My Hopefully Slightly Helpful Guide To Ireland

Green as far as the eye can see.

I know, I know–this is a beauty blog with some shots of entrepreneurship posts. Maybe I have no place writing about travel, but here’s the thing about me: I like to be a good helper. And when I have info that I think could help someone, I have to share it.

I recently spent nine days in Ireland, the country of my maternal grandfather’s ancestors (until 23andMe tells me otherwise). I traveled with a friend, hitting up six different cities/towns with no real itinerary. We decided to “wing it,” which goes against the core of my very being, but I surprisingly ended up being totally okay with it. We started in Dublin, then went to Galway, then to Doolin, followed by Killarney, then Dingle, then Kilkenny and finally back to Dublin. I learned a lot while I was there, and since Ireland seems to be a popular travel destination lately, I thought I’d pass on what I learned.

MONEY

Cash Money. I planned on primarily using my credit card while I was there, but I wanted to have some cash on me when I arrived (to avoid hefty ATM fees). I ordered 250 euro from my bank, and I came back after my trip with 10, so I think I got the right amount for me. There were a couple of tours we did (Cliffs of Moher and Killarney National Park) that did not accept credit cards, so I think it’s good to have euros on hand for those kinds of things, as well as for tolls if you are driving.

Euro Euro Bills, Y’All. When you pay by credit card, the merchant will ask you if you want the charge to be in euros or dollars. I had learned beforehand that the financially wise answer is “euros,” so I stuck with that. There’s no way I can explain the reasoning to you in a way that makes sense, so just read this.

It’s gotsta be in Euros.

Gettin’ Tip-sy. They say there’s not a strong “tipping culture” in Ireland, and that certainly was the case from what I observed. There was no gratuity option for most of the credit card transactions I made. I tipped the tour guides, a taxi driver, some restaurants, the Dublin hair stylist who gave me a great blowout and my friend and I left one or two euros at some pubs where we could see others had done the same (seemed cheap but that’s what others were doing). I was a little confused about who to tip and how much to tip. As an over-tipper in the US, it felt so weird not to tip or to leave a smaller tip than I would normally leave, but I tried looking it up beforehand and seeing what others were doing. If I screwed anyone over, I’m sorry!

ACCOMMODATIONS

Where You Rest At? Out of our eight nights in Ireland, we stayed in B&Bs for all but three of the nights. Our first one, which was also our second night in Ireland, was in Galway. My friend had researched some the night before but we didn’t book anything. We walked in, asked them if they had a room, and luckily they did. WINGIN’ ITTTTTTTTTTT! Our first and last nights were in Dublin and I had booked hotels there before we left (I figured we wouldn’t want to deal with a potential hassle of finding accommodations on travel days), but other than Dublin and Galway, we booked the rest of the places the night before we got there. I think this worked because it was off season, but I’m not sure it would be as easy during peak season. We heard that B&Bs–not Airbnbs–were the way to go, and I have to agree with that. We had breakfast options at the B&Bs and our hosts were all very nice, plus the rooms were very affordable (again, likely off season perks). If I were to go to Ireland again, I would definitely stay in B&Bs.

Bed Time. When booking a B&B or hotel in Ireland, you’ll be asked to choose whether you want a twin or double room. A twin room has two beds, which are sometimes twin beds, sometimes doubles. (In one hotel room in Dingle, there was one twin bed and one double bed, which my friend and I played rock, paper, scissors for. I slept very well and spaciously that night.) A double room has one bed, and it’s usually a king or queen. My friend and I got twin rooms everywhere we went, and most of the time, the rooms had two twin beds. And FYI, twin beds in Ireland are roughly thee inches smaller (less wide) than American twin beds. Even I felt like they were small, and I’m referred to as “tiny” on a regular basis.

I won a game of “big bed, small bed” at this hotel.

Be Adaptable. You know they have different outlets over there, right? I was bringing a laptop and phone with me so I knew I’d need to charge them each day. Someone had suggested this three pack of adapters, and they worked great for me. If you’re going to buy adapters, just be aware of the voltage of the thing(s) you’ll need to plug in so you can choose the right adapters.

Switch It Up. I think all of the outlets I saw in Ireland had a little switch on them to be turned on or off for power. My jet lagged brain didn’t even see the switch my first night there, so I woke up to an almost dead laptop. My friend nicely pointed out the switch, and I made sure to turn the outlets on going forward. Easy peasy.

It All Comes Out In The Wash. I had heard that a lot of hotels and B&Bs in Ireland don’t have wash cloths–and this makeup ain’t coming off without one–so I brought some with me. I knew I would just use them and leave them there, so I bought some cheap ones instead of bringing the ones from my house. Some of the hotels and B&Bs did have white wash cloths but along with those were signs saying they were not to be used for makeup removal, so I think I made the right choice.

