I am 18 and I have never gone too far away from home. Recently I've been reading up on people's experiences travelling and I am feeling the urge to explore something completely new to me. I was wondering if anyone had general tips on the best way to plan a trip, or what I need to figure out before I arrive at my destination. I am a utter novice to this subject so any information is extremely helpful. As of now, I am planning on going to Ireland for a week with a friend of mine from St. Louis, Missouri. We are both on small budgets so the cheaper the better.
I assume you already have a US passport? If not, that's the first thing to organise. Don't book anything until you've got one.
Decide what time of year you want to go. Costs of flights and accommodation are higher from May to October (and at Christmas and Easter) and much higher in July/August. If you're on a small budget it's best to visit out of season, though obviously the weather is a bit worse (neither Ireland nor the UK have weather extremes) and there is less daylight. April (avoiding the weeks before and after Easter), early May and late October/early November would all be budget-friendly choices.
1. Investigate the cost of flights to Ireland (or anywhere else) from your feasible US airports. The flight and your accommodation will be your biggest expenses by far so getting an idea of how much they are likely to cost will help you decide whether you have enough money available.
www.skyscanner.com is imo the best tool for getting an overall idea of airline options, times and fares from anywhere to anywhere, whether for specific dates or for whole month/year. Once you've made your choice book on the airline's own website. Using third-party agents isn't a good idea imo: there's much more chance that things will go wrong.
There are direct US flights to/from Shannon Airport as well as Dublin. Your should also investigate flights into/out of Belfast in Northern Ireland: there's an excellent cross-border bus service as well as train options (see below). There are no border formalities between N Ireland and the Republic though you will need pounds sterling in the North and euro in the Republic.
Once you've decided on your dates, book the flight when its fare is reasonable for you. Fares rise as departure date nears and there are no last-minute cheap fares.
Get to the airport (either end) at least 3 hours before your flight departs. Make sure you know and stick to the airline's bag size & weight limits as well as the security allowances.
2. Plan a rough itinerary and work out how you are going to travel around. You are too young to hire a car so will need to use train, long-distance and local buses and your feet. Trains and buses are absolutely fine and you'll be perfectly ok.
www.irishrail.ie will give you train times, details and fares for the Republic (and to/from Belfast)
http://www.translink.co.uk/Services/NI-Railways/ will do the same for trains in N Ireland.
www.buseireann.ie will give you times, details & fares for long-distance and local buses in the Republic.
http://www.translink.co.uk/ will do the same for buses in N Ireland.
3. Investigate the cost of accommodation. As you are on a small budget hostel accomm will be the best option but not everywhere has hostels. You'll also need to investigate guesthouses, b&bs and hotels.
Book at least the first night's accommodation online in advance.
You may prefer to book all your accommodation online in advance (I would). If you don't do so you run the risk of being somewhere where there is no available accommodation or where available accommodation is outside your budget or inaccessible to those without a car.
4. Think about how you're going to pay. Make sure you have credit and/or debit cards and that your card provider knows you will be away from the US. Mastercard and Visa are the most commonly accepted cards; American Express is much less widely accepted.
You will need cash. Not everywhere accepts card payments, smaller places won't accept cards for small amounts and, obviously, you can't pay local bus fares with a credit or debit card!
If you can, use ATMs to withdraw euro or GBP. It's best to avoid airport currency exchanges anywhere: their rates are always lower than outside the airport. You'll be able to exchange cash USD in banks and currency exchange places but ATM rates are always better.
5. Think about your bag (make sure you know and keep to the airline's size and weight limits) and clothing. Whatever time of year you visit Ireland (and the UK) you'll need to take clothes you can layer, good waterproof outerwear plus sensible footwear which is reasonably waterproof and, most importantly, comfortable for walking. The more you explore any country on foot the more you'll see. If you visit Ireland (or the UK) between October and May a hat, scarf and gloves are also very useful! :-)
6. If you think all the above is too daunting for a first-timer you could investigate an organised tour. There are a myriad of tour options, day tours and longer holidays. Just google.
Paddywagon seem to be very popular with younger people. They offer 1- 9 day tours. They have reasonable prices and no frills but it's an option which might appeal to you:
Enjoy your planning! :-)
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Mary's answer is spot on. There are several cheaper options too. Check out the following:
Hope this info helps.
My nephew backpacked his way through Europe and stayed in hostels. We saved and paid for our trip out right in Aug/Sept for our trip in March. This is the cheapest time to buy and March is the cheapest time to go. You can get trips for about $950 right now and that includes airfare, hotel, and transportation.
One of the best things someone told us was how to use the hop on hop off bus. Our first day in Dublin we got up early and we got onto the hop on hop off bus. We went all the way through, the first time and planned our day accordingly. It was a great way to make sure we saw everything I wanted and to learn about the city we were in. (We only saw that bus in Dublin but by the time we moved on we were more experienced with the country and felt more confident.)
We traveled with friends like you are planning so I would call to purchase instead of doing it online. That way you can be on the same flights and arrive at the same time. Otherwise you risk getting put at different hotels. Or buy the tickets together on line and meet up in the city you plan to leave from. The NY prices are always the cheapest - but for us who live in CA it is cheaper to pay extra to fly out of SF than to get tickets to NY and fly from there. Do your research before you by. Also be open about your travel dates so you can get the best price.
For our trip we planned on $75 a day for meals for two (no continental breakfast at hotels in Dublin). This was about right, we did not spend all of our money, but it allowed us extra to spend it on nicer places if we wanted.
Do a travel Journal! Start with it now as you plan your trip. We traveled with friends and to start out we asked questions like "what do you want to see most", "what's your biggest fear?" We added an "Irish observation" daily and a quote of the day. It made for a wonderful souvenir and every time we get together we laugh at some of the things we have in that journal. It helps remind us of parts we may have forgotten years later. We also collect a few things along the trip - a beer glass from every bar. The beer companies provide the glasses to the bars, so they don't care if you take it. It made for a fun beer scavenger hunt because we wanted to have all sorts of different glasses. Most bartenders loved this idea and were super helpful. We also collected coasters where we put the time, date and location on the back. These are now framed and are on my wall. They look great and were a free way to track our trip.
I hope these tips help.