Preparing for two months of travel all over Europe is a difficult task, and when you only have one day to throw everything together it can be even harder. Here are a bunch of things I wish I knew before heading out to Ireland and Scotland.
1. Bring your driver’s license and student card. First of all, it is totally worth it to rent a car for a day and visit all the sites on your own schedule – like castles. Driving out of the city isn’t that bad and if you pick up/drop off at the airport it’s super easy to catch a bus or train into town to your hostel. Also, almost all of the attractions and tours here give student discounts so if you have a student travel card or your university card you will save a lot of money. Unfortunately for me, I forgot my student card at home but got a friend to take some snaps of it and so far people have been accepting it. I even got a 10% discount on shoes so ask in the shops if they provide student discounts as well!
2. Passport. Make sure your passport won’t expire too soon – six months is good for many countries but check the individual countries websites.
3. Buy a protective phone case before you leave. I spent the first week searching around both Ireland and Scotland for a LifeProof Case for my iPhone 6 and it was nearly impossible to find. Finally I discovered one at an Edinburgh department store, John Lewis, for $120 Canadian. Although expensive, I know it will be worth it since I’ve been taking all my photos with my phone and want something I can drop in water or on the ground without worrying about damage. Plus, rain.
4. Don’t bother unlocking your phone. I paid $30 CAD to have my phone unlocked so I could purchase a data card for my trip, however I have just used free wifi spots the entire time and so should you. It was too complicated to try to set up the European SIM card and of course it costs more money. Just make sure you tell your cell phone provider you are going on vacation as most providers have some sort of deal where you can pay to have your phone suspended for the time you are away and then re-activated upon your arrival home. It cost me $30 CAD with Telus Mobility to do that instead of paying my regular $100 phone bill per month.
5. Download a travel wallet app. I used Trail Wallet which was so awesome because you could input how much you spent in the local currency and it will translate it automatically to your home country’s currency so you can keep track of how much you are really spending! You can put in a budget for your whole trip then put in your trip dates or a daily budget. The budget will automatically adjust every day depending on how much you spend and you can also keep track of different categories. It was definitely interesting to see how much I spent on food vs alcohol!
1. It is wet. No matter the season, you are going to deal with rain so make sure you bring a long rain coat to keep dry. Luckily I packed my MEC rain jacket! It worked well against both the rain and wind and kept me warm and dry.
2. Bring a stylish, light jacket. I should have gone with my faux leather jacket. Once again, it’s pretty breezy here so I have worn a light sweater the whole time. I just wish I had something a bit more fashionable for my photos.
3. Bring comfortable and waterproof shoes. Before I left I purchased a pair Khombu sandals and they were great! Even though they are sandals they kept my feet warm, were super comfortable and dried quickly! The grip was perfect for climbing on slippery rocks at the Giant’s Causeway and are perfect for my upcoming yacht tour in Croatia with and final stop in Barcelona.
4. Bring at least two different trendy tops. Make sure you can mix and match them with appropriate bottoms (black shorts or pants) and that you’ve chosen to bring appropriate shoes (or sandals) to match. These outfits can be used for a night out on the town and/or a good photo op day. I elected to bring mostly comfy travel clothes so am kicking myself that I didn’t bring a nice tank or two for photo ops and dance parties.
5. Bring one hair styling tool. I was worried about space but I now know it would have been totally worth it to bring a straightener or curling iron with me to get the perfect look for all those Instagram shots. I probably would have gone with a straightener since, with the right technique, you can also curl you hair. Plus, it’s a great way to make friends in the girl’s bathroom when getting ready for a night out! Oh well, there is always next time. Keep in mind it’s pretty humid here so hair gets frizzy easily.
6. Don’t forget a manicure kit. Snags, breaks and hangnails are bound to happen, plus they usually include tweezers (which I also forgot) and scissors – and throw in a couple of bandaids, just in case.
7. Bring a daypack. If you are afraid of keeping stuff in your hostel, Ireland and Scotland are pretty safe on the streets so I packed all my expensive belongings with me. Also, try to get one with side pockets where you can put your water bottle (as having it hanging off your pack can be pretty annoying).
8. Bring a tea mug and water bottle you can hang off your bag. Tea and coffee are everywhere and in most of the hostels we stayed in, it was free. So make sure to pack a mug with a handle that you can hang off your bag with clips (before I left I bought a bunch of fake carabiners from the dollar store to use). Also, once we hit Edinburgh the water from the taps was not drinkable so having a full water bottle of fresh H2O from the filters at the hostel was super important when walking around all day. Again, make sure it has a hook of some kind so you can clip a carabiner on it and hang it off your bag.
Once You’re There
1. Buy a National Trust membership (Ireland) and Explorer Pass (Scotland). First of all, the cost of the membership goes towards keeping up all the beautiful castles and palaces in Ireland and Scotland, second of all you will end up saving some cash if you do a lot of touring. Additionally, your membership will allow you to skip some pretty long entry lines and receive free shuttles within many of the attractions.
2. Do the pub crawls. The best thing to do when flying solo is to go on a pub crawl the first night you arrive at your hostel so that you can make friends for the rest of your stay. Unfortunately a lot of people come and go but if you make a few pals one or two are bound to stay another night and party with you and/or go exploring the next day. Also, your wristband is for life for most of the pub crawls. So if you go the first time and have a blast you can go every night for free. Each pub crawl also provides you with free shots and drink deals so it’s a real money saver if you’re looking to party.
3. Fruits and vegetables are hard to find in restaurants, this is especially true for Ireland. All we wanted was a salad but we couldn’t find anything in Ireland! Instead we had to load up at the grocery store and stash some in our room for quick re-fueling. We had a lot better luck in Edinburgh, Scotland however.
4. Buy your meals and drinks straight from the grocery store. I found it was way cheaper to pick up breakfast (yogurt, oats and fruit) at the grocery store than it was to eat out. Stores in both Ireland and Scotland had an excellent selection of pre-made food like salads (my fav was a shrimp salad with lettuce, corn, pasta and carrots for only 2.5 pounds), sandwiches, and veggies with dip. So, I would suggest purchasing all your meals (except for a few nice evenings out for dinner) at the grocers, especially some of the more local stores which had a lot healthier selections. Additionally, you can buy your alcohol there too. I purchased a Strongbow for only 1 pound but make sure to purchase before 10pm in Scotland or else you’re out of luck and have to buy at the local pubs for a lot more.
5. Tipping. The standard is about 10% when tipping (I’m used to 15-20 in Cananda) so save your Euros/Pounds but of course if you get great service let them know by giving them a better tip!
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