Going Our Way: A family trip to Ireland
Who: Jeanette Golden, 62, and her husband, Dan, 63, of North Bethesda, plus son Paul, 33, and his wife, Laurel, 39
Why: Family vacation
When: 12 days in summer or fall
Budget: $10,000, give or take
"We prefer to rent a car and drive around the country, stopping at inns or small hotels along the way - maybe even a castle if it isn't cost-prohibitive. No B&Bs, please!"
Dan Golden's ancestors hailed from Ireland, so he and and his wife, Jeanette, figure that it's high time the extended family visited the Ould Sod - not that you need an excuse to spend time in this endlessly appealing country. The Goldens, of North Bethesda, have only 12 days for the trip, so they've wisely chosen to limit their wanderings to the east, southeast and southwest regions.
The Goldens, who'll be traveling with their adult son and his new wife, want to drive through the countryside themselves, a terrific and time-honored way to see Ireland. Just a few words of warning: Ireland is compact, but don't underestimate the time it takes to navigate those ubiquitous winding roads - which, more often than not, are lined with unforgiving stone walls and dotted with errant sheep and dueling motorcoaches. When estimating travel times, it's a good idea to double the amount you think you'll need.
In addition, plan for at least one flat tire (I speak from sad experience); ask your navigator to practice shrieking "Left! Left! Left!" at intersections and roundabouts; plan your route ahead of time with the Irish Automobile Association's easy-to-use tool (www.aaireland.ie; click on AA Roadwatch, then AA Routeplanner); and consider renting a car with automatic transmission to reduce the overall stress factor.
But enough with the warnings. Here's some welcome news: Ireland is a bargain compared with other European destinations, according to Hotels.com's Hotel Price Index, an annual survey of hotel prices in major cities worldwide. In the first half of 2010, a room in Ireland averaged $118 a night, down 5 per cent from the previous year - making the country the least expensive destination in Western Europe, according to the survey. No surprise, then, that Dublin is one of Budget Travel magazine's picks for top budget travel destinations in 2011.
When to go: Fall, definitely. Everything's cheaper, it's less crowded, and the weather's still fine. Do bring rain gear, though, and dress in layers that you can add or subtract as needed.
Packages: For the best rates, consider a fly-drive package offered by companies such as Go-today.com, CIE Tours (www.cietours.com/us) and Dooley Vacations (www.dooleyvacaions.com). Most agencies will let you build your own vacation based on your preferences and timing, and can throw in lodging as well. As always, price the components out separately to make sure that you're getting the best deal.