Road trips vs. Plane trips. Plus Ireland Pics!

Text and images by Gabrielle.

I find prepping for road trips less stressful than prepping for plane trips.

For starters, packing is easier. There are no weight restrictions and no checked vs. carry on bag decisions. You can stuff last minute items into the trunk and deal with them later. You can bring extra coats and boots that would take up too much room in luggage.

Plus, you get to skip the airport! I find airports in general to be stressful places, and with a big family, the stress is multiplied. The getting there early, but not so early that you’ve used up all your boredom fighters before boarding. Making it through security with your kids — with all the jackets, boarding passes, shoes, passports, belts, and teddy bears intact. And hoping the kids will behave well on the airplane and be mindful of other passengers. (In the car, if they throw a tantrum, oh well.) Going to the airport sometimes feels like we’re adding extra hours to our trip before it really starts.

Ultimately, roadtrips lend themselves to our family’s last-minute tendencies. We decided on Ireland about 2 days before we went. We decided on Switzerland about 2 hours before we left!

In contrast, plane trips require more planning for a big family — last-minute plane trips for 8 just aren’t very realistic. And yet. Plane trips cover so much ground so quickly! (And we already have our next family plane trip scheduled for May. Hah!)

For Ireland, in theory we could have flown, but because we were putting the trip together last-minute, driving made the most sense. And it turns out it was a good thing. Because our particular trip definitely required a car!

Our impressions of Ireland:

– Every one is so friendly! That may seem like a generic compliment, but I don’t mean it to be. We were just so amazed at how open and talkative and welcoming the people we interacted with were. They weren’t reserved or pretentious at all and didn’t seem wary of strangers in any way. We have GPS, but we actively sought out occasions to ask for directions, and were rewarded with friendly conversations every time.

– It struck me that Ireland would make the perfect First European Travel Experience for an American. The language is English, but just enough different to keep you on your toes. You’ll be able to easily understand the road signs — but also see the words in Gaelic, plus, you’ll drive on the left side of the road which feels like an adventure. You’ll feel like it’s totally foreign, but in comparison to other European countries, it actually feels familiar to an American (at least it felt that way to our family).

– Most of our travels have focused on a city. In England, our first trip was about London. In Spain, we spent time in Barcelona. In Italy, we saw Rome and Venice as a family and Florence as a couple. But in Ireland, instead of focusing on a city, the guide books basically recommend seeing the whole country!

In fact, instead of booking a hotel for a week, many visitors will stay in a new place every night or every other night as they make their way from one location to the next.

We did not understand this at all until we were on the trip! Since it was a last-minute trip we essentially did no research ahead of time and only started reading guidebooks (and reading your brilliant recommendations!) after we were on the boat to Ireland and had already booked our hotel in Cork for our entire stay. : )

So each day, we would explore or drive somewhere, but we would need to leave time enough to get back to the hotel in Cork.

– You drive. A lot. Even if it looks really close on the map, on little Irish country roads, it’s going to take you a bit to get there. But happily, the drive will very likely be picturesque and green and charming at every turn.

– We were definitely there during off-season. That has its advantages and disadvantages. In general the weather was great and the touristy spots were empty. I felt like we had the Cliffs of Moher practically to ourselves! The downside is that on one day it was so cold we really had to talk ourselves into going outside. And some of the most recommended sites weren’t available to us — for example, we couldn’t find a boat that could take us to famed Skellig Michael island.

Our favorite parts of the trip:

– Blarney Castle. The famed Blarney stone is such a tourist draw, that a couple of guidebooks discouraged visiting because it’s so cliché. But this was a moment when off-season was decisively positive. We had the castle to ourselves (which for sure made a huge difference), and we loved kissing the Blarney stone!

I think it’s especially memorable for kids because it involves a simple, distinctive, physical act. In order to kiss the Blarney stone you have to climb to the top of the castle where you’ll find the stone in open air at the very top. Then you lie on your back on the stone floor and lean over a ledge backwards until you’re head is upside down and your lips reach the stone. The ledge opens onto the ground which is 4 stories below! (This is me mid-kiss — see the sidewalk far below?) The ledge is semi-protected so you can’t easily fall, and there was a kind man assisting the tourists and keeping them safe, so it’s not actually too dangerous — we let everyone kiss the stone but June — but it feels scary and makes you feel brave when you’ve done it. The castle offers great views and we loved exploring the grounds. We could have spent several hours there easily.

