"Eat at a local restaurant tonight. Get the cream sauce. Have a cold pint at 4 o’clock in a mostly empty bar. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Listen to someone you think may have nothing in common with you. Order the steak rare. Eat an oyster. Have a negroni. Have two. Be open to a world where you may not understand or agree with the person next to you, but have a drink with them anyways. Eat slowly. Tip your server. Check in on your friends. Check in on yourself. Enjoy the ride." - Anthony Bourdain
Plan the adventure you’ve been imagining when you close your eyes and make a wish. And not a little wish. Go big.
Pick your dream spot and make a plan. Start today. Really. Don’t wait for ” some day. ” Some day is now.
Want to trace your family roots? Explore a culinary region unlike any you’ve experienced before? Need to stretch your athletic ability? Expand literary horizons? Drink in all nature had to offer? There’s a great big world out there waiting for you!
Maughold Lighthouse, Isle of Man
Many people have asked me how we plan our trips without joining a tour group. I’ll attempt to explain my methods … I am by no means a trained travel professional 🙃 but it works for us!
I share solely as inspiration … I hope you can gain some helpful tips along the way but please always research destinations for yourself before traveling. Things in today’s world change quickly. I am not compensated for any of these suggestions and my experiences and opinions may not fit your dream adventure ❤️
Follow along with me as I share my travels in parts of Europe. And who knows where’s next!
Enjoy the ride.
View from Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Scotland
*** new topics will be added often, in no particular order, including random tips, fun facts, and hopefully interesting content. Definitely some selfies too ;)
And what does this have to do with painting? Absolutely nothing 😂
The Temple Bar, Dublin
Apply for one - without it, you’re just having a staycation ;)
Once we decide on a destination, I spend a crazy amount of time reading everything I can before making a decision about transportation, accommodations, activities, etc. We often plan a year in advance and book our major items about 6 months out.
travel guides - yes, an actual book lol. Check out Amazon or visit a bookstore and find one you like that includes the info pertinent to you (and small enough to pack in your backpack). Again, I like the ones from Lonely Planet.
Belfast City Hall, Northern Ireland
* Fun Fact Don’t expect to find regular old potato chips. They are as rare as no rain in Ireland ;). Instead enjoy flavors such as prawn cocktail, roast beef, cheesy sour cream, and of course lots of salt and vinegar. Oh, and they aren’t chips - those are French fries. You’ll be looking for crisps.
#3. Timing your Trip
Getting the most out of your chosen destination can depend on a lot of factors but most definitely the weather. While there’s never a guarantee of warm temps and sunshine, choose the time of year that suits the activities or events you plan to enjoy. We know there will undoubtedly be rain at some point while we’re in the UK and we try to have options open. Flip flop a day of sightseeing with another day if possible. See the museum instead of taking a hike. Make the best of it. Your photos may not look as magazine worthy but you were there and that’s what’s important. Some travel dates may not be flexible if you’re scheduling around an event or festival (or concert - more on that later). Allow an extra day before and/or after due to travel delays or the timing of flights. Think about the season - is it buggy? Cold? Gets dark early? (Many parts of Europe are higher latitude than where we live so you may only have 4-5 hours of darkness; conversely a lot less daylight in winter.) Shifting your trip ahead or back a week or two if you can may also snag you cheaper rates and shorter lines. Something to consider if you are flexible.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Snaefell Mountain, Isle of Man
#4. Trip Length
Budget dictates many aspects of your vacation. For me personally, I want the most bang for my buck. With the cost of an international flight, I’m going to stay as long as possible and travel multiple places while I’m there. My ideal trip would be 2 weeks. Long enough to see an amazing variety of sights, but not too long that you’re exhausted. I’ve been lucky enough to make 6 trips to the UK - as short as just a few days and as long as 23 … ‘not enough’ and ‘wow we were tired!’ Do what you can afford but make it count.
Book with an airline you trust. Or at least do your research and check on current rates of cancellations or delays. The air travel industry is facing many obstacles right now and cancellations as well as luggage issues are a real problem. Consider costs for your flight as well as extras such as premium seat selection (we always upgrade to an emergency exit row for more leg room - worth it on a 6-8 hour flight), checked bag if not included, and insurance. When flying into Dublin or Shannon, we have always had good luck with Aer Lingus. We prefer flights from Newark (which tends to get a bad rap but we have never had a problem there) because they have a daily flight. We also use Aer Lingus when flying domestically (within the UK/Man/Republic of Ireland). We’ve done 10 different flights with them and all have gone smoothly.
