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26-year-old female traveling alone - tips?

Hi guys!

I haven't pulled the trigger yet on Ireland because of the possibility of having to travel alone for half of the duration of the trip. For the first 4 days or so, i'll be with some friends in Dublin, but because everyone is doing just a long weekend trip and I hate to waste an international flight ticket, my preference would be to stay for almost a week longer.

What are your recommendations in terms of itinerary, place to stay, and transportation???

Ideally i would love to meet people at clean, nice hostels and have some companions. Is that realistic?

Is it better to drive (not sure if driving's the same as in the US) to take trains/buses?

What are some must see spots outside of Dublin for ~6 days?

Your help is greatly appreciated!

Angela

Posted by
1878 posts

Ireland is tough as a solo traveler, since rental cars are so expensive (we paid $70 per day on our May 2016 trip including insurance), and the best stuff is in the countryside and smaller towns. I found Kilkenny to be a surprisingly nice and fun city—it did not make so strong of an impression when we were there in 2002. You can get bus tours to Glendalough/Powerscourt Gardens and the Bru na Boyne sights from Dublin. Might be on the expensive side, but better that the expense and cost of renting a car. You could take the bus to Cork and day trip to Kinsale, too. Or bus or train to Galway. I did not find Galway to be a must see, just not that much there (though a very nice town), but for a younger person might be a good stop. You can also get tours out of Galway to Connemara or even the Aran Islands.

Posted by
251 posts

Well its not independent travel you should look at busabout. It is a backpacker bus that is a cross between a tour and independent travel. I have not use them but used similar companies in Australia and New Zealand. At a few of my hostel in Europe this summer I meet people who were using the service. They have a set route and you decide on how many days in each place and catch the next bus. Think you may need to book ahead not sure. I loved the concept when I used it. Mostly a backpacker crowd with activities planned in some cities at night (think pub crawl) but a good way to get around places that are more out of the way.

Wendy

Posted by
16877 posts

You should do it. I did drive myself on my first UK and Ireland trips, at your age. It takes a day to get used to driving on the opposite side of the road and you have to plan your route carefully, noting all the towns you'll pass through, since the signage on smaller roads often just points to the next-town options. See also:

https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/driving-europe-tips

https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/driving-in-great-britain-and-ireland

The Cashel Hostel at that time had a very friendly welcome, kitchen, parking, etc. Really, people are very friendly all over Ireland. Dingle is one of our favorite towns and has at least two private hostel options suggested in Rick's Ireland guidebook.

If you don't have the book yet, see these Ireland itinerary priorities to start.

Posted by
30 posts

Thanks for your suggestions guys!! Greatly appreciated.

Wendy, the backpacking bus sounds delightful, especially if i'll be traveling alone for some time.

What are your general thoughts on car renting in ireland? i've heard some horror stories online but i also understand that usually only the people with bad experiences will write a review...oh and, just how difficult/bad is it to drive on the left side of the road and right side of the car??

Posted by
224 posts

Renting a car and driving alone wasn't a big deal for me. I have experience on small country backroads in the U.S., so the narrow roads weren't too big of a transition, although there was some adjustment.

It is more expensive without someone to share fuel costs and the rental costs, but it is more convenient and allows you to set your schedule better. I enjoyed lingering in places where I couldn't have if I had been on a tour.

Trying to navigate and drive is the biggest challenge, so I downloaded Google Maps into my phone before I left and then used the offline voice navigation feature while driving. It made a big difference. Many of the streets are not well marked for drivers, so trying to use a map or written directions and find a street sign will also driving would be tough.

I wouldn't try to drive in Dublin, but renting at the airport was easy, and getting out of and back to the rental lot was easy.

I enjoyed staying in hostels when I was younger, but need a bit more privacy and convenience now that I'm older. I used Airbnb and regular guesthouses and B&B's, and met a number of pleasant people that way. Some of these are pretty inexpensive (not as cheap as hostels, though).

I would encourage you to stay after your friends leave and enjoy extra time in the country. I frequently did that in my 20's because my friends had less vacation time than I did. It's great to travel with friends, but then have some extra time on your own. Both experiences are valuable and have different advantages, and I haven't met anyone who has said, "I wish I had spent less time travelling when I was young" or "I wish I had spent less time in Ireland."