CLOTHING

Pack Rat. The type of clothing you pack for Ireland depends on where you’re going and what you’ll be doing. If you’re an outdoor adventure traveler, it doesn’t really make sense for you to bring three dresses now, does it? But if you only ever wear dresses and you don’t plan on hiking anytime this millennium, do you. I brought mostly casual clothes, saving my dressiest options for Dublin. But actually, Killarney is where I saw the most fancy folk. I don’t even remember seeing any women in heels until we got to Killarney, which–and this might have been due to the bank holiday long weekend–was full of dressed up people, some in what I could consider club clothes. Other than that, I didn’t feel out of place in my casual clothes.

Minimalist Tendencies. I overpacked, no doubt about it. I was in Ireland for pretty much eight full days (got in around 8:00am the first day), and then a half day there the day we left. For some reason, I had in my head that I needed 12 days worth of outfits. I’ma get real detailed here because I know some of you want that. I brought four pairs of Topshop skinny jeans (denim, light gray, dark gray and black). Three or even two pairs would have been enough. I wore one of them only once. I brought four pairs of leggings (two thin, one thick and one fleece-lined). One thin and the fleece-lined (which did come in handy) would have been enough. I brought three fleeces (knowing I’d wear one or two over my pajamas), but two would have plenty. I packed 12 shirts and didn’t wear three of them. I bought four pairs of shoes–flat boots, wedge boots, hiking boots and sneakers. I could have done without the sneakers, as I mainly wore the flat boots. I brought too many pairs of underwear and socks, but I don’t regret that because they didn’t take up much room. But I definitely could have done without some of the pants, shirts and the sneakers. Ooops.

Fellow overpackers: Try to change your ways.

CLIMATE

Weather Through It. I thought I was going to need to buy a raincoat when I got to Ireland, but that would have been unnecessary. It didn’t even rain all of the days that we were there, which I had expected it would. (But it was also implied several times that we were there in a good weather stretch.) A few people told us that you can experience all four seasons in a day in Ireland, but I never felt summer. It was in the 40s and 50s while we were there, but high 50s and sunny does feel like spring, so I’ll give ’em that. We got hailed on–twice–while on The Cliffs of Moher, and there was a cold, windy day in Dingle. If you want to travel somewhere for consistently warm, sunny weather, Ireland is probably not the best option. But if you hit a nice stretch like we did, it’s really not bad (and that’s coming from someone who flees to the South to escape New England winters).

PUBS & RESTAURANTS

Ready, Freddy? Have your drink order ready when you go to the bar. Cocktail menus were scarce (which I’m fine with, but I know others expect them), and it became clear early on that you’re expected to you know what you want when the bartender comes over to you. We didn’t encounter any small talk from bartenders anywhere we went. Usually we got a “Hiya” or “Hello,” followed by a stare, which I learned meant “Order your drink now or I’m walking away” at most places. This could have just been the places we went to, but it’s worth passing along anyway.

DIY Style. If you order a mixed drink–like a vodka soda–you will be given the vodka in a glass, then your club soda in a bottle, and you become your own bartender. I liked this, as the majority of mixed drinks I’ve gotten in Newport lately have not even been given a half-assed stir, so I’m used to doing that part myself anyway. And since I often drink tequila with club soda and either grapefruit or pineapple juice, I like my mixer proportions a specific way, which only myself and most Charleston bartenders can get right. Maybe it’s my control issues speaking, but this was one of my favorite parts of the Irish pub experience.

H2 Oh No. Contrary to what the last paragraph may imply, I’m not a big drinker. That’s due to a variety of boring reasons, so let’s gloss right over that and skip to the fact that I sometimes just order a water, or have one drink then a water. Apparently this is a weird request in Ireland. I also like to have a glass of water with a drink because I’ve repeatedly read and now wholeheartedly believe that helps with hangovers (which are probably unlikely after one drink anyway). I love a bar that automatically gives you a water with your drink, but you won’t find that on The Emerald Isle. So go ahead, order some aqua, but don’t be surprised if the reaction is a weird look.

Mixing my own drinks in Bullshit Corner.

