IRELAND, interlude: Renting a car on the Emerald Isle

Fun. Fairly chill. Easier than expected. 

Words I use to describe our experience driving around in Ireland, with me (exclusively) at the wheel.

Nerve-racking. White knuckles. Life flashed before my eyes.

Words my husband used to describe our experience driving around Ireland with me at the wheel.

Clearly, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this. But, I do assure you he’s being extremely dramatic. We hit nothing* and, contrary to his beliefs, we were not particularly close to hitting anything either. I’d also like to note that his account of it all has grown more dramatic with each retelling.

Anyway, THE TRUTH** 

It really wasn’t nearly as scary as I expected to be. I’ve only had one other experience driving on the left side of the road — I rented a scooter for several days in Thailand in 2008 — but on the motorway (highway) the traffic is completely divided so the only thing to remember was that the “fast lane” is on the right. In towns it took a smidge more gettng used to, particularly going “the wrong way” on roundabouts, but I felt pretty adjusted by the end of the first day. As in Sicily, the roads were quite narrow in a lot of places, but overall they were much better maintained and tended to be better marked than they are here. And the signs were all in English! (Also Gallic, as were all signs in Ireland).

I do think it would have been more stressful if I hadn’t already spent about eight months here driving a large van through very narrow streets and a lot of traffic. I mean, it was still stressful but much less than just driving in downtown Catania can be. Chris’ chief complaint came from his belief that I was driving too close to the edge of the road on the narrow streets on the passenger side, but I’d point out that while it was an adjustment — I kept feeling like I was driving headfirst into traffic on my side — I ultimately threaded the needle well enough to avoid hitting anything. Also noteworthy: I was the only one to drive in Ireland at all because it was deemed “your big idea.”


The one thing that actually did prove somewhat stressful was the car itself. Thursday morning we had to be out of our AirBnb by 10/10:30, and had plans to pick up the van I’d rented at 9 a.m. Since it was some distance away, Chris and I took a cab to go fetch it and left Gail and David with the kids and the bags. We expected to be back in plenty of time to load the kids and all our baggage into the car and be on our way by 10.

Instead, a mess. The van I reserved from Thrifty Car was billed as being a minivan for seven people and five bags. I pictured something akin to my own minivan. Instead, we were showed to a car that would have been a small five-seater vehicle. The sixth and seventh seats that could be pulled up in the back were ludicrous, no adult could reasonably have sat there and I’d doubt if we could have even gotten Fi’s carseat in. And the “space for five bags”? HAHAHAHAHA. The Thrifty Car representative feebly offered that the website had perhaps meant “space for five carry-on bags.” Again, a complete joke — you could perhaps have fit five small purses, and only if you pushed the back seats so far forward as to make them useless.

So, cue panic. We asked about bigger, automatic vans and they had a 9-passenger automatic one … for 1,300 euro. So about what my family had paid for our flight to Dublin PLUS all four nights at our AirBnB. We considered renting another car, but two cars for the trip? A nightmare. We considered storming off and trying to find another company with a more reasonably-priced van, but again that would take time and what if we couldn’t find one?

I probably don’t need to tell you how I was feeling at this point, but here is a visual representation of my mood all the same:

Finally, the Thrifty Guy suggested that he had a 7-passenger (actual) van at their location at the airport, which they could give for “only” almost twice what we were paying for the original van we’d reserved. That didn’t thrill me, but it was the best we could do. Awesome Thrify Girl offered to drive us to the airport to save time, which we really appreciated. However, it still left us in the quandry because a considerable amount of time had passed and now Gail, David, the kids and about six suitcases of varying sizes were hanging out outside our apartment. A regular taxi to send them to the airport wasn’t an option — too much luggage, too many people and no carseats. I tried calling the carseat-possessing taxi guy that I had used before and got him to agree to come with his van, but he didn’t have the carseat or booster seat with him. This is when Awesome Thrify Girl earned her name and offered to drop off the carseat and booster we were renting from them at the AirBnb. {Also at this point, the original taxi guy called back to say he had decided he didn’t have time after all — panic! — but ultimately he found someone else to send.}

Once we arrived at the AirBnb, Awesome Thrifty Girl agreed to have us take Fiona in her car as well as some of the bags, which mercifully took some pressure off Gail and David. She was also able to just go grab the keys for us from behind the counter once we got to the airport, which was a relief because there was an unbelievably epic line there.

The van itself proved to a Volkswagen, and very similar to the Eurovan I learned to drive on (minus the distinctive bright blue color of our beloved family van, Zippy). It didn’t have much giddyup when trying to accelerate, but I did manage to get it up to a reasonable 140 km/hour on the motorway at various points. It was certainly very wide and long, but it had room for everyone so no complaints here. We drove from Dublin to Cashel to a town near Ennis without incident that day, but of course our car drama wasn’t quite over …

Flat. Tire.

We were actually really lucky that this happened when it did, rather than on the highway. And we’re lucky that we discovered it when we did, as it would have been a huge hassle to have to change in the following morning when we were trying to go to the Cliffs of Moher and it was raining a ton. Instead, Chris and I discovered it in the evening as we were about to make a run to town from our beautiful countryside AirBnB into the town of Kilysdart to grab some dinner for everyone.

Locating the spare and getting it detached proved problematic, and resulted in three of us laying on the ground at various points and Chris whacking himself in the head with the wrench. But once it was off, Chris and David got it replaced pretty quickly. This was a particularly good thing because I had called the Thrifty helpline (back when I thought there wasn’t a spare tire in the car) and was told that it was $200 for someone to come out and replace it.

I need hardly say how unimpressed I am with Thrifty Car as an organization, though obviously Awesome Thrifty Girl was Awesome.

At any rate, I would still overall highly recommend driving in Ireland (with the exception of Dublin, where parking would suck). We’ve now done two consecutive trips that included a renting a car for a portion of it, and I’ve really enjoyed it both times (though obviously the process went a bit less smoothly this time compared to our time in the Loire Valley). Driving on your own gives you the opportunity to see the countryside as you are going, stop when you want to, linger at sights that catch your interest and — spoken like a mom here — store all your stuff. When we are walking around a city, we tend to take everything we need for the day and carry it in a backpack. WIth a car, you can prepare for all eventualities without actually having to carry around a snowsuit in July “just in case” your kid gets cold. Winning.

I do, however, recommend triple checking what kind of car you are actually getting. GRRRRRRR.

Road right outside our Kilysdart rental house. In the distance, the River Shannon. 

*Except some branches overhanging into the road, which do not count beause they are branches. hanging. in. the street. Chris disagrees that these “don’t count,” but also hit some branches just the other day while we were driving around in Sicily. So.

**Because it is my blog, and I get to decide.

3 Responses

  1. Oma

    Is it even considered a vacation if nothing goes wrong? Never experienced the phenomenon but could happen someday !!

  2. Aunt Jan

    you mean you two have differences of opinion/perspective??

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