Top Tips for Your First Trip to Europe

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First time traveling to Europe? There’s a lot to consider for your first big trip abroad! If you’ve reached out to us to help you plan, you know most of the details are already taken care of. All that’s left is to pack, get on the plane, and enjoy your adventure! But even with a trusted travel agent by your side, it can feel a bit daunting heading to a completely unfamiliar place. Aside from preparing for the extra-long flight, what else do you need to know before you go? As seasoned European travelers, here are our top tips:


What to Pack: No matter where you’re going in Europe, you will be guaranteed to need three things: comfortable walking shoes, layers, and adapters. Your favorite dress shoes might look amazing, but if you’ve never walked farther than from the restaurant to your car in them, they need to stay home. Generally, the weather is constantly changing throughout the day. Fresh mornings give way to sweltering midday before cooling down again into beautiful evenings. To cover these changes you’ll need to bring some lovely light layers. Finally, you’ll need to select an all-purpose adapter to allow your US plugs to fit into a European outlet. Plus a converter if you’re bringing a US appliance (like a hairdryer) that can’t handle their stronger voltage.

Pack Light: Even with careful planning, at some point on your adventure you’ll need to lift your suitcase. It won’t be over your head, perhaps just a small step into your hotel, up and over the bridges of Venice, or simply over the gap between the train and the platform. But you want to be sure you pack a suitcase that you can manage and maneuver. Check out our packing it all in a carry-on guide – even if you don’t plan on fitting it all in a carry-on, you’ll find some good tips to help you minimize. 

[Photo Credit: Liz via Shared Adventures]

Important Items: Make sure you pack all medicines, important phone numbers, a change of clothes, and expensive items/ electronics in your carry-on bag. Anything you need in the first 48hrs goes in the carry-on in case your luggage is delayed or lost.

Your Phone

Check with your provider: Communicating while abroad is important – whether with other people in your group or with your friends and family back home. Or, if you need to access maps, use handy travel apps, post on social media, or check other internet info. Check with your mobile phone provider in advance to see what their international plan is, how to set it up, and whether it’s worth using. 

Offline: If you decide you don’t want to use your provider’s international plan, you must put your phone into Airplane mode to avoid roaming charges. Even if you’re not actively using your phone, unless it’s in airplane mode, it’s using data. It’s also worth looking up how to download offline maps. This will help you so much when you’re jumping from wifi to wifi. 

[Photo Credit: Angela Compagnone via Unsplash]

Connecting: Most crucially, when you’re abroad, you’ll need to dial the country code to contact anyone. Here’s how to do that (works for both iPhone and Android). Secondly, we cannot recommend WhatsApp enough. Everyone in Europe has and communicates through WhatsApp. That includes your tour guides, your drivers, and even some restaurants. Imagine trying to make a dinner reservation when you don’t speak the language. Instead of struggling to communicate, you type out the request in a translator app. Then, simply send the translation to the restaurant via WhatsApp text! Easy, simple, and with no misunderstandings! WhatsApp also works off of the wifi/ mobile data. So even if you decide not to set up an international plan, you can communicate! 

Money Matters

Check With Your Bank: You’ll want to check your bank’s foreign transaction fees and currency conversion rates. Be sure to let them know you’re traveling so they don’t flag any card purchases by mistake. If you have a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees (like a Capital One or Chase Sapphire) now is the time to use it! Also, be sure to bring a Visa/Mastercard since many places won’t accept Amex or Discover

In Belgium Beth showing off her chocolate- shopping bags in the Brussels Shopping Mall

Cash vs Card: It’s not necessary to get a huge amount of foreign currency before you leave, but you’ll need some pocket money. The general rule is: anything under 10€ should be paid in cash. Some places won’t accept cards if it’s under 10€ and sometimes it’s more polite to pay for tips, taxis, cups of coffee, etc in cash. Plus, public toilets will only take 1€ coins. Remember: 1€ and 2€ are coins so don’t just get rid of “spare change”! For larger purchases in shops and restaurants, you can use your card to get the best exchange rate and some added protections. 