Dublin Airport is fairly easy to navigate although they’ve had their fair share of delays lately at check-in as well as through security. A huge plus to flying out of Dublin when returning home is the USA Pre-Clearance. Ireland is one of only 6 countries that offer customs checks prior to departure. Make your customs declarations prior to boarding and once you land in the US, you get your baggage and head home. Dublin airport has some fast food and a cafeteria style restaurant as well as a nice variety of duty free shopping 😉 Express/Airlink buses are the best way to get to/from the airport. It’s about a 30 min trip. You must take a shuttle to reach the rental car pickup/drop off area.
There are several other airports in Ireland - not all offer international flights though. We have flown JFK to Shannon and it is an extremely easy (small/rural) airport to navigate. Flights are not regularly scheduled here though.
Edinburgh Airport is similar in size and suffers from the same check-in and security delays. Restaurants here are better and it seems to have more shopping as well. Always a good way to use up leftover Sterling or Euros! Buses to the city center are available a short walk from baggage claim and you can also walk to the rental car desks.
Belfast City Airport is very small and easy to get to - a 10 min taxi ride to the city center. The taxi stand is very close to the exit from the baggage claim. Rental cars are also available. (Belfast does have a second, international airport which is located some distance away from the city.)
I have flown British Airways to London also. Heathrow is a lot bigger and trickier to navigate so consider that in your plans. I would not suggest renting a car from Heathrow and navigating London traffic while learning to drive on the wrong side of the road. Just sayin’ 🚕
Return flights … take advantage of duty free shopping and use up any leftover currency
* Travel Tip Use the airline app to check-in. Save yourself a lot of time standing in line. Most airports also now have self baggage tag kiosks. Print your own tag and boarding pass, plop it on the belt, and head to security. We bypassed 100s of people this way.
Each trip I say I’m packing less. LOLOL And I do, but it’s always too much. To be honest, strangers you see while traveling don’t care what you’re wearing nor will they know that you wore it yesterday. If you are planning for a 10 day trip, you definitely won’t need 10 outfits. More like 5-6. Unless you are scheduled for some fancy events, you won’t need anything formal. My choice of clothes for a 10 day trip could include… 2 pair jeans, 2 pair leggings, casual dress or skirt if expecting warm weather, 3 basic tops/T-shirts, button-down shirt, light sweater, sweatshirt, undergarments/socks, scarf (works for neck or head as well as a light coverup), a jacket that matches the season, and 2 pair of shoes - sneakers (called ‘trainers’ in the UK) and something waterproof. Most every airline allows a reasonably sized carry-on and a personal item. You should be able to fit the above clothes in a carry-on, especially since you’ll be wearing some of them. Make your personal item a backpack or large flexible tote. This will hold your medications, documents, toiletries/makeup, electronics, and any comfort items. *Check regulations for the specifics of what you can have - ex. ounces of liquids that are allowed. These can change, so double check close to travel time. My tips… *leave the bulky cameras, laptops, iPads, etc at home - you can do all you need to on your phone *try to pack without hair dryers, curling irons, or shavers - if you take them, you’ll need a converter *determine what chargers you will need, keeping in mind electric currents are different *you may only need a USB for charging - most public transport has this *we packed an extra duffle in our bag that we used as a checked bag for our return flight … dirty laundry in it and souvenirs in our carry on ;) *** you have to be able to carry what you pack ;) sometimes for a distance
Umbrella or Raincoat? We have done both. I think the scale tips in favor of the raincoat. The umbrella will eventually turn inside out lol and a waterproof jacket keeps out wind and chill even if it’s not raining. It will rain, I promise, so make sure to choose one.
I loved this backpack on our last trip. I have the gray in large. I love that it has the opening against my back - pickpockets and theft are a real thing when traveling. You can find it here on Amazon… https://a.co/d/7XBpA0E
#8 Airport Parking
We drive straight to our departing airport, usually Newark (although Aer Lingus now offers direct flights from Cleveland - we may check that out). I’m always worried about connecting flights. The long-term economy parking at the airport is convenient and reasonably priced compared to off-site options. At Newark, it’s a 5-10 min shuttle bus ride to the terminal. **Important - book ahead online for a better rate and to secure your spot during busy travel seasons. I’d imagine this is the case at most airports.