Side note: For some reason, I’d always thought the Blarney Stone was supposed to give good luck. But instead, it gives the Gift of Gab! Which I’m pretty sure I already have. : )

– We loved spending time in Cork. Downtown Cork is filled with charming shops and buildings. We loved exploring the English Market, having a big family dinner at Market Lane, and mugs of the famous hot cocoa at O’Connaill’s — we ordered 8 different kinds of hot cocoa and traded tastes!

– We were so tempted by all the woolen mills we encountered. They’re filled with cozy woolen goods — mittens and hats and sweaters and blankets. I wanted one of everything! We ended up with a beautiful wool herringbone weave blanket as a souvenir. (We hope to keep it in our someday cottage.)

– One morning, we left the hotel early and drove to the Cliffs or Moher. Oh. They are magnificent! And it’s just stunning how you can walk right along the edges. It looks like the whole world just ends there. We spent a looonnng time exploring there. It was for sure my favorite stop on the trip.

– After we’d had our fill of the cliffs, we drove to nearby Doolin and enjoyed a wonderful meal at the local pub. Driving into Doolin made me super happy. It’s what I imagined Ireland would look like. And it did!

– The next day, we were worn out of being in the car, so we didn’t want to drive too far. We had been planning on driving to the Ring of Kerry or Dingle Peninsula , but instead, we followed a reader’s recommendation to do an alternate route much closer to Cork. And it was lovely! We drove from Kinsale to Glandore to Skibbereen and then back to Cork.

– Near Glandore, we stopped at the Drombeg Stone Circle. At this stop it didn’t just feel like we had the place to ourselves, we in fact were the only ones there. And it felt magical and unbelievable to see the kids playing hide-and-seek among the stones. Climbing on them. Running through them. The stones have been there since 1100 B.C.!

– Lastly, we really enjoyed the ferry trip both ways. It had strong wifi so I could work. There was a movie theatre showing The Hobbit and Wreck it Ralph. It was nice to be able to unwind and not have to drive for a while.

We loved our visit to Ireland! So much so that before we’d reached home, we had already started making of wish list of places in Ireland we want to visit next.

What do you think? Did we miss your favorite spot? Do our photos make you want to grab a plane ticket?

70 thoughts on “Road trips vs. Plane trips. Plus Ireland Pics!”

  1. Hi Gabrielle! It was fun to read your post and look at the beautiful photos you took! We went to Ireland last June and my pictures of the cliffs turned out badly. Darn!

    Wasn’t Doolin lovely? We stayed at a B&B right at the main intersection in town and had a great time. We used it as our base to drive along the Burren, which was our favorite part of Ireland! So glad you had a great time :)

  2. Thanks for sharing all of those awesome tips! Ireland is tops on my list of places to go and it’s always nice to read some firsthand advice from someone who has traveled there with family.

    And I am SO with you on road trips vs plane trips. I prefer to watch the view change as we go and travel at our own pace, by our own rules, on our own schedule.

  3. Your timing is perfect. My 17-year-old daughter is on a school trip in Ireland at the moment. Your pictures made me feel a little more connected to her as I could imagine her visiting all these places. Thanks for this post!

  4. What beautiful pictures! My mother’s father was from a dairy farm in Co. Cork, so it’s on my list of places to visit. I’ve been to Ireland once, my college roommate lives near Dublin, so she took me around, and I may go back soon. There is so much to see, and you and your children are so fortunate to be able to explore like you do!

  5. And now I’m adding a road trip through Ireland to my travel wish list! Thanks for sharing Gabrielle!

    I love road trips, especially for the reasons you mentioned about packing – it’s just so much easier and way less stressful. They’re also my favorite way to explore new places. We just did a France & Spain road trip and the best part was being able to make unplanned detours to an abandoned Aragonian village and finding non-dairy gelato in Pamplona.

    When we plan our trips we try to find a balance between long driving days and staying in one place – we’ve found that 3 full days in one place is quite optimal, at least for the types of places we tend to travel to.

