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Posted by on Nov 26, 2013 in 1reland, Irish Travel Resources, Planning, Q&A, recap | 11 comments

Getting It Wrong in Ireland: Rethinking Common Irish Travel Advice

The internet has become the go-to place for gathering travel tips for visiting Ireland, but it also leads to some bits of bad advice getting repeated over and over until those nuggets start sounding like facts. Here are a few lumps of advice the internet seems to keep getting wrong… or at least not quite right…


Car on the Ring of Kerry
NOT TRUE:

You should drive the Ring of Kerry in a counter-clockwise/anti-clockwise/clockwise direction – Some itinerary planners pound their chests in triumph believing they found the holy grail of Irish travel when they read there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to drive the ROK (that’s what the in-the-knows like to call the Ring of Kerry). Buses generally drive counter-clockwise/anti-clockwise, so some tipsters say you must go in the opposite direction to avoid getting stuck behind them… others claim you should travel in the same direction so you don’t have to squeeze passed them on narrow roads… and still others pick a direction based on whether the driver or the passenger will be traveling on the side of the road nearest the sea (… or the cliff’s edge).

I’ve driven the Ring of Kerry in both directions and can assure you, it’s okay to drive it in either direction. Truth is, this advice started appearing in guidebooks decades ago; and since then, the roads have been widened. In fact, there are very few spots where a bus and a car wouldn’t be able to pass. Plus, if you’re on a self-drive tour, you’ll be enjoying some of the less-traveled routes along the Ring and making frequent stops at places you find interesting, right?


Sneaker White by nomadic_lass via Flickr Creative Commons

NOT TRUE:

Wearing white tennis shoes will make you stand out as a tourist – This tip is older than the internet. Over the years, Americans have been told it was their white tennis shoes (especially when combined with a fanny pack) that gave them away as tourists. The tip is usually followed with a vague threat that pickpockets and other unsavory people use white shoes to target a sucker.

Let’s come to terms with something right now… you ARE a tourist, and it’s not just your shoes that give you away. In fact, when I spot a tourist there are other noticeable clues ahead of their shoes… like their accent, their proneness to traveling in groups, their visible map or travel book, their utter confusion counting coins, their tendency to wander without looking like they have a destination, and these days their attempt to take photos with an iPad. If you don’t want to stand out as a tourist, you need to look at the entire package, not just the shoes. My advice… wear comfortable shoes no matter what color and practice common travel safety tips.


Danger by spcbrass, on via Flickr Creative Commons

NOT TRUE:

Northern Ireland is unsafe for visitors – For those raised in the 70s, 80s, and even early 90s, the news coming out of Northern Ireland usually involved car bombs, hunger strikes, and rebels wearing balaclavas and carrying guns. While most tourists believe “parts” of The North might be “okay,” they’re still uneasy taking a “risk.”

Things are very different now. Northern Ireland has shook its war-torn image and has blossomed into a modern, safe place to visit. In fact, it’s the second safest country in Europe… a tidbit that doesn’t get much press. While it’s true that isolated instances of politically-charged violence still exist, these situations have been limited to specific neighborhoods and generally target law enforcement. The average tourist will be hard-pressed to find present-day incidence of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. After spending 17 days touring Northern Ireland this year, I can say with confidence that visitors can travel in both the countryside and the cities in Northern Ireland without any noticeable extra danger.


Dollar Sign Hoodie by ChrisGoldNY via Flickr Creatie Commons

MOSTLY NOT TRUE:

Charging your credit card in US dollars while in Ireland is convenient and affordable – An Irish company invented a credit card feature now used around the world called dynamic currency conversion which allows machines that read your credit card to recognize your home country and charge you in your home currency. Wow! you get to see your bill in US dollars, that’s great. Right?

The good news is that the amount you see on the credit card slip is exactly what will appear on your credit card statement and your credit card company won’t charge you a foreign transaction fee. The bad news is that there is a charge built into the conversion, so using a credit card with no foreign transaction fees will likely save you money over the dynamic currency exchange (many estimate the feature adds at least 2%, others claim that number could be over 7%). If you don’t want the dynamic currency exchange when you’re buying those expensive Waterford Crystal goblets and Irish Belleek plates, you can ask the merchant to re-run the transaction in euros.


