We camped out on our trip to Ireland for over two months, surviving a record-breaking, rainy June, and a dryer July. I wouldn't have had it any other way - we woke up in the most beautiful places in Counties Clare, Limerick, Kerry, and Cork, next to crumbling castles, on the edges of spectacular cliffs, with sand dunes for our bed and the sky as our ceiling. I'd do it again in a second, but step it up next time - cruising in a camper with the option to tent it, weather permitting. We learned a few things along the way that I want to share with you.
Get a spacious tent that comfortably sleeps your party. We bought a boxed set from Dunnes in Galway - a two-person tent, two sleeping bags, and two sleeping mats for 30 euro, a deal. It did the job and held up for the entire trip. We did have to be careful with the poles, some started to split from overuse. The tent was not the most comfortable - it was too small for my travel companion, who is a tall man. His head poked out the top, and his feet poked out the bottom. We had barely room to move inside. I recommend buying a slightly larger tent - over time, you will be grateful for the extra space.
Buy a good tarp. It is indispensable for keeping the water out of your bed. We'd pitch our tent, throw the tarp over it, and tuck the corners of the tarp under the tent securely, to keep water from getting in. Then we'd cinch the back of the tarp snuggly around the tent, and stake down the front, to diminish loud flapping noises caused by the wind. That sound can really keep you awake. The tarp did a decent job of keeping water out, but it was slightly too small for our tent to keep it totally dry inside. The tarp was 12 euro, and a totally good investment, purchased from a hardware store.
Prepare for rain. It will come, and it will go, and it will come again. It is a condition of this place, and why the scenery is so phenomenally green. We did okay without rain gear. We had our thick, woolen pea coats to keep the rain off our backs.
Wear wool. Buy a good woolen sweater. It is the best defense against wind and cold, and Ireland is the best place to find beautiful woolen goods. When you drive up to the edge of a cliff and want to get out and see the scenery and the cold sea blast frightens you back into the car - this means that you are not dressed properly. One good sweater will allow you to enjoy the landscape to your heart's content and not freeze to death.
Buy some rubber boots - or wellies, as they're called in Ireland. They are indispensable when setting up camp in the rain, trooping across wet bog lands to waterfalls, tromping through sea rivers at low tide, or cruising through a muddy forest park. I was using my running sneakers to explore, and they got permanently water-logged, so I had to eventually trash them, leaving me with only two pairs of shoes: flip-flops and rubber boots. And I did just fine, actually. On the sunny days, I could air out my toes in the flip-flops. On the rainy days, I'd kept my feet well protected in the rubbers boots. These are really the only essential you need in Ireland. Okay, with the addition of one pair of sexy heels for going out.
Beware of midges. Midges are tiny mosquitoes, small enough to get through screen and get into your car - I don't know how they do the later. Midges come out just after the rains. If there's any amount of wind or rain, you won't see midges. But when the wind dies, and if the rain has just stopped, they come swarming, especially around lake areas. So keep this in mind when you're picking a spot. Keep in mind current weather conditions, impending weather changes, and location.
Beware of ticks. Ticks live in the grasses. They are tough to avoid because soft grass is ideal under the body - it provides a natural cushion to sleep on. I think a tent does a good job of keeping out the ticks - just be careful of lazing around in the grass all day. You might pick up a few on your body. So inspect your body periodically for ticks, especially after camping for a few days.
Keep breakfast in your car. You won't regret it. After a night under the stars, I'd always wake up starving. Muesli, soymilk or a small carton of fresh milk purchased the night before, yogurt, and fresh fruit or baked goods are always good. Fresh juice is good too. It is enough to worry about packing up the tent, dressing yourself, etc., especially when you are hungry. It is a real pain to then have to drive to find food, especially if you are in a remote and beautiful place. Keep a box of food in the backseat, one with fresh things you can dip into for the day's meals.
Keep plenty of water. We carted around several big, plastic jugs and refilled them with water from the tap - we had no issues. We then filled our smaller, personal water bottles from these. Tap water is okay to drink in Ireland. However, Galway City was in the midst of a contaminated water issue during our visit, so pay attention to the local news, to hear about what is safe and unsafe to consume.
Food doesn't really need to be refrigerated. Or cooked, for that matter. We discovered that some dairy goods will keep for up to 48 hours unrefrigerated. By then, you'll already have consumed them. So don't freak out about having no way to keep things cold. Just purchase smartly and in small quantities. Two people can go through 400 grams of cheese in 1-2 days. Yogurt is okay, as long as you eat it within one day of purchase. Milk, we would consume within 12 hours. Soy milk, consume within a day.
The same goes with cooking food. I'm not saying to buy and eat raw meat or anything. But you don't need to cook many foods. We discovered some very good, fresh soups in the refrigerated sections of stores - not the canned soups -- and we did perfectly fine eating them cold with bread. We ate raw tofu. Our diet was mainly raw, uncooked foods - raw veggies, salads I washed in plastic bags of water and tossed roadside, fruits, etc. We developed no food borne illnesses. In fact, the two times my travel companion got sick, we attribute to eating bad, cooked food in restaurants.
Buy fresh food and treat your body well. We drank 100% juices each day, ate fresh fruits and veggies, and drank lots of water. Dairy and wheat are plentiful in Ireland, so we ate a lot of organic yogurts, local cheeses, and fresh breads too. By the end of the trip, though, I felt as if over-reliance on dairy and wheat had caused my body to become lactose and wheat intolerant. So balance things out, pay attention to how your body is feeling, and adapt and make changes as needed.
Be sanitary - it really helps in the long term. Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Comb your hair. I lost my brush at a hotel in Dublin in mid July, and didn't brush my hair for a couple weeks. It was a fun experiment to go brushless, but I did make sure to comb my hair with my fingers, to keep up appearances.
Pack comfortable clothes - essential items that won't show dirt. Jeans are good. A couple breathable tops. A coat. Clean socks and underwear. A couple towels to alternate. A pillow is good, but you can also use rolled up clothing. A swimsuit.
Plan out when and where you'll need to do laundry. The services in town are expensive, costing as much as 14 euro for a bag, which is $20. For someone who's used to spending a few quarters, we had to find other ways to get our clothes clean. Hostels are a good place, the laundry service is five to eight euro. Caravan and camping parks are good too, with self-serve washers and dryers. Plan to spend at least 5 euro washing and drying your laundry. When the weather is fine, you can line dry it. Clean clothes are essential when camping.
Figure out when and where you can shower. People have difference tolerances for this. When you are ready to shower, make sure you can - that the shower has proper water temperature and pressure. Otherwise, you'll be very pissed off. Typically, we would camp out for five to seven nights in a row, then stay in a hostel or B&B, where we could treat ourselves good. Cook a good dinner, shower and get clean, do our laundry, etc.
I hope all the above helps you with your journey. Camping in Ireland can be totally fun, if you are smart about it and do it right.
Written by Liz O'Malley - Summer of Travel 2007