[Photo Credit: Beth & Bob via Shared Adventures Travel – check out their Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris Adventure here! ]

Tipping: While in Europe, resist the urge to tip the way you do in the US. In restaurants check to see if a service charge is already on the bill. If not, and if you’re inclined to tip, don’t leave any more than 10%. Tip tour guides and drivers 2€ -10€ per person. For taxis, you can round up to the nearest Euro. European service workers, in general, make a living wage and do not need/expect a generous American-style tip.


Language: Of course, they speak a different language! In major cities, a lot of the service industry at least speak English related to their jobs. But it’s always nice for you to try to meet them halfway. Always try to learn “hello & goodbye”, “ please & thank you”, “ do you speak English?” and “Where is the toilet?” These all go a long way. Don’t forget all the signs will be in the foreign language as well! Luckily, in transport areas like train stations and airports, you’ll often see English in small letters underneath.

Dining Times: Throughout most of Europe the dining times are more specific. Many places, especially in Italy, Portugal, and Spain, close down for an afternoon siesta between 2:30 pm – 7 pm.

To avoid only finding sad sandwiches for lunch, make sure you’re getting lunch before 2 pm. Similarly, many restaurants don’t serve dinner until 7 pm. Certainly, there are a few open earlier, and in big cities, some are open all day. However, you’ll limit your choices if you’re trying to eat dinner before 7 pm.

[Photo Credit: Hilary and Zackary via Shared Adventures Travel — read about their Rome & Amalfi Coast Honeymoon here!]

delicious meal in southern Italy

Finally, in Europe, water doesn’t come automatically to the table. If you want water, you’ll have to order it and it usually is only available by bottle without ice.

Rooms: Unless you’re booking a suite, most of the hotel rooms and beds tend to be smaller than typical American standards. And that includes the bathrooms. 


Be Informed: To keep yourself informed, you can enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This is a free service that allows you to pre-register your travel plans with the US State Department. This way, they can keep you informed of safety conditions at your destination(s). Plus, the US Embassy will know how to reach you in the event of an emergency (including a family emergency at home). To enroll in STEP, visit To keep others informed – make sure you leave a full itinerary with a reservation number with a friend or family member. 

Overlooking Paris at sunset from the Arc du Triomphe

Keep Tabs on your Belongings: As with any crowded city or location, you want to make sure to keep an eye on your belongings. Don’t leave your phone in your back pocket, and have a bag that goes across your body and has zippers/ multiple pockets. 

[Photo Credit: Kim & Paul via Shared Adventures — read about their Paris Adventure here!]

Standard Precautions: Even though you are on vacation, please follow the same health/safety precautions you would if you were closer to home. Don’t drink to excess (especially in the hot sun), and never leave a drink unattended. Don’t wander around alone at night; practice the buddy system. Lock your hotel room windows and doors (and use the deadbolt provided, or bring an inexpensive door wedge or travel lock of your own). Leave expensive jewelry and electronics at home, and keep valuables in a safe and secure place (such as the in-room safe). If you run into legal trouble or are the victim of a crime, reach out to the nearest US Embassy for assistance. Your rights/responsibilities are different in foreign countries. 

While there will always be new things to discover on each adventure you take, we hope this blog has helped you feel more prepared to tackle your first big trip abroad! Now you’re ready to step off the plane and enjoy your European Adventure stress-free. Bookmark this page for later and if you would like some help planning your next adventure let us know!

Top 5 Destinations to Celebrate Halloween

Whether you adore dressing up for the day, can’t wait to take the kids trick-or-treating, revel in scary stories, or just enjoy a great themed party – Halloween is a perfect time to celebrate Fall. Although it feels like a modern holiday, Halloween can trace its roots back to the ancient pagan festival of Samhain. Samhain celebrates the change of seasons and the transition from summer to winter — a time when the veil between our world and the other world is at its thinnest. While every destination that celebrates Halloween will have the traditional core elements, there are a few destinations that stand above the rest for their Halloween style.