  6. Your trip looks wonderful! So cool that you were able to incorporate tips from your readers. And I’m marking down the Drombeg stone circle for a visit someday–your photos capture what I thought Stonehenge would be like when I visited, but it was fenced off. I think you have to be up close to the stones to really feel the magic. :)

  7. It looks so beautiful! A trip to Ireland is definitely on my bucket list. Hearing that it’s fairly “easy” on Americans is a relief. I’ve never really traveled outside of the U.S. and I’m a nervous traveler – but I’m so envious of your whole experience. Living in the French countryside and jetting off to Ireland and Switzerland sounds like heaven.

  8. I agree with the car vs plane trips! But sometimes you’ve just got to take that plane to ‘get there’! As a Canadian married to an Irishman (living in Canada) we do lots of overseas trips. I’ve driven around Ireland many times and you’re so right about the distances. Rather than miles/kilometers they should give a time required instead! Glad you enjoyed your trip. And your photos are wonderful!

  9. I’ve been all over Europe, but I’ve never visited England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales. I so want to do so, and now that I’ve seen your photos, I really want to go! I have a dream to walk all the places where my favorite poets and writers lived and wrote about — Yeats, Joyce, etc. Your pictures were dreamy — what I imagine Ireland to be.

  10. Pretty! I spent 2 days in Ireland a few years back, but just stayed in the Dublin area since we were flying out of there. I so wish we had had more time to explore the countryside! It’s on my list of places to go back to.

  11. Ireland was my first destination in Europe, a year after I graduated from college. I was traveling on my own, but joined a guided hiking trip for two weeks there. It was an amazing trip – and we went to Skellig Michael one day. (It’s a dangerous place to dock with a boat if the water is at all choppy – so I’d assume that it was a safety issue that you couldn’t find a boat to take you there; I wouldn’t make the trip in the winter months – even in July we had to postpone the trip a couple of times.) I’d love to go back sometime – your post brought back very delightful memories! Some other great destinations are the Aran Islands (off the Cliffs of Moher), the Blasket Islands (at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula), and any pub when there’s a “session” of live music happening.

  12. Let’s not forget the cost of air travel these days (including fees, etc.) and getting to see the countryside. I wish train travel was more accessible in the US because it’s lovely and I like being a passenger.

  13. So glad you enjoyed it, I know the weather wasn’t ideal (it rarely is here, sadly) but thanks for such a positive review of your trip. Bord Failte (the Irish agency whose job it is to attract tourists) should thank you!

  14. Just this morning I wrote a post about where all I want to travel next and I *almost* put Ireland on the list. This post totally would have tipped the scales! It looks amazing! I’ll have to make it out there someday for sure!

    Where else are you guys hoping to go before you leave Europe? There’s so much to do there! I lived in Paris as a teenager and have always wanted to live overseas again.

  15. What wonderful photos! I am green with envy (sorry, could not resist). We have visited Wales, but never Ireland – I recommend Wales for the exact same reasons you name. Ireland looks very similar to Wales, at least the northern Wales we saw, Isle of Anglesey across the Irish Sea from Dublin.

    I completely agree about car trips! We only have 5 and yet car trips are much less stressful for our family. :> I am eager to hear about your next trip, hoping it will be Egypt (my #1 heart’s desire for years!!! go and convince my husband we could go too!!!).

    1. Oh man. Egypt is still at the top of our wishlist! But our next trip will actually be to Norway to see the fjords. We’re very excited! I’m afraid Egypt won’t happen for us before we move. But we’re trying to buy a place here, which will encourage us to come back regularly — so hopefully Egypt could happen the next time we come back.

  16. I am the lone voice of plane flight but I am an excellent plane trip packer and a horrible car trip packer! With trips by plane I pack the whats, how many days x how many outfits x how many people minimal shoes/coats etc. We just do with what we have or grab it there. With car travel I pack for the ALL the what ifs as well- what if we come across a waterfall the kids want to wade under and more, games for the evenings, a football in case we see a goal somewhere and on and on.