Eugene's Pub, Ennistymon, Ireland by ilgiovaneWalter via Flickr Creative Commons

MOSTLY NOT TRUE:

Children aren’t allowed in Irish pubs – Ten years ago, Ireland changed the rules regarding children in pubs. This led some visitors to conclude that young people are no longer welcome in Irish pubs.

The word pub comes from the title “Public House,” and in many Irish communities the pub serves as a social hub. It’s still the place where a family may celebrate an anniversary or even a First Holy Communion. That means children are still allowed in most Irish pubs, but there are some restrictions… under 15s must be accompanied by an adult, and anyone under 18 must leave the pub by 9:00pm (10pm from May 1 to September 30) unless they are attending an event where a substantial meal is being served.

This rule leaves some visitors frustrated that their children may miss out on a traditional Irish music session. To compensate, look for pubs offering early sessions or find a pub that offers evening meals where you can enjoy a late dinner while catching a portion of the session.


SIM Cards by mroach via Flickr Creative Commons

MOSTLY NOT TRUE:

You should unlock your phone and get an Irish SIM card – People have gotten extremely attached to their smartphones in recent years, and with the pile of horror stories of travelers returning from an international trip with a massive phone bill, logic (and some “experts”) tells us it’s better to get a local SIM card.

Those exorbitant bills are wracked up when people use their phones abroad without making changes to their plan or their data-usage habits (like uploading/downloading photos and obsessive Facebook surveillance). While unlocking your phone and getting an Irish SIM card can save money, it’s only a good deal if you’re planning to make regular trips to Ireland or you intend to be in the country for an extended length of time. For the average visitor, it’s more economical to talk with your provider about international data and calling plans. Adding an international plan to your fourteen day trip might add $50 to your bill that month; meanwhile, unlocking (or jailbreaking) your phone and choosing an Irish SIM/plan will likely cost more for a single month. As an added bonus, including an international plan will allow you to use your phone in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland… otherwise, you’ll need a separate SIM card for each country.


Euro Man by rockcohen via Flickr Creative Commons

MOSTLY NOT TRUE:

Get your euros before you arrive in Ireland – Many travelers insist that getting euros from their financial institution before they leave home is the only way to go. They claim they get a better rate and peace of mind.

It’s unlikely your bank is offering you any fantastic deal when you’re “buying” euros from them; there will be fees built into the transaction. There’s a good chance you’ll get a better rate using an ATM after you arrive in Ireland… even using your credit card will save you a bit of money (especially if you have a card with no foreign transaction fees). However, it’s true that having a wallet full of credit and debit cards offers no substitute for the comfort of knowing you will have the cash in-hand if you need it.


Westport Train Station by Corey Taratuta

MOSTLY NOT TRUE:

Don’t trust the train and bus schedules – It’s been said that public transportation in Ireland is notoriously late. Claims of delayed trains and buses that never arrive frequently pop up online.

While the arrival times aren’t always perfect, Ireland’s public transportation usually runs on schedule. In my experience, routes between cities and towns are more likely to be on time than shorter commuter routes… which might explain the abundance of online gripes — all those daily commuters competing for who has the more dreaded commute.


$100 Bill by Tddy via Flickr Creative Commons

MOSTLY TRUE:

Don’t travel with $100 bills – Even the US Embassy in Dublin backs the the claim that most Irish banks won’t accept US $100 bills, and this fuels the claims that Ben Franklins were worthless on the Emerald Isle.

The truth is that when the US gave the $100 bill a makeover back in 1996 and several counterfeiting scams followed, Irish banks responded by saying, “no way,” to cashing the bills unless you held an account with them. There are a few places in Dublin that may accept bills printed after 1990.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear it in the comments.

Flickr Creative Commons Photo Credits (click photos for link): On the Ring of Kerry by irishfireside, Sneaker White by nomadic_lass, Danger by spcbrass, on, Dollar Sign Hoodie by ChrisGoldNY, SIM Cards by mroach, Euro Man by rockcohen, Westport Train Station by irishfireside, $100 Bill by Tddy.

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11 Comments

  1. 1. Having been stuck for 1/2 hour going clockwise on the “Ring” because some Numpty parked a Hertz minimobile in a Passing place and went for a walk! I always say drive Counterclockwise behind Busses rather than have them coming into your face. Especially in peak season and holiday weekends. out of season it makes little difference but remember to get the most from the peninsula it takes a full day and you need to get off piste.

