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Setting off solo to Ireland is an easy thing to do

by Chad Seamon, SPECIAL TO THE CITIZEN-TIMES published June 17, 2007 12:15 am

ASHEVILLE — As a travel agent dealing 100 percent in Ireland travel, I am often asked about the self-drive bed and breakfast packages in Ireland. Questions include “Is driving in Ireland difficult? Should we pre-book B&Bs or find them while in Ireland? Is it safe to travel alone, and which itinerary do you recommend?”

I have written this article for those adventurous types who like to do things on a whim, for those who don’t have time to wait around for indecisive friends to decide whether or not they want to take the trip. Life is too short to be waiting around for others.

Direct flights to Ireland are readily available throughout the year, so getting there is not a problem. Direct flights to Ireland depart from Boston, Chicago, New York, Newark, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta and now Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Orlando. Connecting flights are also in abundance, so reaching Ireland from anywhere in the United States is feasible.

Question: Should I pre-book B&Bs?

Answer: Well, this depends on when you plan to travel. But I can assure you that you will never be without shelter. Ireland’s heaviest-traveled months are July, August and September.

In the smaller, less-traveled areas of the country, you’ll find B&Bs in abundance. When you head into the more touristy areas, you may want to think about planning ahead.

In areas such as Galway, Killarney, Dingle, Cork and Dublin, it may be tougher to find prime locations. These areas will still have B&Bs available, but they may not be within walking distance to town. I booked my first solo B&B trip to Ireland one week prior to departure, and it was scheduled during the last week of May. I pre-booked a couple B&Bs and found the rest while on the island. I didn’t have trouble finding a place anywhere.

Most travel agencies offer packages with B&B vouchers to be used at more than 1,200 B&Bs throughout the country. Some B&Bs do not accept these vouchers because they can get away with charging the same rates as a hotel.

Dublin is one of these areas but a B&B along the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) can be just as good. Towns such as Malahide, Howth and Portmarnock are located along the DART and it can be taken into the city at around a couple euros. Not only will you avoid Dublin’s traffic, but you’ll get to relax in some of Ireland’s most beautiful areas along the Irish Sea.

Q: How old must you be to drive in Ireland?

A: You must be between 24 and 70 years of age to drive in the Republic of Ireland. Those 21 to 23 or 71 to 75 years of age must also pay an additional surcharge of 26 euros a day if they wish to drive (must be purchased at rental counter). Northern Ireland’s policies are similar but at higher rates.

Q: Is it going to be tough driving in Ireland?

A: Sure, at first, but you learned to ride a bike right? If it is your first trip to Ireland, you should think about an automatic car.

Not only will you be driving on the opposite side of the road, but you’ll also be sitting on “our” passenger side and shifting with your left hand.

You may also want to think about flying into Shannon and departing from Dublin. Shannon is a smaller airport, and you won’t be overwhelmed when you drive for the first time.

You’ll have a few days to learn the system before you conquer Dublin. There are a lot of tourists driving in Ireland, and the locals don’t want to be lagging behind you the whole time.

Q: What type of car rental insurance do I need?

A: Travelers often purchase CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) before departing but fail to realize it doesn’t cover everything. Travel agents offer only the CDW because the other types of insurance can only be purchased at the rental counter. CDW covers only damage to the car but doesn’t cover the deductible.

The deductible is $1,000 and can be covered in two ways. You can give your credit card information for them to hold in case you damage the car, at which point your card will be charged.

Your second option is to pay an additional 12 to 20 euros (depending on car) a day for deductible insurance, which is what I recommend. Some rental agencies also charge 25 euros for Location Service Charge. Don’t ask me why; I think it is a total scam. They claim the LSC is charged only if you don’t prepay for insurance, but they’ll try to add it even if you have prepaid.

Q: Do credit card companies cover rental insurance?

A: Many credit card companies used to cover rental insurance costs if you purchased the trip with their card, but fewer companies are offering this benefit. Some companies still offer this (MasterCard Platinum & Gold) and I recommend you contact your credit card company before you book any trip to Ireland. I know it seems like a lot but don’t let the rental companies ruin your Ireland adventure.

Q: Is Ireland safe?

A: It’s funny how people ask this question when traveling to Ireland, but don’t think twice about visiting any of our own major cities. Ireland is like any other country in the world. You have your good and bad areas anywhere you go. Use common sense when you travel. Ireland has a lot of rural areas so your biggest fear might be forgetting to fill up your gas tank, in which case you better have some good walking shoes.

Q: Can you recommend an itinerary?

A: Most agencies will make recommendations, but wouldn’t it be more fun to create your own itinerary? This is half the fun of traveling throughout Ireland.

With a rental car and open B&B vouchers, you can do anything and go anywhere you want. If you plan to visit the Cliffs of Moher and decide you would rather see the Dingle Peninsula, you can. Or better yet, do both. It’s your vacation, your adventure, so it’s your call.

One of Ireland’s greatest characteristics is its abundance of things to do.

It is as if it were created for those with adventure in their soul.

Chad Seamon is owner of Chad’s Irish Tours (www.chadsirishtours.com) in Asheville.

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