One of the things I love about travelling is the preparation. Learning about the city or country. Learning about the people and what to expect on a daily basis. Yet regardless of how much research I do, each trip will include several times where I think, “I wished I’d know that ahead of time.”
There was the time I took a trip to Washington State for a conference, and ended up spending the whole trip trying to sleep after being banished to “the snoring cabin.” It would have been nice to plan for that. (thanks to a surgery from a few years ago, I’ll never need to do that again!)
In 2010 our family took an extended trip to Ireland. It was a great experience (which is evidenced by the fact that we moved here two years later). Yet there were still many times when I thought, “I wished I’d have know that ahead of time,” as it would have made our trip much easier.
Over the past week Elizabeth and I have been talking to a few people who are planning trips here within the next year. So I’ve been thinking through some of the things I wished I would have known before our trip 5 years ago.
Here are 5 things to do if you are planning to come to Ireland:
1) Get the right credit card.
This is true of most places you’d travel, and will save you time, stress and money. There are two important phrases to keep in mind when looking for a credit card for foreign travel:
a) No Foreign Transaction Fee. Most credit cards are mainly for use in your home country. So when you travel to a country that uses a different currency, the credit card company charges you a foreign transaction fee…a small percentage (usually around 2-3%) of each transaction. So, use the card over the course of a couple of weeks, and that small fee starts to add up. Most major credit card companies have a travel rewards type of card that charges no foreign transaction fees. Get one of those.
2) Chip and Pin. When we came here in 2010, we had your typical magnetic stripe credit card and had never heard of chip and pin. So in most shops we visited, the clerks looked at us like we were, well, from another country. At this point the US is finally switching over to Chip and Pin technology, so you should be able to switch over to a chip and pin card without too much trouble.
2) Bring the right clothes.
Complaining about the weather in Ireland is a national pastime. As someone from Upstate New York, who does not like snow in the winter, or hot humid days in the summer, I think the weather here is perfect.
That said there are two things to keep in mind. First, it does rain a bit. Not as much as say Seattle, Washington, or Ithaca, New York…but enough. And while some choose to use an umbrella to deal with the rain, it is also quite windy here, and umbrellas tend not to last very long.
(Plus, people who use umbrellas, seem to lose the ability to judge distance properly and consistently hit people who have the misfortune of walking too close to them).
After our first trip here, I purchased a rain resistant, all-weather coat with a hood from Eddie Bauer and wear it year round. If it rains, put up the hood and we’re grand.
I’ve also learned that even if it isn’t raining when you head out for the day, stick the jacket in your backpack or your car, because it could start at any time.
The other weather related item to keep in mind is that It will be colder than you think. Since it rarely gets much below freezing here, I was excited about how warm it would be in the winter here compared to New York. I was so wrong. The cold here in winter goes to the bone. And since it is much more expensive to heat over here, most places feel cold and damp from November until sometime in April. It is a pretty common practice to sleep with a hot water bottle.
Even in the summer you’ll want to pack a warm jacket, and some sweaters (jumpers). Nights tend to be cool (which is great for sleeping), and if the temperature during the day gets much above 70º Fahrenheit, the phrase “heatwave” will start getting thrown around. A good rule of thumb is to treat the summer here like it is autumn in the Northeast US and pack accordingly.
Look at the picture above.
It was taken at Britta’s Bay on a nice day in late July. A couple things worth noting: 1) more people are wearing trousers than shorts. 2) See the number of people in the water? And what you’d notice if you could get a closer look is that most people in the water are wearing wet suits.
For me, summer in Ireland is perfect. If you like hot and humid…you won’t find it here.
3) Know how to Tip.
While on the one hand I’d encourage you that being generous is always a good thing, tipping is done differently here. Unlike in the US, wait staff are paid at least minimum and then get tips on top of that. So the standard tip in a restaurant is 10% of the bill.
And, if you go out for drinks at the pub, there is no tipping.
4) Unlock your smart phone.
On my first trip back to the US after moving over here, I needed to fly to Boston for a couple days. And since I was renting a car with no GPS (sat nav), I got lost. I pulled in to my old carrier to see if I could get service for a week. Well, I needed to purchase service for a month, pay over $120 and go through a huge hassle when it was time to end the service and I was back in Ireland.
Over here, if your phone is unlocked, you can purchase purchase a “sim only” plan from most major carriers. One 30 day plan includes unlimited calls and texts (in Ireland of course) along with 15 gigs of data for €35. That will likely be cheaper than getting a sat nav if your renting a car, and you’ll get the added entertainment of listening to the Google Maps voice try to pronounce Irish place names.
5) Brush up on what not to say.
I’ve written previously about coming here and telling people you are Irish. But there are other things as well. Don’t say anything about Ireland being part of the UK (They are not). There are several web sites where you can read about words that mean different things in Ireland than they do in the States. It would be worth your time to google and reading through a few of them
Those are a few things that we didn’t know our first time here, but wish we had. Hope it helps on your trip to Ireland
What did I miss? If you’ve travelled to Ireland, what would you add to the list?