“Are you having fun,” I asked. Joe just looked at me blankly.
“Yes, of course I am,” he said.
It was our honeymoon in Ireland and we were both dead tired. Never experiencing jetlag before I didn’t realize it would have both of us significantly less animated than usual.
The year was 2006. I was 23 and Joe was 24 (babes!). This trip was our first big thing together (well, besides actually getting married).
I wanted it to be perfect. I planned and I planned and I planned. If I am honest, I planned and looked forward to Ireland probably more than the wedding.
Regardless of all my planning, we definitely made a few wrong turns (literal and figurative). We also got a few things right.
We arrived September 5, 2016 and stayed for 8 nights.
Day 1: Arrived; Traveled to Dingle; Stayed at Hand’s Dunroman, Lispole (just outside of Dingle)
Day 2: Explored Dingle Town; Traveled to Killarney; Stayed at Cahernane House Hotel, Killarney
Day 3: Explored Killarney Town and National Park; Stayed at Cahernane House Hotel, Killarney
Day 4: Drove half of the Ring of Kerry; Stayed at the Final Furlong, Cahersiveen
Day 5: Completed Ring of Kerry; Drove to Bunratty; Enjoyed Bunratty Castle Banquet; Stayed at Bunratty Courtyard, Bunratty
Day 6: Drove to Doolin; Ferried to Inis Oir and Inis Mor; Rented bikes on Inis Mor; Stayed at Man of Aran Cottage, Inis Mor (no longer being operated as a B&B).
Day 7: Returned to Doolin; Took in the Cliffs of Moher; Stayed at Bunratty Courtyard, Bunratty
Day 8: Departed Ireland
I am not going to sit here and write how wonderful this itinerary is.
Actually, I think it looks more like Ireland’s greatest hits album (Dingle, Killarney, Ring of Kerry, the Cliffs…) than a honeymoon in Ireland I would create today.
But I am happy to give myself a little grace and instead of nitpicking about the things I would change, I’ll write about the lessons we learned and the strategies we have put in place to create more intimate trips since then.
We arrived at the Shannon Airport in the wee hours of the morning. After baggage claim, I headed straight for the ATM to get some cash.
The only ATM available was broken. Ugh. But…
Success: We had grabbed 150 euros before we left just in case we couldn’t find an ATM right away.
While there are now a couple of ATM’s at the Shannon Airport, and you can use credit cards pretty widely, it’s always a good idea to have cash available.
Strategy #1: Get about 100 euros before you leave and maintain that amount for “just in case” emergencies throughout your trip.
We usually split euros evenly between the two of us or have them safely tucked away in luggage. Most of the time we use our no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card for purchases, but it’s nice to have cash when you want to grab a cab or leave a tip for great table-side service.
Bonus strategy: Ask your B&B host if they accept credit cards when you check in (or, even better, when you book). If they are cash only, knowing in advance will give you some time to grab the right amount before check out.
Driving on the first day
Dingle from Shannon after a transatlantic flight?? What were we thinking?
Mistake: Driving too much on our very first day.
Well, I know what we were thinking—let’s just get on the road and get to the area we want to be. No wasting time. It’s only a couple hours’ drive.
No big deal, right?
Cue stops for breakfast, photos, and the beach. A stop at the grocery store for water and snacks. A stop for a wee nap on the side of the road. Oh, and cue exhaustion.
Even though we arrived at Shannon early, we didn’t get to Dingle until late afternoon, and we were sooo tired. (Joe was literally falling asleep in his stew at dinner).
Strategy #2: Limit driving to an hour and half on the very first day.
While the first day felt like an adventure (adrenaline helps!), we were disappointed that we didn’t do anything of substance that day.
It would have been much more fulfilling to quickly reach our destination and explore (or rest/shower/recharge).
I guarantee you it would have been much safer–driving several hours after no sleep and navigating the other side of the road for the first time…not the smartest thing we’ve ever done.
Bonus strategy: Book accommodations for the night before you arrive so you can check in as soon as you get to your B&B (no waiting for check in or hoping for an early one).
After we arrived in Dingle, we found an ATM outside of a bank and quickly realized our debit card didn’t work.
Of course by this time everything in the US was closed and wouldn’t reopen until 1 PM the next day Ireland time. Again our stash of cash saved us for the night, but it wouldn’t last long.
Mistake: Not reconfirming with our bank that the international travel notification was set on our debit card.
I called our small town credit union weeks before we were due to leave and was told our trip was noted on our account.
But I never confirmed. They made a paper note of our travel plans, but they failed to put it into the system.
Strategy #3: Confirm everything. Make sure all your banks know about your travel plans and reconfirm just before you leave.
Most of this is done online now, but it doesn’t hurt to double check (my little credit union still does it manually).
I called the next day from a pay phone with a calling card (somehow that seems like it was 50 years ago not 12) and all was quickly squared away.
In the same vein, confirm your reservations with B&B’s (particularly if the arrangement was made by email), dinners and special activities.
