Introduction by Michael
In 2013, I corresponded back and forth with Patrick O'Leary, a Human Resources manager for UPS in Louisville, Kentucky, who is a highly organized guy. He was planning a two-week trip to Ireland with his son and daughter. At the end of his trip, Pat agreed to share some of his practical tips for Americans who are planning a vacation to Ireland...
My iPad was a great tool. I bookmarked websites for hotels, restaurants and attractions. I was able to download various PDF files, such as maps and brochures. The app also lets you “mark up” the document so I was able to circle and draw arrows on the documents. It was great to have that information available while we were having dinner or lunch. It was better than a backpack full of paper. We also used Google maps on my iPad. That was a lifesaver. I had a GPS but the map on the iPad was larger and gave us more details when planning. I used the GPS while in the car. I looked up the coordinates of the hotels and attractions I wanted to visit, and I programmed my GPS before we left home. In the U.S. we have street addresses but in Ireland it is better to use coordinates. Most of the websites list the information. I did need to learn how to use coordinates with my GPS.
I bought the AT& T international package. I had my two kids with me on the trip so I bought three cell phone packages and one iPad package. The package had limits – 50 texts, 30 minutes and 120 mb data per device. I had to nag my kids to keep their phones shut off. We utilized all the free Wi-Fi we could find. All the hotels we stayed at had Wi-Fi but it wasn’t always free. Most restaurants had free Wi-Fi. I do realize that I could have bought "disposable" phones when we arrived in Ireland but I didn’t want three more phones. Plus we needed phones with data capability and I don’t think it was worth the savings.
Figuring out the money was easy. I will admit that I familiarized myself with the money in Ireland (euros) before I left home. I always used an ATM to get cash. My ATM card had a $500 per day limit, which was about €320 euros. I made sure that I spoke with my bank and credit card companies so they could put an “international travel alert” on all my accounts. The other thing people should realize is that small amounts of Euros are in coins, not bills. So there is no 1 euro bill, or 2 euro bill, only coins.
I could use my Visa credit card anywhere but I could not say the same thing about my American Express. Most of the hotels and rental car places took American Express but not many restaurants. The other thing about using a credit card in Ireland was they bring a hand-held device to your table at restaurants to process your transaction. I like that method but it was a new experience for us.
Adaptor and Power Strip
Ireland uses different plugs to the US. I bought adaptors so we could plug in all our electrical devices. I also bought small travel power strips that had four plugs. The adaptor plugged into the wall and the power strip plugged into the adaptor. We had a lot of stuff to plug in so the power strip came in handy. We had two laptops, three cell phones, two iPods and camera.
Power strip plugged into adaptor, powering devices
This was my first experience with staying in a hotel without air conditioning. I now realize that is fairly common in Ireland but not in the U.S.
Backpacks and Suitcases
I always had a backpack with me. I was a high quality backpack with lots of compartments. I always had a torch, a backup battery and a pen and paper in the backpack. I even had a Sharpie just in case we ran into someone famous!
I carried all our passports in the backpack. I always felt they were safer with me than in the hotel room. We never had to use them except to get in our out of a country. Before I left, I scanned each passport and saved a copy on my iPad. I also left a copy with my sister at home. I also sent the files to my phone and my kid’s phones. I felt that if we lost our passport having a copy in a PDF file may help us, or may expedite the replacement.
I always had some type of snack in the backpack, and some bottled water. They came in very handy when we couldn't get to lunch because we had to catch a train, or couldn't find a place to eat.
I used different color folders to keep printed-out documents for the hotel, airline, rental car, attractions, etc. I kept them in my backpack or suitcase. It made things easier when I walked up to the counter of the rental car place and pulled out my red folder labeled Avis.
I am a big fan of keeping things in zip lock bags or zipper pouches. I kept the passports in a small zipper pouch. It kept them together and I could reach right into the backpack and know exactly what to grab. Same story on all my power cords. I had them all in a larger zipper pouch so they did not get tangled up.
Driving in Ireland was a challenge. (Read more: Tips on driving in Ireland.) It was not easy to adjust to driving on the left. I consider myself an above average driver but it was still tough. Plus the road signs are different and the roads are very narrow compared to the U.S. Once we got to Ireland I rented a car in Dublin. We left Dublin after a couple of days and went to Cork. I left the car at the hotel and used a taxi to get into Cork for dinner. When I go back to Ireland I would consider taking advantage of a tour bus to take day trips. Rental cars give you a high level of freedom but can add a lot of stress to your trip. I was fortunate that I had my 20 year old son as a navigator. We ended up on a number of toll roads. They were easy to deal with, just unexpected.
You can go on the U.S. Embassy’s website and register your trip. It is a great idea in case you have trouble plus they send you any travel alerts. It is called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program https://step.state.gov/step/
- Americans like ice in their drinks ! Almost every restaurant we used we had to ask for ice.
- Water … my family drinks a lot of water. We would order water with every meal. It took us a few meals to realize we needed to specifically order “tap water". Otherwise, most of the time we would end up getting stuck paying for very expensive bottled water. (In America we sell bottled water, but not in restaurants.)
- Most of the hotels did not have face towels in the bathrooms. They had regular towels and hand towels, but not face towels. When I come back I will buy some cheap face towels and take them with me.
- A lot of attractions or restaurants listed their hours using military time. They would have 09.00 to 18.00. This wasn't a problem, just unusual. In America that would be 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
- Also unusual was what Americans would call the 1st floor of a building, in Ireland is called the ground floor. So sometimes in an elevator, to get to the 1st floor, we had to press a G button. Other times it was a 0 (“zero” ) button!
- Weeks before we left I set a clock in the house on Dublin time. It helped with the time adjustment.
- On my iPad I have the Weather Channel app. I made Dublin on of my favorites so I could check the weather.
- Before we left I programmed in all the phone numbers for the hotels, Embassy and rental car places, with the international codes. I wanted things to be simple --- just pull up their contact and push a button.
The key to a successful trip?
The key to a successful trip is planning. My approach is to break things down into parts --- hotel, attractions, restaurants, transportation, etc. Once I figured out where we were going I started working on a hotel. Once that was settled, I tried to come up with some restaurant choices. Then I had to figure out the best route to get to the hotel.
It was a good trip. I managed to spend a day in Millstreet, County Cork. That is the town my great grandfather, John Patrick O’Leary, was born and raised. I had exchanged emails with a person that ran the local website. I was able to meet him Sunday for lunch. He also showed me around the church where my great grandfather was baptized. We also went to a local cemetery where there were a few O’Leary’s buried.