Ireland continues to be a top international travel destination for Americans. And why wouldn't it be? From stunning castles to scenic cliffs and the perfect mix of classic Irish dishes and Guinness beer, there's plenty to see and experience in Ireland. But suppose you've never been to the Emerald Isle. In that case, AAA Product Manager Dianne Vavala has some advice as you start planning. She sat down with us to share the four most effortless ways to explore Ireland.
A STRESS-FREE GUIDED VACATION
Get it out of your head – a guided vacation isn’t just a motorcoach tour. Instead, think of a guided vacation as a stress-free way to maximize your vacation time. With several different itineraries in Ireland, there is an option for everyone that leans into your interests.
"It's stress-free. You have your transportation, your hotel accommodations, a lot of your meals, and special inclusions that you can only get on a guided vacation," says Vavala. “You get to see the must-see gems that everyone is going to want to see when they go to Ireland.”
While motorcoach is the primary mode of transportation once in Ireland on a guided vacation, travel parties can vary in size. Small group departures average 26 passengers, allowing for plenty of room to spread out. A traditional guided vacation group is around 45 people. Both options feature a tour director that stays with the group the entire time, sharing stories, history, and information that brings Ireland’s culture to life.
According to Vavala, guided vacations in Ireland allow for plenty of free time away from the group, too.
"You do have some free time. Usually, about three-quarters of your day is planned," says Vavala. “You have a few hours, usually in the evening or afternoons, where you can kind of go off on your own and explore.”
SELF-PLANNED INDEPENDENT TRAVEL
Exploring Ireland on your own is entirely doable, especially if you work with a travel agent to lay the groundwork for a great vacation. Self-planned independent travel typically involves planning a car rental and accommodations. But if you're planning on renting a car, don't forget to get an International Driving Permit.
According to Vavala, options exist for self-planned independent travel that allow for plenty of flexibility.
“You can do a bed and breakfast package with an open voucher system,” says Vavala. "What this means is you book your number of nights, and you book them as you're going. You could pre-book the first night, which is my recommendation. And then, if you want to stay there for a second night, you could do that. Or, if you want to hit the road and go to your next destination, you can call ahead on your way there and book your next [bed and breakfast].”
Travelers who opt for this system should be sure to get a listing of bed and breakfasts included in the open voucher system before departing. Spend time deciding your first choice in various parts of Ireland you plan to visit, so you have a plan when you start making on-the-fly reservations. For those traveling during the peak summer travel season, pre-booking bed and breakfasts may be worthwhile.
As an alternative to bed and breakfasts, five-star castle stays are also an option for self-planned independent travel. While on the more expensive side, guests can pre-book Manor Houses to have an authentic Irish castle experience.
THE “MEET IN THE MIDDLE” OPTION
For those travelers who like following a planned itinerary but don’t want to stay with a group for the duration of the trip, Vavala notes an option between a guided vacation and self-planned independent travel.
“You can follow a guided vacation on your own, but there are just some days that you're going to have to be at a specific site at a certain time," says Vavala. “It gives you peace of mind knowing that things are planned, but you still have the flexibility to do a little bit on your own.”
THE PRIVATE DRIVER EXPERIENCE
Typically serving two to nine people, a private driver experience in Ireland is the most luxurious way to explore the country. Entirely customizable, the driver essentially acts as the group's concierge, providing recommendations the entire way while helping your group craft an ideal itinerary.
"If you decide that it's going to be raining in Galway and you really don't want to go to Galway, you can make an adjustment to the itinerary, and [the private driver] will assist you," says Vavala. “It’s really an amazing level of service.”
While not an inexpensive option, there are ways to experience a private driver experience while being budget-conscious. Vavala recommends adjusting accommodations to keep the budget in check.
“Maybe you’re doing three-star hotels with a castle mixed in as something special for one night,” says Vavala.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Experience Ireland is a must, but you don't have to plan the trip alone. An experienced travel agent can help you evaluate these options to determine which is best for your travel party. This basic level of planning will set the stage for a memorable Irish getaway