I spent the first two weeks of June traveling through Ireland and England with my mom and teenage daughter, and while the trip was amazing, I learned a lot in my first big trip to Europe. To help you plan your European vacation, I wanted to share 10 things to know before you travel to Europe, so you’re more prepared than I was!
Our trip consisted of 8 full days in Ireland, one day of travel to England, then 3 full days in the London area. It was the trip of a lifetime, and while I was prepared in a lot of ways, there were some things I wish I had known beforehand.
Pre-P.S. I’ll drop in some pretty pictures from the trip just for fun. 🙂
10 TIPS FOR A EUROPEAN VACATION
#1 – Plan your flight for how your body handles sleep.
My mom booked our flight for 8pm EST with the idea that we would sleep during the 8 1/2 hour flight and wake up somewhat refreshed in Dublin, Ireland the next morning. Not so much.
While in theory this was a great idea, in reality, it was the worst idea ever. None of us slept. You have to remember a few things about flying – the flight crew will be working throughout the duration of the flight, which means every hour or so, they’re doing snack service, beverage service, dinner or breakfast service, etc.
Between the various services, the tight seating in coach, and the noise of the flight itself, we didn’t get any sleep. When we landed in Ireland the next morning at roughly 6am Dublin time, I was a wreck, and it really wreaked havoc on our first day of vacation.
BOTTOM LINE: If you are a good travel sleeper, you might be fine with an overnight flight. If you struggle like I do, consider flying out at a normal-ish time, arriving at your destination at night, and getting a normal night’s sleep in your hotel.
SIDENOTE: We got upgraded to first class on the way home and it was magical. Lay-flat seats, hot cookie service (not even kidding)… I slept better on the flight home than I did the entire time I was on vacation.
#2- If you rent a car, plan to spend your first day learning how to drive.
Ok, if you’re American, and you travel somewhere like Ireland or England, you will have to learn how to drive on the “wrong” side of the car and the “wrong” side of the road. And in Ireland, most rental cars are also manual transmission, which means you’ll be shifting gears with your left hand. It’s odd, and definitely takes some adjustment.
Give yourself that time. I didn’t, and I wish I had. I had not driven a manual transmission in about 15 years, and I had never driven on the right side of the car or the left side of the road. Upon leaving the rental car lot in Dublin, I proceeded to stall out several times in various roundabouts until I was finally able to get on the highway, get in fifth gear, and relax for a minute.
P.S. The roads in Ireland are super narrow, which is also weird. There were times when I was brushing up against the bushes on the left side of the road in order to avoid hitting oncoming traffic. Stressful!
#3 – Plan your navigation ahead of time, if at all possible.
Even if you have an international data plan, you may not have a signal in a lot of the more rural areas of Europe, so plan your navigation carefully. You don’t want to end up lost on some European backroad with no cell signal and only sheep and cows to hear you cry.
We didn’t pay for an international data plan, but we did have a very detailed map of Ireland. My mom, being the ever-diligent planner, mapped out our route before we left the States, so we were able to follow the map throughout our trip.
NOTE: The roads are very clearly marked in Ireland, and there are roundabouts everywhere, so if you miss a turn (and you will…a lot), you can just go to the next roundabout and get back on track.
ANOTHER NOTE: Irish people are so incredibly nice, so if you have to ask for directions, you’ll get the help you need. Just remember they speak in kilometers, not miles.
#4 – Use WhatsApp to phone home.
My daughter told me about WhatsApp. Any time we were able to connect to wifi, which we were able to do at even the most rural B&B, I was able to call my hubby back home through WhatsApp. This saved me from having to buy an international plan from my cell phone provider.
You can text, audio call, video call, send photos and videos, all through the app, as long as you have wifi or a cell signal. Wifi was available in every B&B we stayed in, and a lot of retail locations also have wifi available.
#5 – Find accommodations close to transit stations.
We stayed in various B&B’s throughout Ireland and England during our trip. Our location didn’t matter much while in Ireland because we had a rental car to see the country. However, once we arrived in London, we were dependent on public transportation.
While our flat was very nice, it was really far away from city center, and took about 45 minutes or so to get into and out of the city each day. Plus, after getting off the Tube, London’s subway system, we had a 20 minute walk to our flat.
