Ireland Travel: Mismanaging Car Rentals
The first common mistake in Ireland travel is the assumption that car rentals are to be avoided.
After all, driving on the left side of the road runs counter to what many visitors practice at home. Many Irish roads are narrow and bending. The roundabouts are confusing, even frightening.
Confession: I bought into most of these myths for many years. But in planning a trip to County Kerry, I wanted the freedom to experience the Irish countryside, something that doesn't come as easily when someone else is driving. A car rental provides the best opportunities for exploring.
Renting a car enhanced the experience and added value to the visit -- but you must budget for a rental that could cost significantly more money than expected.
For example, I quickly discovered that my credit card company would not provide the usual car rental insurance. Deep in the fine print of my contract, I found Ireland is among a few countries exempted from the agreement. Never assume your credit card will cover you for car rentals in Ireland. My travel insurance only covered damage to my rental car, but not any other losses in an accident. So I had to purchase additional protection for the uncovered aspects of the rental.
Because you'll be navigating narrow and winding roads, steep hills and tight parking spaces, it might pay to reserve a car with an automatic transmission. Even people who are relatively comfortable with a stick-shift complain that the added stresses of driving a manual transmission in Ireland detracted from their enjoyment. This will add 50 percent or more to your rental cost. Reserve early, because supplies of automatics are limited.
Consider reserving the smallest car that's practical for your travel party. It will save on fuel costs (which are high) and that navigation stress.
Ireland Travel: Missing Out on a Walk in the Countryside
A common mistake in Ireland is to see most of the scenic landscapes from a bus window or car windshield.
Few activities will add more value to your trip than an old-fashioned walk in the countryside.
Near Killarney, an 11 km. stretch of road passes through the Gap of Dunloe, a small mountain pass that features sheep ranches, stone bridges, sparkling lakes and verdant creek beds. Winding grades make the trip somewhat challenging in places, but this is the kind of trail you can follow for 30 minutes or three hours. At either extreme, you'll enjoy the walk.
There are also "jaunting car" rides available on this route -- horse-drawn carts that are short on luxury but authentic and traditional in this area.
The Gap of Dunloe has been discovered, and you'll see a lot of people enjoying this scenic area. But there are scores of other places in Ireland where you can hike without encountering too many cars or travelers.
It pays to research walks that fit your physical condition. Spend at least part of a day walking the countryside. It adds value to your trip and the costs are minimal.
There are plenty of websites that specialize in Ireland hiking, including Wonderful Ireland Walking Tours, where you can consider tours that guided or self-guided.
Ireland Travel: Assuming Bed & Breakfasts are Always the Best Value
As you visit the cities and towns of Ireland, you'll notice bed and breakfast establishments are common. Frequently, they represent an excellent value.
Not only will your first meal of the day be home-cooked, but you'll also have an opportunity in many homes to speak with the owners about local attractions. Their advice can save time and money.
But hotels can also offer discounted meals and friendly advice, sometimes at a price that's lower than what the local B&Bs are charging.
The hotels have more flexibility in pricing because they deal in a larger volume of visitors. Most B&Bs only have a few rooms, and the amount they must receive for each room-night is tightly fixed.
So compare hotel and B&B prices in Ireland without assuming either represents the better value until the shopping is done.
Ireland Travel: Misunderstanding Northern Ireland
A surprising number of visitors do not understand the differences between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
In simple terms, Ireland is an independent country that extends across most of the Emerald Isle. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and occupies six counties on the northern fringe of the island.
Northern Ireland trades in British pounds, while the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland use the euro.
At the risk of oversimplifying history, Northern Ireland maintained its connection to the British crown when the remaining counties formed an independent Ireland.
For many years, traveling to Belfast and Londonderry was considered risky because of violence between Protestants and Roman Catholics. While there are still tensions and occasional violence, it is generally quite safe to visit Northern Ireland. Belfast can be reached by train from Dublin in about two hours.
Because Northern Ireland usually receives fewer tourists, it often presents excellent value for budget travelers as they plan their itineraries.
Ireland Travel: Dismissing Irish Train Travel as Too Expensive
In researching my trip to Ireland, I came across advice several times that warned about the "expensive" Irish rail system. The writers urged travelers to consider buses or car rentals.
That's not entirely bad advice. Always weigh all the available options for travel in Ireland or any other country.
But don't dismiss the trains here as too expensive. We traveled Irish Rail one-way from Killarney in the southwest corner of Ireland to Dublin on the east coast for about €26/person ($36) at the time of the trip. The schedule involved one change, but it was at a small station where the next train was available with minimal walking. This coast-to-coast trip was completed in about 3.5 hours. The trains were clean, efficient and on-time, with city-center service.
One-way bus travel between the same two points was quoted at the time for €27/person. In this case, your decision about bus vs. train probably would come down to other factors such as the timetable or the convenience of the stations.
There are likely to be trips for which the train is more expensive than a bus, and others where the train is about the same or a bit less. The point is to make the comparison.
Ireland Travel: Failing to Allow for Long Lines
The line in this picture is just outside The Book of Kells exhibit at Trinity College Dublin. For €9 ($12.25 USD), each visitor can see this 9th century manuscript of the four Gospels in Latin. It's inscribed on calfskin. The entry fee also provides visitor access to the college's Old Library. Most visitors find the entry fee is money well-spent.
But the lines could set back your travel plans. It might take 30 minutes to gain entry.
Down in County Cork, there are also lines for kissing the Blarney Stone at historic Blarney Castle. Many call it a waste of time, with some even labeling it a tourist trap. But there are visitors who would not consider their trip to Ireland complete without smooching the stone. If that's you, budget the time in line you'll spend for that privilege -- frequently an hour or more.
Popular restaurants and pubs in Ireland are sometimes quite small in terms of seating capacity. Be prepared to wait for a table or perhaps come back at a time when the lines are minimal.
Whether it's an Irish tour attraction or a ride at your favorite theme park, it always pays to make your visit before or after the longest lines of the day. Remember that time is money, even during a vacation to Ireland.
Ireland Travel: Failing to Realize Gratuities are Included
You'll want to sample some Irish cooking on your trip. The picture here shows a Guinness Stew, which includes a variety of ingredients.
In the difficult days of the late 19th century, this dish became popular out of necessity. People would throw whatever vegetables they had on hand into a stew pot. So the recipe for this tasty dish can vary quite a bit from place to place.
Tipping policies might vary slightly, too. But it pays to find out if gratuities are added to the bill automatically. In most Irish restaurants, that's standard practice.
If you want to leave an additional gratuity for exceptional service, it will be accepted. But don't make a habit of leaving a 10-20 percent gratuity if it's already included in the menu price.
Ireland Travel: Exchanging Money in the Wrong Places
In small towns and larger cities, you'll find certain merchants in Ireland who will exchange your dollars or pounds for euros.
As in other parts of the world, money exchanges can be costly if performed in the wrong places.
The merchants who provide exchange services frequently charge hefty fees for the privilege. If you must change money, try to do so at larger banks that offer the best rates.
ATMs in Ireland generally provide good rates. Some travelers find it's better to simply withdraw money and spend it rather than exchanging other currencies for euros.
If you must use the services of local merchants for exchanges, keep the transactions small.