  17. We live in Scotland and I’ve been telling my husband since we moved here that we need to see Ireland. He has no interest! AH!! My best friend is moving to Italy this year and I’ve told it will be a girls weekend because I’m dying to go. I love that I can just drive my car onto the ferry and we can go anywhere we want! Love the photo’s!

  18. absolutely stunning. and i’m with you on the travel. packing for 6 is so much easier when it comes to road trips. but about 5 hours in and i’m always thinking maybe flying would have been better :) i don’t think there is ever a very easy way to travel with a big family but there is always a way and i’m willing to take a bit of discomfort on the way in order to go somewhere! and of course, the travel from here to there makes for some great stories later in life. xo . trina

  19. Andrea Freeman

    I can not believe the amazing memories you have given your children, especially the older ones! They will cherish them always and will be able to say, “I’ve been there.” Wonderful experiences!!

  20. We were in Ireland the same week as you and I totally concur with what you had to say. This was my first European experience and I think it was the perfect start for what I hope are more to come. We based out of a single hotel the whole time (in Wicklow mountains south of Dublin). We got up every morning and set out on our day’s adventure. We were able to hit many parts of the country. I think my favorite was the Atrim Coast in Northern Ireland. We visited the most amazing castle perched on the edge of a seaside cliff and walked a rope bridge over a section if the Atlantic to a tiny fishing island. The beauty of it all was other-worldly! The people were amazing as well. Such a great experience.

  21. what great pictures. I totally appreciate all of the time it took you to write the post and all of its glorious detail. I am going to keep it in mind as I plan our girls trip with mom and sisters. thanks again for sharing!

  22. Hi Gabrielle,

    We moved from California to Fanore, County Clare, last November and are staying here through 2014, inspired, in part, by your family’s move to France. Glad you enjoyed your Irish sojourn. We’re having a fantastic time!

  23. looks like such a fun family trip. road trips are really a dream, to drive somewhere, just like that, do whatever you feel like doing each day. i spent almost a month roadtripping dc, nyc, maine, new brunswick, montreal, vermont, boston, etc. especially in a big family, after a few days and changing beds so often, my little space all the way back of the van felt like my little home:)

  24. The Gap of Dunloe and Killarney, in Kerry. The Gap of Dunloe is absolutely gorgeous and is also a fun experience. Visiting the Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin is also really cool, if you’re visiting Dublin. Oh, and Glencullen in Dún Laoghaire is a fun day trip from Dublin.

  25. Looks like an awesome trip. When I was there my favorite spot was the Giant’s Causeway, but it looks an awful lot like your favorite cliffs too.

  26. Ooh, right now I’m trying to plan my summer vacation; we’ll be in Italy and France, but we’re trying to decide whether to do a mini road trip or EasyJet somewhere. This makes the road trip option very appealing! I agree, I find airports so stressful — something about dealing with luggage really has me on edge!

  27. Ahhhh…ireland. We took our 3 kids to ireland for their 1st european trip. It’s definitely a plus that they speak English, with that beautiful lilt! This was before GPS and the directions from shannon to bantry were to find the milkcan at the end of the driveway! Crazy! But we found our cottage on bantry bay, where we stayed for 2 weeks. We loved the cliffs too! They are breathtaking! Kenmare and Kinsale were our favorite towns. I agree with you about the people, so warm and friendly!
    Love reading about your travels! Your giving your kids such great memories!

  28. So glad you liked Ireland. I grew up in Ireland but now live in Canada. When we go back to Ireland, the first thing that strikes me is how people treat you – you are treated like a friend that just hasn’t been met before.

  29. I love Ireland. I went there twice and loved every single second. I would voluntarily move there if opportunity arises..
    It’s beautiful there. Every you turn to see is a painting without a frame on it’s own.

  30. I want to visit Ireland! Still never have. I think we’ll have to take a flight, although I too prefer driving with the kids. Waiting for Ryan Air to start flying out of Nuremberg so we can get there cheaply. Looks like you all had a wonderful time! Ireland looks so green! Nice to hear the people there are so nice. I don’t get that feeling around some of the European countries…. Lovely pictures and post. Thank you!

  31. Yes, the pictures make me want to grab a plane ticket… but I live here :) It is so nice to see that somebody enjoyed a trip to a country I live in, it makes me see Ireland differently, kind of ‘away from everyday tasks’. Luckily in June we’ll leave Dublin and head South. But Dublin is definitely worth visiting as well… city with mountains and see within reach.

