Staycationing in Ireland - is it worth it?

Image Credit: Andrew Ridley on Unsplash

Lyndsey McKiernan compares travel experiences abroad and at home.

The pandemic opened up the world of staycationing to many Irish residents who often flocked to Mallorca for their summer sun. With travel restrictions in place, the yearly getaway changed to a trip to the country. 

Now that travel has thankfully once again opened up, should home-based holidays still be on the cards? There is no denying that Ireland is beautiful with many fantastic destinations from the Giant’s Causeway to Galway City and Connemara, however accommodation prices have continued to skyrocket and with an inadequate public transport system in place, transit costs only add to the problem.

I will put my hands up and say that I have fallen victim to the weekend spa getaway trap in the past, and don’t get me wrong - I love a relaxing spa day with a good book. While arguably worth it for the 24 hours of joy, these trips usually cost upwards of €300 for one night in a reasonable hotel. The accommodation crisis has become an increasingly important topic recently as students have nowhere to rent for the academic year, and this extends to renters nationwide and of course the ever-rising hotel and airbnb prices. Fork out on a place to stay but don’t forget to add in your transport costs (multiply if driving to a remote location) and head home the next day feeling like you haven’t really accomplished much or ‘travelled’. 

The main issues lie in transport and accommodation costs, not in the type of holiday you choose to take. Sure, a city trip to Cork followed by a road trip up the Atlantic Way would be considered a fulfilling journey - and one I would love to take! But when you add up the expenses of average accommodation, fuel costs, and even food - it’s no surprise that once the borders opened again Irish people were flying out in droves. 

The summer of 2022 was the first tourist season since 2019 that has been mostly unaffected by the pandemic, and Dublin airport became overwhelmed by the number of people passing through. While this is great for Irish tourism, it is disheartening to see so many people seek travel elsewhere or worse, hear of negative tourist experiences in Ireland. From friends to strangers’ online reviews, the feedback of holidaying in Ireland has been overwhelmingly focused on the high costs.

Perhaps it’s difficult for us to appreciate Irish attractions and culture when we’re living in it every day.

I managed to do both a mini staycation in Cavan and a weekend abroad in Barcelona this summer. For approximately the same price as one night in an average Cavan hotel, average pub dinner, and a local historical tour; I stayed two nights near the Barcelona beaches and had several delicious tapas meals, hopped on the underground to do some quick sightseeing and of course managed to catch some rays. I didn’t have to take any time off work for either as I flew to Barcelona on a Friday night and returned Sunday night, and Cavan was only an hour’s drive from home. I’m not trying to hate on Cavan here (it’s great and well worth a visit!) but to me, it’s a no-brainer of which journey I would rather take.

During the grim summer of 2020 when county restrictions had just lifted and you could leave your 2km radius, I staycationed in Dungarvan in Waterford. I didn’t grow up in a family who went to Ballymoney or Clifden each year so this was my first proper Irish holiday experience. Saint Anthony must have been listening to the country’s prayers that week because the lost sun made a return and it felt like I was in the Costa del Sol. Dungarvan is fantastic - lots of great restaurants and beaches, a not-very-touristy Gaeltacht area (I do love a wee Gaeltacht area), and the Waterford Greenway. I am by no means a cyclist but riding for a day along the Irish coast was absolutely stunning - even worth the 2nd degree sunburn I got in 26 degree heat (I know). 

Sure, this was kind of the only option that summer but it was a great trip. Perhaps it’s difficult for us to appreciate Irish attractions and culture when we’re living here every day. I’ve heard plenty of Americans in awe at Ireland’s greenery: “It isn’t called the Emerald Isle for nothing!” and they’re right of course. You’re always going to want to travel somewhere new and take a break from your everyday life to discover new cultures. It’s hard to remember that Ireland is the new culture to a tourist. There is so much to do and see here but I feel for those tourists coming in and paying over the odds for a taxi when the second bus doesn’t show up, or near €20 for any main course. 

While this seems quite bleak, I hope the tourism industry gains more support going forward to make travelling within Ireland more accessible for both tourists and Irish people alike. Paying €200 a night for a subpar hotel is not sustainable and the country will really start to feel this considering the reliance on income from tourism. 

Maybe I’ll try hitchhiking and bringing a tent to camp next time, though I’ll be honest I’d rather be eating empañadas on a beach in Barcelona. In the meantime, I say ignore the guilt of not ‘experiencing your own country’ and go enjoy a holiday abroad - you might even save some money and get to see a whole lot more.