On the Road Again – with 26 Strangers, in Ireland

The pros and cons of group touring in Ireland

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Ladies View at Killarney National Park. Flickr/ilaria
Ladies View at Killarney National Park. Flickr/ilaria

Pros and Cons of Group Travel

I have been a travel writer and editor for more than 26 years – thus my previous trips to Ireland. I might have been able to do enough research to learn of all the stops I’ll make in five days I’ll spend with Dee and three on the more-sedate tour. Instead, I’ve decided to experience the pros and cons of giving yourself up to an escorted tour. For instance:

Things I Didn’t Know to See or Do in Ireland:

  • A brief boat ride to Skellig Michael, a mountainous island boasting an ancient, abandoned monastery, reached by a 620-step climb lacking handrails. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but in the most-recent Star Wars film, it is at the top of this island where our heroes find Luke Skywalker. Alas, it is about 10 days too soon for Skellig to be open to visitors. But Dee knows of the Skellig Experience visitors’ center, with a fine video –plus a scary safety video that details that climb to the top.
  • The breathtaking Ladies View down toward into lakes of Killarney National Park, 26,000 acres of loveliness. The view is reminiscent of the stop on the main entrance into Yosemite. Options in the park for our group are a two-hour bike ride or pleasant ride in a horse-drawn “jaunting car’’. (The sedate tour has no biking option but does have a tour of the mansion in the park.) Before reaching the park we had stopped to buy picnic lunches; when Dee realizes there are no picnic tables in the park and that the ground is damp, she takes us back up to Ladies View, where we sit on a low stone wall and eat while admiring the panorama.
  • The famine cottage and nearby stone circle — two pieces of history with no explanatory tablets or brochures to instruct visitors.
  • MacCarthy’s pub, in waterfront Castletownbere featured on the cover of English writer Pete McCarthy’s hilarious McCarthy’s Bar; a picture of the pub is the book’s cover photo. His goal was to find all the pubs with a version of his name, while puzzling out Ireland’s social culture.
  • Where to find the best, cheap, small-combo concerts that occur almost nightly in the tourist-popular town of Dingle. The venues I visited included a former church and a music store – where the owner insisted everyone have a shot (or two) of Irish whiskey at intermission.
  • The fun of the Vagatron whipping through figure 8s on the packed sand at Inch Beach, in a sea mist – after which Dee suggested we should walk back to a coffee house to meet the minivan. Striding through the mist was great fun.
  • The perfect “local’’ but one loaded with history: the South Pole Inn, the pub founded in his hometown of Annascaul by Thomas Crean, No. 3 officer in Earnest Shackelton’s third Antarctic voyage. The walls are covered with historic photos of that heroic adventure.
Driving in Ireland. Flickr/Shannon Hurst Lane
Driving in Ireland. Flickr/Shannon Hurst Lane

What I Gave Up by Not Driving Myself, Alone:

  • Control over each day’s routine, such as where to go, where to eat, where to stop for no reason other than to admire the view and to let my thoughts wander, and where to spend the night.

What I Gained by Not Driving Myself, Alone:

  • The ability to enjoy the passing landscape, rather than gripping the steering wheel – and why do the Irish and the British drive on the wrong side?
  • Exchanging observations and anecdotes with a group of like-minded travelers.

Would I book another escorted tour, in Ireland or elsewhere? It would depend on how much research I wanted to do on desired destinations and how well any tour would match my list.

Yes, with a tour you take the chance of being forced to spend time with disagreeable people. On the other hand, you might make new friends and/or learn about their customs and daily routines in far-away places. Tasmania, anyone?

For more information, on Vagabond Tours Ltd., go to http://vagabondtoursofireland.ie

Author Bio: Robert N. Jenkins, travel editor for 19 years of the Tampa Bay, FL, Times, has been a freelance writer for the past 9 years. His four e-book anthologies are available at the Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords sites. For more information, go to www.smashwords.com/author/robertjenkins