What’s Your Number? If you’re traveling to Ireland and you have a food allergy, you’re in luck…kind of. Every menu I saw had a list of allergens (did you know celery is one?) with a corresponding number, and that number would be listed next to any menu item that contained it. I have a gluten allergy, which was number 1, so I scanned menus for 1s then made my selection. The problem is that sometimes I only had one or two meals to choose from. It was fine though, as I’m about as big of an eater as I am a drinker. If you have a food allergy (like sulfites, which they also included on the list), you’ll probably feel safe eating at pubs and restaurants in Ireland. But depending on your allergy (mustard is another one!), you might not feel like you have a ton of options. I think a lot of us with food allergies feel that way anyway, so maybe it isn’t an issue. But I like to be thorough in my travel guides.

Speak Up. Being obviously done with with your drink or meal doesn’t mean you’ll be asked if you want another drink or if you want the check. If you want another drink, it’s up to you to get the bartender’s attention and ask for it. Pushing your empty glass to away from you means nothing in Ireland (whereas if you do that in some places in the U.S., you’ll hear a “Can I get another drink as your taking the list sip of your current one). When you’re done with a meal, you may be asked if you want dessert or anything else, but saying “No thanks. We’re all set,” will not get you your check. If you don’t ask for it, you’ll be sitting there all night. So ignore No Doubt and actually do speak if you’re trying to get another drink or settle up.

DRIVING

The Terror. Driving on the left side of the road is scary as hell, and I didn’t even drive in Ireland. My friend very generously did all of the driving (she had volunteered to several months ago) because I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. Now having been in it, that was an accurate assessment. I was the copilot and I took my job very seriously, but Irish countryside roads are insanely narrow, so it was anxiety-inducing. My friend did an awesome job driving and she said it really wasn’t that bad, but I’m tensing up just thinking about it.

Roundabout Central. Ireland has so many roundabouts. And there are often several in a row. It’s enough to make a copilot dizzy! The good news is, they are pretty easy ones and we only got off track once in a roundabout when the GPS lied to us. They’re no Kelley Square (a famous Worcester roundabout about that’s so ridiculous that I know someone who pulls over, calls her Worcester native husband and has him come pick her up if she finds herself coming up on it) roundabouts, so you really don’t need to stress about these.

It’s okay. You’ve got this!

Get Low. Or rather, look low if you’re trying to find a traffic light. In Dublin, let’s say we almost went through a couple of red lights because the traffic lights were lower than we are used to so we didn’t see them. I don’t remember that being an issue outside of Dublin, but that may be because we learned our lesson on Day 2. Now that you know what to look for, just keep your eyes peeled and you’ll be fine.

I Saw The Sign. Dublin may seem like a city with no street names until you look on the buildings where they hide the street signs. It’s like an extra challenge when you’re already in a foreign country driving on the left side of the road, so just embrace it.

Taxicab Confessions. There are no Ubers or Lyfts in Ireland, so get ready to go old school if you’re not driving, taking public transportation or walking somewhere. We only had to do this once, getting from a bar we ended up in outside of Doolin (it’s a great story) back to our B&B in Doolin. I thought my friend and I should go outside five minutes before the cab arrived so we could watch for it, which prompted someone I met to say my favorite comment of the trip: “You’re too organized for Ireland.” I guess I’m Type A in any country, huh?

FLYING

Early Bird Special. I realize it can vary slightly by airline, but I think the general suggestion is to get to the airport three hours before your flight for international travel. My friend and I did just that, and it worked out well. In Boston, it gave us enough time to check our bags, go through security, have dinner at Wahlburgers then hit up Hudson News. It didn’t feel like we had a long wait at our gate after that. For our return flight from Dublin, we budgeted three and a half hours because we had to return our rental car first. That process was a bit of a mess, so I’m glad we added the extra half hour. It did take some time to do everything we needed to do at the airport and while it didn’t take three hours, I’m glad we had the time because we did have to wait in several long lines. If you’re a risk taker, you could probably cut the time down to two and a half or maybe even two hours, but I personally wouldn’t. I’ve been early for everything, including the day I was born, so of course I’m not going to cut it close for an international flight.

Got some time to kill at the airport? Just be cool and watch the planes go by, like this guy.

Get Customized. At some of the airports in Ireland (including Dublin and Shannon), you can do pre-clearance there so you don’t have to go through customs when you get back to the US. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather do something before boarding than after landing when I just want to get home. We had to wait in three separate lines to get through pre-clearance, so having the padding of the three hours kept it from getting stressful. No worrying that we were going to miss our flight and have to run through the airport like maniacs.

PHONE & WIFI

A Cell Phone’s A Celly. I have a Samsung Galaxy (keep your comments to yourself, please) and have Sprint. I had checked with Sprint before I left and they said as long I switched my phone into international roaming mode, I could use it regularly. That wasn’t quite the case, but I was okay with that. If you want to be able to fully use your phone while you are there, maybe just read this. (And if you caught my Big L reference, know that I consider you a friend.)

