There are some trips that in order to do correctly simply require a car. Ireland is one of those trips. When planning the Ireland portion of our travels we had quite a few reservations before we took the plunge, rented a car and mapped out our own road trip. I understand the fear and the hesitation, it seems daunting to do it all yourself. But I’m here to tell you its not.
Here’s a list of all the things that worried us and why we were wrong.
Driving on the wrong side of the road
This is a big one, I get it. It's unfamiliar – you’ve probably seen a narrow road or driven without GPS (hello 1999) – but driving on the complete opposite side seems exponentially harder. It's not. While I (Tessa) chose to remind Matt at basically every roundabout and turn to stay on the left, he found that after an hour of driving it starts feeling natural. Every person we've talked to who has made the switch agrees with us too. The steering wheel is still in the middle of the road and on highways it practically makes no difference at all. Also it means you get to check another thing off your bucket list.
I’m not going to lie, if you choose to drive in Ireland there will be times you are driving down a “2 lane” road wondering where the second lane is. But the truth is that if the road is small, it's probably because no one drives it very often. Also, small roads means small cars, so while two Hummers wouldn’t fit on certain roads, the cars you will encounter (and be available to rent) will do just fine. When you come to a smaller side road, drive slow and cautiously. If you see another car approaching there is always a shoulder to pull on to, that is unless the Irish driver hasn’t already done so. Remember these people have been doing it for their whole lives so you can do it for one week.
The rental car process itself
Renting a car in your home country can be a big enough headache by itself - hidden fees, damage insurance, second driver waivers, on and on. But if you’ve done it one place you can do it in another, especially a country where they speak English! The only thing to look out for is that collision damage insurance provided by many mainstream credit card companies exclude Ireland. Blame the small, wet roads or driving on the left side, but credit card companies don't trust foreigners driving in Ireland anymore. Simply buy the insurance from the rental company and enjoy the peace of mind on your road trip.
Like a lot of budget travelers, when we travel we never buy international data plans and instead stick to using wifi. It works well but can be challenging when renting a car and navigating a foreign country. One of our favorite tricks is that you can predownload maps of countries on Google Maps (or most gps apps) and then continue to use them once you get on the road. Even when your phone is on airplane mode, location services continues to work (without charging you data) and you can follow a predetermined route quite easily. As a side note we also used an Ireland fold out atlas that the rental company provided and found Ireland to be one of the easiest countries to navigate. Their ring roads had tons of signs directing you to not only stay on the correct route but also pointing you towards scenic lookouts and popular tourist destinations off the ring road.
We went in the winter and were worried we wouldn’t be able to explore any of the countryside if things got too cold and wet. Ireland is pretty far north and, being unfamiliar with weather and road conditions in Ireland, we assumed we might have some trouble. Thankfully Ireland doesn’t really have snow and it doesn't get that cold, it just rains. So if you are like us and find yourself eager to explore Ireland in the winter don’t hold back for fear of icy roads.
Making the itinerary
Ultimately this one is up to you. However, we found that picking a region (we choose the Southwest, but met tons of people who swore the North and East were just as beautiful) and driving the main ring roads and looking for interesting stops worked out amazingly. Ireland has so many beautiful off the beaten path spots that you can’t go wrong. Just make sure you drink a Guinness otherwise you’ve wasted your trip!