Almost Time!

Two days to my flight to Ireland. I’ve been spending the last week or so making sure I’ve got all my ducks in a row for the trip. I’ve got my euros and pounds, I’ve got my health insurance, I’ve got my reservations and bookings and tickets. I’ve got my bags mostly packed, and am going to finish making sure I’ve got the stuff I want loaded onto my laptop, iPad, and iPhone tonight. This morning, I phoned Ariel House to confirm my reservation in Dublin1. I’ve even checked bus schedules to see about travel between the various cities and made note of the times available on the days I need.

I was worried that some of my checking might just be a little obsessive, but the other day I realized that I had booked a stay for three nights in Glasgow instead of Galway2. Now, I’m sure Glasgow is very nice, and it’s certainly cheaper than Galway3, but as it’s in Scotland, it’s not very convenient for my needs. So, I caught that and fixed it, and am much relieved.

Nearly there. I’m very excited. Tomorrow – my last day of work before the trip – is going to be a very long day.

  1. Interestingly, they couldn’t find me listed. After a moment of panic, we discovered they were looking under the wrong date. Much relieved. []
  2. The two cities are next to each other in the menu on the Jury’s Inn site. I mistakenly picked the wrong one. []
  3. At least, the Jury’s Inn in Glasgow is cheaper than the Jury’s Inn in Galway. []


Warning: The following post is kind of long, and chronicles my quest to find the perfect luggage for my trip. If you’re not into luggage, you may want to skip it. I’ve been told I’m a little… obsessive on the subject.

I’ve got a bit of a thing for bags. I like backpacks, messenger bags, luggage, totes, all that sort of thing. I wind up carrying around a lot of stuff from place to place, and that has made me very aware of what makes a good bag. A lot of it comes down to function and purpose: some bags work better for some things than others do. I own a number of different bags that I use for different things. I’ve got bags for my laptop, and for my clothing when I go on trips, and for hauling around my game books, and for carrying my gym shoes and water bottle, and so on.

So, I’ve been putting some thought into the luggage and packing for my trip to Ireland. My initial plan was to bring a moderately large upright rolling suitcase that I would check on the flight, and a smaller messenger bag/laptop bag for carry-on. However, after looking how my trip plan was shaping up, I decided that wouldn’t be the best way to do things.

The problem I saw was that I was going to be doing a lot of traveling by bus around the countryside, and relying on public transport in the cities. That meant that I’d be hauling my big suitcase with me on these things. Now, anyone who has used a rolling suitcase knows that the wheels work moderately well on smooth, flat surfaces – like airport floors – but are pretty much crap on anything rougher. And, seeing as I was going to be doing things like getting off the bus at Cashel for a couple of hours to see the Rock of Cashel, it looked like I was going to be dealing with a number of rougher surfaces.

I started rethinking what I was going to do for luggage. And what I was going to pack – if I was going to be hauling my stuff from place to place on buses and taxis, I needed to cut down on the amount of stuff I was planning on bringing. Research time!

One Bag proved to be very useful in clarifying my thinking and getting me started on planning what I would need, and what I would carry it in. While I am less focused on the minimalist approach the site advocates1, it did give me a good starting point to make my own decisions.

After doing a fair bit of looking around and reading reviews, I decided that I would base my luggage on what I could carry on the plane. This meant one carry-on bag, plus one “personal article” – in this case, my laptop bag. I would pack a week’s worth of clothes, and make use of laundromats in Ireland periodically2, cutting down the number of clothing articles I would need to bring.

I want a third bag with me, as well – a small messenger-style bag that I can carry around with me as I go sight-seeing, one smaller than my laptop bag. I plan on packing this flat into one of the other bags for the plane ride, though.

Carry-On Bag

I did a fair bit of poking about to find a good carry-on bag. I need it to be big enough to hold a week’s worth of clothes: a couple pairs of jeans, four or five t-shirts, two or three sweatshirts, a sweater, socks, underwear, and my good hiking shoes3. Weather in Ireland in the fall is generally fairly warm, but with frequent rain, and the possibility of cool days and strong winds. Also, night is not so warm, so I want to be able to layer my clothing, hence the large number of shirts, etc.

