11 Ways to Have a Great Vacation in Ireland

Make sure you stay tuned for the contest at the end of this entry. It involves Irish chocolate!

I spent the last 6 days just outside Dublin in Clontarf, Ireland. It was a solo trip, and I’ll delve into what I learned about myself tomorrow. But for now, here are 11 insights I have into traveling to and within Ireland, or really just traveling anywhere.

  1. When you travel, especially in Ireland, it’s okay to make some friends that are purely there as temporary travel companions. I was befriended by this dog during a hike on the Hill of Howth on Tuesday, and although his company was unexpected, it was quite nice.
  2. Plenty of Irish people smoke, but smoking in restaurants and pubs in Ireland is illegal. I was quite happy to learn that.
  3. Eat as much indigenous food as possible when you travel abroad. I had Irish stew, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, corned beef and cabbage, and an assortment of those triangle sandwiches you can only find in the British Isles.
  4. It’s okay to break some habits–good and bad–when you’re traveling. For example, if you normally work out five times a week, don’t spend 8 hours in the hotel gym when you travel unless you’re enhancing your travel experience (i.e., talking to people while you work out, doing a completely different kind of workout than in the States–you’ll find lots of very odd exercises in Japan). I rarely sleep in, and I have three meals at almost exactly the same time every day. I broke out of those habits in Ireland because they would have impeded my experience.
  5. You need cash. Lots of cash. Don’t wait until you get to the airport, especially if you’re lazy like me. You will not be able to use your credit card nearly as much as you can in America.
  6.  Know where the nearest grocery store is. Especially if you’re staying in the same place for most of the trip. Also, the grocery store is the cheapest place to stock up on the best gifts to bring back home to your friends and coworkers: chocolate.
  7. The hotel can–and should–be so much more than the place you sleep every night. It’s really nice to have a home base that feels local to the country you’re in. Plus, if you’re in Ireland, you’re going to have some rainy days, so if you have an awesome hotel to explore, you have built-in entertainment.
  8. Find the “experience” in everything you do. Two out of the five days of my trip were interrupted by heavy rain. Like, a month’s worth of rain in two days (this was not your average Irish rainfall). I’ll tell you what I did: I walked in it. I got soaked. But I walked in it. This is coming from someone who often doesn’t even drive in the rain, much less play sports in the rain. But I wanted the Irish experience, and so I walked. I honestly don’t think you can have an unsuccessful trip if you take that approach to travel.
  9. Google Maps is awesome…but so is getting lost. Google Maps gives you the freedom to roam without the risk of sleeping on a park bench because you can’t find your hotel. But getting lost has its perks too–it forces you to meet people, to interact, to be vulnerable. I’d recommend a mix of both.
  10. Remember that it’s a vacation! You should not walk away from Ireland (or any trip) feeling more stressed than when you left. We all relax in different ways, so find your way and make it happen. I know there are some people who feel like they need to see and do everything when they’re in a foreign country. And in a way, you’re right–don’t go all the way to Ireland and spend your time watching movies in your hotel room. Just set clear goals for yourself and leave a little room to unwind. And indulge a little bit! Instead of rushing through a meal so you can make the train to Waterford, savor those potatoes and top it off with dessert and an Irish coffee.
  11. Buy an item of clothing. I messed up–I forgot to do this. But let me tell you, when I was in Oxford for 3 hours a few years ago, I stopped by a flea market and picked up a peacoat that I’ve worn ever since. People actually stop me and ask me where I got the coat. And I get to say, “Oh, in Oxford.” There’s a story behind the clothing you buy abroad. I wouldn’t say go on a shopping spree, but buy one or two things that you know you’ll wear. Spend a little money if necessary. You’ll remember those days in Ireland every time you wear that wool sweater.

Now on to the contest. I brought back some treats from Ireland–specifically, Butler’s chocolate, made right in the heart of Dublin. One of the bars is filled with whiskey, and the other is solid milk chocolate (see photo below; you can’t tell, but they’re pretty big chocolate bars). One lucky person will win the chocolate and my tour guide to Dublin, just in case all this talk of Ireland makes you think you’ll really go. I’ll cover shipping.

All you have to do is share this blog entry on Facebook and include @jameystegmaier in the message so I see that you’ve posted it (if you need to friend me on Facebook to properly do that, friend me here). If you include another friend in the message (i.e., “@maureensmith, you’d appreciate this guy’s thoughts on Ireland!”), I’ll give you two entries to the random drawing, which I’ll do this Sunday, October 30, at 11:00 am CST. You can only share it once. Oh, and I’ll throw in a third entry if you e-mail me (jamey.stegmaier@gmail.com) with any typos in the above post…I’ve been up since 6:30 am Dublin time and am starting to feel it.