Here is some unsolicited advice on how to go to Ireland. Learn from my mistakes and get on the plane!
For those of you who dream of going to Ireland, I’m going to tell you something.
YOUR DREAM IS AMAZINGLY ACHIEVABLE!
Even if Ireland is your first trip outside the US. Even if you have never even crossed the border into Canada or Mexico, you can go Ireland.
Not only that, but it can be done for much cheaper than you thought!
The great thing about Ireland is that it is similar enough to the US to feel comfortable for a first time traveler. Yet, it’s different enough to be interesting and exciting.
This country is a perfect introduction into international travel and yet, is still great for experienced travelers. In fact, I enjoyed it more being a more the second time because I realized how uniquely friendly and authentic Ireland is as a country. Ireland is one of the rare places of he world where you really do get what you expect.
If you picture yourself on rolling green hills and drinking in pubs, thats exactly what you’ll get.
You may also find, to your delight or dismay, that the hotels and restaurants are overrun with American tourists. We don’t travel much as a nation, but when we do travel, it seems we go to Ireland.
Here’s how to go to Ireland…
Don’t do what I did in Ireland the first time. Get out of Dublin! It’s great for a day, maybe two at most.
Then move on out! As an Irish man told me of Dublin, “A city is a city is a city.” Meaning cities are all kind of the same.
The best of Ireland is in the small town pubs and mossy-covered forests. Go see it! Have lunch in a farmer’s market and drink with locals.
Literally, how to go to Ireland…
For airfare over to Ireland, look up Norwegian Air and Wow Air. Both fly out of major hubs and offer incredible deals. Sign up for their emails. I know recently Norwegian was offering a promotion from Seattle to London for $150! Seriously! That’s it! The stipulation is that you pack light and pay attention to their restrictive baggage rules. But to be honest, big luggage always hampers any vacation so you’re better off without it.
If you don’t live near a major hub, I’ll be giving some tips on how to bridge the gap for cheap in an upcoming post.
To get out of Dublin, you have a few options. Trains in Ireland are not great and they only run between major cities. If you are going anywhere other than the city center, you will most likely need to couple your train trip with a bus trip.
Buses, however, are frequent, clean, usually provide wi-fi and can take you anywhere you want to go. I recommend this if, like me, you are traveling alone. I enjoyed the busses and met some other travelers and a few Irish farmers who spent 20 minutes explaining ideal soil pH’s. Free education!
Buses can be booked online here but unless you’re traveling in summer’s peak season, you can usually book the day of from the bus station.
If you are in a couple or a group, risk the road and rent a car. I know renting a car and driving on the wrong side of the road is intimidating but honestly, it’s not that hard. You can do it! Also, renting a car is renting freedom. That cool little town I just passed on the bus? You can get out and explore while I’m stuck waiting for the next bus station. There’s a really great, comprehensive guide to renting a car in Ireland here. Read up a bit before renting because there can be a lot of fees tagged on if you’re not diligent.
Spend 2-3 nights in a place and get to know it. Ireland is a country with a big heart and it’s easy to get to know the locals. If you want to really get to know the people and places, travel a little slower and choose some smaller places to stay and visit. I suggest Galway or Cork for a city, Killarney for hiking, Dingle for beautiful views and lots of outdoor activities and for really charming small towns consider Westport and Adare (although there are tons to choose from).
In AirBnB’s, you usually get to the meet the owner. You have the option of renting a single room or the entire place, depending on the listing. This is nice because it’s more personal and you automatically get to know a local. The Irish are incredibly friendly and staying with some is a great way to get to know the people and the country. I ended up staying in Galway nine nights when I thought I’d stay two or three and I had a great time.
If you’re travelling alone, hostels are also a great option and the cheapest. You can book them here. They almost always offer free breakfast and you get to meet people. Usually you will have tours provided by the hostel and they’ll help you with bus tickets, ideas on what to see and where to eat and built-in friends as well. Also, most people don’t know this but a lot of hostels have private rooms, the same as hotels. If you are all traveling together in a group, like four friends, it’s also easy to get a room with four beds. Similarly, a couple can get a room with a single bed.
Hotels are typically the most expensive, but if you do book hotels, check out Agoda. They are part of booking.com but typically show the cheaper listing than the main website.
Ireland doesn’t have to cost you your firstborn child. I know international travel is expensive, but I think a big part of that is because we Americans tend to try to do everything at once. Often we over-schedule ourselves to such an extent it’s not a vacation but a sight-seeing marathon. You will start to feel more like cattle herded through attractions if you take this approach and it will suck the life out of your trip.
Consider not seeing every castle and not going on every tour. Pick and choose and leave yourself time to make friends in the pubs and walk through the rolling hills. That saves money and also reduces the amount of boredom you’ll have after seeing 24 cathedrals in 10 days.
One unique thing about Ireland is they still practice a lot of their iconic traditions and you can see them without paying. Authentic Irish music is still in pubs constantly, and I never paid a cover charge while I was there. This is rare. For example, in Spain if you want to see Flamenco dancing, chances are you’re going to be paying around $30 for a show that’s highly theatrical. In Ireland, show up at a bar and watch some locals sing.
Just don’t get too attached to the cute little old men who dance, they flirt with all the tourist girls.
If you want to enjoy a farming community and see sheep farmers along the rocky fences, well, you won’t be able to miss them. They’re as plentiful as 7-11’s in Thailand.
Make a list of a few must-sees and leave the rest up for grabs. Travel is best when it leaves room for spontaneity.
Your biggest expenses when travelling are always airfare and lodging.
What I usually say for Western Europe is that it can be comfortably done for under $125 per day. A rock-bottom backpacker budget suggests around $77 per day after airfare.
See? You can do it!
It’s really not a big deal. You’ll figure out the rest and when you get stuck, a Guinness stop can work wonders.
Book the plane ticket, pack a rain jacket and learn the lyrics to some traditional songs.
How to go to Ireland for less than you thought? No big deal.
You’re going to Ireland!