travel books published by Frommer Media – Ireland Day by Day, EasyGuide to Ireland 2016, and Ireland 2016. We made a list of all the places we wanted to visit and put a pin in the map for each place. This gave us a general idea of our travel route. With the help of googlemaps.com we planned our route and where we planned to stay in each night. We stayed away from large chain hotels and instead focused on small bed-and-breakfasts and local establishments. We were able to make all of our reservations a couple of months in advance. We tried to choose places with a 24- hour cancellation policy so if our plans changed, we would not be stuck with a room that we didn’t need. With our reservations secured, next we focused on transportation.
Most people whom we spoke with had two thoughts concerning transportation – public (bus or rail) or rental car. Since we both like being able to enjoy things at our own pace, we opted for the rental car. This is the one part of the trip that we did get a travel agent to help us with. Our trip started in the Republic of Ireland in the city of Dublin and ended in Northern Ireland in the city of Belfast. Since we were going to be crossing country borders, even though it’s an open border, we had to make sure that the insurance would transfer from one country to the other. There were also additional fees for picking up our car in one city and returning it in another.
You drive on the left and exit the main highways to your left. The driver is on the right hand side of the car. Most of the vehicles are manual transmissions. This means that you use your left had to shift, fortunately the shift pattern is the same as our vehicles here at home. It took a little time to get used to being on the wrong side of the road, driving from the wrong side of the car, and shifting with the wrong hand, but surprisingly it became natural after a couple of days.
The travel agent did help to make sure that we had all these bases covered. We decided to not pay the extra fees for a GPS since we had found an excellent atlas of the country, Collins Ireland Comprehensive Road Atlas. Young reader, an atlas is a group of maps that are printed on real paper and bound like a book. The map is detailed down to the smallest roads, but not all the roads had names. Ireland doesn’t seem to use signs with road names, but it was fun learning to navigate the country.
There were sign posts that told you which direction a town was but little information beyond that. We did learn that if the town name was in parenthesis, then the road would go directly to the town. If it didn’t have parenthesis, then you would have to make at least one more turn before you were there. The cars and roads are quite different from here at home.
We had to have Euros for the Republic of Ireland and Pounds for Northern Ireland. You can get money exchanged at international airports, ATMs in country, or banks. We searched for the best exchange rate and found that we could order cash from our local bank. Some places, like the airports, will add extra fees so we did steer clear of them when possible. We also had to get updated debit and credit cards that have the chip imbedded in them. Most transactions required the card to be inserted rather than swiped.
With the big planning items checked off – our travel route, transportation, and money – we turned our attention to packing. The temperature during our trip was in the 60s so we packed clothes that could be layered. It rained at least a few minutes every day so raincoats were a must. We used nested luggage that could be separated for the trip home, making room for items we bought as we traveled. We used a journal to track our purchases, making it easier for us to fill out the customs forms when we headed home.
This trip was definitely worth the time we spent saving our pennies and planning our route. Deciding to drive and turning off our phones were highlights of the experience. Driving our rental car let us feel like we were part of the country and people. When we left the United States, we turned off service to our phones. We did check in most evenings when we had Wi-Fi, but for the most part, we had no contact with the connected-world. It was a fantastic experience to not worry about answering the phone, responding to emails, or seeing what was happening with everyone on Facebook. This was a trip that I would definitely repeat.