Getting To Ireland ... and Back! - Part 1
The next several blogs talk about the details of getting to and from Ireland ... the things one needs to do before arriving, etc. It will likely be a repeat for those who have done more than 1 or 2 international trips. For the experienced traveler this blog is hopefully a good check list.
Things to do before leaving:
Buy your air tickets
Figure out your cell phone options
A Money plan
... and for the next blog:
Customs and Immigration
Your 1st and last 24 hours
This subject is much, much, much easier than it was 15-20 years ago. You can use your American Credit Card anyplace in Ireland (or Europe .... except American Express is not as widely accepted as one might think). Getting cash is easy if you have a debit card/ATM card from your bank and it is part of a larger ATM network (see Financial Networks). I would take some minimum number of US $'s ($100) and plan on using ATM machines and Credit Cards. BTW, almost nobody writes or accepts checks in Ireland. If you want to be real old fashioned, bring some traveler's checks .... but these are absolutely the worst exchange rate ....unless you have a really bad CC.
You may want to check the currency exchange rate for your CC or ATM card. You are "golden" if you use USAA bank ... the best rates around ... about 1% over the wholesale exchange rate, and no fees for each ATM transaction. In Europe there are no fees for ATM's, but your US bank may charge fees, so check this. You can get the exchange rate on your phone or on the Internet by getting a quote for EURUSD=x (at least on my phone). The rate as I write this is 1.283. This means that you will get 1 Euro for $ 1.28 US ... probably $1.30 if you have a really good bank or CC.
When in Europe ALWAYS DO YOU CREDIT CARD TRANSACTIONS IN THE LOCAL CURRENCY. Some places will offer to charge your CC in $'s. DON'T do this. Every time we have seen this done, the exchange rate is TERRIBLE, as much as 10% over the wholesale rate. Let your CC company do the exchange of Euros to Dollars.
Always keep enough Euros on your person to pay for your next meal or attraction. The availability of CC payment in some small towns and restaurants in particular is spotty.
Cell Phone Options ... Broadband options
Having a smart phone with a GPS and maps program is crucial to a carefree vacation. I know this sounds like a contradiction to some, but this allows you to wander ... and get lost ... and easily recover. Additionally, having access to the internet allows you to have a more laid back vacation. Again, I know this sounds like a contradiction ... but if you have access to the internet, you don't need to have all your nights and meals planned before leaving the US. If you decide to stay an extra night in a particularly nice village, you can ... If you don't want to eat Irish cuisine for the 5th night in a row ... it is easy to find a pizza restaurant...I should write a blog on how NOT to have an "American Vacation" as it is referred to here in Europe.
If you have a smart phone that is unlocked, I would buy an Irish Sim card when you arrive at the airport or at your first stop ask for the nearest Three store.. You can get all the "bytes" you need for about 10 Euros from Three ... you may need to start with a 20 Euro account "top up". If your cell phone is locked or your cell provider has a reasonable "vacation package" then you may want to sign up before you leave. If you opt for the "vacation package", make sure to investigate how to prevent apps from continuing to use broadband while they are running in the background.
The Skype app is great for communicating with home. If the people you want to contact are on a computer, you can contact them for free on their computer (If Skype is installed, running and they are there). If you want to call phones in the US, you will need to "top up" your Skype account and pay a small amount per minute (about 2¢).
Ireland has direct air service from many major airports in North America: SFO, DFW, ORD, ATL, CLT, PHX, LAX, MCO etc. You may need to first take a flight to one of these cities and then take the non-stop to Ireland. In almost all cases you will be flying from North America to Dublin or Shannon (outside Limerick). If you are traveling to other cities in Europe, you may want to consider buying your round trip ticket to Dublin, and then purchase discount airline tickets for the rest of your trip. (Dublin is a major hub for Ryan Air). The Irish airports have the added advantage that you can clear US customs and immigration in Ireland on your way home. More on this in my next blog.
If the absolute best fare (or the frequent flier ticket you can get or afford) is only available with a connection through London-Heathrow ... think again if you are not a seasoned traveler. If you still insist, make sure you give yourself a 2+ hour layover. I will be writing a blog specifically talking about Heathrow at a later time.... yes it deserves a blog by itself.
From the US, you will be arriving at Terminal T2; the "international terminal" ... really trans-atlantic/continental terminal since almost all flights to/from Dublin or Shannon are coming from another country. You may arrive to Terminal T1 if you are coming from Heathrow or one of the other big airports in Europe.... but that's the subject of the next blog
See You in the Pub!
Jet Lag Jack