I didn’t mind that I couldn’t fully use my phone, but it doesn’t have to be that way for you.

Stay Connected. I had zero problems getting and staying connected to WiFi networks in Ireland. I was a little concerned about not having consistent WiFi before I left for my trip, but it turns out I didn’t need to be worried. Lesson learned.

MAKEUP

Whoa. I’m including this section because hey, this is still a beauty blog. My friend and I noticed that many women in Ireland–particularly those in their 20s and 30s–wear a lot of makeup. Like beauty guru levels. Heavy foundation, contour, eye makeup, lips–just full on. I noticed lash extensions on 90% of the younger women I saw. I’m not knocking it, just making an observation.

WHAT I LIKED BEST ABOUT EACH PLACE

Dublin. Let me first say, I’m not a big city person. So I didn’t expect to like Dublin, but since it made sense to be there on travel days, I was fine with it. There were less people than I expected, which I loved. And I got a great blowout at Dry & Fly on Wicklow Street. It was also cool seeing Trinity College and the Temple Bar area (where we stayed both times).

A photo of Trinity College taken on Day 1 of my trip, while I didn’t even know I was awake. Jet lag, baby.

Galway. We spent time primarily in the Latin Quarter, an area of Galway with structures that date back to medieval time. I’m happy in any cobblestone street areas where vehicles aren’t allowed, so I was into it. There was a comedy festival happening in Galway, so my friend and I went to a show the night we were there. Now I can say I’ve been to comedy festivals in three countries, so that’s something.

Doolin. Ah, Doolin. This was my favorite part of the trip. We stayed for two nights at O’Connor’s Guesthouse in huge room with a bathroom at least twice the size of the bathrooms any of our other rooms had. We had a great breakfast there one morning before we went on what they call a “walk” but is really more of a “hike” with local farmer Pat Sweeney. This walk-hike was one of the best parts of our trip.  It was a four hour, off the beaten path tour that gave us information and views we couldn’t have gotten on any other tour. Pat suggested to my friend and I that we go to McGann’s Pub, where we ended up making friends with some locals. Doolin is an adorable little town and the first place I would go to if I went back to Ireland.

The Cliffs of Moher–a must see in Ireland.

Killarney. We were in Killarney on the Sunday of a long weekend, so it was pretty busy. One of our new friends from Doolin had recommended we take a carriage ride, so we did that. (The carriages are stationed across from the Killarney Plaza Hotel, where we also had good dinner.) We took a ride through the Killarney National Park with our wonderful guide, John, and his horse, Suzy.  Like we did everywhere we went, we stayed in the main/downtown part of town so we could walk everywhere. We wanted to see Ross Castle, but it closed before we were able to get there. We did see it from a distance during our carriage ride, so that half counts, right?

Dingle. The seaside town of Dingle reminded me of Newport. Water, boats, a million shops and restaurants–you know the drill. We went to the famed Murphy’s Ice Cream, where even a gluten-free gal like me had options. Instead of a B&B, we went with the Dingle Benners Hotel, which was nicest hotel we stayed at. (FYI, the parking lot is behind the hotel, you have to circle around the hotel through side streets to access it.) We found some very friendly people in Dingle, and I would say it was my second favorite place. Much like Newport, I bet it’s packed during the summer months but I think it would be fun to go there then.

Seaside town life at its best.

Kilkenny. This medieval city looked and felt different than anywhere else we had been. I was determined to see a castle in Ireland, and we finally got to one in Kilkenny. We did a (self-guided) tour of Kilkenny Castle, and I pretended I was a queen while I was walking down one of the staircases. I had my favorite meal of the trip–a perfect burger with no bun, obviously–at Butcher. We didn’t do a ton of exploring in Kilkenny, but I’m glad we went.

Kilkenny Castle. Can cross that off my bucket list now.

If you’re traveling to Ireland and this post helped you even a little, I’ll be pleased as punch. If anyone has Ireland recommendations, I would love for you to share them in the comments.

Have a beautiful day 🙂

Oily Skin Help

I could have done a little better with my shine control that day.

Everybody’s skin produces sebum (an oily substance) via the sebaceous glands. But for those folks with truly oily skin, their sebum production is kicked up a notch. Oily skin is primarily caused by hormone fluxations and genetics, so it can be something a person experiences for certain periods in their lives when hormonal changes are happening (like puberty, pregnancy or menopause) or it can be their type for life, as dictated by their DNA. Some people age out of oily skin, as our bodies produce less sebum as we get older, but I’ve had clients in their 50s who still have it.

