“How do you feel about driving stick?” I asked my husband.
“That’s no problem. I’m a little rusty, but I’ll be good with some practice.”
“Even if it’s on the other side of the road?”
“As long as the pedals aren’t backwards.”
(Spoiler: The pedals are NOT backwards)
This was probably the biggest worry for me as we planned our road trip around Ireland – the driving. I haven’t driven stick enough to be proficient and the idea of learning AND trying to navigate the other side of the road seemed a little too daunting for this trip.
With this in mind, we decided Adam (that’s my hubby’s name) would be the main driver and I would be navigator – directing our path, map reading, GPS wrangling, and watching for those insidious “speed camera” signs.
There were a few things that surprised, delighted, and yes sometimes even terrified us while driving on the emerald isle. Here are a few of our biggest takeaways.
1. The Price of a Rental Car
Also known as: how to have a heart attack the first day of vacation.
Typically, I use Costco’s Rental Car Finder whenever I need to get a rental car. They’re super convenient and the Costco discount stacks with any other promotions the rental company is offering. I got a KILLER deal on our tiny, mini car ($176 for almost 3 weeks) and though I vaguely knew that CDW was a requirement in Ireland and NOT covered by our standard, Visa Signature rental insurance I was not prepared for the amount that the young lady at the Avis counter spoke back to me.
“1025 Euro.” She said, rather reluctantly.
Apparently that’s a lot even for them.
“Because you are Americans and drive on the other side of the road, we must charge more for the insurance.”
I mean, I don’t blame them. A large majority of traffic accidents in Ireland are caused by those “loveable” tourists who are both unfamiliar with left side driving and the tiny, sheep laden, Irish roads.
“Well, there isn’t much we can do. We need a car and at least we have enough room on our credit card for the hold.”
As we signed the paperwork, the nice Avis lady handed us a GPS.
“Here you go. It isn’t much, but it will at least make the cost not hurt quite so much.”
It’s actually really great that we got the GPS, especially because it told us what the speed was on any given road we were currently travelling. This became especially important in Northern Ireland where everything switches back to MPH (except our speedometer) and we didn’t want to to miles to kilometer conversions in our head while driving on all those tiny roads. (Bonus hint: The smaller your car the easier to navigate said tiny roads! We got a Nissan Micra and it was very small – but mighty!)
If you’re planning on renting a car, expect to pay 2-3x the price of the car rental in insurance costs. Now, there are some places you can book cars that you prepay upfront and everything is included, but since I haven’t used any of those services in Ireland, I’m hesitant to recommend them (though I know some people have used them with great efficacy!) You’ll still spend a pretty penny, but there won’t be any surprises at the rental desk.
2. Don’t drive 100kph on the 100kph road
“That means someone went that speed on that road ONCE.” voiced one of our B&B hosts.
Ireland has this nifty system where basically all their roads have one of four speed limits based on their classification. The big motorways are 120, the main roads are 100, less main roads 80, and in town you can expect to go 50. These speeds don’t change for curves, lanes, countryside, or weather and it’s up to you to judge what the appropriate speed is for the type of road you’re driving on.
It was not uncommon to come upon a new “main road” that in 100 feet had a 90 degree turn, a cliff on the right, a wall on the left, and a sheep munching happily on the “shoulder”. This means that Google Maps doesn’t always have the most accurate travel times because there is literally no way to drive the speed limit on certain bits of road.
Be aware of your surroundings and give yourself some extra time to arrive at your destinations, especially if you are doing any driving in the countryside.
3. Look at Your Map
Because sometimes you will want to throw your GPS out the window.
Like, when it tells you to go the “shortest” route through Belfast and you spend 30 minutes in terror turning at almost every single intersection in rush hour traffic.
We decided to change the settings after that.
We got a map of the entire country + Northern Ireland that was pocket size and then folded out into a larger square. (National geographic also has an AMAZING map that we used for Iceland and when we take our next trip to the Emerald Isle, I will be springing for one. I keep it perpetually on my Amazon wishlist. Hey – you never know when you want to take a surprise trip to Ireland!)
I loved having the map because 1. It was much better at showing us nearby points of interest than our GPS – especially for hiking or an outdoors adventure 2. We could confidently take alternate routes knowing that (eventually) we would wind up where we were going. 3. There is something so personal about navigating with a map.
Using the map in conjunction with the GPS helped me pinpoint our location more accurately and also helped when the GPS decided that the quickest route to our Airbnb was through several kilometers of dirt roads in the middle of fields.
But even a map and GPS together will not always get you to your destination. Sometimes the GPS wants to go off-roading through the middle of sheep pastures, and there are no more roads on the map–that’s when it’s officially time to call your host and ask for directions.
And change the settings again on the GPS.
These are slowly rising in popularity here in the states, but they are commonplace in many parts of Europe and Ireland is especially fond of the traffic directing circles. Once you get the hang of it, they’re really quite easy to navigate and are WAY better at managing traffic with less accidents than your traditional stop sign or stoplight.
It’s also helpful to have a navigator to tell you which exit to take, though expect there to be some exclamations of “Why didn’t you take the exit!” and “No! The next one! especially if *le me* is the one doing the directing.
Thank you for still loving me hubby. 🙂
Just make sure you watch for your exit, signal when you want to exit, and don’t be afraid to (as P.D. Eastman puts it) “Go around again!”. And if you do happen to take a wrong exit, enjoy the scenery and don’t worry – there will be another one just up ahead so you can turn around.
5. “If I can drive in Boston, you can drive in Ireland!”
The best advice we received was from our host, Mary, at Almanii B&B.
“Don’t worry about the people behind ya, just what’s ahead.”
Which, in addition to being excellent driving advice also is sound life advice if you think about it.
The locals may be comfortable driving at a faster speed and pass you at every opportunity, there may be a grumpy tourist that tailgates you for awhile, or maybe you just had a super stressful multi tiered roundabout navigation. Don’t take it personal, and just enjoy the ride!
P.S. Pull over for the locals so they can pass you safely – they will really appreciate it. Ignore the a**hole tourists though. They obviously need to slow down a little and enjoy the view.