Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

14-18 day highlights of Europe which tour company is best

14-18 day highlights of Europe which tour company is best

Dec 13th, 2015, 03:32 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2015
Posts: 27
14-18 day highlights of Europe which tour company is best

Would be interested in knowing which travel company offers the best experience. The one i'm looking at is Insights, 18 day tour of England, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France. I think Trafalgars offers a similar tour. Thanks so much!!
martoon is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 04:19 PM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 57,890
Frankly I think either one would be awful but we don;t do tours - way too much time sitting on a bus looking out the window and not nearly enought actually seeing/doing anything.

If you want to compare them go through the brochures with a fine tooth comb looking for:

Exactly how much time is spent where
How many hours per day you are sitting on the bus
Location of hotels - city center (unlikely) or out by the highway - making it difficult to do anything in the evening
How many things are included very optional extras which will drive up the cost
How many meals they give you - it's always breakfast but many don't include dinner even though they have left you in a hotel at the end of hell and gone
Are they stopping at the sights you want to see most? (View means looking at a place out of the bus window as you drive by, stop means a 5 minute photo op out front, only "visit" means you go inside - and it might not be for long
nytraveler is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 04:29 PM
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 32,129
"Thanks so much!!"

That may have been premature.
colduphere is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 04:33 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 65,794
What does it cost per person? It had best be inexpensive because in 18 days (they usually count the flight days in the total) one will 'see 7 countries in actually 15.5 days. So they end up with much more time on the coach than on the ground.
janisj is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 05:54 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 9,553
First, I have taken several tours and like some of them. The problem is those that drive great distances with little opportunity for travelers to see anything.

To be careful that my opinion is close to accurate, I looked at your exact tour. Janisj is right about the days.

Day one is departure from home, day 2 is arrival (maybe/maybe not jet lagged, but certainly most are tired), day 18 is very early departure for home. So your tour is down to 15 & 1/2 days max.

There are at least 3 days that are mostly travel on the bus, and even if it is sometimes scenic, it is often just sitting, so now down to 12 & 1/2 days. There are another 4 days that are at least half travel with only an afternoon of sightseeing, so down to 8 & 1/2 days for actual sightseeing. Out of 18, you have spent more time in transport than in sightseeing or experiencing Europe. Even considering that you always have the days lost at beginning and end, this trip is half transport, half sightseeing - not, IMHO, a good use of time, which is very expensive if you look at total cost.

Some tours (and this is one), go to three or four cities with big sights and a half dozen smaller ones because they make a nice driving loop. Once in awhile a loop makes sense, but not here. Here, you go from Venice to Rome, passing right by Florence, then back to Florence and up past Milan, stopping for an afternoon on the way. A lot of time on a bus for next to nothing. Unfortunately, they do not allow time in the major cities for travelers to even see the major sights. For example, in Paris, you view only the facade of the Louvre. What! That is nuts!

When you read any tour descriptions, look at words like "journey past the capital of." It means you will drive by and not actually see it. "Travel through" or "travel to and continue" also means you will not be stopping, but only going through a place because it is on the route.

Look for tours that do not try to cover 7 countries in 15 days. Look for tours that take you to two or three of the places you really want to see, not to places you will see simply because they are on the way.

If you know those places you have dreamed of seeing, try starting another thread and posting them. Then ask for advice on how best to see them on your own. Even if you choose a tour, you will have a better idea if it fits your needs.
Sassafrass is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 06:04 PM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 1,314
How many people are typically on one of these tours? And how big is the bus? 50 people on a 50-seat bus is a nightmare. I'd rather burn to death.
Edward2005 is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 06:28 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 65,794
Sassafrass has given you great info to use when comparing other tours.

Also look for key words like 'see'. >>See such and such castle<< means looking at it through the bus windows without stopping. 'Stop' -- means stop perhaps for a photo op but not go inside. 'Visit' is the only verb that actually means getting off the coach and entering the attraction/site.
janisj is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 06:28 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 25,288
I would not do a multi-country tour like this because you don't have enough time anywhere. BUT if I were going to do a European intro tour, which I suppose is what this is meant to be, I would do one of the Rick Steves tours. He puts 24-28 people on a 40-50 seater bus, so it is a smaller group (although still a bit big for my taste). The hotels are in the center of town, so you are close to the sightseeing. The guides are excellent and are on salary, so they don't take you shopping to places where they get kickbacks, and you don't tip them or the drivers. You have to be reasonably fit, and you have to handle your own luggage, but you don't usually start very early in the morning either.

