Hello, my friends! I am back from my lovely Ireland “holiday” (as they say there, hehe) and it was filled with so many highlights. I could have spent another two weeks exploring the country, as there were so many places we missed like the Dingle Peninsula, Belfast, the Aran Islands, Cork, etc. It just means we need to make a trip back to Ireland someday, right?
I’ll be diving into trip recaps later this week, but before I do that, I thought it might be good to talk about some of the things I learned during my first international vacation:
1) Give me smaller countryside towns over busy cities.
My friend Amber told me that she much preferred the smaller Ireland towns over the big cities during her trip to Ireland a few years ago… and I kinda ignored her advice. (Oops!) But it’s good advice, especially for me since I get very overstimulated and overwhelmed easily by loud, chaotic environments. Like Dublin. With more than half a million in population, not to mention all the tourists (especially worse on Saturday as there was a cruise ship in port), it’s a very crowded city. I had some fairly epic meltdowns while we were in Dublin. Sometimes, it was because I got hangry and we couldn’t find a place to eat that had an empty table. Other times, it was because I got us lost on our way to a pub or museum even though I was using my phone’s GPS. I didn’t feel this way at all while we were in Galway or Kilkenny, which just means I’m not into the big city life. I’m glad I visited Dublin, but two days were more than enough for me.
2) Give me trains over cars.
So, here’s the truth: I didn’t drive in Ireland. While everyone I talked to about driving on the other side of the road told me it was easier than it looked, I was anxious about it. My anxiety ramped up when I arrived in Ireland and saw the driving IRL. It looked complicated and the drivers were more impatient than I expected (lots of honking!), so I made the decision to cancel our car reservation and take the train wherever we needed to go. It was the right call and I really enjoyed traveling by train! Although, I did make the expensive mistake of not getting off the train at a connection point on our way to Kilkenny. So, instead of getting off the train in Kildare to take another train into Kilkenny, we went all the way back to Dublin and had to buy another ticket (for a cool 56 euros) to Kilkenny from Dublin. Read the ticket email, Steph! Argh.
3) I get super stressed out when plans change.
I love itineraries and on this trip, I took the lead on planning our itinerary, checking in with my mom every few weeks to review it. And it was fun! I really, really enjoyed all of the planning – finding out what cities to visit, what places to see, what restaurants to eat at, etc.
And when our trip followed my itinerary line by line, I did fine. I had a very intricate itinerary, down to the exact restaurants to visit, and it made me feel comfortable as we traveled around Ireland. And then Dublin happened. We arrived in Dublin earlier than expected (Friday afternoon, not Friday evening), so that threw me for a loop in trying to find something to do that afternoon. (We ended up not doing anything.) Another change was recognizing that we needed to cancel our plans for our day in Belfast on Sunday, instead spending another day in Dublin since we hadn’t seen half of the stuff on our sightseeing list (like Trinity College and the Book of Kells).
I’m not great at responding well when things change and I have to alter my expectations. It really stressed me out to continually adjust our itinerary in Dublin. I wish I was better at spontaneity and going with the flow, but that’s not one of my strengths. I’m working on it!
4) Restaurant culture in Ireland is vastly different than the U.S.
Okay, this is very dumb American of me because of course it is, you’re in an entirely different country, dummy. But hey, first international trip for me – I learned some stuff!
In a typical Irish pub (and in some restaurants), there’s no waiting around to be seated. Usually, you just have to pray you can find an open table. This is not totally unusual, as there are some bars and restaurants that operate similarly in America, but that’s usually during slow times. When the dinner rush starts, you usually wait for a table. Not in Ireland! You better hope you can find an empty chair or two somewhere around the pub to sit.
The serving culture is also a bit different because often, we would order at the bar and pay at the bar. Sometimes, we would have a dedicated server who would take our order and bring us our food, but it was very rare for them to drop off a check at the end of the meal. We typically had to go up to the bar, point to where we were sitting, and they could magically bring up our entire order that way.
Lastly, tipping! There is no real tipping culture in Ireland, something we learned during our second day, after noticing there was no place to add a tip on our receipt. Obviously, you can tip your server if you’d like and it’s standard to give a 10% tip rather than the 15-20% that is typical in American culture.
The more you know, right?!
5) Irish people are genuine, friendly, and helpful.
We had been told how nice and friendly Irish people were, but I was blown away by their genuine warmth. Every person we came across – from bus drivers and waitstaff to taxi drivers and locals – were so friendly and helpful. They never made me feel like a dumb American, and it really made my time in their country so much better.
And there you go – some of my biggest lessons learned after my first international trip. I’m happy to report that my anxiety stayed pretty even during the trip. I was worried that I would spend the whole time just wanting to be back home in my familiar environment and not fully immerse myself in Ireland and be present on this trip. That’s how I felt on my last big vacation, and I was hoping it wasn’t going to be my new norm. Thankfully, it wasn’t an issue. I remained present in each moment and was sad for the trip come to an end. Hooray for that!
I’ll have my first two trip recaps up this week, talking about our first day in Ireland and our second day, where we took a tour to the Cliffs of Moher!
What’s something you learned on a recent trip you took?