United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

Normally I am not one to care about celebrating birthdays. I’m good with the “happy birthday” messages and well-wishes and calling it a day. I turned forty this year, though, and Emily decided that meant it was a milestone that should be celebrated in style. I knew she had something planned, but I never imagined the surprise in store for me. Before we delve into the trip itself, I want to provide a little bit of backstory on what made this trip such a huge thing for me, provide a little bit of information on some things I learned preparing for the trip, and provide the high level plan for the trip we mapped out. Part two of the series will start to go through the trip itself (and depending on how long that post gets it may be continued in further posts).

This is what I received in a gift bag for my birthday!

Let’s start with what makes this such a big deal for me: I have always felt a strong desire to relocate to the British Isles without having ever visited. It was, and remains, a dream. There is no rational reason for this desire, or why I have always felt as though the region seems to be calling me home (especially given that I was born and raised in the southeastern United States, so it is a completely manufactured feeling), and yet it is a feeling that has only grown stronger with time. When I pulled the little plane out of the gift bag I was expecting something like Boston, Chicago, or New York… one of the cities Emily and I have talked about wanting to explore together. I immediately teared up when I saw London on the slip of paper. This was it. I was finally getting my chance to see if the region I felt so strongly about would be able to meet the expectations I had manufactured in my imagination and dreams.

Even my wildest expectations were blown away.

Immediately I became anxious. I was anxious about being able to fit in the highlights I felt I needed to see if I only ever managed to get this one trip to the region. I was anxious about being separated from Jacob for so long and by such a distance. I was anxious about everything that needed to be considered and handled prior to the trip in case there were any issues or problems. And yet, I was ridiculously excited.

Over the next couple of weeks we formed a list of “must-see” or “must-do” items, as well as a list of “like to see” or “like to do” items. It became apparent quickly that we would need to travel light to accommodate our list, as we would need to do a lot of travel in the British Isles. We made the decision that we would travel without any checked baggage, taking only what could be carried onto a plane. There are a few items that were purchased that made this significantly easier for me to manage, given that I was going to lose a significant amount of space by carrying my camera equipment (two camera bodies and three lenses, which roughly equated to all of the available space in my “personal item” bag, limiting everything else I would need to take to be able to be packed in a single carry-on that could be stowed in the compartments above the seats on any airplane). I won’t go through all of the items in detail that made this easy to accomplish, but below are links and brief highlights for the things that really made a huge difference in making such light packing for disparate weather conditions, terrain, and needs possible:

  • Allbirds Merino Wool Shoes (link)

  • Aviator Jeans (link)

  • Icebreaker Merino Wool Clothing (link)

  • Xero Hana Canvas Shoes (link)

I elected to invest in a small selection of merino wool clothing items for three reasons: thermal-regulating properties, anti-microbial properties, and weight. This proved to be an invaluable decision, as I was able to rotate three shirts, combined with a couple of different lightweight outer layers, throughout the entire trip without issue. Allowing the shirts to simply air out overnight on a hanger was all that was required to eliminate any odors picked up over the course of the day, and the shirts never felt as though they were unclean. The Allbirds wool runners allowed me to comfortably forego socks when wearing them, meaning I could pack two pairs of wool socks for use with the Xero shoes and perform a similar “airing out” of the pair that was worn when wearing the other pair.

Two pairs of shoes was a necessity simply so that I would not find myself forced to wear shoes that had been soaked through and not had time to dry, given the likelihood of encountering rain during our travels (though this ended up not really being an issue, I did not want to risk ruining my enjoyment of the trip if it had been). As already mentioned, the Allbirds shoes were comfortable without socks, but even more important was the fact that my feet stayed comfortable whether it was hot or cold outside, meaning I knew I could count on them regardless of what the weather conditions were like each day. Similarly, using wool socks with the Xero shoes felt the same, and both pairs of shoes could be flattened pretty easily (and were very lightweight), making it much easier to pack everything into a single carry-on.

Finally, I elected to try a pair of so-called “travel” jeans for this trip, and while these were not necessary I am quite glad that I purchased them (I was looking to replace a pair of worn-out jeans regardless, so these weren’t really driven by the same thoughts as the other items above). The Aviator jeans proved to be extremely comfortable regardless of weather conditions, dried quickly if they did get wet, and and offered some extra flexibility that I was glad to have during the trip (specifically having the hidden pockets allowed me to keep Euros and British Pounds separate easily, and allowed me to keep my wallet and phone more secure when I felt the need). The jeans are so comfortable, in fact, that they have become my preferred pair for everyday wear.

Jesse at Thornbury Castle.

Planning the trip itself actually ended up being fairly simple, though figuring out the logistics of travel and accommodations took a little bit of time. Going into planning, there were a handful of absolutes that formed the basic framework of the trip: explore London, explore Edinburgh, explore some of Ireland’s natural beauty, see Anfield, and see Hamilton. We just had to figure out what it meant to us to “explore” those areas. To get started, we did what any rational traveler might do: we googled things like “London in a day,” “Edinburgh in a day,” and “must-see Scotland, Ireland.” In fairness, Emily had been to London and Dublin before, so there was also some level of experience in what might make for an enjoyable trip. The basic framework became: stay in a castle that feels like a castle, see iconic London locations, explore the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, plan a road trip in Ireland and spend a day exploring the Wild Atlantic Way, see Anfield, and watch Hamilton in London. Although it seemed like a pretty tall order for a nine day trip (might as well be seven when you count the travel on both ends), we managed to hit all of the highlights on our list while also squeezing in a few little extras. Outlined below is the general itinerary of the trip, and in the next post I’ll start with more details of each day’s adventures:

  • Monday, August 26th - Travel

  • Tuesday, August 27th - Arrive in London, explore, stay in the Bankside Hotel (Marriott Autograph Collection)

  • Wednesday, August 28th - Train to Bristol, exploration of and stay at Thornbury Castle

  • Thursday, August 29th - Train to Liverpool, tour Anfield, train to Edinburgh, stay in an apartment with a view of the castle (Airbnb)

  • Friday, August 30th - Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, hike Arthur’s Seat

  • Saturday, August 31st - Fly to Dublin and pick up rental car, Ireland road trip, stay at Connoles Cottage (Airbnb) in County Clare

  • Sunday, September 1st - The Cliffs of Moher and the Wild Atlantic Way

  • Monday, September 2nd - Drive back to Dublin, Guinness Storehouse and general Dublin exploration, fly back to London, stay in a London flat (Airbnb)

  • Tuesday, September 3rd - Explore more of London, watch Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre

  • Wednesday, September 4th - Travel

Posts and related media in this series (note that links will be added when the associated posts are published):

  1. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Background and Overview

  2. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - England

  3. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Scotland

  4. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Ireland

  5. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Wrap-Up and Miscellaneous Thoughts

  6. United Kingdom and Ireland Trip - Photo Gallery

  7. Aviator Jeans Travel Story (External Link)