The good thing about oily skin is that excess sebum often slows down the appearance of fine lines, as the sebum acts as a mega moisturizer. The bad thing is that it can cause breakouts when the excess sebum mixes with bacteria and/or clogs the pores.

Don’t you worry, though. As a licensed esthetician, makeup artist and combination skin human, I know the tricks of the trade for both dry and oily skin. I already told you about dry skin, so now it’s oily skin’s time to shine (pun intended).

We have to start off with cleanser. For dry, normal, and combination skin types, cleansing once a day (at night) is really all you need to do, as long as you use a good oil cleanser or a cleansing balm like Farmacy Green Clean. But if you wake up and your face looks like it could sing the theme song to Grease, go ahead and give it another cleanse. The key here is to use something light and gentle, as you only need to remove the excess surface oils, not a face full of makeup, sunscreen and the debris of the day like you encounter at night. I’m not a big proponent of Cetaphil for night time cleansing, but I think it’s fine for a morning cleanse on truly oily skin.

This thoroughly cleanses the skin without stripping it.

Another good option is the Fresh Soy Cleanser, which is gentle and calming. No need to scrub your face in the a.m. (and in fact, massaging the skin can rev up sebum product). Please don’t go the way of many of your oily-skinned brethren and use a harsh, oil-free clarifying type of cleanser–you know, the type that makes your skin feel squeaky-clean. Those cleansers strip your skin of all of the surface oils, which signals to your sebaceous glands that the oil is gone, so they need to produce more. Counter-productive, you see? If you cleanse correctly, you should see an improvement in your skin.

Cleansing isn’t all there is to it though. Don’t assume that you should skip moisturizer because your skin is oily. You just need to choose the right moisturizer for your dermis. I’m a big fan of Neutrogena Oil Free Moisture because it gives the skin just enough moisture without making it look or feel greasy. It’s a no-frills, reasonably priced product that I’ve personally been using for years.

Since excess oil on the skin can clog pores, exfoliation (unless you use a prescription retinoid) is essential. Exfoliating helps remove the dead skin cells that can get trapped by sebum inside of the pores, as those trapped dead skin cells mixed with sebum is what causes blackheads. If you have oily skin, you can exfoliate two times a week with a quality exfoliant like Kate Somerville ExfoliKate. Or, if an every day exfoliation routine suits you better, I recommend Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant. Whichever exfoliant you choose, consistency is key. So set it as a reminder, leave a Post-it note on your mirror or rename your dog “Exfoliant” if that will make it happen.

No skincare routine is complete with a mask. Charcoal masks, clay masks and mud masks are great for oily skin, as they pull out and/or absorb those surface oils. Boscia Luminizing Black Charcoal Mask is a cult favorite peel off mask, and one that I hear really works (I’m not oily enough to benefit from it myself). If you don’t love a peel off, a clay mask like Fresh Umbrian Clay Purifying Mask or a mud mask like Shea Moisture African Black Soap Clarifying Mud Mask might be a better option. Whichever mask you end up with, please patch test it first to make sure you aren’t sensitive to any of the ingredients. Masks can have some pretty strong active ingredients, so if you’re allergic to one, it’s probably best to find that out before it’s been on your face for 15 minutes.

If you’re a makeup wearer with oily skin, you’ve probably noticed that your makeup can fade quicker than your normal and dry skin counterparts. That’s because oil melts away makeup (hence my love for oil cleansers). A setting spray for oily skin–like Urban Decay DeSlick Oil-Control Makeup Setting Spray–will work wonders. This particular setting spray should be used before and after your apply your face makeup. You simply spray it on–no blending or brushes needed–so it’s foolproof, as long as you know where your face is.

Set it and forget it.
Photo: Samira Rabinowitz Photography
Makeup: Jennifer Smith for Allison Barbera Beauty

Whether or not you wear makeup, you’ll see some areas of shine throughout the day if you have overactive sebaceous glands. Oil blotting sheets are a quick fix that anyone can use. They typically come in a slim package that fits in a back pocket, the little bit of space you have left in your top desk drawer and even in the tiniest of clutches. Oil blotting sheets are thin, lightweight little guys that simply absorb oil when pressed onto the skin. I give a pack of Clean & Clear Oil Absorbing Sheets to each one of my brides. Their makeup is built to last, but if they or anyone else in the bridal party have truly oily skin, they may see some shine 12 hours after I’ve done their makeup. But with the oil blotting sheets, no one needs to know about that shine.

I hope these suggestions help you keep your oil at bay. Your sebaceous glands don’t need to win this battle. With consistency and the right products, you can dull your shine (in a good way).

Have a beautiful day 🙂