As always, our concern is to keep you safe and well cared for on your trip. Here are a few ideas and/or suggestions that we give our travelers when they join us on our tours to Ireland Scotland and the UK. We hope you will find them helpful and that they make your trip safe, smooth and easy.
If you need a passport please allow 4 weeks to apply and receive it. We have had travelers wait as little as 10 day for a renewal, 2 weeks for a first time passport and up to 6 weeks if the Passport office is busy. Check with the US department of State immigration for current application processing times, leave yourself plenty of time to complete this important step. You can use this link for more information on how to apply and where:
or at selected US Post Offices http://www.usps.com/passport
Suggestions for traveling, have a copy of the front page your passport with you and keep it separate from your other passport. The Guarda (Police in Ireland) once told us it was a good policy to keep one of them with you and one back at the hotel (secured in a safe or well hidden in your room). Also bring another form of picture ID, like a drivers license OR consider scanning your passport, and driver’s license and e-mailing them to a secure address that you can access while you’re away. Remember, it’s not about getting OUT of the country, it’s about getting back IN.
Camera - Electronics
Take all electronic equipment in your carry on. For international travel (checked baggage) they use powerful X-ray machines and when they scan your baggage it could ruin the electronics. I had to get a new cell phone charger when we reached our destination in Ireland because the machine fried it.
One medium sized bag to be checked. Most domestic airlines are charging for a second bag and some are even charging for the first bag. Transatlantic flights are more accommodating, but that doesn't mean you have to take 2 large suitcases with you. Remember that part of the charm of the country is that which also makes it a bit 'Old World". Realize that what you bring, you'll also have to carry and sometimes it involves several flights of stairs. Anything unnecessary, please leave at home. Check the Hotel web sites and make sure they have hair dryers, alarm clocks etc, to lighten your load.
Before you zip up your checked luggage print out your itinerary and contact information, put a copy inside each bag. In the event your luggage is lost, this will help the airline get in touch with you quickly and get the bags to you.
Many hotels and B&B's now provide electric kettles in their guest rooms. To satisfy those middle of the night munchies, it's great to have packets of dehydrated soups, powdered hot chocolate (and a light-weight plastic spoon) on hand.
A small roll of duct tape has a myriad of uses. A skirt hem come down? Tape it up in a pinch. Leaving your luggage at the hostel for a few days? Tape everything closed so nothing can be slipped in or out. In a quick pinch, use it for removing lint off your clothes.
Don’t throw away the empty plastic pill bottles. They make perfect do-it-yourself sewing kits with enough room for needles, thread, a few extra buttons and safety pins.
Pack old clothes, socks, underwear, nightgowns and toss them as you go. This makes more room in the suitcase for new items!
Making a list also helps. Fold a piece of paper in half and put slacks/jeans on one side and tops on the other. Then start drawing a line between each item to see how many times you can interchange them. If an item ends up only being able to be worn once or twice it doesn't take the trip!
Pack your suitcase locks and use them when the bags are in the hotel room. This way you can securely put anything that you feel is valuable under lock & key.
Consider wearing a money belt, the kind that you wear under your clothes. Stow your passport, credit cards, other I.D's, and money. This way if your purse or wallet is stolen they only have a few dollars and no I.D.
1. Roll your clothes tightly - you can get more clothes in a suitcase and they have fewer wrinkles. Honest!
2. Stuff items in your shoes.
3. Anything that might leak goes into a big freezer Ziplock bag.
4. For couples traveliing together, put a portion of each others clothes into the others' bag just in case one bag goes MIA.
Try this interactive packing list for getting you started on what to bring.
One small bag (Ladies - big enough to put your purse in). Some airline carriers aren't letting you bring a purse and a carry on. Make sure you carry some essentials with you. Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on bag, along with your tickets, documents, jewelry, medication, eyeglasses or contacts, makeup, camera and anything else you can't live without for a day or two.
Is your carry on compliant?
Bring a small version of my normal purse, with a strap that you can put around your neck and under your coat. It's frustrating to lug a big ole purse around some of these sites. Just for ease you might want to pare down your purse, any unnecessary items, grocery, discount cards or anything strictly for use in the US can be left behind. Go light, go easy.
Don't bring anything you would be devastated to lose, like expensive jewelry, anything with sentimental value or irreplaceable items.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
The TSA web site is a must-see before you head out the door. Knowing the rules at security checkpoints will save you precious time at the airport. This site has most information on what you CAN and CANNOT bring through security checkpoints. Believe them when they say, they have seen just about “everything.” TSA - http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/index.shtm
Leave your medication in the original bottles in case there is any question about what you are carrying (from the TSA) OR if (for some reason) you have to get it refilled while you are abroad, then you’ll have all the info with you.
Trinkets, Bobbles and Souvenirs
Consider leaving some room in your luggage in case you are bringing some trinkets home for your family and friends. your suitcase never seems to pack as well when coming home as it did when you left. If you purchase something very large, you can always have it shipped.
Another option is to bring a soft side collapsible bag with you, I usually pack it in one of the outer pockets of the luggage. When it comes time to leave for home, out it comes and it gets filled with clothes (nothing breakable), leaving room in the suitcase for those gift items bought for family and friends.
Converter for electrical items
If you are bringing electronic equipment you will need a converter. You do not have to buy the expensive $50.00 converter, a $20.00 (or so) one will do.
FYI - I am reminded of a nasty incident with a curling iron. Even when using a converter, keep settings on low at first until you see how the item handles the current. My curling iron was set on high and it was enough to melt the plastic tip off of the end.
