Updated: Mar 24, 2020
Ireland has always called my name. Since I was a child, I have had a deep connection to it. I grew up in a family of wild Turners and McGinns who celebrated their Irish roots and am proud to have the Northern Irish last name of McElroy. My entire DNA is made up of those who were courageous enough to get on wooden ships and sail from Britain in search of a better life. So for me, going to the United Kingdom and Ireland is like going home. I am not rich, at all, unfortunately. But I have still managed to visit the UK and Ireland five times since 2017 and thought it's finally time to share my cheap-o tips!
TIP # 1: TAKE THE CHEAPEST FLIGHT FROM BOSTON
This one might seem like a no brainer. Who wants to pay for first class or nonstop airfare when they are struggling to save for a flight in the first place? The cheapest flights you will ever find to Shannon or Dublin will be from Boston. It's only a five hour flight and there are a ton of Irish going back and forth to visit the mass amount of Irish families that reside in Boston, so there are constant flights running. I always use Skyscanner and select flights on Wednesdays or Mondays. I will fly economy airlines like Norwegian and take the slowest flight there. It just gives me more time for airport pints in-between. Don't live near Boston? No worries. Neither do I. It's sometimes worth it to take a $40 Frontier Airlines flight to Boston and flying from there. Each time I have flown to Dublin, my airfare was under $500. This even included a few Aer Lingus flights, which are my favorite. I am pretty sure their stewardesses are actual faeries and they give you multiple meals with wee Kerrygold packets (imagine me squealing with glee every time...)
TIP #2: GO IN THE OFF SEASON
Sure, you'd love to frolic down the Irish hills in the warm sunshine. However, chances are when it is time to go kiss the Blarney Stone, your face will be completely buried in the ass of a French tourist because the lines will be so long. I went to Northern Ireland during the summer and we had to constantly fight for parking spaces with 'Paddywagon' tour buses and long lines. My trip during October, however, was a breeze. Not only were a few of our Bed and Breakfasts lowering their rates for the off-season but at times it seemed we had tourist attractions to ourselves. The Cliffs of Moher are absolutely bombarded in the summer (thanks to Pinterest) but in October, we had plenty of space to take photos and enjoy the views. Is it colder in the off season? Sure. But then you get the authentic, Irish experience.
TIP # 3: FORGET THE HOTEL AND STAY IN HOSTELS
This is the part that freaks most Americans out. How was I not chopped into a million pieces in European hostels? How was all my stuff not stolen? Didn't it smell in there? Let's face it, none of that happened. Possibly the smelly feet one but that's why you leave the windows open. Hostels are the cheapest way to travel. Period. When I plan my trips, I usually rent the cheapest rental car there is and then choose what major places I want to go to. Then I reserve my hostel bed on Hostelworld where the average bed is about 15-28 USD. It doesn't matter how old you are or if you have children, hostels are always a go-to option. For families, they have private rooms (most hostels even have quiet hours) and free coffee, tea and breakfast. Many of them are in historic buildings or located in the center of town. I remember falling asleep with the windows open in Galway, at a hostel over a pub, listening to the sweet Celtic fiddles lulling me to sleep until 2 am. I'd choose sharing a room with strangers for $14 and having that experience over a Marriot full of Americans anyway. Believe it or not, in hostels you make friends too. I have shared beers with Germans and gone out on the town with Americans from other states, all in Ireland.
TIP # 4: START A COFFEE CAN FUND
When I know I have an overseas trip coming up, I immediately start to fill my coffee can of spending money. Castles cost money (I recommend joining the National Trust if you frequent the UK enough), pubs cost money, scones cost money, a tea towel with the Irish harp on it for Grandma costs money. If you want to travel with spare money, all you have to do is utilize your grocery store. Every time I go grocery shopping months before a trip, I will take out anywhere from $1-$5 in cash and stick it in my pub money jar. (You call it wanderlust or adventure money but I know where I am using it anyways). I will also hoard my cash rewards with my bank account and utilize Ibotta when I grocery shop. It's amazing how much you can actually save up without even feeling it. One trip to Ireland, I ended up with $200 cash in about 5 months worth of saving without thinking. Don't forget, you have to consider the exchange rate when all is said and done (the Euro in Ireland and the Pound in Northern Ireland fluctuates).
TIP #5: DRINK WITH THE LOCALS
Let's face it, the Irish know how to have a craic at the pub. You'll want to join in. However, the price of your pint will skyrocket when you are drinking in Dublin versus a town like Killorglin that isn't completely saturated with tourists. Dublin is a fun city but places like The Temple Bar is basically full of Americans who want to take selfies with a pint of $8 Guinness and then leave a full one on the table. Pop into a small town and the locals will most likely chat you up and buy you a pint or two.
TIP #6: GO WITH A CLOWN CAR
A lot of travelers on a budget will automatically resort to the train and bus option for exploring Ireland and Northern Ireland. The fear of driving on the other side of the road in a rental car is a real thing. I can promise you, if I haven't died doing it, you won't either. Manual cars are cheaper to rent there than automatics and you do have to pay a fee for insurance but other than that, the freedom a rental car gives you is epic. When you take a tour bus, you are on their schedule and can't soak in the views for as long as you'd like. You can't stop off into small towns for lunch or at random ruins you can see from the motorway. Buses and trains can add up too. It is worth renting the cheapest, smallest clown car they have and truly hitting the road for the week in whatever way you want. I believe my rental car in Ireland cost around $150 for the week, which was nothing considering the train can be $40 one way.
TIP #7: LIVE OUT OF A BACKPACK
I have learned that is is better to pack too little than to pack too much. Bringing a large suitcase only means you will be paying to lug that bag on most economy flights. If you do not reserve your bags ahead of time, the fee sky rockets at check in. I have a North Face backpack that fits more than enough for my journeys. It is cold and rainy in Ireland, so you'll want to wear your thick boots and coats on the plane and roll up the rest of your clothing for the week in your bag. I will only bring a few pairs of pants and have been known to hand wash my underwear in a tiny bed and breakfast sink. By the end of your hostel world tour, you'll be sick of all the clothes you wore for the past week but your wallet will thank you for living out of a bag.
I hope these tips help you plan the trip you have been wanting to take for a lifetime. Sometimes all it takes is just booking that ticket and letting the rest plan itself as the months go one. Travel shouldn't ever stress you out, it should give you the most joy.
And, as ever, if you want to elope in the United Kingdom or Ireland, shoot me an email and we can get planning.