As someone who drives on the “right” side of the road, I found it very intimidating to even think about switching sides to drive on the “wrong” side of the road when we were planning our Ireland road trip. We knew we wanted to see the country at our own pace, but this would be an all together new experience for us. So we took the leap and decided to go ahead and rent a car for the trip and I just want to share with you my tips for driving in Ireland as an American.
Tips for Driving in Ireland
Use the center line as your guide
As a tourist driving in Ireland, one of the most striking differences I noticed was the space surrounding the vehicle – the roads are simply smaller and tighter than any roads we drive in the states! I found that I had to be incredibly aware of space when going around curves and turns, paying close attention to the inches around me to make sure I wasn’t crossing the center line but also was not crashing into the little stone walls that seem to line every country road. It was particularly terrifying when cars are coming from the opposite direction while going around turns and we would quite literally come within inches of one another. But the most important thing I found was to focus my eyes on the center line – don’t think about the left side of your car, about how close it is to the vines and stones lining the hills each road seems to be carved from, but set your mind’s eye on the yellow line and your relationship to that line. This will allow you to always know your vehicle is safely within your lane and to trust that the line will not push your vehicle into the embankments.
Rent your car on the outskirts of town
We arrived in Dublin and spent our first two days there without a vehicle and it was the smartest thing we could have done. First, Dublin was super walkable and a car would have been more trouble than it was worth. But more importantly it allowed us to get comfortable driving on the left side of the road in spaces where the margin for error was enlarged and we wouldn’t put life or property at peril. We took a taxi to a small neighborhood car rental location where the attendants gave us a quick overview of signage, rights of way, etc. and we were able to pull out of the center and drive through broad streets of suburban neighborhoods until getting a good grasp on the whole thing.
Get insurance! And don’t get the insurance online.
As a general rule we never get rental car insurance when traveling since my credit card has rental car coverage. But we bought insurance when we went to Ireland and a few lessons to note here. This is probably somewhat specific to the rental agency we used and the fact that it was Ireland, but we bought insurance through the web platform we rented the car on. And when we showed up at the counter we found out that in doing so we were “denying” coverage through the rental agency and therefore are charged a 75 euro fee, all while we thought we were purchasing coverage. So note for next time, get the insurance at the desk through the agency itself. But more to the point, every nearly brand new car in their lot seemed to have dents and scrapes on the left side of the car – probably from US drivers that were not using the center line as their guide. There is just a high probability of scraping and denting so either double check your credit card coverage carefully or get the insurance so you don’t spend your vacation fretting about it.
Verbally repeat “Stay in the left lane!” when making turns
To be honest, the place where I struggled most was when pulling up to a traffic light to then turn right or left. When you are cruising along straight roads being on one side or the other is pretty straightforward but everything gets confused when you pull up to the traffic light to turn right and your muscle memory wants you to pull into the nearest lane! I literally recommend repeating out loud “stay in the left lane” when you make your turn; it removes all confusion from your brain and instructs your muscles on proper behavior. Since the driving side in Ireland is on the left, I found turning left to be particularly weird.
Rent the smallest car possible
This probably goes for driving in Europe in general, but a small car is just easier to handle: easier to park if you have to venture into the city, better turn radius and smaller footprint for the road, easier to visualize your space and cheaper to drive around, as fuel is much more expensive than the US.
Familiarize yourself with the driving laws in Ireland ahead of time
Do what you can to eliminate anything that will cause extra confusion and discomfort when driving. It is hard enough to overcome muscle memory without also having to fumble for your phone to look up what various signs mean. Study at least the most common signs in advance. A few of the most important ones that we are not familiar with in the US:
– No Stopping
– No Waiting
– Ahead Only
– Different types of speed limit signs
– Signs indicating when you can or cannot pass
– Signs indicating to yield
-Traffic lights (no turning on a red light as well as using arrows more than we are used to in the US)
Get an automatic
Driving in Ireland for the first time will be hectic enough without the added stress of trying to drive manual if you aren’t confident doing so. But be sure to rent your car well in advance as the automatics are generally fewer and much more expensive if you get the car at last minute. It also leaves you with a higher likelihood of having to get an upgraded car. Sometimes we have been able to get upgrades to automatic very economically at the counter, i.e booking a manual online for the lower rate, then asking what the cost is to upgrade to an automatic when you arrive to pick up the car. But this is a gamble and you definitely have to be fully ready to leave with the manual if you go this route!
Get a SIM card so you can use Google Maps
The biggest change to our travel came with the release of the iPhone 6. Prior to that, our CDMA iPhones had internal SIM cards and we either would have to get expensive international plans or simply rely on wifi. But with easy access to the SIM card now, usually our first stop after landing is to request the taxi to bring us to the local cell phone shop. I always recommend you go into these shops rather than simply buying the SIM card in advance online. It is so easy; they will update your phone for you, make sure everything is connected and working and answer any questions you may have. Spend a few minutes researching who the locals recommend in an area and read through forums on which provider has the best coverage in the areas you will be traveling to. A little work in advance leads to total freedom and access to information for remarkably cheap prices when you land! Just don’t lose the original SIM card or you will be in trouble when you get back home…
PIN FOR LATER…