“I’m a travel addict on the road to recovery. JUST KIDDING! I’m on the road to the airport.”
* Fun fact If you’re hungry for a grilled cheese sandwich, look on the menu for a ‘toastie.’
Other considerations before you leave home…
#9 Money/Credit cards Don’t worry about having any foreign currency before you leave - our bank charges a hefty fee for ordering it in. The exception to this might be if you’re landing in the the middle of the night and may need a small amount of cash for bus fare or taxis when you arrive. For a small fee you can exchange dollars for Euros, Sterling, etc at the airport before you fly out. We found it easy and secure to just use an ATM to obtain local currency. We also found very little cash was needed as most places have moved to cashless transactions. *This can vary though - you’ll definitely want local currency when traveling in rural areas. Don’t forget to notify your cc company of your travel plans to avoid any restrictions. I highly recommend using a credit card that you can tap versus insert; skimmers aren’t just in the US. Also, leave the US currency at home. You will be hard pressed to find anyone who will take it.
#10 Insurance Obtaining travel insurance is definitely personal preference and will vary widely based on your itinerary. We have added this in certain situations (especially on our last trip when it would cover Covid-related issues). Check your credit card or other memberships - you may have protections in place that you already ‘pay’ for. Car rental insurance will also vary -read the fine print! International driving is most often not covered in the same way you are at home.
#11 Make use of Membership Perks We have a Historic Scotland card. It offers member-only perks such as free admission to Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart Castles and other heritage sites across Scotland, free access to historic attractions on the Isle of Man, half price admission to over 500 heritage site in England and Wales, as well as discounts on food and merchandise. There is an annual fee for the card but it was less than the individual admission costs for everywhere we went and also enabled us to make reservations online for some places (especially important at Edinburgh Castle). *Join Historic Scotland in advance of your trip. The membership cards and guide will be shipped to you.
Heritage Ireland has a similar card. Although it appears to be a great value, we have not purchased this one because we were visiting many sites not included in their attractions. Check the list to see if the landmarks you want to visit are included.
Check out the Dublin Pass if visiting the city for a few days. There are several versions of these available to make sightseeing easier. We have not used this so I can’t speak to its value, but it appears to be a money saver depending on your itinerary. These passes as well as Hop On Hop Off bus tickets can be purchased online when you’re there.
Don’t forget to check perks that may be available to you through your credit cards or memberships such as AAA, Sam’s Club, the Armed Forces Vacation Club, or your work-related associations.
Quays Bar, Dublin Great fish and chips here!
#12 Accommodations and Reservations
We have made trips where we just ‘wing it’ … we were younger then LOL. There is an abundance of b and bs and other accommodations throughout Europe and in most cases you should be able to find somewhere to stay without reservations. On an early trip in the 90s, we had no cell phone and were just following a map - hard to imagine! We reserved ahead for our first night and last. Everything in between was just chosen as we travelled. Many hosts would suggest places to stay near our next destination and even would call ahead to check availability for us. This is a fun way to go if you have the time to wander. Location and season could definitely effect availability so you may want to reserve in advance. Covid has also changed the world and many small businesses haven’t survived or have had to make changes. Be sure to call ahead.
For our last 2 trips, we used Booking.com for most all our accommodation reservations. For no particular reason, I started using it and found it a quick and easy way to make choices and keep all my reservations in one place. I’m a review reader and found the app easy to use to compare locations and check where they were located using the map feature.
#13 Car Rentals, International Driving & Traffic Regulations
There are 100s of options when it comes to choosing a rental car. We have had good luck with Hertz. Prices will vary greatly depending upon the location, length of rental, type of car, etc. Rentals can be significantly higher if you return the car to a different location than where you picked it up. Avoid this if possible.
We choose to rent an automatic . They are more expensive and are often limited in supply, but because you are learning to drive on the opposite side of the road, are unfamiliar with the roads, and need to convert speed in km, it is easier to not add in the confusion of driving with a manual transmission - shifting with a hand you don’t normally use. Car size should be determined by your budget and plans. The older we get, the bigger car we select. If you plan to drive any distances, you want to be comfortable. Do keep in mind that the roads are small in rural areas and can be single lane in places.
