For Ireland, this meant weighing many factors: paid vacation time, kids' schedule at home, weather in Ireland, family events at home (new babies, etc.), etc. When trying to weigh these various factors to come to a decision, I always start with research.
Google is my friend. Trip research always begins with Google. I start several searches looking for travel websites, travel blogs, and articles discussing when the best time to visit Ireland is. Once I start seeing several people saying the same thing, I can narrow my decision. I try and always vary my search to find more obscure information. For example, I started with the obvious, "Best time of year to visit Ireland." But, after reading several sites from that search I also do other searches, such as, "Shoulder travel season in Ireland," "Driest weather in Ireland," "May or September in Ireland?" "Favorite time of year in Ireland," "Worst time of year in Ireland," "Ireland weather." Each search tends to give me more information to narrow the next search.
Doing this I found that the main tourist season is June through August. I don't like to go places at the peak tourist season if I can help it, because I think we're more likely to see something authentic if we're not with the crowd, so I was more interested to find that the "shoulder" season was in May and September. Shoulder season means you're right at the start or end of tourist season. You still can see most historical sites and most everything available to tourists is still open, but you often get better travel deals and there are less people.
I then started to research which would be better. Doing a few of the side-topic searches eventually got me to a site that explained that the first two weeks of May are the driest in Ireland. Ireland is known to be moderate and damp year-round. Summer highs are only in the upper 60's. Our best chance of not spending everyday being rained on is statistically to go in the first two weeks of May which is conveniently in the early shoulder seasons.
Once we figured out when we'd like to go, then we start weighing in the other factors - time off from work, kids, etc. eventually arriving at the tentative dates of May 6th-22nd. Next, I start making up lots of possible itineraries for those days to figure out how to spend our time and where to go....
Where to Go
One of things I like to do when deciding where to go and what to do is check out the library. Last night I spent about an hour looking through every book found under a library search keyword: Ireland. I maxed out my "holds" list and added more to my waiting to put on hold list. I like to read up on any place I'm going to I have a variety of books to check out. In addition to travel guides, I check out novels, histories, classics from that country and books on architecture of the kind we'll see on any given trip
I really like historical fiction for getting a flavor of a place. More than travel guides, or even histories, I often feel I connect with a place through stories told in the history of that place. Historical fiction makes me want to go and see the places my characters have been. So far the book that has done this for me in Ireland is Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly. I actually read it in preparation to go to Chicago because half of the book is set in Chicago. It is a story of the Irish Famine and Diaspora. Now I really want to see Galway Bay and Connemara. I'm hoping some others from the 75 books I have on hold will inspire more rabbit trails along the pathway of our trip.
If Google is my friend for finding first facts of when and where to go - the Gladstone Library is my friend when in comes to being inspired to really want to find when we go.
Things I Learned on the Trip
- You need time to soak it all in. We have to force ourselves NOT to see everything at least once a week, twice would've been better. This means being somewhere, knowing there is stuff we are going to miss nearby, but choosing to stay in or find somewhere to sit and think, write and absorb.
- It would be good to have a list of suggested places to eat in the cities and larger towns. You're going to be spending money on food - a lot of money in Ireland - and rather than just trying to happen upon somthing you'll like, it would be nice to have some suggested places. We've happened upon some good things, but also some wastes-of-money. Going out is a treat, it would be nice to have somewhere that tastes like a treat.
- Find a way to pack lighter. It was HARD to pack just enough for 18 days without bringing a lot of stuff, but lugging around that giant suitcase we bought is a drag. I worry too much about looking nice when I'm traveling. I could've packed lighter because no one cares what I look like and besides, my coat is on almost all the time. I could've re-worn more. I also could've packed fewer options - clothing options, shoes, books, etc. One nice outfit to re-wear in NYC, Waterford, church would've been fine and then more practical, boring clothes for the rest of the time. Three pairs of pants would've done me instead of 3 pairs of pants and 3 pairs of capris. There has to be a way to pack lighter!!!
- Assume I'm not going to make it out until 10am every day. We get up around 6ish most days, but you can't keep that up forever if you want to go to pubs at night and deal with an 8 hour time difference and the exhausted of walking/hiking all day, every day. It would be better to plan to not get out until later so there's more slop in the schedule.