Five Mistakes Not to Make: Ireland

Kinsale, County Cork

I might be a little biased, being from Ireland and all, but it is one of the most amazing places on the planet. Certainly we have our problems (economic recession, political squabbles, a tendency towards alcoholism, not to mention a lot of rainy days) but none of them have quenched the Irish people’s love of a good time with friends old and new. So here are a few mistakes you should absolutely avoid:

#1 Do not believe weather forecasts, especially in summer. For days before my wedding in Kinsale, my mother checked AccuWeather every hour and every hour it predicted something totally different. Torrential downpours covered the county that day and we ended up with blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Your best bet is to cover your bases. No matter what the month, bring jeans, a sweater, and always (ALWAYS) bring a raincoat.¬†And no, an umbrella alone will not suffice.¬†Ireland is an island at the mercy of the winds of the Atlantic and horizontal rain is a de facto national treasure. Also, don’t be surprised if you feel sunshine and rain on your face at the same time — it’s where we get all those rainbows from.

#2 Don’t get all your food and pub recommendations from the guidebooks or them internets. Most Irish people like to talk and you’d be amazed at how enthusiastically they’ll suggest where to go and what to eat and who to talk to.

#3 Give yourself enough time. There’s a lot to see in Ireland but it’s not a country that lends itself to rushing. Keep in mind this is a nation where herds of sheep still cause traffic delays. Some international destinations are more enjoyable when you have a set plan to follow but Ireland lends itself to a more flexible game plan. If you’re here to tick off castles and landmarks on a list of Must See Things, then you will inevitably miss out on the casual, spontaneous atmosphere of the country. So in addition to budgeting time to leisurely stroll around, I suggest you also…

#4 Be willing to get lost, particularly around the countryside. The motorways were updated splendidly a few years ago and my annual 4-hour drive from Tipperary to Dublin has been reduced to 2 hours, which is phenomenal when you’re a local. However, visitors miss out because it used to be that any trip between major cities would lead you through a myriad of small, brightly painted towns. While Dublin and Cork and Limerick have their dodgy alleyways same as any other big city, the countryside is laden with hidden gems. So go exploring. Get lost. Ask directions. Meet some people.

#5 Lastly, skip the beaches. Some countries are known for their warm turquoise waters and soft white sand; Ireland is not one of them. Unless you’re into (and sufficiently skilled at) sailing or surfing, I would suggest you instead visit the breathtaking cliffs that line the coasts.

After visiting Ireland, it’s not really hard to see why it tops so many lists of places to visit. From the fresh, delicious food to the famously hospitable people to the lush rolling landscape to the music and literature to the aeons of history and architecture, there is literally something for everyone. Except maybe people intent on getting a tan.

Five Mistakes Not to Make: Hanoi

My theory is that as long as I have my passport and some money, I can figure the rest out. For my slightly more prepared and detail-oriented travel companions, this lackadaisical approach is maddening. And although I think disastrous changes of plan and getting lost in a foreign city are undervalued opportunities, I will admit there are a few mistakes I made in Hanoi this past weekend that I wish I hadn’t made. So draw wisdom from my errors and go forth!

#1 With the exception of the words ‘Thank You’, English isn’t even sort of prevalent. Before you damn me as an unreasonable tourist demanding that the world speak American, let me say that in a number of other Southeast Asian countries (Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, to name a few) English actually is fairly widespread. Menu items had columns of English translations; the locals spoke enough English for a simple conversation and sometimes even a more involved one; even some street signs were readable. Vietnam, however, makes you work a little harder. Outside of national monuments and tourist hubs, you’re going to need to buckle up and use a phrase book. Or work on your charades.

#2 May isn’t the best month to visit Hanoi. When it wasn’t raining, it was scorchingly sunny. When I remembered my umbrella, it wasn’t the worst (could always be monsoon season) but it also wasn’t ideal for traipsing around outdoors. Our guide for our day trip to Ha Long Bay suggested September or October instead.

#3 You need a map. Hell, we used three maps: the one the hotel gave us, a printout from Google maps, and the offline map of the city downloaded onto my phone. And we still got turned around at a couple of Hanoi’s monster intersections. Not that I don’t love getting lost in new places but…

#4 The city’s most popular sites have oddly specific hours and you’ll want to arrive early. Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is only open in the mornings and on Sundays it is MOBBED. Also you will be denied access if you’re wearing shorts. Because my pasty white thighs were really going to offend the dead guy.

#5 Bug spray. Use all the bug spray. Hanoi isn’t called the City of Lakes for nothing, and where there are lakes, there are mosquitoes.

Regardless of my missteps, I have to say I fell in love with Hanoi’s easy blend of the traditional and the modern. I loved its delicate, old French architecture and especially adored the food. And now that I’ve learned some lessons the hard way, I’m looking forward to a much smoother trip on my next visit.