Fire performer at the Derry Halloween Festival [Photo Credit: Mitch Hodge via Unsplash]


Since Halloween can trace its origins back to Gaelic and Celtic culture, it seems fitting to celebrate in Ireland! Wander through historic castle ruins, and feel the lines of magic and reality blur at the edges of the ancient forests and in the soft steps of the meadows. In Ireland, you’ll enjoy bonfires, folk stories, light shows, and music — all centered around a spirit of celebration, the changing of the seasons, and a little bit of myth. Dublin offers perfectly spooky haunted tours and Bram Stoker-esque castles. Check out the Púca Festival. which concentrates on storytelling, music, and food in the historic Boyne Valley. Or, make your way to Northern Ireland for Europe’s biggest Halloween festival in Derry! This giant marvel invites you to explore different worlds, enjoy interactive light shows circus & fire performers, and take part in costume parades. Ireland offers something for everyone from parties into the wee hours of the morning to kid-friendly apple bobbing and face painting. With all the festivals rooted in tradition, this is a great addition to your Irish adventure.

New Orleans

Second only to Mardi Gras, Halloween in one of the country’s most haunted cities is a big to-do. At any time of year, New Orleans offers voodoo shops, ghost tours, and haunted sites, but Halloween magnifies all these historic, frightening, and gothic elements tenfold. The haunted atmosphere of the city is given an extra boost with towering skeletons, ghostly horsemen, and endless themed parties. The famous parades are complete with frightening floats where revelers throw candy into the crowds. New Orleans does have a few kid-friendly activities, but this is primarily a holiday geared toward adults. Celebrate with your friends at elegant weekend-long parties. Elaborate costumes, exciting galas, and incredible balls grace the streets of the French Quarter, and the houses are decorated to the nines! If you can’t visit New Orleans in February for Mardi Gras, but are still looking for that party vibe, October is the time to go.  


Full of history and tradition, but with all the trimmings of a big city, London offers something unique. It seems like in every corner of London from October 22nd- 31st there’s a Halloween celebration. Enjoy a modern Halloween with themed menus in restaurants and bars, Madame Tussaud’s Alien Escape Experience, Crystal Maze experiences, countless themed escape rooms, and endless costume parties. But London also boasts a long, dark, and storied past, with plenty of ghost tours, serial killer walks, graveyards, underground passages, and dungeons. Throughout the last week of October, London will allow you to immerse yourself in an interactive Halloween, blending historical and modern scares.

[Photo Credit: Andrei via Pexels]


[Photo credit: Aiden Craver via Unsplash]

Trying to celebrate Halloween in the most kid-friendly way possible? Look no further than Disney! All of the Disney Parks and cruises worldwide celebrate Halloween in style. Marvel at specialty shows, meet-and-greets, and fireworks displays that you won’t see at any other time of year. The kids will love meeting their favorite Villains who only come out for Halloween. Or getting unique photos of the other characters in specialty Halloween costumes. Mickey himself hosts a Not-So-Scary Halloween Party which requires advance tickets. Your favorite rides also get a makeover adding spooky — but not-too-scary — Halloween elements. When you tire of rides, parties, and villains, you can enjoy specialty foods or head into the shops for some seasonal merch. In Disney World, Halloween brings in a huge foodie element with lots of new specialties to try and enjoy. The kids will love the Coco-themed installation! Running through the 2nd of November, it teaches them more about the Day of the Dead. With all sorts of things you’ll never see any other time of year, Halloween is a great time to enjoy a Disney experience.


Canada is one of the best destinations for leaf-peeping, getting out into nature, and enjoying Halloween in a quaint, kid-friendly way. Canadians celebrate Halloween very similarly to Americans with scary movies, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, and autumn festivals. You can enjoy small-town fairs, as well as carnival rides, pumpkin patches, or apple bobbing for the kids. Victoria on Vancouver Island is British Columbia’s most haunted city. They celebrate with a lot of spookier activities including haunted night ziplining. The bigger cities like Toronto and Vancouver are dotted with parties and Zombie walks. All over Canada, there are plenty of events for all ages. Infuse your Halloween with a little bit of wholesome, light-hearted fun. This is the perfect place if you don’t want Halloween to be the main focus of your Autumn outdoor adventure but just have it sprinkled into the great outdoors.

