Now that the traveling has died down and all my honeymoon and destination wedding posts are completed, I wanted to share some of my travel experiences and tips with all of you. There is only so much you can learn from those travel websites.
1. Renting a car in Ireland sucks. I thought I was so smart getting such a fantastic deal on a car, but when it came time to pick-up the car they tacked-on all sorts of fees and suddenly $50 became $500 and we were backed into a corner. Other deals will be better than $500 but they will charge your card for over a grand as a “hold” to make sure you could cover any liability damage to the car. Goodbye spending money! You really need a car in Ireland if you plan on staying outside of Dublin and want to see the sights at your own pace. It also is a pain to shell out extra cash for the train/taxi/bus fare if you want to visit anywhere that isn’t within walking distance like when we visited Wicklow or Kilkenny or the Cliffs of Moher. We drove all those times and I can only imagine the stuff we would have missed if we didn’t have a car. Also, bring an AV cable for your ipod or smart phone because most cars have an audio jack outlet which makes long car rides a lot more fun. My solution: fly into LHR (London Heathrow) and take the train or bus to Holyhead or Liverpool port and rent a car from the UK and take the ferry over. We dropped our Ireland car in Dublin and took the ferry to Holyhead and rented a car there for $150 for a week with unlimited miles. Totally worth it. I would just check with the company before you do that just to make sure they won’t screw you over. I think as long as you return it to the same place they don’t care but I haven’t tried this solution yet.
2. There are no toilet seat covers in any of the bathrooms. Be prepared to be tearing off little strips of toilet paper whenever you have to pee (ladies). This was the standard for Ireland, UK, Scotland, and Belgium. This was a constant problem for me because I always wait to the very last possible second to pee because I am a procrastinator. This means I was dancing in a tiny stall trying to make toilet paper art on a dirty bar toilet while desperately holding back the flood gates. You’all just learned something about me today…congratulations.
3. Print absolutely everything you need in advance. Internet and wi-fi is spotty and you can’t always rely on your world phone or laptop to be available to use for directions/confirmations/receipts. I had printed all my hotel/B&B and tickets (ferry, train, airplane, bus) in advance but I didn’t print directions to and from these places. Most of the time we could use our smart phones to get directions but there were a few occasions that the phones weren’t cooperating and it made getting places difficult. I don’t recommend trying to get to your gmail so you can find your directions to a B&B in the dark on a country road with no reception. I am sure most people are savvy enough to be more prepared than my procrastinating self but I wanted to make a point of mentioning it.
4. Don’t get money exchanged in advance. It’s really easy to get money from a bank ATM and it comes out in the appropriate currency being used in the location you are in. For example: we flew into Ireland and went straight to a bank and withdrew euros straight from our bank accounts. Most bank accounts have low fees and the exchange rate is exactly what it should be at the time of the withdrawal. I researched several other options before making the decision to use an ATM upon arrival and the fees that were involved made my head spin. AAA offers an exchange but the percentage went from the current exchange rate of .72-.73 on the dollar to .65 on the dollar and they added an $8 fee per $100 dollars exchanged so essentially they are screwing you out of about $18 per $100 you exchange instead of your bank fee of $2-$3 per transaction. Especially since I had a lot of money I needed to take out of my account immediately to pay for the house we rented in Ireland, the ATM made the most sense. Don’t let these exchange places take your money!
5. Use wi-fi as much as possible. We had a world phone data plan with our smart phones but ended-up paying a ton in extra fees because we went over our 100 MB of data usage allowance per month of world usage. I could use up that 100 MB of data in one afternoon of using Google maps. It is important to point out that even when you connect to wi-fi you have to turn-off your data plan in your smart phone setting because it would still be running and sucking-up data. I typically use between 2-6 GB of data per month on my regular schedule because I have unlimited data and don’t have to worry about usage fees. Also, it helps to shut-down apps that might be running in your background sucking your data like your Weather Channel app that uses at least 20 MB of data just being active on your background.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for directions from the locals. Most of the people we met were fountains of knowledge and information about rad local spots we needed to see. Everyone would be friendly and more than helpful in pointing us in the right direction. We would’ve never found some of my most favorite locations if we didn’t ask around! My Mom literally knocked on someones door in Ireland asking for the right direction for a horse stable for horseback riding and they gave her step-by-step directions.
7. Always stay in the middle or left lane unless you are passing. The traffic was never really terrible (until Belgium) in most of the places we visited and that was mainly because on the highways everyone would pass on the right and stay in the left lane making passing available for the faster cars. This was such a novel concept because in California (and basically the US) everyone doesn’t give a crap if you want to pass them or even actively make it harder for a speeding car to pass safely. Keep in mind that they drive on the opposite side so this would be as if we actually allowed the left lane to be the fast lane and the right lane for the slow lane as it was intended, making traffic congestion less of an issue. I also noticed in some UK freeways they had a rule where you had to stay at lease a car-length distance between you and other cars, essentially making tailgating illegal. Awesome!
8. There are faults with every airline but British Airlines has no air but great TV/Movie options and United has air but crappy TV/Movie options. I would trade my movies in for a 10 hour flight where I wasn’t sweating profusely. The British Airways planes are also super small and it makes a long flight really uncomfortable, not to mention stinky because it’s hot.
9. For the love of all that is holy, don’t connect your flight through LHR unless you have at least 2-3 hours. LHR is awful and probably my least favorite of airports. The connections sometimes aren’t available until you land and then you find out that you have to take a shaky bus 20 minutes to the other side of the airport then go through 5 more security checks just to get to your connector flight into Dublin that’s only 1 hour in duration. This also means that if your flight is delayed in any way, your connector flight might be missed because you can’t get through the 1 hour security line and run with your luggage through the miles of terminals. Screw that. Never again will I connect through you LHR, unless I have a loooong time to dilly-daddle instead of running in stinky British Airways clothes.
10. Write down addresses for your hotel and any important destination. (This is basically an extension of #3) This seems silly…but it was so helpful. I had a little notebook where I kept notes and I started writing down the hotel’s name and address and the address of the destination we were planning on visiting, especially if we planned to take a taxi. Surprisingly in Belgium and New York most of the taxi drivers didn’t know where anything was and relied on you to either guide them or have the address. Normally that’s no big deal but when we were in Belgium we brought the wrong adapters for our phone and laptop so we were stranded without technology and most people didn’t speak English. We almost didn’t make it to visit Cantillon because we couldn’t find it and no taxi drivers knew where it was. We also tried to go to the delirium bar but the taxi driver didn’t understand so we had to skip it. Even the taxi driver in New York didn’t have GPS and expected me to guide him with my phone. Seriously, write everything you might need down in case your phone dies!
11. Take more detours. One of my main regrets is that I had such anxiety about getting from one place to the next as smoothly as possible. I didn’t really relax until we reached our destination and that means I didn’t want to stop anywhere or go on any detours. The few detours we took were some of my favorite memories and I wish I had just let go a bit more. It’s supposed to be a vacation, right?