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Photo by Thomas Tucker on Unsplash

I’m just back from a fantastic holiday to Ireland and Scotland. Our trip was active, enlightening and incredibly entertaining (we started the trip seeing a concert in Dublin and ended at the Military Tattoo in Edinburgh).

Ireland is a favorite spot for Americans. In fact, according to the Irish Central Statistics Office, visitors from the U.S. increased by 10.9% in 2016 to a whopping 3.9 million.  That’s a lot of Americans. So many Americans visit Ireland, visitors from the U.S. clear Customs in Dublin. (How do you know you’re going through U.S. vs. Irish Customs? The agents turn from friendly and smiling to surly and scowling.)

Today’s blog post is the first in my Ireland and Scotland series. Over the next few months, I’ll post a few more with some tips and ideas for visiting this amazing part of the world.

Once you’re ready to go, contact me here so we can start planning your own Irish (or Scottish) adventure. 

Driving in Ireland

I highly recommend driving in Ireland, but it’s not easy. (Check out my video of our drive over the Conor Pass). Why do I recommend something hard and potentially dangerous?  Because you’ll be the master of your destiny and see more of the country away from the maddening crowds of tour buses.

Driving on the left takes some practice, but it’s worth it. Luckily, we only pulled onto the wrong side of the road twice, but once the driver was alerted (by my screams), we readjusted and continued cruising down the road.

Rent an Automatic

Seriously, I can’t stress this enough – RENT AN AUTOMATIC.  I drove a standard for years (and so did the hubby), and I know driving a stick is so much cooler than an automatic, but I promise, you’ll be much happier with an automatic. Every time you turn a corner or go through one of the country’s 10 million roundabouts (rotaries) you need to remind yourself where the car needs to go while avoiding traffic, pedestrians and the left-hand curb. Do you really want to worry about shifting too? Don’t be a hero; just rent the automatic.

Size Matters. Rent a small car.

The roads are NARROW with no shoulder and hikers, bikers and massive tour buses all competing for space. Plus the speed limit is 60 mph (100 kph) on those tiny, tiny roads. It’s a wild ride, and much easier in a small car.

But, not too small…

It is possible to rent something too small for your family and luggage (we saw it happen at the Avis counter), so consider the size of your passengers and the amount of luggage before picking a rental car.

Insurance

Consider buying extra insurance to cover any unforeseen problems (about €20 a day).  I know what you’re thinking, extra insurance is a scam. Trust me, after you hit the left curb or drive through shrubbery a few times you’ll be glad you added the protection.

Gas

A lot of the cars in Ireland take diesel rather than unleaded fuel  (better gas mileage, woohoo!). Don’t mix it up. Diesel comes from black pumps, and unleaded comes from green pumps, and rental companies will often mark the fuel door, so there are no mistakes. Insurance doesn’t cover pumping the wrong type of gas into your car.

South-North Rentals

We picked up our car in Dublin and dropped it off in Belfast. Many rental car companies don’t allow this because Northern Ireland is part of the U.K. (I’m still not clear on why that matters) or charges extra for the privilege. 

Google Maps is Your Friend

Rental car companies charge extra for cars enabled with GPS but don’t bother. The Google Maps App on your phone is all you need and is a real lifesaver in some rural areas (until you lose coverage of course).