Do you happen to have a countdown/to do list for getting ready for a trip to Ireland? We leave on June 1st. I feel like I should be doing something, but not sure where to start.
— Katie Malloy (@Mini_Malloys) via Twitter
Katie, no matter how much I plan, I always feel like I’m forgetting something… so I understand how you’re feeling. There’s no one-size-fits-all checklist, but here are the things on my pre-trip to-do list:
The Months Before Your Trip
- Book Airline Tickets: although you can book your ticket at just about any time, many airlines don’t let you book more than a year in advance… and it is rare that airfare from North America to Ireland drops in the 60 days before your flight… it usually goes up.
- Book Rental Car and Understand Your Insurance Coverage: learn the ins and outs of Irish car hire before you arrive at the rental desk. Remember to confirm that your drivers license is valid for your entire stay in Ireland as well. Your US drivers license is all you need to rent a car; you will not need an international drivers license.
- Book Accommodations: If you have specific properties in mind for your stay, book them early. If you plan to “wing it,” at least have your first and last nights booked. Remember, you’ll be taking an overnight flight, so if you leave on the 1st, your first overnight in Ireland will be on the 2nd.
- Check Passport: Your passport must be valid for your entire stay in Ireland. If it’s set to expire… or you don’t have one, processing will take up to 6 weeks, you can pay extra to get it within 3 weeks, and if you’re really strapped for time you’ll have to show up at a passport office in-person for same-day service. There is a lot of misinformation out there (and companies trying to get you to pay extra for services you can do yourself), so get your passport information directly from http://travel.state.gov/. You can even find official phone numbers at http://travel.state.gov/passport/npic/agencies/agencies_913.html.
- Consider Trip Insurance and Examine the Overseas Coverage of Your Health Insurance: These are safe guards for those who find comfort in knowing what’s what in a just-in-case situation.
Before Your Trip
- Fill Prescriptions: Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about how much medication you should bring. It’s a good idea to keep all medicines (even non-prescription) in their original packaging.
- Print Confirmation Emails: You’ll want a printed version of anything you have booked in advance (or a digital version that is saved on your mobile device – don’t expect to have access to your email or “cloud” storage at all times). This will include flights, accommodations, cars, and tours.
- Print Name, Location, and Contact Details for Destinations: This is especially important for accommodations. You’ll want the name, phone number, address, directions, and if you can get it, the GPS coordinates.
- Create a Packing List: You can look over the one we use here.
- Determine Communications Plan: If you intend to keep in touch with family and friends back home, discuss how you plan to do this… email, phone, text, Skype? Stopping at an Internet cafe every few days tends to be the cheapest, but some travelers like to add an international plan to their phone (if you have a smart phone, you may choose to add a data plan), or opt to use a calling card and make calls from hotels or Internet cafes with call rooms. There are also options to rent phones and to change your current phone’s SIM card with an Irish version (those require some research on your part). Remember to account for the time difference, and don’t “over commit” — promising to call mom every day might be a little too much.
- Call Credit and Debit Cards: International charges raise red flags in the fraud department, so call the number on the back of any card you intend to use and let them know when and where you are traveling BEFORE YOU LEAVE. Remember Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, not the Republic, so it’s a good idea to mention both. While you have them on the phone, ask the representative about international service fees; most cards are charging an extra 1-3% on international transactions, that fee can be countered by the fact that they will likely get you the best exchange rate available.
- Think About Cash: Decide how much cash you intend to carry and what currency you intend to use (I usually board with about 200 US dollars), then use my ATM at a bank in Ireland to withdraw money every few days. I opt for not carrying more than €200 at a time and use my credit cards and ATM to handle expenses, but everyone has their preferences on this topic. Remember, Northern Ireland is on British Pounds Sterling and the Republic of Ireland is on the Euro.
- Evaluate Carry On Luggage: If you’re traveling with liquids in your carry on, realize that no containers can be over 3 oz, and they all must fit in a 1-quart see-through bag (like a Ziploc).
- Charge Camera: You’ll want your camera battery charged and ready to go. Make sure you bring all the cords required to keep it powered up for your trip… which will likely include a plug adapter (Ireland uses the same electrical outlets as the UK).
- Make Arrangements to Get To the Airport: Plan to arrive at the airport at least three hours before an international flight.
- Leave the Laptop at Home: Unless it’s absolutely required, lugging a laptop on a one or two week trip tends to be more of a liability. Instead, consider extra memory cards for your camera (you can buy them in Ireland if necessary), and use computers at accommodations, libraries, and internet cafes for email.
- Unpack a Few Items… DON’T ADD MORE: Most people pack way more than they need. Anything that makes your load lighter will be easier to carry and will leave more room for souvenirs.
- Wake Up Early, Get Some Rest and Drink Lots of Water: The more rested and hydrated you are before your travels, the more you can enjoy the trip. I also start getting up ten minutes earlier every day for a week before the trip. I figure it’ll put me 70 minutes closer to Irish time and help avoid jet lag (it’s just a theory, but it works for me).
- Make Note of Passwords: If your home computer automatically “remembers” the login for your email and other sites you visit, make sure you know your passwords for days when you use a computer away from home.
- Get Itinerary Help: If you have questions about your travel plans, stop by one of the free travel forums, search to see if the question has been asked before, or post a question of your own. Michele Erdvig’s IrelandYes Forum is reliable and friendly.
Right Before You Leave
- Print Boarding Pass.
- Check Passport One More Time.
- Pack an Ink Pen in Your Carry On: The flight attendants will be giving you a form to fill out before you land, and it’s just easier to have a pen handy.
- Double check Medications.
- Label/Tag Luggage: Make sure you name, phone number, and address appear on your tags… it’s also a good idea to add an email address that you’ll have access to while traveling.
- Set Mobile Device: If you’re bringing your phone, you may need to turn on certain settings or turn off features that could lead to extra charges, like international roaming charges. These vary based on how you plan to use your device and your carrier.
- Take an Inventory of Important Documents.
- Start Writing and Photographing: It’s good to start documenting details of your trip early. For some this starts with a handwritten journal, for others it’s a series of emails sent to themselves, still others rely on their phone, Kindle, or laptops. Photos can also help tell the story of your trip; I’m constantly taking photos of place signs, maps, and restaurant menus, so I don’t have to hand write technical information and focus on the sensory details in my notes.
What other actions are on your pre-trip to-do list? Leave them in the comments below…