Are you ready to add a little travel to next year’s Halloween celebrations? Let us know! If you’re considering a late-October or early-November adventure, it’s worth adding these incredible Halloween experiences to your trip!

From Dublin to the Wild Atlantic Way

Clients often struggle with how to explore Ireland, when they don’t want to be “tied down” with an escorted bus tour, and don’t want the stress of having to drive themselves (on the wrong side of the road). It’s tough, because so much of the real beauty of the country is outside the cities, and beyond the (easy) reach of public transport. I think that Alicia and Jay’s trip report (below) illustrates the perfect answer to that dilemma  —  use Dublin as a comfortable home base, add a couple of group daytrips to experience the countryside to the south and west, and use the train to pop up to Belfast. Bingo! A fabulous, memorable, inexpensive, and EASY week in Ireland 🙂

Hi Ann!

Norwegian Air was great! This was our first time flying with them, and we had a great experience. We flew on their Boeing 737-Max both ways, and the planes were new and clean. They didn’t have the individual screens for each seat, but for a short-haul direct flight to Europe this didn’t bother us one bit. Our flights were on time (we actually landed early in Dublin!) For a budget airline, I didn’t feel like we had to sacrifice much (we bought their Low Fare + rate so our checked bags and meal were included). We also got lucky and sat in seats 2D and 2E both ways, which gave us extra legroom at no extra charge! Row 2 is actually the first row on the side where we sat (row 1 is the first row on the other side, and has the same amount of extra legroom.) I think the emergency exit seats also have extra legroom at no extra charge, but we didn’t go back there to investigate. One tip for future travelers – it gets REALLY cold on the plane. They sell blankets for €5 – ridiculous lol! I just used my wool coat as a blanket – I’m glad I decided to fly with it! All in all, we had two great flights, and look forward to flying with them again someday! The price and flying out of PVD direct to Dublin just can’t be beat!

We landed in Dublin early on the 12th and took a taxi to our hotel. It was early, so our room was not ready yet, but the hotel stored our luggage and we went to breakfast at the bistro that is attached to the hotel. Let’s first talk about the location of the Harding Hotel– absolutely ideal! We were within walking distance of everything we wanted to see. Being right in Temple Bar was great with so many restaurants and pubs right outside our door (and one of our favorites was the pub called Darkey Kelly’s attached to the hotel)! It is located just enough on the outskirts of Temple Bar that there wasn’t too much street noise, except on the Saturday night when Ireland won the rugby match against New Zealand, but can you blame them?! We could see the Christchurch Cathedral from our hotel window, and the bells ring every 15 minutes lol. We found that once we fell asleep, they didn’t wake us up though.

Our room was very clean and spacious. I think we got lucky and ended up in a triple room because there were two beds – one double (two twins pushed together that made it the size of a king) plus another twin. There was a mini refrigerator, iron and ironing board, coffee, and a safety deposit box. The bathroom was small with little counter space (something that didn’t bother us because we are used to European bathrooms) and the shower had great water pressure. There was an abundance of clothing and shoe storage – two huge open closets. I sat at the desk and did my makeup every day. The only negatives were that the bed was quite uncomfortable (we were generally very tired though so this didn’t bother us too much), and the room was always hot because we think the heat was regulated for the whole building. We opened the windows and turned the thermostat down all the way (I think we had the AC on haha). But, we made it work and this place was such a great find on our budget!

After breakfast on our first day, we decided to walk to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and get on the Hop-on Hop-off Bus. Ahead of our trip, we bought The Dublin Pass for 5 days. This gave us free admission to all of the places we wanted to go, plus more, including the City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off Bus. Doing the Hop-on Hop-off Bus on our first day gave us a great overview of the city, and we made note of places we wanted to go back and see. We hopped off at O’Connell Street and walked around the shops there. Everything was beautifully decorated for Christmas! We got back on the bus, and rode back to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where we got off there and did a tour. We then walked back to our hotel where our room was ready. We took hot showers, changed, and headed back out for more adventures! As we were strolling, we somehow ended up finding the cutest boutique shops on a street called Exchequer – including consignment stores with some fabulous designer items! We found Laduree and HAD to buy some macarons (our favorite)…you can take us out of Paris, but you can’t take the Paris out of us… We then eventually came upon The Bank, an amazing old bank turned bar (it reminded me of The Dorrance in Providence) where we had our first pint of Guinness and glass of Jameson of the trip! In search of a traditional Irish pub for dinner, we found Mulligan & Haines where we started with nachos and had fish and chips and great drinks.

