Ireland: The Beginning of New Adventures

Four weeks ago, we were preparing to leave for the airport to spend a week+ in Ireland. This trip included many firsts for our family. We were so blessed to travel with family and that made the adventure even more fun!

Packing: My motto for the trip was "4 people, 2 backpacks, 10 days in Ireland". Here is a picture of our luggage:

Together, the adult packs weighed a combined 42 lbs fully packed. The backpack in the middle was Sweet Potato's. It held her activities/toys and few snacks. We also took a stroller with a strap to make getting on and off public transport easy (thanks Craigslist!).

As you can tell, there were no carseats. This was intentional. We spent all of our time in Dublin and utilized public transport exclusively. We packed 6 pairs of underwear and 5 outfits in (awesome!) travel bags making organization inside the packs super simple. I did bring one pack of diapers and one pack of wipes. The wipes lasted the entire trip and we grabbed one small pack of nappies at the local Tesco (grocery) shortly before leaving.

When we arrived at the airports and saw other families struggling with armloads of bulky luggage we were so thankful to have just our backpacks. We could grab them, snap them on, and take the girls hands in minutes. Totally worth it! We'll never travel "heavy" again!! In fact, we had the lightest bags of our family, yet the most people for which to care.

Accommodations: We were able to pack lighter because the house we rented had a washing machine so we were able to do laundry as needed. I found the house through VRBO and Simon, the owner, was grand! He and his team were flexible, accommodating, and offered us a true home away from home. We kept finding little surprises at the house (crisps, bottled water, jam, butter, cookies, candy, scones, Guinness bread, etc.) and the beds were so comfy after long days of walking/travel. I highly recommend NearCityRentals if you find ourself needing accommodation in Dublin.

Getting Around: A note on how we explored the city. We purchased LEAP cards. They are refillable, refundable and allowed us to travel by DART, bus, and LUAS (tram) around the city. For our entire stay, we spent the equivalent of 1-2 day's car rental. They were very easy to use and the money that remains on them, after a bit of paperwork, will be refunded to us. While, a tourist pass is available for 72 hours for 20 euros it is not refundable. We opted for the regular LEAP card for our stay. Definitely worth it if you plan to be in the city for more than 3 days! The girls loved the LUAS and soon Sweet Potato even had the bus numbers and tram stops memorized!

Along with the LEAP card, I purchased a SIM card for my cell phone. It allowed me to have an Irish number and access the internet without incurring roaming charges. It wasn't expensive (approx.  20 euros) and I became the default navigator because I was the only family member that had "free" access no matter where we were in the city. Additionally, we highly recommend using the Transport for Ireland app. It was invaluable at figuring out which bus to take where.

Sightseeing: Everyone wants to know where we went and what we did. I feel as though I'm going to disappoint when you realize how slow we approached our trip. Our goal was to be on vacation. This meant that we had things we wanted to experience, but we were not viewing this as a "once in a lifetime" trip. Every time we stepped out our front door it was a new experience!

As a family we loved, Phoenix Park. It's a little tricky to get to but totally worth it. First, it's HUGE. We went to the zoo, walked a half hour to the visitor's center, saw a herd of deer that reside in the park, toured the President's residence, passed the American Embassy, and strolled through a Victorian Walled garden. We also had the best scones in the city at a tea room in the park.

For David and I, the Long Room at Trinity College, part of The Book of Kell's tour, was clearly our favorite. A huge room filled with really old, magnificent books. From the bindings, to the organization, to the beautiful barrel ceiling, it was awesome. Of course, I was tickled that the displayed books were around the theme of "Myths in Children's Literature". Made me want to move and pursue further study in children's literature in that magnificent space. Sigh.

Sweet Potato's favorite stop was Captain Americas Restaurant. She was so excited to eat there. The all Irish beef burger was delicious and the fries were fantastic without adding any salt or ketchup! In fact, the majority of food we had was proudly raised in Ireland. America should take note and be proud of its abundance. It was hard to find things not made in Ireland, food or otherwise.