See: https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/europe

There are scrapbooks by people who have taken his tours on the site, too. I have done a few of their single-country tours, although I mostly travel independently, and have no complaints.
thursdaysd is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 06:30 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 65,794
Meant to add -- if you want a slower itinerary look for small group tours, or 'on your own' type tours where they provide air/hotels/transfers/maybe a half day orientation tour in each city but you are basically on your own.

And be very careful about the locations of the hotels. Often they are hell and gone outside the city center so you are sort of stuck unless you are on their bus.
janisj is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 02:36 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2015
Posts: 27
Thank you all for your replies!!! This is our situation. Recently retired i'm Rhonda 57 years old, my busband is 58. Never been to Europe. Have had a lot of fun, planning our own trips in the states. Concerned about traveling where i don't understand the language or logistics of getting around.
Have limited resources. After seeing what it will cost for a guided trip, I'm thinking we'd have enough $ to do 5 major trips at 15-17 k each over the next 10 years or so. Want to see as much as possible.
My thinking is, with a guided tour we would get much more time seeing what we want, rather than fumbling around with train and bus schedules etc...
I do love to do my own planning though, and would like to stretch our dollars. Not sure of just what resources to use, and the language barriers and logistics really concern me.
martoon is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 03:32 AM
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 108
You'd be better off with a pile of Rick Steve's guidebooks and videos and planning your own trip vs. taking the bus tour from hell.

Rick does a great time of hand-holding for new European travelers. Then once you get the hang of it you can branch out more on your own.
f1racegirl is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 03:39 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,722
1) You are not old. Many on this forum are active independent travelers into their late 70s and 80s, and probably the majority are in your age group. Unless you have significant medical issues there is no reason not to travel independently.

2) You are retired and you like to plan. Perfect for doing a trip that you plan yourself. This forum is one of the best places for help. You can get answers to hundreds of questions from the very broad - where and when should I go and for how long - to the very specific questions you'll have as you plan. But planning is key to not spending a lot of time "fumbling around with train and bus schedules, etc..."

3) If you have $80,000 (5 x $15-17,000) you can do at least TEN good independent trips of 2-3 weeks. I consider myself a 'low to moderate' budget traveler. Many do it for less, many spend lots more but I've found excellent accommodations for average $100-150 night (often much less), even in big cities.

4) Things like logistics and language are scary for someone who has never been but it really is very easy - most people in the tourist industry (eg in hotels, restaurants, shops) will speak English in most of Europe and even if they don't it's not hard to communicate. There are a ton of websites, blogs, etc. besides Fodor's that will talk you through the tiniest details of independent travel.
isabel is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 04:08 AM
Join Date: Jan 2014
Posts: 91
Rather than take a tour, I recommend you find a good travel agent. She will plan out an itinerary to suit your specific needs and desires and handle all the logistics and hotels. I took a tour when I was in my 20's with 3 girlfriends, and while it was fun, I vowed I'd never take another one. Sitting on the bus half the time was beyond awful. I used a Virtuoso travel agent to handle two trips to multiple locations in France, and they were both superb. I now feel comfortable enough to handle our upcoming trip to Switzerland and Lake Como on my own. Doing it yourself is overwhelming, and a good agent is worth her weight in gold. We are 62 and 74. I also like to take a class in the language of the country(s) I'm visiting. Not really necessary, but makes me feel more invested in where I'm going.
cilburke is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 04:45 AM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 57,890
You can easily plan these trips yourselves and people here can help you. You will get more time in europe, MUCH more time seeign what you really want and most probably it will cost less.

You need to understand that much of europe has been flooded with american travelers since the 1960s - and British travelers since the 1870s/1880s. There is a massive tourist infrastructure set up to provide support and except for very small towns English is spoken by someone almost everywhere. (We once stopped a postman in Munich since we weren't sure of the meaning of the no parking sign - various days and times listed - and he easily spoke enough english to confirm we were correct on allowed parking hours.

This is true of western europe and much of central europe (even former soviet block countries) although a little trickier in Russia and the Ukraine (but still doable).

Strongly encourage you to do some research and then come back with your ideas so people can help you organize most efficiently.
nytraveler is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 04:53 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 47,442

I disagree 100% with this line of thinking. On a guided tour you have NO say in what you see and how much time you get to enjoy it. And there is no need to "fumble around" with train and bus schedules. Everything you could possibly need is online and readily accessible these days. And from what I've witnessed, millions of people with no foreign language skills manage to maneuver around Europe every day.