While these would have still left space in the suitcase I had originally intended to bring, it was more stuff than I could fit into any of my current carry-on size bags. I needed something bigger, so I went looking. While I was shopping anyway, I decided that I wanted a bag that had multiple carry options, including backpack straps.

My top couple of choices were the Sky Train from Red Oxx and the Aeronaut from Tom Bihn. Both had great reviews and included all the things I was looking for. In the end, I went with the Aeronaut for a few reasons: it was a little bigger, it was a little cheaper, I liked the colour4, and I had already had a really good experience dealing with Tom Bihn previously, when I got my laptop bag. I included the Absolute Shoulder Strap5, and packing cubes designed to be used in the bag.

On my GenCon trip this summer, I got a chance to try the bag out, and it was pretty much perfect. I had to pack a few more things for the trip than I plan to bring to Ireland6, but I didn’t bring my hiking shoes. All in all, it should work out just perfectly.

Laptop Bag

I had been sold months before on the Id from Tom Bihn, and I love the bag. With the addition of a Brain Cell, Snake Charmer,  and Absolute Shoulder Strap, it is a great case for carrying around my laptop, iPad, and a few other things. I brought it down on the GenCon trip, as well, trying it out in concert with the Aeronaut, and it worked wonderfully.

However, with all the stuff in it, it bulges7 and is not quite as manageable as I want it to be – not for a long trip like this. When I’m carrying less crap, it’s pretty much perfect, but it’s not quite big enough for the stuff I want with me on this trip.

I looked at a few other laptop bags, but none of them were really in the running once I started looking at the Empire Builder from Tom Bihn8 – it’s pretty much exactly what I was looking for, and will come in handy on other occasions, as well9. It holds my Brain Cell and laptop, along with the Snake Charmer and a bunch more crap, in a nicely-organized, easy-to-access manner. The design on the bag is tremendously smart, with nice little features and extras that I keep discovering.

My one complaint was the colour choice. I wanted the Black/Cardinal/Steel colour combination, but the Cardinal isn’t going to be ready in time, so I went with the Black/Steel/Steel10. That said, it’s a small complaint, and the bag is very impressive.

Shoulder Bag

I had the perfect bag for carrying around during the day: the Paladin Mission Go Bag. It’s a deceptively simple design that seems a little awkward and inefficient to pack, at first, but once you get the hang of using its features, it reveals itself as brilliantly designed and able to hold a whole lot of stuff. I actually have two of them – the Coyote and the Black – as well as the Paladin Mission Pack that is designed to be used with the Go Bag. And I love them dearly.

But then a couple of people – one of them Irish, and one who travels to Northern Ireland on business frequently – gently suggested that carrying a bag with such a military design might not be the best idea, especially considering the violence this summer. Neither they nor I think it likely that the bag would draw any sort of negative attention, but perhaps best not to take any chances. From all I’ve heard and read, Irish folk in both the Republic and Northern Ireland are friendly and welcoming, but I’d hate to have my holiday spoiled because of what bag I decided to carry. That would be dumb.

So, I decided to go with another bag, even simpler in design, but able to hold a great deal of stuff without being stupidly large. It was my second-choice small shoulder bag: the Red Oxx Gator Carry-On Bag. I already owned it, and it folds up nice and small to pack into one of the other bags for transit, and then unfold for my day trips out sightseeing.

Last-Minute Addition

That was it for luggage until this morning, when my friend11 Chris sent me a link to the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack. For thirty bucks, it struck me as a remarkably convenient thing to have on hand, in case I needed an extra bag for souvenirs, hauling my laundry to the laundromat, or stuff like that. So, I ordered one, and will be bringing that along with me, as well.


So, I’ve got my luggage picked, and my packing list done, and everything looks ready to go. I leave in a little under three weeks, and am pretty much all set.

