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…
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Tddy.