See the sights when traveling in Dublin

On Tuesday we woke up with the intent to put the Dublin Pass to good use! We visited Dublin Castle – so incredible to be in the room where the president is sworn in! I loved learning about the presidential history of Ireland! We then headed to Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells – so amazing! The Book of Kells was the only exhibit not included on our Dublin Pass (but we didn’t mind). We then visited the National Gallery of Ireland, stopped into The Lincoln’s Inn for lunch. We then walked to one of the highlights of our trip – EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. This is one of the best museums I have ever been to. It was incredibly informative and interactive. We both agreed that it was one of our favorite places of the entire trip, and think it is a must-see for anyone visiting Dublin. We learned so much about how, why and when the Irish people immigrated to other parts of the world. It was very moving. After EPIC, we started making our way back to Temple Bar. We stopped at a really cool pub called O’Neills Pub & Kitchen for some drinks on the way. I was ready to branch out from the pub scene, so we had dinner at Toscana, an Italian restaurant not far from our hotel.

A fabulous, memorable, inexpensive, and EASY week in Ireland

On Wednesday, we were up very early for our tour to the west coast of Ireland! We met our tour guide, Michael, with Railtours Ireland at the Heuston Train Station and were soon on our way to Limerick. At the Limerick Station, we boarded our coach and began our tour west. We stopped at Bunratty Castle, an amazing medieval castle with a ton of history. We climbed to the top of the castle and took in the amazing views of the Irish countryside. We also explored the quaint village surrounding the castle. We then hopped back on the coach and headed to the beautiful small village of Doolin and had lunch at O’Connors Pub. Fun fact – this pub had police and fire department patches displayed from all over the world! There were tons from the U.S., and we found the South Kingstown, North Kingstown and Providence police departments! We almost gave up looking for Warwick (where Jay is a police officer), but then we spotted the Warwick Fire Department patch! How cool is that?! Next time we go away, Jay will need to bring some patches with him! Soon after, we were on our way to the highlight of this day, the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs were absolutely breathtaking. It’s hard to even explain in words just how incredible being here was. We took in the sights, took lots of photos, and tried not to get blown away! We also explored the indoor exhibit and learned about all of the wildlife living on or near the cliffs, and how they were formed. After departing the cliffs, we drove down the Wild Atlantic Way headed to Galway. We stopped twice to get off the coach and take photos. The views and scenery on this drive were just amazing. We arrived in Galway and walked around the adorable city, then settled in to the Meyrick Hotel for dinner. We then boarded our train back to Dublin. This tour was just incredible! Even though it was a long day, it was so worth it to be able to see the Cliffs of Moher, Wild Atlantic Way and Galway. Our tour guide was top notch. Michael was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We had a great day, and once back in Dublin, we went to Darkey Kelly’s for a nightcap before turning in.

cliff and sea  for fabulous, memorable, inexpensive, and EASY week in Ireland

On Thursday, we set off to explore more of Dublin. We visited Dublinia, the exhibit about Dublin’s Viking and Medieval history. We climbed to the top of the tower and took in beautiful views of Dublin. We then walked over the bridge to Christchurch Cathedral and also visited their impressive crypt. We then set off for the Jameson Distillery. We did their Bow Street tour, which was included in our Dublin Pass. This turned out to be another highlight of our trip! The tour was so cool and interactive. We learned so much about the Jameson family history, and how they make their whiskey. At the end of the tour, we compared Jameson with Scotch and American Whiskey. Jay also bought a bottle of Jameson only available for purchase at the distillery, and had the label personalized with his name! We then headed to the Guinness Storehouse for a self-guided tour, and made it to the Gravity Bar to enjoy a pint just in time for the perfect Irish sunset complete with a little rain!