FYI - I am reminded of a nasty incident with a friends blow dryer. When the converter being used failed to perform as directed, our friend thought he would plug the blow dryer directly into the wall and test it,.... uh no. Yes, it's tempting, but even if you can somehow get the prongs to fit in the outlet, it never works. Although there is usually a spectacular pyrotechnical display, this is made even more memorable when there are people around to make sport of your misfortune.
Contact your cell provider to see if they have an international upgrade service available. AT&T has a plan that allows you to upgrade for a month at a time to use the service while you are traveling to foreign destinations. You will pay for the upgrade and per minute that you use it (normally about a $1.00 a minute). FYI, bring your car charger with you instead of the plug in variety. The car charger is universal and it works in foreign cars, you have less to worry about trying to convert and charge at the hotel.
My suggestion is to designate one "travel" person that you will call and then have that person (if need be) call others to let them know you are safe and sound. You can always purchase a phone card if you prefer, but whatever you do, DO NOT use the hotel phone - My friend once paid $40.00 for a 10 minute call. Or you can look in purchasing a world phone, for those planning on doing a fair amount of traveling,... this might be a wise investment.
Irelands currency is the Euro (€). Scotland, and the rest of the UK is the Pound/ GBP - Great Britain Pound (₤). You can convert US Dollars at the airport (check your local airport currency exchange as hours of operation may vary) or you can make arrangements with your bank to have them order the currency for you. This might take a week and will be necessary for you to go into the bank to order the currency and pay for it ahead of time. Check with your local bank to see what is the best solution for you.
The US dollar is taking quite a beating against the GBP Pound, the Euro isn't AS bad. Check frequently to see what the conversion is, sometimes the difference in a day can save you hundreds of dollars when purchasing big ticket items such as Hotel stays, tours and tickets. Use this link to check current currency conversions http://www.xe.com
Also, contact your credit card company as well as your bank and make them aware that you will be traveling, sometimes they flag your account it you have sudden foreign charges on your cards.
Airport Arrival and Departures
For Domestic flights the TSA is recommending you arrival 90 minutes before the scheduled departure of your flight. For International travel they are recommending 2 hours. Be prepared to show ID as well as a passport for any international flight. There will be a customs card you will need to fill out and you will be required to submit this either when you depart your location or when you arrive at your destination. Keep all ID handy, wear comfortable clothes and make sure you wear shoes that easy to take off and put on through security check points.
Ireland is 6 hours ahead of IL, 7 hours ahead of CO and 8 hours ahead of CA. Use this link to check time zones. http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock
The weather in Ireland and the UK is unpredictable at best. Storms can come and go in 10 minutes or less. It's best to know before you go, here is a link to Ireland weather http://www.irishtimes.com/weather
Here is one for Scotland and England http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/ukweather
Usually we visit in April/May or October/November and the weather varies slightly. These areas are never as cold as we are here, nor are they as hot. It tends to be in the mid-ranges. Most often a jacket with a hood & some sturdy boots, will do. Layering is your best bet!
Most driving signs and informational signs are written in Gaelic and English. Here is an example of one in Scotland. This is as you cross the Skye Bridge entering the Isle of Skye and the town of Portree.
Driving in the UK
If you are planning on taking a self drive or self catered tour of Ireland, Scotland or the UK, you will be renting a car and heading out on your own special adventure. This is definately doable, but is not for the faint-hearted, just keep your wits about you.
Ireland and the UK drive on the left hand side of the road and there are more roundabouts than intersections in the country. Manual drives are only for those with exceptional hand and eye coordination,.....and even then,..... I wouldn't do it. Automatics are HIGHLY recommended and if you are really horrible with directions they even have GPS in some cars. But, I think the old fashioned way with a map is a better way to go. Some of the most interesting people we've met were because we went off the beaten path and found them!
Be mindful that the European idea of a compact, midsize or standard vehicle, differs slightly from ours. The mid-size, is really more of a compact and so on, always rent a size larger than you think you will need. Your car insurance in the US will not cover you there, so plan on accepting the insurance they offer. Trust me it's worth it after my last little go around in one of the Car Parks, but I'm getting to that.
Pay special attention to the number of people and luggage recommended by the rental company (this is another GREAT reason for bringing less luggage) and you'll have a good idea of what you can fit in the vehicle. If you want to double check, then do a search for the style/model of the vehicle the rental company is using as the "example" of what they'll be giving you. A visual is always preferrable to guessing. We once arrived in Shannon with 6 travelers and discovered the seat configuration of the van we rented was different than what was shown on their site,... we had no choice but to insist that they remove one of the seats in order for us to fit all of our luggage in. They were not happy about this but they did comply and for that reason I will recommend them to you www.irishcarrentals.com
Well,... try to avoid them. If you HAVE to go in a Car Park (Parking lot/garage) do so with extreme caution. They have some of the tightest turns from level to level (think airport with less room) and the parking spaces are for compact cars or the equivilant of matchbox cars if you ask me. Have plenty of coins with you as you might have to use one of their automated machines to pay as you go.
There is a particular Car Park near the Spanish Arch in Galway that is a miserably small garage and although perfect for location, location, location,.. try not to bring a van in there. Before we parked, we had to let everyone out first, then I had to park and crawl out the back hatch, in fact I think I have a picture of how ridiculously small the spaces were. Ahh yes.
Ireland is also referred to as EIRE or EI - you might see this on tickets etc.
This tip is from Avis Rent a Car - Buy a local paper in the country you are visiting and keep in on the dashboard when you park the car. This gives the impression that you are local and not a tourist.
Just for fun - http://www.dochara.com/
These travel tips are recommended by the author and have come from personal experience and are only suggestions. The traveler reading them should do as much research as they feel comfortable with and educate themselves to the region they are traveling to.