  1. I also don’t care as much about wrinkles as the site seems to. []
  2. According to all the travel books I’ve been reading, these laundromats aren’t hard to find, and many of them offer a wash and fold service, so I can drop off the clothes in the morning, go see the sights, and pick them up in the afternoon. []
  3. These are what I will be wearing most days on the trip, but I will be wearing my lighter, easier-to-remove-and-put-on shoes for the plane flight, both because of comfort and because of convenience getting through security. []
  4. The one I got is red, but not the Cardinal red that is on the site. I like the Cardinal better, but it wasn’t made available until after I had bought my bag. Oh, well. []
  5. Which is awesome! []
  6. Yes, even though the GenCon trip was two weeks shorter, I brought more stuff. No laundry and plenty of sweating during an Indianapolis summer, not to mention toiletries. I’m not bringing toiletries to Ireland, because the regulations for transporting such things mean I wouldn’t be able to bring enough to last the three weeks, anyway, so I might as well just buy them there. []
  7. Maybe it’s just me, but I find a larger bag that does not bulge is far easier to manage than a smaller bag that does bulge. []
  8. This is starting to read like a love letter to Tom Bihn. What can I say? So far, they’ve impressed the hell out of me, and I love their bags. []
  9. For example, it holds all the stuff I need to run my bi-weekly D&D game, replacing a much larger and more awkward backpack. []
  10. And kudos to Tom Bihn’s customer service for making it easy for me to change my order when the Cardinal was delayed an extra month. But I still would have preferred the Cardinal. []
  11. And enabler. []

My Planning Process

So, here’s how I went about putting together my itinerary for the trip.

First of all, I needed to decide what kind of trip I wanted, now that I had decided not to take a package tour. Many of the books I used for research recommended renting a car and driving around. I didn’t really want to do that for a few reasons1, so I went with the next recommendation in the books, which is to set yourself up in a couple home bases and take day trips out.

I then started making a list of must-see, nice-to-see, and okay-to-see spots, based on reading the books and surfing the Internet. This list quickly became less-than-useful, mainly because I did not have a good grasp of the geography of Ireland, and thus had trouble deciding which things were near which other things. I needed a map.

Map 2.JPG

So, I ordered a map. And then I got a big cork board to hang the map on. The only spot to hang the cork board was in the narrow hallway of my apartment, so that’s where it went, and then I started sticking pins in it. I used red pins for must-see places, and white pins for nice-to-see places, and then started looking at the groupings. It became apparent that I was going to want to spend several days in Dublin, and then head out to other cities for a couple of days in each.

One of the big things I wanted to see was Skellig Michael, so I immediately started tracking down how to do that. Some of this was hampered by the fact that the map I got didn’t have a scale on it, and my sense of the size of a country (living, as I do, in Canada) skewed my understanding of how travel times would factor into my trip. This showed up first in my attempts to schedule a visit to the Skelligs from Cork City2. An e-mail exchange with the Skellig Interpretive Centre set me straight on that, and I started getting an idea of timelines for where I would be when, using the Skelligs as a sort of anchor for the trip.

Cards 1.JPG

At that point, I decided I needed a bit more structure to what I was doing, and got a bunch of coloured index cards to start mapping day-by-day stuff – one card for each day of the trip. I decided to use a different colour of card for each city that I was using as a home base, and white cards for the travel to and from days. Then I started filling things in.

This part resulted in the bulk of the work in organizing my trip. I spent a lot of time reading my guidebooks and surfing the Internet to find out where and how to see the various things I wanted to see. The cards got scribbled on, rearranged, removed, added, torn up, shuffled, and otherwise moved all around. This is one of the advantages of index cards in a situation like this. It’s easier to move things around and change them than it would be in a notebook. It also let me see a nice visual representation of my trip.

I quickly came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be able to get everything in – I’d need months for that. Nailing down certain things – five days in Dublin at the start of the trip, two nights in Portmagee to see the Skelligs, one night in Bunratty to attend the medieval banquet my brother and sister-in-law bought me for Christmas – quickly showed the shape of the trip. Once I had the bases set, I started locking down the activities at each base, and booking accommodations and tours.

As things stand right now, I’ve got all my accommodations booked, and most of the tours booked and confirmed. It’s a little over a month and a half until the trip, and about all I’m waiting to hear back on is the Bogside Artists tour in Derry/Londonderry. I may wind up booking a couple more evening tours – there are ghost tours in Belfast and Galway that look interesting – but pretty much everything is set.