  32. Our favorite way to travel in Europe is neither car nor plane: its train! We avoid Autobahn staus, can eat and move around on the train, and when we arrive at our destination everyone is well rested.

    1. We really need to try a train trip! The only time I take the train is if I’m head to Paris solo or with just one child. Otherwise, it’s much more affordable for us to drive. I’ll have to watch for deals and see if I can figure out a good way for us to do a train trip.

  33. What a lovely trip! I spent a week in Ireland with my mother during a college summer break and have such fond memories: the musical talents of most people – whether they sing, play an instrument, or both; a charming evening spent in the town of Kenmare that started with dinner at the Lime Tree Restaurant and ended with Irish Coffee at the local pub where the town poet presented his latest poems between musical sets; scaring the pants off my mother while lounging on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher; the kindness of strangers as we navigated through the countryside; most importantly, the fair skin and freckles of many – I finally saw people who looked just like me and felt right at home.

  34. I totally agree — there are pros and cons of both car and plane trips. For us what determines the choice is whether we’ll need a car at our destination. We loved driving through Europe two summers ago, and I hope we’ll be able to take my sons to Ireland as well soon — going to Cork was my first summer trip alone when I turned 15, so many memories…

  35. So glad you liked Ireland. I was the only one in my family not born in Ireland. We went every summer when I was a child. We used to stay at our family farm in county meath every year when I was little, but as we got older we took little adventures. I took my now husband around the southern coast when we graduated and didn’t book a single hotel and found a great b&b every night. We also traveled up the northern coast to visit giants causeway (AMAZING), Aran Islands, and Carrick-a-Rede (thats the rope bridge an earlier commenter mentioned. SO SCARY!)

    This past summer my parents brought our whole family (13 kids, spouses, and grandkids) back. It was the grandkids first trip and it was so amazing that they got to experience the same things we did growing up. We stayed at this amazing working farm where the kids got to milk goats and cows. They are long time family friends and are the nicest people you would ever meet. I would highly recommend it.

    Thanks for sharing!

  36. I loved seeing your photos of Ireland. I was just there myself in October. I travelled with my 75 year old mother & my sister and a couple of family friends. It was beautiful – especially the Cliffs of Moher. I’m going to have to go back with my husband and daughters at some point.

    This summer we are house swapping in France. We did it a few years back to Luxembourg and it worked out perfectly. My oldest daughter will be in Madrid teaching English but will meet us for the last week of vacation. Then it’s back to the States.

    I think it’s wonderful that you’ve instilled a sense of adventure and love of travel in your children. I’m intending the same for mine.

  37. Next time you have to go to Bunratty Castle and the folk village. They have a whole village set up with houses from the 18th & 19th centuries. The kids would love exploring what life was like back then, they have costumed guides explaining the houses, schoolhouse, doctor’s office, pub, etc… and a beautiful walled garden to run around in. We spent half a day just wandering around.

    Our other favorite spot was the Rock of Cashel. Absolutely stunning.

  38. It’s so nice to read about your positive experience and those of your readers. As most of you probably know, here in Ireland we’re experiencing very difficult economic conditions, and it’s hard not to get mired in all the negative aspects of day-to-day life at the moment. How wonderful to see our country through your readers’ eyes… I too have lived in many places around the world, but there’s something incredibly special about the Irish landscape, and most especially the people here, which is why I am grateful to call it home. The love of conversation, genuine interest in other people and their experiences, deep rooted affinity with music and poetry: these things sound like cliches, but they’re 100% true. Most especially, visitors are always welcomed and their interest in Ireland and its history is deeply appreciated and happily shared.

  39. Hey Gabby! I stopped by your site today in hopes of finding pics of Ireland. So glad I did. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see your instagram pic, sharing that you had just stepped foot there. Yay! And I’m glad you loved it. The pic of Oscar playing hide and seek is absolutely my favorite.

    Your pics only confirm my feeling of wanting to get back there and discover more of the country, especially after recently finding out so many of my ancestors are from Northern Ireland.

    Beautiful post!

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