While I do mostly run around the greater Pennsylvania area and am on a mission to write about said area, I have very much enjoyed my somewhat recent forays into international travel. While I’m a big advocate of local travel, I also think that if you have the time and resources, everyone should try to travel abroad, even if just once.
If you haven’t been keeping up with my life (and I don’t really blame you if you haven’t) last summer I went abroad for the first time and spent 2.5 weeks in Ireland. Being of Irish decent and having a strong affinity for Celtic music and all things St. Patrick’s Day, it was a no brainer for my first international destination. It did not disappoint.
This past June I spent a week in Iceland which was equally as amazing. I’d like to try and budget for an international trip a year (if I could squeeze more, that’d be great, but I’m trying to be realistic). I feel as though my next vacation maybe should be Indonesia as my theme so far has been Island countries that start with “I” but in reality, I don’t have a strong want to visit (sorry, Indonesia, I’m sure you have redeeming qualities). What I’d really like to do is a backpacking trip through eastern Europe. I’d like to start in Croatia and make my way to Lithuania. If that doesn’t work I’m gunning for Norway or Scotland. You could read my list of dream foreign destinations here.
I enjoyed Iceland for the numerous outdoor activities, the out of this world scenery, the hot spring hopping, and the crazy Reykjavik nightlife and was impressed by how easy the trip was. I’ve feel like I’ve been pushing Iceland on anyone I talk to this summer, telling them how much they’ll miss out if they don’t go soon and have been doing the same via this blog and twitter.
I wrote a lot about my Irish adventure last summer but definitely didn’t push it as hard as I’m pushing Iceland. Maybe this is because I had to jump right into the school year immediately after returning from Ireland (literally I was at school 24 hours after being in Belfast) and maybe it’s because people are a lot more familiar with Ireland as a travel destination. When I tell people I went to Iceland I get a lot of variations of “why would you do that?” while Ireland is met with “that makes sense.”
Regardless, it’s unfair.
I enjoyed both trips equally and would go back to either locale in a heartbeat (in fact I have documented posts on what I’m planning to do when I go back to Ireland and Iceland respectively). So, without further ado, here are my top ten reasons why you should start planning a trip to the Emerald Ireland AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
1) The Craic:
Craic (pronounced “crack”) roughly translated means “loud conversation or bragging.” What the Irish mean when they talk about “Craic” is pretty much good times or fun. You’d hear people say things like “the craic was good” or “where’s the craic at” or my personal favorite, “got any craic?”, simply meaning where’s the most fun, loudest, and liveliest place to get their drink on (keep in mind that this is my own Americanized translation). Drinking, singing and carrying on are all an intrinsic part of the social life there and I can promise you that I experienced a lot of good craic during my stay in Ireland, from our initial hostel pub crawl the first night in Dublin to a Sunday night (yes, Sunday night) club experience in Killarney to karaoke in the tiny village of Annascaul (if you’re wondering, I sang Will Smith’s “Miami…instant crowd pleaser).
2) The Irish like Americans:
You always here about how Europeans dislike Americans. This was far from my experience in Ireland. In fact, I always got a warm reception after learning I was from the USA. I think a lot of it has to do with the connections between the two countries. A lot of Irish have family in the US (particularly NY) and a lot of people of Irish ancestry in the US know/practice Irish traditions.
3) You know how Ireland looks in books in on tv? That’s real life:
This is something Ireland and Iceland had in common. Pictures really don’t do either justice. The landscape in Ireland (particularly Connemara, the west coast & the Dingle Peninsula) were beyond stunning. It almost looked fake.
4) Live Music:
This sort of goes along with the craic, but there was so much love music. From traditional bands, to acoustic guitar players, to top 40 cover bands, even the smallest bars had singers, and on almost every night of the week. That’s something I wish was more prominent here at home.
5) The Guinness does taste better:
I hate that I’m “that guy” making this claim, but it’s true. The Guinness really does taste better in Ireland. I’m not sure the cause but it’s smoother, tastier and goes down easier (caution: this could backfire).
6) Casual pre-noon drinking is encouraged:
I’m a big fan of day drinking and feel like sometimes the best way to go through the day is with a casual buzz (nothing too crazy, don’t want to delve into “got a problem” territory). No matter what time of the day, it was never frowned upon to imbibe a little. In fact, I ran into several breakfast specials where you could get a full Irish breakfast for 3 Euro and for 4 Euro you could add a pint of Guinness. This was especially helpful for me on days when we were visiting the Cliffs of Moher or kissing the Blarney Stone and I knew I’d be subjected to high places and anxiety.
7) To Gain Perspective (Northern Ireland):
A lot of people skip over Northern Ireland, keeping themselves confined to “the Republic” which is where a lot of the bigger tourist attractions are (Dublin, Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle, Guinness Storehouse) but I think that this does a huge disservice to the Irish experience. Though technically part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland is still very much Irish. Belfast is a unique and cosmopolitan city in it’s own right, Derry is the oldest walled city in Ireland and the Coastal Causeway Route between these two cities shouldn’t be missed.
We spent a bit of time in Northern Ireland and my favorite part was learning about “The Troubles”, the tumultuous history between the British and the Irish and Catholics and Protestants. What was eye opening to me is how bad it got and how recently “the Troubles” effected the country. For years, Northern Irelanders, Belfasters in particular, considered themselves to be living in a war zone. I grew up thinking that warzones were poverty striken African villages or were aligned with zealots in the Middle East, not Ireland with its westernized way of life and strong American connections.
We don’t learn a lot about “the Troubles” here in the US and maybe its because it hits a little closer to home then we may like. It’s not pleasant but it is reality. It was eye opening. I recommend that anyone visiting Ireland take a Belfast Black Cab tour. Not as fun as Dublin’s craic or Galway’s drunken dance parties, but interesting and important in its own right.
8) Irish Breakfast:
I’m a big breakfast person in general. Nothing makes me happier than a good breakfast buffet or a breakfast special that comes with a bevy of food and drinks. Irish breakfasts (or Ulster frys as they were known in NI) were the best. No matter what, they were always reasonably priced and came with eggs, bacon sausage, some sort of potato, toast, vegetables (usually tomatoes) and black or white pudding (which I steered clear of). I also support anywhere that doesn’t judge me when I get a cup of tea.
9) Cliffs of Moher:
I could have easily included this with 3) but felt like it deserved it’s own post. I’m not going to even write anything, just share with you this picture. It’s currently the background of my computer and I’ve had it made into a canvas that hangs beside my bed. Can you beat that?
10) Make an Irish Friend:
There’s a free program in Dublin called City of a Thousand Welcomes. You sign up online and give the dates and some free times you’re going to be in the city. You’re then put in contact with a local “ambassador” (ambassador because these are volunteers, they don’t get paid) who’ll agree to meet you for an hour or so for either coffee or a pint (which is on them) and will help acclimate you to the city/country and answer any questions you might have. This is not a tour site. This is local people who will give you their honest recommendations on what to do and see.
I wasn’t able to do this because of a jam-packed Dublin schedule, however this is also the only program I’ve ever seen on Tripadvisor that does not have one negative review. That’s saying something. At the least you get a local’s perspective of the country and at best maybe you’ll make a friend whom you can host in the future or stay at on a return trip.