This past April, my family and I vacationed in Ireland. Before the trip, I had done my share of googling to make sure we would have the proper connectivity and tech tools while traveling around Ireland. However, googling things is no substitute for experiencing. Here are some tech experiences and tips I learned about traveling in Ireland.
Before we left, we used AirBnB to find a great three level house right outside of Dublin. Given that we were a group of five (three adults, two children), I wanted us to have two functioning phones for times the group split up as well as the ability to make local calls. My goal was to have at least one one smartphone so we could have access to apps such as Google Maps to help us navigate.
To save money and get more calling time, data and texts, the best deal is to use a SIM card from a local carrier such as Three, O2 or Vodafone. While AT&T’s international roaming rates have come down a bit, the local providers are still better. There’s also an advantage to having a local number so its easy for local businesses and friends to call you back (i.e. when I was looking for a guide to help us find our ancestoral home).
Both my wife and I have iPhones but at the time both were locked on AT&T preventing us from using another provider’s SIM. I bought an iPhone 4S the first day it came out putting me about 17 months into my contract. I thought I would not be eligible to unlock the phone until the 24 months of the contract were up. I figured it was worth trying it through AT&T’s iPhone unlock web page. The result was rejection. I tried calling customer support and asking for a supervisor: Rejected again. I’m still going to meet my obligations under the contract, so why not? Finally, I turned to AT&T’s Twitter account, @ATTCustomerCare and success! I turned out that since my wife and I are on a mobile share plan, I needed to use her SSN in the unlock request. Two days before the trip, my iPhonee was finally unlocked! The second unlocked phone , a basic 2G handset, was lent to us by our AirBnB host.
After arriving in Dublin, I went downtown to Grafton Street which has almost every mobile phone operator within a span of serveral hundred feet. My previous googling suggested that Three Mobile had the best pricing. However, their SIM cards wouldn’t suport 2G phones. That left Vodafone and O2 . Of the two, O2 had much better pricing and a nicer sales associate.
For forty euros, I signed up for O2′s “Experience Plus”. Two SIM cards with 700 MB on my iPhone and 60 minutes calling on the other phone. In addition, there were unlimited calls and texts between the two phones.
By the way, none of the mobile vendors would take a credit card which only had a magnetic stripe . In Europe, they use EMV credit cards which have an embedded chip. Also, a lot of American credit cards charge additional fees for purchases abroad. Capital One is one US company that has cards without international fees. There are also a couple of US providers that will provide you with a card with a chip. This article at Nerd Wallet has more details. For as many places that didn’t take our credit cards, there were plenty that were (never had a problem in a pub). Alternatively, you could carry some extra cash instead of getting another credit card.
I guess I wasn’t surprised to find that my iPhone would no longer function as a WiFi hot spot. O2 doesn’t support tethering for prepaid SIMS. If you’re on a contract or “Bill Pay”, there are options to tether. However, there were lots of other options for connectivity. All of the places we stayed had free WiFi with the exception of a Dublin “Airport” Hilton which charged extra. The good news was that there was free WiFi on Irish trains and at the Dublin airport.
Judging by print advertisements on buses, billboards and store windows, it seems that Dublin has better rates for voice and data plans for the home (aka “the triple play). However, from what I saw, it appeared that the cable channel line up was much smaller. One home only had 20 channels. But why would you want to watch TV on your vacation?
Besides using Google maps to navigate and Facebook to keep up with friends, one killer mobile app I stumbled across was HailO. HailO is a cab calling app for Dublin and Cork. If you look around Ireland, keep your eyes open for 5 euro discount codes (I’m sure you can find one on-line too). Besides calling cabs to your location quickly, Hailo lets pay for the ride and tip through the app. You could also specify that you needed a bigger cab to go to the airport or train station.
Well, the only sad part about the trip to Ireland is that it’s over. I hope these tips help you enjoy trip to the Emerald Isle.