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Ireland by Bus or Car

The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel’s resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She’s always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.

De De traveler writes, “My husband and I are senior citizens and want to take our first overseas trip to Ireland and Scotland. Our budget is limited and we prefer a packaged deal to take the hassle of planning out of our hands. We wish to go in the spring of 2010. It has always been my dream to visit Ireland and we want to go while our health is still good enough to travel.”

Ireland holds a very special place in my heart—I happen to think everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime—so I’m thrilled to help you make your dream a reality. A vacation package can be a simple way to plan a trip, but as there are so many ways to visit the Emerald Isle, you will need to decide some key factors before you book.

One of the first items of business is transportation. Would you prefer driving your own vehicle (remember, the steering wheel and the car are located on different sides than in the States), or does a guided tour in a motorcoach sound more your speed? This one element will change whether you will book a package that has a car rental or one that has a detailed and guided itinerary.

The latter package is typically more expensive—nearly every step of your trip is planned and guided—and oftentimes doesn’t include airfare. For instance, Sceptre Tours offers a six-day land-only Irish Escape Tour starting at $419 (without taxes and fees) per person in March. The deal includes four-nights’ accommodations, four full Irish breakfasts, two dinners, a Dublin City Tour, a guide, and transportation aboard a motorcoach that stops at the Cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry, and Blarney Woolen Mills. The price is reasonable, but this is a whirlwind tour.

If you want something a little more relaxed, i.e. more days, you’ll end up spending a bit extra. For instance, has an Irish Spree Escorted Tour starting at $1,049 (without taxes and fees) per person in March. The package includes six nights’ accommodations, airport transfers, daily full Irish breakfast, three dinners, entrance fees, an Irish tour director, and escorted sightseeing by luxury motor coach to Dublin, Tipperary, Killarney, Ring of Kerry, Cliffs of Moher, and Galway.

If you choose to go this route, you will need to coordinate flights to coincide with the times of the tour. Plus, you will have to factor in the additional cost of airfare. Aer Lingus is currently offering a sale on flights to Dublin between January and April. Prices start at $448 (without taxes and fees) for departures from New York City (other departure cities are available for a higher price), and there is no booking deadline. Remember to always compare prices before booking to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

If you want to brave the roads and be independent, EuropeASAP offers an eight-day Explore Ireland with B&Bs in Winter package starting at $729 (without taxes and fees) per person for travel before March 25, 2010. The deal includes round-trip airfare from New York City to Dublin, a seven-day car rental, vouchers for six-nights’ accommodations, and daily Irish breakfast. You must book by November 23. This package allows you the freedom to see what you want on your own time and at your own pace. However, it does require a bit of planning on your behalf on where to go and stay.

The escorted tour (with airfare) costs about $1,497 (without taxes and fees) per person, whereas the EuropeASAP independent package costs $729 (without taxes or fees) per person, or $1,458 for two people. It’s obvious that the independent package is the less expensive option, but sometimes it’s worth the extra money for a relaxing vacation.

You also mentioned that you hoped to visit Scotland as well. There are similar packages as the ones listed above for Scotland if you want to book the countries separately, but Sceptre Tours also offers a Celtic Highlights escorted tour in April starting at $2,299 (without taxes and fees) per person, which combines the best of Scotland, England’s Lake District, North Wales, and Ireland. The package includes 11-night accommodations in Glasgow, Inverness, Edinburgh, Chester, Dublin, Killarney, Sligo, and Belfast; daily full breakfast; seven three-course dinners; transportation by luxury motor coach; and a professional guide. The price is quite a bit more, but this trip will help take the headache out of coordinating two separate packages to Ireland and Scotland.

I hope this brings Ireland and fulfilling your dream one step closer, and I look forward to hearing about your adventures across the Pond.

As for my other readers: Have you had any experience with an independent package versus an escorted tour? Please share your experiences and ideas below.

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