Breathtaking scenery. Friendly, welcoming people. Traditional music. A history that fascinates. Family ancestry, perhaps? A country where no language barrier exists (for us English-speakers!), and a Catholic history that makes the Irish welcoming to big families. What’s not to love?
“Ireland?” When this country’s name was voiced as a contender for a vacation for our family of seven, there was an almost-electric thrill that fired our imaginations! After inquiries into the practicality and feasibility of an international adventure with our children-then ages 9, 12,14, and 15-year-old twins-we decided to make it happen.
We’ve never regretted the effort made. That trip has become the repository of memories where every sense was awakened, learning was effortless, and wonder-filled us with joy!
I hope the following six practical tips on traveling to the Emerald Isle will not only cause you to dream but to start gathering your children and packing your collective suitcases!
Ireland Climate/ Weather
You will not be going to Ireland to experience the warmth and endless sunshine. It rains. A lot. But you will love the results of that gentle rainfall: legendary green fields, brilliant rainbows, bracing winds, and storms that bring crashing waves to moody seas.
Because there can be a dizzying variety of weather in a day, dress in layers, have raincoats at the ready, and plan for alternate activities to while away the rainy times (museums, castle tours, shopping, a library visit, or simply downtime at your lodging are all nice options). Don’t worry…the sun will shine again soon, and with luck, a rainbow will follow!
Getting to Ireland
If you have the luxury of flexibility in the time you choose to roam this corner of the world, good deals can be found in airline travel during shoulder season (April/May and September/October). We went to Ireland in May and were able to stay a month. Homeschooling and my husband’s job as a self-employed web developer gave us the freedom to take this trip before airline tickets and lodging prices reflected the high demand of summer travel.
Packing for Ireland
If I could go back in time to that day we began our journey, I would have made sure that each child had an extra 2 days worth of clothing and toiletries packed in their carry-on backpacks. Weather-related airline delays in Houston caused us to miss connecting flights in Newark, and we had to spend an unexpected night in a hotel sans essentials, pajamas, and a fresh change of clothes. The next day was spent visiting the Statue of Liberty until it was time to depart for Ireland. Once we arrived in the Shannon, Ireland airport, we realized with consternation that our checked luggage had not arrived with us. An excursion to an Irish department store to outfit everyone with fresh attire was interesting, but not exactly on our must-do list. Please gain instruction from our sad lack of foresight. An ounce of prevention.
Transportation in Ireland
For an authentic experience, consider renting a vehicle. A “people carrier”, to be more precise. Yes, that’s what they call the European equivalent of a minivan. This will allow you the most flexibility for impromptu stops and gives you access to some of the most unforgettable places on earth. Carefully consider insurance options-those Irish roads are narrow! Make sure your driver’s license is current (don’t ask!). Oh, and while you are driving around (on the left side of the road in a vehicle with right-side steering), take a listen to RTE, Ireland’s public radio. It’s a cultural experience in itself!
Accommodations in Ireland
So many options, but we chose to stay in “self-catering” cottages. This worked out great for our large family and created a home base from which we could see the local sights, cook our meals in fully-equipped kitchens and wash our clothes. And we didn’t have to keep the kids respectfully quiet of hotel neighbors. Priceless!
My husband needed wi-fi/internet for work, so that narrowed our lodging possibilities, but also allowed us the privilege of a longer stay. We used VRBO.com and tripadvisor.com for reservations. Make sure to use a protected online payment method (more wisdom gained the hard way!).
Planning for Enjoyment
Consider staying as long as time and money will possibly allow. This will keep you from feeling you must cram your days full of sightseeing. And we all know that overstimulated, exhausted kids can just sap the fun out of travel! The white space we built into our days made for the happiest times. Each cottage we stayed in (a total of four), was in a country setting and carefully chosen for some element of natural beauty to explore at its doorstep. This made the trip so enjoyable for us and our children!
One last piece of advice: take your children’s interests into account when planning! Doing this led to unexpected adventures that made the trip a richer, fuller experience for us all!
“May the road rise up to meet you…” – Irish proverb