After the Guinness Storehouse, we headed to Zara so I could quickly grab something dressier to wear for the night. During our time in Dublin, I had seen ads for The Nutcracker being performed by Ballet Ireland at the Gaiety Theatre. Jay and I had planned to see it in Providence, but instead we figured why not see it in Ireland?! I was able to buy tickets online earlier in the week. After stopping at Zara, we went back to the hotel to change, and then went to Mykonos Taverna, a Greek restaurant a short walk from our hotel. We then walked to the Gaiety for The Nutcracker. I am so glad we did this. The theater is so detailed and beautiful! The performance was fabulous and the dancers were so talented!

On Friday, we met our coach near Trinity College for our trip through the Wicklow Mountains with Collins Day Tours. For some reason, our tour guide didn’t have our names on his list, but I gave him the Viator confirmation page you had given us, and he quickly sorted it out with them. This tour was so personalized because there were only 8 of us on the tour! Our tour guide, Pat, was incredible. He memorized all of our names and made the day really special. We set out for Glendalough National Park – what an amazing place! We learned all about its history of St. Kevin and took in the incredible views of the mountains, waterfalls and lower lake. We hopped back on the coach and drove through the beautiful Wicklow Mountains on our way to Kilkenny. We saw the Irish “Hollywood” sign. We then made it to the small medieval town of Kilkenny, where we walked around, had lunch at the Langton Hotel, shopped, and explored Kilkenny Castle. Soon we were back in Dublin where we had a quick drink at the oldest pub in Ireland – The Brazen Head. We then had an amazing meal at Piglet Wine & Tapas Bar. We enjoyed a bottle of Cava, and some delicious food. Definitely the best mussels I have ever had!

On Saturday, we decided to take the train to Belfast, Northern Ireland. We had bought tickets ahead of time for both the train and the Hop-on Hop-off Bus. When you arrive at the Belfast Train Station, you can take a city bus for free with your train ticket to the city center, so that is just what we did. We located the City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off Bus easily and were quickly on our way! We had a live tour guide on the buses we took, and they were so funny! We hopped off at the Titanic Museum – what an incredible place. This was another highlight of our trip! The museum is simply awesome. I enjoyed learning so much about the Titanic’s history from the company that built it to its discovery after it sunk, and everything in between. It’s also incredible to learn about how the shipyard industry has shaped the city skyline of Belfast! After the Titanic Museum, we hopped back on the Hop-on Hop-off Bus and got off near City Hall. We walked to St. George’s market in search of something to eat. While the market was really cool, we selected Ronnie Drew’s Pub next door instead. After lunch, we headed over to the Christmas market. The Christmas market was amazing! There was an abundance of handmade goods, rides and food. It was the first day for it, and I’m so glad we got lucky on our timing! We had mulled wine, and even ventured into the beautiful city hall to see the impressive Christmas tree and listen to some music. We then got back on the train and went back to Dublin. We made reservations at Bar Italia Ristorante for later in the night, but first stopped at the hotel to change and have a few drinks at Darkey Kelly’s because the Irish rugby team was playing in a huge match against New Zealand! I swear it was like a football night in America! This was so much fun! We then headed to Bar Italia Ristorante for dinner. The food here was amazing, and everyone in the restaurant was speaking Italian (including me because I almost forgot what country I was in lol!) After dinner, we headed back to Temple Bar in search of a good bar for more drinks. The streets were certainly alive since Ireland had won the rugby match! We ended up in Trinity Bar, and while it was filled with tourists and college students, the music was absolutely awesome! We had a blast here!

Sunday was our last day, so we decided to sleep late and take it easy. We ventured out to have “Fancy Pants” Afternoon Tea at the Morrison Hotel (we had made reservations the day before). This was a beautiful hotel across the River Liffey. We had delicious finger sandwiches, sweets, prosecco, and of course tea! We then headed out toward O’Connell Street again for some shopping and to pick up some Irish souvenirs at Carroll’s. Arnotts, the huge department store, was amazing! Their Christmas windows were beautiful! After we shopped, we went back to the hotel to sadly pack for our trip home. We later headed out for dinner at Musashi, a delicious Japanese restaurant.

