Come away with Donegal Square! While on our guided deluxe coach tours, our guides will be happy to answer all of your questions and to give their expert advice. Start here for some advice on traveling in Ireland and the British Isles and don't be shy about reaching out with any additional questions prior to departure.
What to Pack
Here are our top 10 packing list items for Ireland and the British Isles
1. Seasonally Appropriate Clothes – In the UK there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. It gets cold in the winter, but it’s not all that warm in the summer either. Pack layers that can be mixed and matched, including a light jacket and Pashmina scarf or throw. Jeans are stylish, and warm in the winter, but are prone to getting soaked in the rain and damp. Having a pair of leggings or quick drying pants to bring along can be helpful for staying warm and dry when the weather turns.
2. UK Power Adapters – UK outlets and American electronics will not work together unless you use an adapter. The UK and Ireland use a higher voltage than the United States, and can easily destroy your electronics if you plug them in without an adapter. The electrical outlets are also in a different configuration than in the States, so you probably won’t be able to plug anything in without the adapter. In parts of the UK you may need to flip a switch on the wall to get the power outlets to actually work.
3. Rain Gear – A lightweight rain jacket you can easily put on over your layers, and then pack away into itself after the rain, is probably a better bet than carrying an umbrella.
4. Fold-up Shopping Tote and/or Small Day Pack – Most shops in the UK will charge 5p or more for a plastic shopping bag. It’s best to carry a lightweight shopping tote that rolls up into a pocket-sized pouch to carry your purchases. Using a small, lightweight backpack is great for carrying your sweater, camera, water bottle, etc. while you leave your large bag/luggage at the hotel or on the tour bus.
5. Refillable Water Bottle – Either bring along your own or save a plastic one to keep hydrated on the plane and walking around. The water in Scotland is especially delicious. If you bring one from home, make sure it’s empty before going through airport security, and fill it at a drinking fountain once you’ve been through.
6. Swimsuit – If you are traveling during high summer (July and August) you may want a suit for hitting the beaches. From October to March it will be much too cold to swim. Swimsuits are also useful for visiting any spas you may encounter.
7. Documents – Make sure your passport is up to date, and valid for at least three months beyond the length of your stay. Keep your plane, train, and rental car documents or vouchers; driver’s license and any other useful cards secured. Photocopies of your passport, and any credit cards (front and back) you’re traveling with and a couple of passport-type photos kept in your luggage can help you get replacements or cancel your cards quickly if the originals are lost or stolen. In your luggage, pack a record of all reservations (print outs of your email travel/lodging confirmations). Bring any necessary contact information if you have health or travel insurance.
8. Medication – When traveling, carry all your regular medications - in original packaging, with prescriptions, or a letter from your doctor or a list explaining what the medications are (using generic names) and what they are for. If you check your suitcase to fly, always carry your essential toiletries and any prescription medications in your carry-on bag. Carry extra contact-lenses, your lens prescription, and your glasses in a solid protective case.
9. Shoes – Make them sensible. Spending time in any city in the United Kingdom will involve a certain amount of walking. Bring comfortable flats and a pair of shoes that support your whole foot.
10. Scarves – Perfect for the plane, and the tour bus when the air conditioning may be too cold, useful as a quick rain hood, and they are great for dressing up your basic travel clothes in the evenings without taking up much space in your suitcase.
Optional fun items to bring along include a journal and pen or a travel-painting kit, small binoculars for viewing far off scenery, high church ceilings or other architectural details, an address list for mailing postcards, and a good book for any long down or travel times.
On the tour bus...
• Always be on time for the bus! It’s polite to your fellow travelers and ensures that everyone gets a full day of travel.
• Pack comfy clothes that are easy for sitting in for traveling on the bus.
• Have a good time! A positive attitude towards travel puts you and everyone else in the right mind to have a great time.
• Take advantage of every single ‘comfort’ stop en route, whether you need to or not. If anything stretch your legs and walk around during these - and any other stops - rather than sitting again.
• Travel light - it’s quicker and simpler to get off the bus and to your hotel room after a long day of travel if you don’t have much to carry in with you.
• Carry a small notebook – Jot down announcements, locations to remember, and any notes on your hotel room numbers and times of wake-up/breakfast/departure times for the next day. These can vary from day to day, and hotel to hotel, so having them written down is helpful.
• Pack a lightweight water bottle in your day bag and refill it as needed if you tend to get thirsty. Pack snacks or something to share around if you’d like. Hot beverages and food may not be easy to consume on the bus, and hot foods may irritate fellow travelers if it has a strong smell.
• If you decide to leave your hotel to explore; take one of their leaflets or business cards to find your way back or to show the address to a taxi driver or helpful local.
