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.
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.
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.