Not exactly what you look forward to after walking several miles around the city all day.
If you are going to be staying in a major European city, I highly recommend checking out their public transportation system before booking your accommodations. We walked an average of 5 1/2 miles each day, and it would have been nice to be able to go back to our flat to rest. Instead, we just had to suck it up until the end of the day, then wearily make our way back to the flat where we collapsed for the night.
On that note…
#6 – Pack comfortable shoes, like tennis shoes, because you will walk A LOT.
Even the most well-dressed Europeans wear sneakers with their cute outfits because they, too, do a lot of walking. For the Ireland leg of our trip, I packed my Ariat boots. They’re the most comfortable pair of shoes I own and they’re weather-proof, which is what you need in a country where it rains at least once a day.
I made the mistake of bringing a pair of my Converse for other walking days. They’re cute, but have absolutely no support, so my feet and legs were killing me by the end of each day. Over the duration of our trip, we walked almost 40 miles. I wish I had been smart enough to wear supportive sneakers.
BOTTOM LINE: Sacrifice your personal fashion for support. Your feet and legs will thank you.
#7 – Plan for periods of rest.
Did I mention you’ll walk a lot? Don’t try to pack your schedule so full that you have no time for rest. Just go into your European vacation knowing you can’t possibly see and do everything, so save your sanity and rest, even if that means taking a day off from sightseeing.
We had a full day between our Ireland and England legs of our trip. We decided to take a ferry from Dublin, Ireland, to Holyhead, Wales, then take a train from Holyhead to London. It took a good chunk of the day, but it was an awesome way to see the country and rest at the same time.
#8 – Pack as lightly as possible. You will be dragging bags everywhere.
Let me give you the Cliff’s Notes version of our travel arrangements during our trip:
- Fly into Dublin, Ireland – go through customs.
- Take luggage to rental car.
- Take luggage into and out of every B&B, carrying them up the stairs and back down the stairs each time. (We stayed in a total of 5 different locations so we did this 5 times.)
- Return rental car and load up luggage in a taxi in Dublin, then back out at our B&B.
- Take luggage in a taxi to the ferry.
- Load luggage onto ferry, and back off.
- Load luggage from ferry to train, then back off.
- Take luggage from train station to subway station, then to a taxi, then to our London B&B…up the stairs, of course.
- Take luggage down the stairs to load into taxi to Heathrow airport.
- Take luggage out of the taxi, through the airport, to the Delta check-in station.
- Get luggage at the Atlanta airport in the international terminal.
- Carry luggage through international terminal to the shuttle bus, onto then back off of the bus at the domestic terminal.
- Carry luggage through the domestic terminal to the car where my husband was waiting.
- Then my hubby took the luggage into the house and up the stairs.
I think I’ve made my point.
#9 – Pack to dress in layers.
Depending on when you go to Europe, and what part, of course, you’d be best to dress in layers. Irish weather is finicky and it rains everyday, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Our trip was in June, but mornings were a bit chilly, with temperatures around the mid-40-degrees Fahrenheit. Mid-day it would warm up to 55-62 degrees Fahrenheit, but usually with a breeze. London was warmer with less rain, but super windy.
For the most part, I packed tank tops and t-shirts with cardigans and sweaters, all of which I could mix and match to extend my outfit choices and wear with jeans.
And finally, since we’re talking about what to pack…
#10 – Bring a lightweight raincoat with a hood.
Yep. You’re gonna need it. Have I mentioned that it rains a lot? My raincoat came with a little bag that I could carry in my purse, but I ended up wearing it pretty much constantly.
A trip to Ireland is definitely something I recommend to anyone looking for a quiet, serene, and beautiful vacation spot. Everything is so lush and full of blooms because of the rain, which only comes in short bursts each day so it’s tolerable. London is very much like any other big city, except you’re greeted at every turn by stunning architecture and old buildings with ornate details.
I’ll be sharing more from our European trip soon, so stay tuned! In the mean time, I’ll leave you with one more short video. This was taken as my mom, Marley, and I made our way down from the Cliffs of Moher. You’ll see exactly what I mean about the weather and the need for jackets.