Posted by
30 posts

^I will absolutely use navigation. I don't even use maps or written directions in the US! I'm from both Boston and NYC so i feel like i've seen some crazy driving and stupid streets. And my car here is a pretty big sedan. I'm really only worried about not being able to drive on the opposite sides. I just downloaded Google Maps now that you mentioned it. I'm usually a Wazer but it seems like Waze doesn't support Europe...

I found some trips on Viator that seem to be pretty good but like you said, the restrains that organized tour groups put on you is not my favorite either...

I am very torn!

Posted by
30 posts

Anyway, here are 2 options i came up with.

Option A (mostly self drive)
Day 1-3: Dublin with friends
Day 4: Leave Dublin early morning to Glendalough and sleep in Kilkenny
Day 5: Drive to Kinsale, explore and sleep in Kinsale
Day 6: Early departure for Dingle Peninsula - sleep in Dingle
Day 7: Another day in Dingle...Blasket Island and others???
Day 8: Early departure for Cliffs of Moher. Sleep in Doolin
Day 9: Extra day for Cliffs of Moher (in case of bad weather the previous day) or Arran Islands or Burren etc....Drop car off at Shannon Airport at late night. Last night at Airport hotel before flight at 8am next morning.

Option B (less car rental)
Day 1-3: Dublin with friends
Day 4: Take train to Galway early morning --> Aran Islands (Do you catch the ferry from the city or do you need a car???) --> Sleep in Galway
Day 5: Connemara (Is there a bus that you can take to go the Park and back to the city???) --> Sleep in Galway
Day 6: TAKE RENTAL CAR IN EARLY MORNING FROM GALWAY --> Cliffs of Moher --> Sleep Dingle
Day 7: Dingle Peninsula Loop (self drive) --> Sleep Dingle
Day 8: Blasket Island (no car needed???) --> Sleep Dingle
Day 9: Extra day for Cliffs of Moher in case of bad weather and shift D6-D8 around --> Drive to Airport Hotel/drop off car. Sleep.

I might be leaning towards Option B now b/c it seems more manageable in terms of time, driving, hotel changes, etc. What do you guys think??

Posted by
988 posts

Have you considered hopping a cheap flight to London when your friends leave. You'd have multiple days there with so much to see and o need to rent a car.
I get your need to stay for more than a long weekend. It is a waste of transatlantic airfare. I can't I imagine anything less than 3 weeks. But that's my frugal side talking.

Posted by
3500 posts

Angela, You said you will be there "...almost a week longer..." after your friends depart. That really is not as much time as it seems, because it almost always take longer to go from Place A to Place B than anticipated. You might wind up spending as much time "transporting" as you do enjoying. Personally I'd opt to stay in Dublin and do day trips from there using public transportation or short day tours. Don't mean to rain on your parade, just food for thought. Whatever you decide, enjoy your trip!!

Posted by
30 posts

TC, I changed it around a little in my Option 2 route to just really the Dingle and Galway area, with the last night at the airport. and I'll be taking the train directly from Dublin to Galway. I thought that might slow things down a bit just sticking to two areas...

Still not doable in your opinion?

Posted by
3500 posts

Keeping it to just Galway and Dingle sounds much better. Might still be a bit rushed, but definitely better and doable.