On Monday morning we had breakfast at our hotel (the only day we managed to do this – oops lol! The days of our excursions we had to meet to early and the other days we wanted to sleep in haha. Oh well!) We then headed to the airport, cleared U.S. Customs (so convenient!) and were on our way back to PVD.

Ireland is such a beautiful country. I never once felt unsafe or worried about pickpockets (like I have in other European countries). While we were still always careful, it was a nice feeling. The Irish people are so friendly and eager to chat, and their culture beautiful and happy. We loved the sights of the countryside as much as the old city buildings, castles and churches. And of course, the old pubs were just so cool!

We can’t thank you enough for putting this fabulous trip together for us, Ann. It was just what we needed, and I’m still in shock that we were able to see SO MUCH of Ireland and stay at such a perfectly located hotel within our tight budget. You know us so well and truly put together the perfect trip!

Thanks again!

If only I had the right shoes…

Admittedly, I am biased, but I have to say that my clients are the BEST!  Poor Lori was exhausted and sick after she came back from her European honeymoon, but she took the time to send me an amazingly detailed trip report, with all sorts of tips and information for other couples who might be visiting Scotland and Ireland in the future. I love her selflessness (and her honesty!) and I am excited to share her insights with you:

Hi Ann,

Again, the trip was wonderful!  I included some notes below – let me know if you have any questions/anything I missed!  Thank you again for EVERYTHING! You’re the best and we’re so grateful.



Overall, I LOVED Edinburgh and it was by far our favorite part of the trip.  I think next time if we go back we would want to spend more time traveling around Scotland.  It was just beautiful and we loved all of the historical stuff.  The Balmoral was a beautiful hotel (as you said it would be 🙂 )  and the included breakfast in the morning was really fantastic.  The first day we slept in a little bit and they even brought it to our room for us with no extra charge.  When we first got in, it was too early to check-in, so we had coffee on the balcony there to wake up and it was maybe the best cup of coffee and shortbread I’ve ever had.  The only things I would maybe say was the room was a bit small (but fine) and I was a little disappointed I found the concierge our first day rude to me after I watched them spend like 25 minutes help a family plan what to do, give them maps, restaurant names, etc.  He just gave me a map and told me to try the bus tour — I’ll give him I looked a bit ragged since we were just off the plane so who knows.  They were very nice in holding our baggage, etc.

Our first day we went to Edinburgh Castle, which I thought was great.  I would give people the tip to book tickets and print them in advance, because I did that and thought it saved us a lot of time in standing on a long line.  We walked up and down the Royal Mile and around all the parks, etc. which was great.  Unfortunately, the Queen was in residence so we weren’t able to go into the palace but oh well!  The other thing I would prep people for maybe is to make sure to have the right shoes if they want to do the Arthur’s Seat thing – we walked through that park and probably about half way up, but I wasn’t in the right shoes once I got to a part that looked like steeps stairs straight up 🙂 I asked someone how long it would take and they said “no more than an hour” —  but maybe I’m just too out of shape, even though I go to the gym, but that didn’t look like a leisurely walk the way they made it sound!  haha. I would have needed sneakers/looser clothing and it was getting late so we didn’t go all the way up (we went far enough to see lovely scenery though, so it was great).  I just found it funny they made it sound like a leisurely stroll when it definitely was a little bit more than that.  Another place we stumbled upon, that I didn’t see listed in books I had, was Calton Hill – which also had some nice views and was a nice place to walk around for a bit.

