January 21, 2018

10 Things to Know Before You Vacation in Ireland


irelandWe embarked on a three-week home exchange in Ireland and I can’t recommend it more highly. We used HomeExchange.com to find a family and a home (we swapped with a family who stayed in the home of my in-laws in South Florida at the same time). If you’re even considering a home exchange, you can read up to get all the scoop and details with HomeExchange.com.

It was a fantastic experience and upon reflection, I jotted down ten must-do’s / must-knows if you’re planning a trip to Ireland. I’ve also got an Ireland packing list, including my five must-pack items. Take a look!

Things to Know Before You Vacation in Ireland

1. Rent a Small Car. Before we left, I couldn’t decide whether to rent a minivan to fit the eight of us (including my in-laws) or to rent two small cars. I ended up renting two small cars because it was less expensive than a van, but it was the best decision. The roads are narrow, and so are the parking spaces. We split up when we drive, but it would have been far more challenging with a minivan.

Related: Yes, You Can Sleep on a Plane. Here’s How. (hello, overnight flight!)

2. Keep a Euro in Your Pocket. If you plan to shop for groceries, keep one Euro in your pocket. You’ll need a one Euro coin to get a shopping cart (a “trolley”), which gets returned to you when you put back the cart. Also, keep reusable grocery bags in your car. You’ll need them when you shop or you’ll have to buy bags. You also need to bag your own groceries.

3. Be Prepared to Line Dry Your Clothes. In my neighborhood, you’re not even allowed to have a clothesline in your backyard, but here it’s the norm. If you have a dryer, you can’t even fit in all of the clothes from the washer anyway. I actually found hanging clothes to be quite enjoyable in the quiet of the evening sunshine (which doesn’t set until around 10:30 pm this time of year) with a glass of wine.

4. Know that Waiters Will Hover Over You. In restaurants, waiters bring a mobile payment machine to your table when you’re ready to pay the bill (not the “check”). It feels awkward at first since servers will wait for you to sign the bill before they leave your table, but you get used to the practice. Apparently Europeans don’t like to have their credit cards taken away and swiped away from the table.

Related article: 7 Tips for Renting a Car in Europe

5. Don’t Tip in Restaurants. In America, waiters earn an hourly wage that’s far below the minimum wage with the expectation that tips will bring them up to and over the minimum wage. In Ireland, and Europe, waiters earn an hourly wage that’s far greater than American counterparts, so there’s no expectation to leave a tip for service. If you want to though, 10% is plenty.

6. Get Used to Product Sizes. We’ve enjoyed shopping for groceries in large part because it’s fun to evaluate the different product sizes. For example, chip bags and yogurt cups are tiny, but the cereal boxes are massive. Bread is huge too, at least 50% bigger than slices of bread back home. Also, eggs are not refrigerated here, which doesn’t relate to product size, but is something I do not understand.

Related: 10 Things I Just Learned About Europe

7. Never Order a Harp. I swear, Americans think that Harp is a fantastic Irish beer. I love Harp back at home and like to order it in restaurants. But, never order one in Ireland. You won’t find it served anywhere and the first two times we did order it, the servers practically looked at us as though we ordered a Natural Light. The Irish seem to love Heineken, for what it’s worth.

8. You’ll Want to Find New Favorite Foods. With kids, we like to try new foods, but we also like to have foods that remind them of home. However, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just aren’t done here. You’ll only find store brand peanut butter and grape jelly does not exist on the shelves. You also won’t find chewy granola bars. Experiment to find new foods and snacks.

Kids Travel Journal: My Travel Diary for Ireland
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9. Know that Restaurants Don’t Serve Food All the Time. It seems like we must have eaten out all the time, but really we didn’t. It’s worth noting, however, that some restaurants don’t serve food all the time. Sometimes they’ll only be open for drinks. Other spots only sell drinks. Still others may have only limited items, like burgers on Sundays. Just something to keep in mind.

10. You Won’t Have a Garbage Disposal. If you plan to stay in a house, know that you won’t have a garbage disposal. Not a big deal, but it’s worth knowing. There is a dishwasher here, so it’s been easy to manage cleaning dishes, though I’m still perplexed about clearing cereal bowls before you put them into the dishwasher.

Ireland Packing List

Before you embark on your own journey to Ireland, I wanted to share what to pack for Ireland. Of course, you’ll bring the usual day packs, gadgets and gear, but here are my five absolutely must-packs to add to your own Ireland packing list.

1. Travel Guide. My personal favorite is the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Ireland, largely because of all the colorful maps and images in the guide book. It’s a must-bring for traveling around the country.
   2. Universal Travel Adapter. You will NOT want to forget to bring a travel adapter. They’re hard to find in-country (at least beyond the reverse, as in EU-to-US adapters). I like the Trustin Universal Adapter with the bonus dual chargers for our iPhones and iPads.
   3. Noise Cancelling Headphones. These are a must for the long flight to Ireland. Since most flights from the U.S. are overnight flights, you will not want to be without noise cancelling headphones so you can at least attempt sleep. I like ALZN Active Noise Cancelling Headphones.
   4. Travel Passport Wallet. I’m crazy about making sure my passport is with me at all times, so I like to have a travel passport wallet to keep my travel documents and money all in one place. One to check out is the Zoppen Travel Passport Wallet.
   5. Inflatable Travel Neck Pillow. On overnight flights, a travel neck pillow is a must for me and I especially like the inflatable kind since they are easy to pack and put away in my carry-on.

Have you traveled to Ireland? Is there anything else you’ve noticed that you’d want to add for others planning a trip to this beautiful country? Let me know in the comments section below.


  1. Jenn Record says:

    these are really interesting to read and very helpful! sounds like a fun trip!

  2. Good things to know. As for tipping, the same holds true in Russia. Learned that after being given a hug by a waitress in Moscow. =)

  3. Great observations! But you won’t find a few to be true everywhere. I’ve shopped for groceries across Ireland and the only place I’ve had to pay for the cart is in cities like Dublin, Cork and Galway. Smaller towns and villages are a bit more trusting.

    Though you won’t find grape jelly, you will find black currant. Black currant replaces grape in juices and candies, as well.

    And, if rasher bacon isn’t to your taste (my girls aren’t fond, though my husband loves it), look for ‘streaky bacon’ in the stores. It’s the closest you’ll find to American bacon.

    Loved following your photos and trip reports!

  4. I love your observations, Erin! We Americans have a lot to learn about energy savings, i.e. using a clothesline. It might be good for people to know what “cider” means in pubs in the UK. It’s an alcoholic version of apple cider… I’m not a beer drinker so I always order cider in Ireland.

    It’s been grand reading about your home swap family fun!

  5. I liked the idea of using two cars for the same trip. Ireland does have narrow roads and is fit for small cars. Two smaller cars would mean better space usage, lower costs and in case one of the car breaks down, you have another car ready to bring help.

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