Make sure you know the local traffic laws. You, not the rental car company, are completely responsible for knowing the regulations of the country you are in as well as any tolls, tickets, parking fees, etc. If traveling between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, pay attention to the speed limit. It will change at the border - the UK uses miles and Ireland calculates speed in kilometers. Each country has different types of signage - check them out before you travel.
Navigation … a good old fashioned map will come in handy when you don’t have GPS or a cell signal. We would often plot out our day’s travel the night before and sometimes take screen shots on our phone if we thought we might not have service. It’s very helpful if the passenger is good with directions - traffic can move quickly in the city especially.
Speaking of the city, we avoided driving in Dublin and Edinburgh. It’s extremely busy with crazy traffic, narrow streets, lots of cyclists, and big buses 🚌🚛🚲. Plan to pick up your rental car at the airport. It’s much easier to navigate the roads there than in the middle of the city. You won’t need a car in an urban area anyway - public transport is easy to use and there are express buses to most city centers from the airport.
Roundabouts are actually quite genius! Once you learn how to use them, they really are efficient and keep traffic flowing. It will be tricky the first few times though ;)
Limited insurance is usually included in your rental agreement however you may want to consider adding additional coverage. Check with your CC company, your card may provide some as well.
Tips… *Make sure to reserve ahead! *Read the fine print. *Don’t forget to have the cc that you used to make the reservation with - some companies require that. *Most importantly, take your own pictures of all angles of the car before leaving the rental agency. You want proof of any pre-existing damage.
#14 Cell Service
Cell service can be good in places and non-existent in others. You will definitely want some type of plan during your trip. This is one aspect of travel that I don’t have the best advice for 🤷♀️ and I researched it for a long time and still couldn’t decide what was best. Some will suggest using a pre-paid international SIM card. Some suggest buying a cheap phone at arrival. Others use their current plan with an added international plan. We sort of went with a modification of the last option. We used our Verizon plan’s $10/day Travel Pass. Our plan offers a free Travel Pass day each month so we used those in addition to paying for a few days. Each Travel Pass day is for a 24 hr period and is only activated when you use it. Some days we did not activate any service - we made use of free wifi at our hotel, etc. You can probably manage to do quite a bit on wifi if you plan accordingly. As mentioned above, you may not have service or GPS in rural areas so plan ahead for navigation purposes.
A few screenshots while on wifi saves you some cell data!
You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes in your carry-on bag. These are each minutes to containers that are 3.4 ounces or less. Depending on the length of your trip, you will most likely need additional personal items. Since you’ll be shopping for more anyway, why not skip bringing most of them altogether? You can purchase what you need upon arrival and not worry about taking items through security checkpoints, as well as lighten your load. We pack travel sizes of toothpaste and deodorant, and then pick up additional items at a local market. Seriously, the less you have to pack and carry, the better. In Ireland and the UK, we often did quick shopping at Tesco or Aldi, as well as other local markets. SPAR is a decent convenience store also.
If you plan to do any cooking, you’ll enjoy a trip through a local grocery store. While on the Isle of Man, Greg headed to the pub with the guys while I had fun at the ShopRite lol. It’s interesting to see food items and brands that are so different than what we have in the US. Irish grass-fed beef, rashers ( better than bacon -ham really), fresh brown bread, and don’t forget Irn-bru! We’ve stayed several times in cottages or airBandBs with kitchens. It’s a good opportunity to enjoy local food and take a break from restaurants. Don’t forget to grab the baked beans if you’re cooking yourself a traditional breakfast 😉
* Fun fact Don’t look for eggs in the refrigerated section at the grocery. Eggs are found on the shelves - usually near the bread.
Whether you plan to buy lots or none, it’s fun looking! Gifts can run the gamut from tourist shop t-shirts to hand-woven tweeds. Choose what makes you happy. My best advice is to ship home if possible. Reputable businesses such as Blarney Woollen Mills and Avoca offer shipping back to the US, sometimes complementary if over a certain amount.
Avoca Mills, County Wicklow
More coming soon!
Topics/observations I plan to chat about… I’ll keep adding to this list. What else would you like to know?
Our favorite attractions Restaurants Downtime Train Travel Laundry Accessibility/ADA Covid Flexibility European Appliances/Switches Security Language Buses Entertainment