In terms of the tours, the second one we did (to Stirling Castle, etc.) was the best of the whole trip – the tour guide was awesome (funny, engaging, etc.) and it was a small group because half of the group cancelled last minute.  We really liked all the stops and I would definitely recommend it.  The first tour in Scotland was nice too (Highland Lochs, Glens and Whiskey), although our group had some rude people in it that took away from it a bit (you can’t plan for those things though!)  It was a little slower-paced but nice sites to see and we enjoyed the whiskey tour a lot.  The only thing I would say is they again should have given a shoe warning!  She said we were stopping for a leisurely forest walk (she added an extra stop not on the description) and although I did it fine, we were climbing up jagged rock steps for a solid 10 minutes and I felt like I was going to fall.  Some of the older women on the tour looked like they struggled with it a bit, so I was a little surprised she would just add a stop and not give a heads up, “hey this one may be a little more of a strenuous hike than the last walk if you don’t feel dressed appropriately”, etc.  Maybe just me though – no one else complained or seemed overly concerned so maybe I just need to get into the gym more haha.

To get out of the rain, we also popped into the National Gallery which had some great paintings and was free, so I would recommend that to others.  We did the Edinburgh city bus tour the first day only because we were exhausted and it was raining so figured it was a place to sit and get a lay of the land while we were still waiting for our room and we stumbled into the Scottish Whiskey Experience, which was incredibly touristy and cheesy but I actually liked it 🙂 A friend had told me not to waste my money but i enjoyed the whiskey tasting!

If people want some recommendations for restaurants, etc., here are some I had a good meal/would go back to:

Most nights we stopped for one last drink at the Whiskey Bar in the hotel and I enjoyed it there :)—

Another bar recommended:

In terms of travel, the train was great – I thought it worked out way better than flying because it was right next door, we didn’t have to worry about checking our bags and it was a nice ride, comfortable seats, they brought food, etc.  Definitely would recommend that route!  All of our transfers and things worked out great, with the exception of a little bit of a hiccup when we first got in that was mostly my fault because i didn’t realize we somehow landed really early and I got anxious when I didn’t see the driver —  after waiting a while we walked around to the other arrivals waiting area to see if he was there.  We then tried calling and then went back and he was finally there but seemed a little annoyed we kept him waiting — again, completely my fault for not just staying put.  He was super nice though and even gave me a hug goodbye, lol – they were so nice in Scotland!

In Ireland, we enjoyed it but found we didn’t really like the very large group tours as much.  I found our drivers to be very unfriendly. We got there in plenty of time in the mornings, but they were incredibly disorganized and pretty much just loaded people on buses randomly and made people wait off to the side – to the point a few people got on the wrong tour our first day and the driver was not nice to them about it at all.  In any case, I really enjoyed Kylemore Abbey and Gardens, and the views were incredible!  Seeing those roads, regardless of whether we liked the big buses or not, I definitely don’t think we could have navigated it or driven ourselves, so it was definitely the way to go.  It may have just been a little too much organized full-day tours but I think we knew that and had decided it was the best way to do it going in, so no regrets there; might just want to spread them out a little more next time.

Kylemore abbey Ireland

Our Galway hotel (Radisson Blu Hotel and Spa) was nice and they even brought us a tray of chocolates to congratulate us!  I would say though it was one of those hotels that looks a little nicer than I think it actually is – the elevators had a lot of problems, as did the sink and toilet in our bathroom.  Overall it was good though.  We were a bit tired by that point, so we ended up eating twice in the hotel and it was good.

Some other places some friends had recommended that I would too:

Shopping – the Treasure Chest

Food that we went to-  McSwiggans Pub:

Other recommendations we were given,  but didn’t get to, in case it’s helpful:

Park House Hotel (next to our hotel)

McDonagh’s Fish and Chips


Bars: The Quays, The King’s Head Tavern

We were happy to head to Dromoland Castle at the end – where we did almost nothing all day and it was lovely.  They greeted us with a congratulations and upgraded our room and everyone we walked past congratulated us.  It was so lovely.  It was raining but we walked around the grounds a little bit, sat on couches and drank wine, went to the spa (WHICH WAS AWESOME – THE best facial I’ve ever had and I thought i had some good ones), had a fancy dinner (which I would recommend because it was delicious but probably a little fancier than we’re typically used to/our style) and then just drank more wine on couches and went to bed relatively early 🙂   Beautiful place to stay and awesome recommendation.  I’m glad we splurged and had that day there – it was a nice way to rest up and relax after so many tours!

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)