All that’s left is the waiting.

  1. The main ones being that automatic transmission cars are much more expensive to rent in Ireland, and I didn’t want to fuss with manual while trying to drive on the opposite side of the road from what I’m used to. []
  2. Yeah, yeah, you native Irish folks can laugh if you like. I got it sorted out. []


Okay. I’m a technical writer by profession. I often say that the primary skill involved in technical writing is the ability to become a short-term expert. You’ve got to learn enough of whatever it is you’re writing about to be able to write intelligently about it, and then you’ve got to move on to the next thing.

What does this have to do with my trip to Ireland? Well, when I decided not to take a package tour, I was left with the daunting prospect of putting together my own trip. Which meant I needed to become a short-term expert on Ireland. And that meant books.

I got a whole bunch of books to read through, and used them to decide what I wanted to see, where I wanted to stay, how I wanted to travel, and all the rest of it. Here are the books I picked up, and what I used them for.

Ireland for Dummies, 5th Edition

What can I say. I love the Dummies books. They are a beautiful example of technical writing, providing simple, clear information, and not assuming that you know anything about the subject. They’re not the be-all and end-all of research, but they’re a great place to start if you know very little about what you’re researching.

Ireland for Dummies is no different. It gave me a good foundation for more research, and provided the basic information that let me decide when I was going to take my trip, how I was going to get around, and all the rest. It was the starting point for doing the rest of my research, and probably the book I used most through the whole planning process. There’s a new edition out, now1, but I used the 5th.

Lonely Planet Ireland

Not as user-friendly as Ireland for Dummies, but with a lot more information crammed into it. This is where I went after Dummies, looking for more detail on an area, or more helpful travel tips. The focus is on more active, adventurous travelers than I, but it balances nicely with Dummies’s2 focus on more traditional tourists. I find I’m kind of splitting the difference.

Frommer’s Ireland Day by Day

The value of this book is all the colour maps, walking tour maps, bright pictures, and lists of favourite moments in the various locales. I found it not as useful as the other two books for information, but leafing through it kept me inspired and interested in the planning process. The easy, readable entries and the colour maps make it the book I’m planning on taking with me to Ireland.

Eyewitness Travel Ireland

This book came in handy for two reasons: first, it kept me inspired with all the pictures, and second, it let me take a look at the physical layout of places I wanted to visit. See, I’ve got arthritis, and it impairs my mobility sometimes. It was helpful for me to be able to assess how demanding seeing certain things – some of the castles, Skellig Michael, etc. – was going to be, so that I could schedule appropriately. It’s not that I can’t get around, but if it’s better for me to schedule seeing two difficult excursions on different days, to make sure I get to enjoy everything I want to see. So, yeah. This book was quite helpful.

Eyewitness Travel Dublin

I could say that I got this book for the same reason as Eyewitness Travel Ireland, but really, it was because I’m running a roleplaying campaign set in Dublin. The book’s great for that.

Michele Erdvig’s Ireland Dream Trip

This book is billed as being enormously useful, and I think it is, but only if you plan the kind of trip the book caters to. That trip is renting a car and staying in delightful little out-of-the-way B&Bs. The book focuses on villages, towns, and the outskirts of the big cities, which means it didn’t have much of real use for me. I don’t feel like I wasted my money, though; the book had a tip in it that may have saved my entire trip from crashing and burning. And the forum on Michele’s site is full of helpful advice and helpful people, willing to pitch in and offer advice on pretty much any Ireland travel question you may have.

And, of course, the Interwebs

Seems like pretty much any place I wanted to go in Ireland had their own website. Some were better than others, but they all provided the basics: when the site is open to the public, what the cost is, stuff like that. Also, the hotels and guesthouses have their own sites, and the various tour companies. The trick is knowing what to search for, which is where I needed the books to start.


So, that’s the reading I did to figure out how I wanted this trip to work. Next time, I’ll talk a little bit about my actual planning process.

It’s getting close, now!

