We went to Ireland back in 2014, and it was my first-ever Euro trip. And while it was nothing shocking in terms of being super-difficult to navigate (since the country is English-speaking and our host at the AirBNB spot was awesome), there were a few things that I came up with as my top tips/things I want to do or remember for those venturing outside of North America.
A few international longer-term travel tips that I’ve picked up:
- Try the off-season in places. It’s the Irish tourist off-season right now, which is great, because it means hotels and even some of the souvenir stuff (like the sweaters I got mom and dad for Christmas, but shhh) are less expensive than normal. It also means that the crowds are smaller and are more authentic—especially in cities like Galway that are normally packed with tourists. It’s cooler to see what people do after the waves of tourists leave.
- Don’t always believe the hype about the weather. We heard TONS of people complain about Irish weather and warn us off. But… when we were there, it rained three times, none of them downpours, and it was between 40 and 60 degrees every day. Compare that to New Jersey or Collingwood, where it’s been below freezing and there’s a hefty amount of snow on the ground. I’m not saying ignore the advice, but for a place like Ireland, take it with a grain of salt, because most people are just reposting what they’ve heard about Ireland, that it’s always rainy.
- AirBNB and hostels that have kitchens are your friends. I think we’ve cut our budget for this trip in half just by cooking most of our meals at home, and we’ve eaten a lot healthier as well. I love going out to eat and out for drinks though, so what we’ve done is gone out most afternoons for a coffee (and a pastry) for lunch, and then if we wanted to go out at night, we’d have a mini-dinner at home, then go out for a drink and a snack. Saves money, and I think it saved my waistline, only having junk food as snacks versus full meals.
- American hotels and European hotels aren’t the same. Again, this is for the people who haven’t done a lot of out of the US travel, like myself. I’ve crossed the country a few dozen times, and stayed in almost every state. But international travel is still new to me. Don’t assume that hotels will be easy-access, have stuff like soap and shampoo, or offer free breakfast or wifi. If you have certain specific needs, make sure you check online or call ahead. We stayed in one hotel the last night that was five sets of stairs to our room, which had a spiral staircase to the bedroom, the bedroom was an attic garret, and the shower was a tight fit for even me—and I’m pretty small! I loved it, but I kept thinking if my parents were there, they would have been miserable. As it was, I was annoyed that I didn’t think to bring my own shampoo with me, or check on the wifi situation.
- Don’t have a plan. If you’re trying to relax and get some work done while you’re on your trip (if you work from home, want to travel, but don’t want to take a full week or two off, for example), don’t have a huge laundry list of sights you want to see, and don’t book them way in advance. We rented a car for a couple days one weekend to do a bunch of sightseeing, and we did a couple of other day trips last weekend, but we didn’t really have an agenda, and that’s made everything much less stressful. Plus, we got great advice from our host about what to do and where to go, whereas if we pre-booked a bunch based on best tourist attractions, we’d likely have never found some of the better hiking trails and climbs that we did.
- Pack light! I’ve said this a million times and still could stand to get better, but this trip, we made it a point to pack small enough bags to fit in overhead bins so they were carry-ons (though we’ll have more on the way home thanks to some souvenirs…). More importantly, though, we had our stuff in backpacks that were easy to walk with—at one stretch, we walked 4 miles to get to our AirBNB house toting all of our stuff (yes, we could have taken a bus. But where’s the fun in that?)
- Comfortable shoes. I’ll say this over and over. I’ve been screwed a bit on this because the only shoes I can walk in for long distances are my fairly ugly running shoes. So I’ve had to carry nice shoes with me when we do the 3 mile walk into town. So if you’re planning on walking a lot, make sure the shoes match the plan, or that you have a big enough bag to carry nice shoes with you when you walk in sneakers to dinner.
- Walk! Speaking of shoes and walking, if you’re hoping to stay in relatively good fitness, but don’t want to make training a priority, walk. Everywhere. I get grumpy when I start feeling lazy, which happens after two days of no exercise, but walking avoids that entirely. We’ve been half using walking as a way to get around (i.e into town from our house) and half for fun (the 25 km loop of the Aran Islands) and doing that every day has made it so I don’t feel like crap for not training, and bonus, we’ve saved a ton of money on buses and taxis. It’s low key and low impact, though, so it’s been a good couple of weeks off of really training—but 10-30 km a day still adds up into some decent calories burned!
- Don’t assume everything is free. Unlike the States, wifi isn’t as prevalent in most spots in Europe, and often, you have to pay for it. Factoring in incidentals like that (or cabs when the bus doesn’t come and you need to get to the airport) is a wise move. We found that food in the easy-to-walk-to grocery store was insanely expensive, especially fresh fruit and vegetables, so we switched to mostly frozen greens, and we made a couple of bigger trips to cheaper grocery stores to stock up. Oh, and have change. Bus fares are often exact change, and on a couple of occasions, we had to pay to use washrooms. Which is mostly avoidable but when you gotta go…
- Have cash. I’ve been amazed at how many people don’t have credit card machines, and it’s almost led to a few really embarrassing situations.
- Be polite. To everyone. Always. Actually, do that in the States too. Leave thank you cards, even when you don’t really have to.