    2.I am currently wearing my white Longsdales but being over in the UK I might be classed as a tourist.

    3.No tourists have been harmed in the making of this glorified myth

    4. Dynamic currency conversion is around 3% is that really worth loosing sleep over??

    5.There tends to be a little leaway in rural bars, go by the law and consider extensions to this as goodwill.

    6. For calls and texts then Tesco offer the best rates on local and many International calls for Data then?? depends on use. But “Free” Wifi Is more widely available in Ireland than I have found whilst over here in the UK..

    7. An Irish ATM will make NO charge on your non Irish card.. consult your card provider for the charges they will make on your account.

    8. Bus’s and Trains generally set off on time but arriving at the end destination on time?? be careful when tight scheduling. otherwise just enjoy the ride. (Dublin Bus being an exception to any of the above)

    9. Also True for Travelers cheques.. Amex TC’s are exchangeable at the few branches of Permanent TSB who will honor these.. (our nearest branch is 50+ miles away in Ennis) No other banks will exchange any TC’s. Amex cards also get little acceptance so stick to Visa and Mastercard.

    • Tony, Great additions!

      1 – there’s no escaping the numbskulls, is there – I will say, my most stressful trip around The Ring was counter-clockwise during a bicycle festival… stuck behind hundreds of cyclists for two hours.

      4 – in my own tests of dynamic currency exchange, the % has varied. I haven’t seen over 5%.

      7 – just make sure that ATM is associated with a bank… some of the private companies that place machines in petrol stations have fees and higher rates.

      9 – Travelers cheques? Spotting those are kind of like finding an active phone box, right? ;)

      Thanks again, your insight is always appreciated.

  2. 1: In 1999, this WAS true — I had to drive up, onto the rock walls a few times to ‘slip past’ busses. Hasn’t been so in YEARS, though, as the roads are MUCH improved.
    2: I can think of many reasons why bright, new, white shoes are inappropriate to wear in Ireland — but they hardly single-handedly mark you as a tourist!
    3: Tourists get singled out for preferential treatment in the North, in my experience.
    4: Many Credit Cards charge a Foreign Transaction Fee on any transaction that takes place outside of the U.S. adding as much as 4% ON TOP of the 3% DCC ‘Fee’. Probably only important on Large purchases, but for me, it’s more about how ‘Automatic’ the DCC is applied — DESPITE the fact that Irish Law requires that the choice be OFFERED to the customer.
    5: What Tony said!
    6: On a ‘One Time’, 6-10 day visit, it’s probably a wash, but for those of us who travel regularly, a Local SIM is the ONLY way to go.
    7: SOME of the ATMs in small shops DO charge a small fee.
    8: We LOVE the modern, new trains and try to utilize them for ‘Day Trips’ whenever possible. A 5-10 minute late arrival (on occasion) is hardly life-threatening, when you are on vacation.
    9: It’s IRELAND — NOT the USA. Why would you bring large amounts of US dollars??? Using ATMs to acquire Euros is the LOGICAL method.

  3. 7, No ATM in the Republic will charge no matter what the location as they are all Bank operated machines, subject to code of conduct (we Irish account holders are charged for using our own ATM’s). The Problems come in the UK North where there are unscrupulous machine operators (including some of the Banks in some locations)

  4. “The good news is that the amount you see on the credit card slip is exactly what will appear on your credit card statement and your credit card company won’t charge you a foreign transaction fee.”

    ——————————————————-

    Not always. Some USA based credit cards add a “foreign transaction fee” even if you do charge in dollars while in Ireland. Lately I have noticed that the Dynamic Currency Conversion rate is around 3 % – 5%. On my last trip 5%. Granted, on a 200 euro hotel bill that is only 10 euro. But I would rather spend the 10 on lunch or a couple of pints rather than give it away to a money-making scheme.

    Plus, if you accept DCC on your whole trip it could cost you a whole lot more. Those on a budget who don’t have money to burn should look into the rules attached to their credit card transactions in advance.

  5. The Ring of Kerry myth. I have done the Iveragh Peninsula clockwise, counterclockwise and through the middle many times (although I suppose the middle is not technically on the “ring”).