  1. I’m not sure I want to look at it. Everything’s already booked, and I don’t want to find something that makes me want to change. []
  2. Okay, now that’s just a tough title to turn into a possessive. I stand by my decision, though. []

Why Not a Package Tour?

When I first started looking at a trip to Ireland, my initial idea was to take a bus tour. The reason for this was three-fold: first, it would give me a nice sampling of Ireland, letting me figure out which things I wanted to see if I came a second time; second, picking a tour was easier than building my own; and third, they are remarkably inexpensive for what you get.

After doing some research, I was surprised to see that the various tour companies offer about 85% the same tours. That is, Exploring Ireland and CIE Tours and Authentic Ireland Travel and the others offer mostly the same tours, with the same names, as each other, though each also seems to have one or two exclusive tours. Now this doesn’t really bother me, because there are still a large number of tours to choose from, but it did strike me as curious.

Once I got past that, I started looking at the individual tours. I knew I wanted to go for at least two weeks, so I looked at the longer tours more carefully. I finally picked out the Irish Odyssey Tour, and started looking at all the things on it. It hit more of the things I wanted to see than pretty much any other tour.

But it also, like all the other tours, had a number of things that I’m just not interested in. I’m mainly interested in the history and music of Ireland, less so in things like crystal, woollen works, horse farms, or Japanese gardens1. I would rather not go to Belleek Pottery Factory, and instead spend a couple of hours at Dunluce Castle.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like I was putting up with seeing a bunch of stuff I wasn’t interested in in order to see a few of the things that I did want to see. That made me more and more dissatisfied with the idea of taking a bus tour of Ireland, despite the good experience I’ve had with similar things2. I came to the conclusion that I just have different interests than the target market of these tours.

Given that, the answer seemed to be to create my own tour. And that would take research. So, off I scampered to the book store, and loaded up on travel books for Ireland. Their advice was generally useful3 and, coupled with the list of things I knew I wanted to see based on my investigation of the package tours, I was able to plot out a list of must-sees, nice-to-sees, and might-sees.

One of the things that I discovered doing this research was that there are a number of small (sometimes large) tour companies that run day tours out of most of the major centres in Ireland. This makes it pretty easy to set up a few home-base stops, and to take day tours out from them to the interesting sites in the area, and lets me get some of the ease of package tours with the freedom and specificity of my own itinerary. Best of both worlds, really.

So, that’s why I decided to build my own tour.

  1. Honestly, if I wanted to see a Japanese garden in a country other than Japan, I could stay in Canada. Not that I don’t expect the one in Ireland to be very nice, but I have no interest in it. []
  2. The bus tour I took of New York City several years ago was awesome, and some friends had taken a bus tour of Europe a few years back that they spoke very highly of. []
  3. I plan to do a post at some point about which books I used, and how useful each was. []

Here We Go!

I’m heading to Ireland in September. It’s my first trip there – to anywhere on that side of the Atlantic, in fact – and am really looking forward to it. I’ve been wanting to go for years, and finally realized that I could go: I had the money, I had my passport, I had the flexibility in my job, and I had no commitments preventing me. So, I’ve spent the past several months slowly putting together my itinerary for the three-week trip.

I’ve come to realize that three weeks is both a long time to be traveling, and that it’s still not enough to see everything that I want to see. I’m not renting a car, relying instead on public transportation, so that puts some limits on what I’m able to do. I’ve got a list of must-see destinations, and my plan is to set myself in a few base cities, taking day tours out to the more remote locations. The one big exception to this is the Skelligs. I really want to see them, and am willing to invest the two nights in the village of Portmagee, which is quite a ways off the beaten track, for a boat trip out to the islands and a chance to climb to the monasteries on Skellig Michael.

So, having become addicted to sharing my thoughts with the Internet (as well as because of the interest of some friends and family), I’m going to be trying to keep an online diary of the trip, complete with pictures1. You can check out my itinerary (as it currently stands) here, or from the link under the banner.

I hope you enjoy it.

  1. Yeah, that’s right, photograph-hating Rick has even bought a camera for this trip. I think it deserves some visual documentation. []