Posted by
85 posts

Both options look great.
In response to one of your original questions - hostels in Ireland are some of the nicest I have stayed in. There must be 200 around the island and most are small, friendly places, often in smaller towns and villages. Check independenthostelsirelandireland, irishhostelsinternational, and booking.com.
You were right to plan differently based on whether you rent a car. It comes down to how comfortable you feel driving and your budget. I have been to Ireland 5 times over the years, 4 by bicycle and 1 by public transit. I never had any problems with the roads and found it far more comfortable than driving in England. That being said, it will increase the cost of your trip.
My comments on options A an B are:
A - This trip really does need a car but covers a really good mixture of places. It would be my preference.
I would change it as follows::
Day 4 - Powerscourt in the morning, then Glendalough overnight at the IHI. By 5 pm most of the tourists have gone and you have the trails and sites all to yourself. The hostel is right by the monastery and has parking. The village is tiny and it could be a quiet first night after late nights with friends in Dublin or a short walk to the pub.
Day 5 - I would carry on to Killkenny, see the castle and cathedral in the afternoon and head out for some traditional music in the evening. Kilkenny is one of many centres for trad music. I stayed at an excellent hostel in the town centre but not sure if they have parking.
Day 6 - Carry on visiting Cashel and then on to Kensale. Kensale is lovely but I am not sure if there is a hostel. If you don't want to splurge on a B&B, there are several hostels along the coast. I enjoyed the one in Aihilles but it extends your driving time by about 2 hours.
Day 7 - Carry along the coast to Dingle. Despite being full of tourists, Dingle is well worth a 2 day visit. I stayed at a hostel about a mile out of town in an old manor house on a hill and it was spectacular but the walk could be a bit long after the pub close ( if you were planning to go out at night you may want to be closer to town ).
Day 8 - Tourist stuff - Blaskett or Skellig Island by boat.
Day 9 - leave through Connor Pass to see Cliff of Moher and Burrens then drop off the car at airport hotel.
Option B
Day 4 - train to Galway, then late afternoon bus to National Park. I was there several years ago and loved it. I camped but I remember atleast 1 hostel and pubs with live music.
Day 5 - hike or cycle around the park and see the Abbey.
Day 6 - back to Galway and see the town, maybe an afternoon tour to the Cliffs,
( alternatively, depending on ferries, take afternoon sail to the main Aran Island and stay overnight - I stayed at a hostel in a former hotel on the harbour ). There are only a couple of boats each day and there is a bus from Galway for each ferry.
Day 7 - see the island and return to Galway.
Day 8 - take a day trip to Cliffs, Burren or Cong.
Day 9 - see the sights of Galway, maybe rent a bike and fire out to a countryside pub for lunch, then take the evening bus to Shannon Airport hotel.
The direct buses run every 1 to 2 hours and take just over an hour.
I really recommend that you add on the extra 6 days to get some time in the Irish countryside and whatever you end up doing, I am sure that you will enjoy your trip.

Posted by
552 posts

I would not worry about travelling alone in Ireland, it's a very friendly place. I did three weeks of bus/train travel on my own because at the time a car rental was a little too pricey. Several years later I rented a car to tour Scotland alone and had no trouble adjusting to driving on the left side of the road. If you are only going to have a week after your friends leave, and you aren't going to rent a car then I think your plan to take the train to Galway is best. I spent four days in Galway, and it was my favourite place in Ireland. There are lots of bus tours you can book to see the sights: Aran Islands, Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, the Burren, and you can hear some great traditional music in Galway as well. The hostel was a little institutional, but I met a lot of friendly travellers there, and it also provided a small breakfast. I stayed in hostels in Killarney, Kilkenny, and Kinsale also, and the only one I didn't like was the one in Kilkenny. It wasn't clean, and not much security. This was over a dozen years ago, though, so it may have changed.

Posted by
224 posts

Angela,

Driving on the left doesn't take much adjustment for most people. You do have to be more mindful at first, especially when pulling out into an intersection, but it's never been a big problem.

If you go with option B, you can catch a bus in Galway that takes you to the ferry to the Aran Islands. You can buy the ticket for both in advance. It does leave early in the morning. Driving from Galway to the Cliffs of Mohr and then to Dingle offers a number of scenic views, so it is worth having several days for that. If you have extra time, you might drive to some sights in the Burren as well. It's a different landscape from the Cliffs and Dingle. A scenic day trip north of Galway would also be worthwhile.

Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
1276 posts

Angela, I also would encourage you to think option b, with or without renting a car, but if you can drive in Boston, you can drive in Ireland!!! except for the "wrong side of the road" issue, I'd say it would be at worst like navigating around cape cod on a summer weekend. However, I do remember, when we were approaching from northern Ireland to try to drop our rental car off at the Dublin airport, the airport signs (an icon of a plane) seemed to be about 8 inches square. maybe they were actually larger, but they were hard to spot.

I don't know what you and your friends are doing those days in Dublin, but I remember the choices my friends and I would have made at age 26 :) and I'd be tempted to add a day in Dublin at beginning or end without the car to do anything you wanted but your friends didn't......I could spend a day alone at trinity college (book of kells, there's some immigration stuff there) and cool shopping in the area, plus definitely the Famine Statues...... history museum......etc

Posted by
30 posts

Thank you everyone again for your input!

I just pulled the trigger :)

Flying into Dublin and out of Shannon. Taking Option 2. I'm almost certain i'll be taking a rental car...but i probably won't book until i'm there because i think the weather will dictate my days. Hopefully it will want to work with me.