    It really doesn’t matter and probably depends on your starting point. For instance if you are starting in Kenmare it might make sense to go clockwise. If you are starting in Dingle going counter-clockwise will probably be best, depending on final destination. Going from Killarney to Killarney? Flip a coin! And for those who want a real flavor of the ROK…stay out there for a night or two, go off the beaten “ring” and explore in depth.

  6. Great insights..let me add to the statement about Northern Ireland: as someone who’s been travelling there for 20+ years now, I have found it to be safe and have never encountered violence of any kind. I’ve enjoyed being a part of the growing tourism there – and am proud to, in my small way, bring attention to the beautiful people, countryside, and customs there through my blog.

    As for the SIM card debate…I’m still on the fence! I typically get a data plan for my iPhone, but then end up watching the data all the time…and sometimes going over. 02 has some attractive pay as you go plans which I may check out for my next trip as my phone’s already unlocked.

    Great stuff!

  7. Great post and love the discussion.

    Since most of the other tips have been weighed in on, I’m going to weigh in on the kids in pubs… being that I have kids that I take to pubs regularly.

    My girls (7 & 9) love a good pub as much as I do. For the food and for the music. I’m going to say that the time you can be in the pub really depends on the location. But my girls have danced in pubs until nearly closing time. In many cases, they start the dancing -earning a shout out from the band and becoming sought out dance partners (sometimes even teaching a few jig steps).

    To find pubs with early live music sessions, get your hands on a “What’s On” publication for the area. It’s a terrific resource. If you’re worried about kids overstaying their welcome, ask at the bar. Often times you’ll hear that it’s “no bother” as long as the kids are behaving themselves.

  8. I’ll ditto Jody’s comments on kids in pubs. Everywhere we’ve been out west, having the kids (10 & 13) in the pub while a session goes on has been completely fine. Usually, we’re having dinner as well in any case. The kids are up late because of jet-lag, and pubs in tourist destinations seem to be fine with them — as long as they’re behaving themselves.

    Can’t comment about pubs off the tourist trail, because if we aren’t touring around, we’re visiting relatives, so usually stay in wherever we’re staying.

  9. Our cell carrier does not offer international plans so we have to use an unlocked phone and buy a SIM card. We have found that it has been very cost effective for us- $25 seems to more than adequately cover us for our 2 weeks. You can add money to them very easily if needed. For data usage, so many pubs now offer free wifi so you really only need a cell service to make calls. We are headed to Ireland in mid-March, my husband has found, as we’re looking for a car rental, that more and more rental companies are not allowing renters to travel to Northern Ireland! There are no “boarder crossings” perse so we’re not exactly sure how they manage to police that travel. We think if you get into trouble, have an accident or break down, they won’t help you. I found the Irish in Northern Ireland are really “English” and not very friendly at all and have little nice to say about those living in the Republic. There are many beautiful places in Northern Ireland and people need to visit and see these places just don’t expect a lot of warm and fuzzy like you’ll get in the Republic. The Dingle Ring is a lot shorter and more beautiful than the Ring of Kerry in my opinion.

    • Thanks for the comment, Chris. You’re right, for those without an international plan, buying an unlocked phone works and could easily be cheaper than renting a phone… then again, most visitors can manage just fine with no phone at all.

      Most car rental companies (Dan Dooley, Thrifty, Budget, Avis, Hertz) do allow you to travel in the Republic and Northern Ireland, but may charge an extra fee and require you mention it to them before you pick up the car. If you’re using your own insurance, you need make sure there are no limits on coverage. Just a heads-up, some car rental companies imply they are the only ones that allow you to drive in both the Republic and Northern Ireland, but that’s not really the case.

      I’m sorry you didn’t feel as welcome in Northern Ireland… most people I’ve talked to have not had that experience at all. You must have had extremely bad luck with the people you came in contact with :( — (Although this post is about safety http://irishfireside.com/2011/06/29/is-belfast-safe/, it also gives you a sense of the experiences other people had in the North which sadly sounds different from what you experienced).

      I’d say more and more people in Northern Ireland prefer being called Northern Irish than anything else… there’s a growing sense of pride in being from Northern Ireland rather than being limited to checking either the Irish or British box.

      And, yes, I’d also say Dingle is amazing!

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