Traveling in Northern Ireland
1. Northern Ireland Uses a Different Currency – If you’re traveling to Ireland you will probably already know that it is split into two different countries, but may not have thought about some of the practicalities. As part of the UK, Northern Ireland uses pound sterling(£), not the euro as in the Republic of Ireland. Your international bank card will work perfectly in ATMs and chip and pin terminals on both sides of the border, but it’s worth knowing if you’re planning on having a shop using cash. Be sure to let your bank and credit card company know you’re going to Ireland and for how long. Most credit cards will work - definitely MasterCard, Visa, often Amex, but not Discover.
2. Avoid bringing up politics or religion – Just like in the States, proper etiquette is to not bring up politics or religion - historical or current - unless the other person brings them up first.
3. Tipping in the UK and Ireland – Generally, you do not need to tip at pubs in Ireland. Restaurants apply a service charge that replaces the tip. However, if the service was great, then an additional tip of 10-15% is sometimes left. Taxi drivers, hairdressers, and spa staff are generally tipped about 10%. Hotel porters will expect a tip of 2-5 euros/pounds per bag, depending on the quality of hotel and service provided.
4. Dress for the Weather – As I’m sure you’ve heard, Ireland can get wet. Days can go from rainy and overcast to bright, sunny and hot throughout a day. Wear layers and think about the right travel gear to stay dry and warm when it’s wet, and cool and breezy when the sun comes out. Make sure you’ve brought along a few pairs of good socks and comfy shoes as well. Weather in July is mid-summer in Ireland, although with it being around the same latitude as Nova Scotia, the weather can be chilly at night. We’ve had great luck with warm weather on our past tours. Bring along a swim suit, as we often have indoor pools and hot tubs to enjoy.
5. Dublin One-Night Stay – We’re highly recommending taking the optional one-night stay in Dublin before heading out on the tour, both for your enjoyment and also so that the tour takes off on time. Your Dublin free day can be whatever you prefer, but a good move is to take advantage of the city bus tours that hit all of the major sites. These hop-on-hop-off tours allow you to take as much time as you wish at each site. Donegal Square recommends the great shopping and walking on Grafton Street and Nassau Street, both have lots of street music buskers and local eateries. A personal favorite of Neville Gardner’s is the Kilkenny Design Centre for the great Irish crafts and pottery. The Centre is located just down the street from Trinity College, where the 6th Century Book of Kells is kept on view. Dublin is home to many lovely pubs and restaurants, the most famous of which is the Temple Bar district, right along the River Liffey, just across the Halfpenny Bridge. Dublin is a bustling town and has great energy, but as with all major cities beware of pickpockets and keep your passports secured.
6. Phone Home – Mobile phones have become our main mode of communication, the camera we use most often, and our entertainment center, so of course we want to use them as we do at home. However, it can get expensive. Using your phone in the UK and Ireland will require some pre-planning:
If you’re taking your own phone: TURN OFF YOUR DATA! Or keep your phone in airplane mode. Every little data transfer your phone makes on its own counts against your data plan, with roaming charges. Make sure to contact your cell phone provider and inquire about using your phone in Ireland. Confirm that it is compatible with GSM (Global System for Mobile) used in Europe, and then inquire about an International plan for during the month that you will be gone.
Purchase a UK/Ireland SIM Card: This only works if you have an ‘unlocked’ phone (most phones in the US are not), or an old phone that is not attached to any cell phone provider. With an ‘unlocked’ or older phone you can pick up a local SIM card at the SPAR in the Dublin airport, or at any Tesco, eirMobile, or Vodafone retailers.
Prepaid Cell Phone: If you just want a phone and don’t need a smartphone, you can pick up a disposable prepaid phone in locations throughout Ireland.
Use Free WiFi: Use the free wifi available all over Ireland to connect through Skype, FaceTime, or Google Voice. Beware of connecting over public wifi networks for data fishing and potential hacking.
7. Staying Connected – DonegalSquareTravels Facebook page will be continually updated during the trip by Neville, so you can invite your friends and family to follow along on the progress of your tour. An easy way of backing up your photos taken on your phone is to have the Google Photos App installed with the photo back up turned on for when you connect to wifi. Your photos will be backed up online and you can rescue some storage space on your phone if needed.
8. Travel Insurance – Get it! A comprehensive travel insurance policy that covers you the entire time you are away from home, like the one offered through Donegal Square Travels, is a great idea. Your policy should cover the following:
Cancellation or curtailment of your vacation due to medical or other reasons.
Loss or damage to your property and baggage.
Loss of cash, credit cards, Travelers Checks, etc.
Medical costs and personal accidents.
Don’t forget to pack a copy of your policy, contact phone numbers and instructions on how to make claims, if it becomes necessary.
9. Baggage – Check your airline for weight and size limits for luggage on your flight, and if there are any fees for checked baggage. On the tour bus, generally there is room for one large bag and one carry-on type bag, plus a backpack or other day bag. We recommend having at least one self packing small shopping tote to keep in your day bag, as most shops will charge a small fee for a plastic shopping bag.