Here’s the template I send to all B&B’s about a week before we leave:
Good morning (proprietor’s name),
I can’t tell you how excited my husband, Joe, and I are for our upcoming stay at your B&B on insert [date checking-in] until [insert date checking out]. We anticipate arriving around [insert arrival time] if that works well for you.
I just wanted to confirm our stay and ask if you have any special instructions for easily finding your B&B.
Looking forward to hearing from you and our stay!
All the best,
We moved on to Killarney and spent two nights in a gorgeous manor home that bordered Killarney National Park.
Success/Mistake: Staying two nights in Killarney/only staying one night everywhere else.
Our time in Killarney was so much more relaxed than any other part of our trip, simply because we had more time to soak it all in.
Strategy #4: Go slow. Spend at least two nights in each location.
This allows you to enjoy one full day at your destination unrushed and at your own pace.
I call this the Oreo cookie method (if you’ve been around me for a while you’ve likely heard about this before). Here’s how it works:
The cookies are your driving days–enjoying stops, sites and vistas along the way to your destination.
The yummy creamy filling (aka the best part of the Oreo) is your destination. Skip spending a full day in each location, and you’ll miss out on the best part trip.
If you spend more than one full day enjoying your destination? That is a double stuffed Oreo…even better!
Because we were in Killarney for a full day, we were able to take a little boat trip out to Inisfallen Island. We explored it’s tenth-century abbey and woodland paths without a soul in sight (see tip #6).
We would have totally missed out on this if we hadn’t spent two nights there. It pays to go slow.
After we finished driving the Ring of Kerry, we drove to Bunratty, which is just outside the Shannon airport.
We had made reservations for Bunratty Castle’s Traditional Irish Night, but I was certain we weren’t even going to make it there.
We spent most of the morning at our B&B drinking tea and talking with our host and other guests.
Success: Enjoying the people.
The Irish are a treasure and we’ve found that those that like to visit Ireland are pretty great too.
We thought we had plenty of time to make it to our accommodations and to get to the banquet until we became lost in the city of Limerick.
Mistake: Not overestimating our driving time to include traffic, wrong turns, sheep!, and even our own lollygagging.
Strategy #5: Add 25% more time onto Google Maps estimates and give yourself even more leeway if you have a special event/dinner reservations/ferry to get to.
Had we given ourselves more time, getting lost would have been funny rather than stressful.
In the end we arrived just in time and a good time was had by all.
Side note: the Bunratty Banquet is a bit kitschy, definitely touristy and has absolutely no locals beyond the entertainers, if you accept it for what it is…it’s a great night of polished entertainment and fun.
We made our way to the Doolin pier to catch our ferry to Inis Mor. Again, not giving ourselves enough time, we missed the first ferry.
Luckily, there was a second sailing. By happy accident, it stopped at Inis Oirr, the smallest Aran Island, for a few hours before moving on to Inis Mor, where we were staying that night.
When we landed at their pier on Inis Mor, jaunting cars (horse and buggy) and van drivers awaited to take us around the island (visitors can’t bring cars to the island).
But Joe saw a sign for bike rentals and was immediately smitten with the idea of riding to our accommodations.
I hadn’t been on a bike since I was about 12. They say you never forget how to learn a bike, but I wasn’t so sure.
After 20 minutes or so of him begging (and me trying to remember how to steer a bike), I agreed.
And it was extraordinary. We biked along the sea, passing thatched cottages, exploring beaches and ancient sites.
We sat alone atop the prehistoric fort, Dun Angus while the sun set slowly across the Atlantic.
We laid our heads under a traditional thatched roof cottage while hearing the waves lap on the beach just below.
We awoke to a gourmet breakfast sourced with vegetables and herbs from the garden outside our door.
Success: Getting to an island and staying the night when most people visit for the day. Doing something completely out of the ordinary for us at the time, like renting bikes. And, while not planned, going to a place most people miss like Inis Oirr.
These experiences were my favorite of the entire trip. They were different. They were special. They weren’t what everyone else was doing.
Strategy #6: Create an itinerary that allows you to seek out intimate and immersive experiences (which really helps if you go slow… see #4 ?).
At the time of our first trip, seeing all the big sites was my highest priority.
But now, I travel much slower and I plan unique and engaging activities. We spend entire days visiting islands, biking seaside paths or walking Ireland’s hills.
I leave room in my itinerary to follow-up on tips we receive at the breakfast table or for an extra cup of tea.
Going slow and creating space for these experiences is the cornerstone of every trip I take. I believe it’s the secret to above and beyond amazing trips to Ireland.
Can you have a great trip to Ireland by rushing around from site to site and fitting it all in? Absolutely! Ireland is a wonderful host. It’s hard to not have a good time.
But for that once-in-a-lifetime-special trip… One that you will relive and retell every experience with the same joy and excitement as the moment they happened… Go slow. Amazing adventures will unfold.
If the kind of trip I describe resonates with you, I’d love for you to check out Ireland Travel Coaching. I work one-on-one with first-time visitors to plan unique and immersive trips that allow you to intimately and authentically soak in the culture of Ireland. I’d be so excited to work with you!