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. []