10. If you’ve forgotten anything; find a Tesco or Pound Store (UK and Northern Irelands version of our Dollar Stores). Tesco’s are a cross between a Target and a Walmart and have everything from food to clothes. Beware that most shops in Ireland close very early during the week - around 6pm, even earlier on Sundays, and may be shut entirely due to a Bank Holiday. Talk to your tour guides if you need anything, and they will be able to help.
Traveling in Scotland
1. Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom; however, you are not in England when in Scotland, and none of the citizens are English, though all are British.
2. Never trust a blue sky – Within an hour, a typical day in Scotland can go through all four seasons. Scotland is famously wet and windy. Bring along a good waterproof jacket and water-resistant shoes for a more comfortable trip. Don’t let the rain stop you from going out!
3. Glasgow is all about the music – Buskers around the city center, and stay overnight to check out one of the many live music venues.
4. Increase your chances of spotting Nessie in Loch Ness, have a wee dram ahead of time.
5. Don’t lift up a man’s kilt, or ask what’s underneath, or take a sneaky picture. Act cool and swoon inside. :) Feel free to wear a kilt yourself; however you should be aware that most Scottish people only wear kilts on special occasions, and walking around Edinburgh in one will tag you as an American.
6. Linger in Edinburgh if you can… but don’t miss Glasgow! We’re highly recommending the optional one-night stay in Glasgow before embarking on the tour. Not only does it give you a chance to explore the city, but it will also ensure that everyone leaves on time the morning of the tour.
7. Hunt for Ghosts – ghost-themed experiences in Scotland, where each city has its haunted tours, apparitions, and mysterious creaks, are a fascinating and spine-tingling way to explore historic towns.
8. Money – In Scotland, you will encounter different pound Sterling notes (also referred to as “Quid(s)”) to those you may see in England, as Scotland issues their own designs for bank notes, often featuring iconic Scottish scenes or people. The notes you are likely to see are the £5, £10 and £20; however, you will end up using coins for the majority of your small purchases. Coins come in 1p (pence), 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and £1 and £2. You may want to bring along a coin purse to corral them.
9. Say Hello! In much of Scotland, especially the rural areas, walking past someone and not giving a quick hello, or ‘how are you? to acknowledge their presence is considered rude.
10. General Safety – Scottish people pride themselves on their famous hospitality and will often go out of their way to make sure visitors are well-treated. However, in the larger cities it is wise to pay attention to your surroundings, as you would in any large city. Keep your wits about you and you should have no problems.
11. Scottish Breakfast – Just do it; it’s delicious and will keep you going for most of the day. Typically a full breakfast will include eggs, bangers (sausages), rashers (bacon), tattie scones (potato pancakes), black pudding, tomato, sautéed mushrooms, sometimes beans in a tomato sauce, tea/coffee, toast and jam, and maybe an assortment of cold items like cereals and fruit salads. You might also be offered smoked salmon or kippers, and maybe even a bit of haggis.
12. Dress – Scotland is the country for practicality. While there are certainly some places you could dress up when in Edinburgh or Glasgow, for the most part you will be happier in practical clothing, with layers and comfortable - and flat - warm shoes. Your rain jacket should be kept handy. If you do bring some more stylish clothing, be advised, Edinburgh is on a steep hill and full of cobblestone, so flat shoes will still work best.
13. Getting around without the Tour Group. Scotland has great options for public transportation, and you may want to explore using them before renting a car. Taking taxis in Edinburgh and the underground railroad in Glasgow are great, inexpensive ways to get around the cities. For more information, visit Smartertravel.com
14. Visit the attractions. All public museums are free to enter (although some special exhibits may cost a few pounds). Major tourist attractions, such as the Edinburgh Castle, cost under £20. You can find free walking tours in the major cities, though expect to be asked for a tip, usually under £10, at the end.
15. Don’t feel inadequate if you cannot understand the locals for the first few days, or more. Just ask them to repeat (and maybe repeat.) It may take some time to get your Scottish accent translator ear in.
16. Embrace the Queue (pronounced ‘kew). The Scottish do like to queue, i.e. stand in orderly lines and wait for their turn, please don’t barge ahead.
17. Pronunciation. Do your best on place names, and embrace being corrected if your try is especially awkward. Some hints are that Edinburgh is not pronounced Edin-borrow, but Edin-bur-a or maybe Edin-bra if you’re in a hurry. The main shopping street in Edinburgh is called ‘Princes Street’ not ‘Princess Street’. Loch is ‘Lough’, and with a few exceptions, the stress in a Scots word always comes on the first syllable. For example, “Shetland”, “Glasgow”, “Barra” and “Galloway” are pronounced “SHET-land”, “GLAS-gow”, “BAR-ra” and “GALL-o-way”.
18. If you are lucky enough to capture one of the elusive Haggis, be sure to take a picture to show the rest of us before taking them to one of the local pubs to be cooked into the national dish of Scotland. They’re delicious served with some neeps and tatties.