With the help of Uncle Philip we navigated the DART system of light rail that runs north and south out of Dublin for a fun day at the Irish seaside in Howth. It was lovely to smell the sea air, play briefly on a beach, glimpse Abbey ruins, and visit some quaint shops. (My favorite was Ditzy Days where I found the most adorable Danish mice as stocking stuffers for the girls. Shhh.... Louise, the owner, was so gracious to our family!) We also had the BEST fish and chips at Beshoff Bros. The fish was caught that morning and there wasn't a hint of grease. It was scrumptious! I've been waiting since middle school for that meal and it totally lived up to all my expectations.

We did visit the National Archeology Museum and Guinness Storehouse. While the Irish Stew at Guinness was delicious, the actual tour isn't something I'd be eager to repeat. I would also recommend not going on a Saturday. The National Archeology Museum was fascinating. Free admission and bog people were the highlights. They also have a sweet little cafe and unlike American museum food, this place rocked! We had Irish Salmon wraps, huge Caesar salad with chicken and bacon, and made to order cheese sandwiches for the girls. The cost was less than a restaurant and equally good.

Cost: I know finances are often taboo, but I think, especially with international travel, there is often too much mystery about costs that many make the decision they cannot afford it but they have no real research. So let me tell you roughly what we spent. Outside of flight costs, which averaged about $2,500 for my family of four (2 adults, one child, one lap infant), we spent about as much as we would have going to the beach for a week. Our house for 9 days was approximately $2,100 including exchange rate. We used our credit card* wherever we could and often were given the option to pay in dollars at an exchange rate of $1.17 to the Euro. As for food, souvenirs, admission, and transport we spent another $600. We ate most breakfasts in and many of our dinners too. This saved money and gave us predictable bookends signally normal routine for the kiddos. All told, again minus airfare, we spent about $2,700 for 8 days in a foreign country. We looked for deals, but we certainly didn't live on a shoestring. Another cost saving tip we discovered was to carefully watch tourist packages. By in large, for our family they wouldn't have saved us money, so we didn't purchase. *We did have a credit card with no international fees.

If you've been considering going abroad but are nervous, I highly recommend Ireland. First, they speak English. Second, they are incredibly helpful. We had perfect strangers genuinely helping us find the right bus stop, or give recommendations for good food. Third, while Irish life is different from ours, it isn't so different that you feel like a fish out of water. Finally, as a young family the Irish really make life easy. We got bumped to front of lines, people offered bus seats and general kindness was shown even when our children were less than well behaved.

Travel with Littles: The girls did remarkably well with traveling. We were so proud of them! This was the first flight for Pickle and the first remembered flight for Sweet Potato. They trooped along walking most places, tried new things and only on occasion complained. While we were eager to experience the city, we did buffer our days with predictable bedtimes, baths, and meals. We also took one day to chill at our house mid-week. After a delightful breakfast out, we returned to do some laundry, nap, read, and watch Strawberry Shortcake. Taking time to pause allowed us to regroup and make the most of the remaining days.

And for those of you who are wondering how we kept them entertained in flight, while the plane had movies (Sweet Potato did watch on the way home) we didn't take any electronic devices for the kids. They had old fashioned paper, crayons, and a small box of legos. We read books and explored airplane bathrooms. While we had some hairy moments, they were caused because of little bodies wanting to move, not because we left the favorite iPad game at home. So for all of you parents who want to travel but are afraid you need to take loads of technology, leave it at home. It isn't necessary! Our experience abroad and on family road trips has taught us that if we, as the parents, set the expectation of no/little technology our kids happily follow along.

New Beginnings: Before we had returned, we had already decided where our next trip is going to be and when. We have definitely started a culture of travel (international and domestic) within our family and we couldn't be happier. We didn't have a flawless trip, but because we weren't out to conjure we also didn't get flustered when things went a little lopsided.

From a planning standpoint, overnight flights worked best for the girls and I would definitely recommend a seat (despite the cost) for a child nearing age 2. Poor Pickle did not like being a lap child on the way home. Sweet Potato frequently asks when we are returning to Ireland and at one point thought we had moved to Dublin. I've always heard how resilient kids are, but seeing it in my own children has made me even more adventurous.

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