With your budget you could easily arrange at least 10-12 trips to Europe, getting to see what interests YOU on YOUR schedule, and absolutely no need to fly by gorgeous, historical places for a glimpse out the bus window. And no need to stay in hotels so far from the city centers that you're stuck in the hinterland every night.

Planning trips to Europe isn't rocket science. You're retired, you've got time on your hands to read and study and plan.
StCirq is online now  
Dec 14th, 2015, 05:33 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 25,288
Ignore the travel agent advice. Unless you pay high fees to one of a handful of top agents, you will get lousy advice from someone who may never have been to Europe but sells lots of cruises and trips to Disney.

You might still want to take a Rick Steves tour the first time, but it would be much cheaper to read his "Europe Through the Back Door" and do it yourself. Then you can move on to the glossy guidebooks with lots of pictures to decide where you want to go - borrow them from the library or hang out at your neighborhood bookstore. (Also Michelin, although no pictures.) For the logistics of actual travel, Fodors, Frommers, Lonely Planet and Rough Guide.

For all the info you need on taking trains in Europe: seat61.com

I mostly travel by train in Europe, but there are plenty of cheap flights, for research on those I use skyscanner.com

Note that these days your smart phone will not only keep you from getting lost (although sometimes it's fun to get lost, especially in Venice!), but will also know about local bus and metro systems. I have a T-Mobile month-by-month plan for my phone that give me free low speed data in many countries.

Costs in Europe vary greatly, with Norway and Switzerland at the high end, and places like Portugal and Romania towards the low. You also have a lot of control over your costs in terms of where you eat and sleep. I travel solo, so your costs would be less than twice mine, maybe add two thirds for the second person. In Romania last year I averaged $125/day. This year I spent three months in Europe, and visited Scandinavia and London and Zurich along with France, Italy and Spain, so my costs were higher than usual, but still under $210/day - and that included everything except flights to/from Europe, medical insurance, new camera, etc. (Click on my name for my TRs, which include info on hotels.)
thursdaysd is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 05:59 AM
Join Date: Sep 2010
Posts: 35,278
I have nothing against so-called "organized tours" but any time I read the term "highlights" in a tour title I immediately become suspicious.

Therefore, allow me to recount an experience we had with a Trafalgar tour entitled "Highlights of France" some years ago.

First of all, remember that France, area-wise, is the largest country in so-called "western Europe" so to even begin to see all the "highlights" in a country that size and in two weeks is a tall order.

How did they do it:

we spent a LOT of time in the bus on super highways getting from one "highlight" to another (and yes, we missed more than a few). I will say that your definition of highlight may differ from mine and mine most definitely differ from some of the "more experienced" travelers who have responded on this thread.

The hotels: some of those choices were definitely "out in the weeds" and once we arrived there was little opportunity to "see" much of anything of real interest.

Our guide had been pressed into service at the last minute and her expertise was, IMO, questionable:

Some examples: "On your left you will see a church" (this announced on the microphone as we whizzed along) "and it is very old."

"On your left is a field of barley" (the woman was raised out in the fields of the UK).

We started and ended up in Paris. On the first "road day" our departure was delayed, considerably, because, "Mr. Smith isn't here yet," which was rather imperiously announced by some woman on the bus about her husband who apparently decided he didn't need to follow any sorts of rules.

Don't DO THIS and I don't care if it is Tauck or one of those other so-called "high end" companies.
Dukey1 is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 06:14 AM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 1,429
I am going against the crowd here but I think a tour for your first time in Europe is a good idea.
Insight Tours is very good. I have been on a couple of their tours.
Take a tour through the different countries, make a note of what you would like to see more of in each country and then next time pick one of the countries you wanted to see more of and work it out on your own.
A tour like this is a good preview of what there is to see in Europe.
MarthaT is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 06:19 AM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 17,241
Great advice above, the best deals will be by yourselves. Western Europe especially has a great public transport system which links most cities so getting about is easy.

seat61.com and bahn.de rome2rio are the three websites I'd start with seat explains how it all works, rome2rio gives you a shape to a journey and bahn gets down to the detail

Get a good European guide book (Rough Guide is good) and start reading and making notes.

Then come back with " want to do this, at this time, seeing this, because we like doing this" type statements, and ask for input. While we may chatter away, the details you will get, for free, are better than any travel agent.

I've been contributing for 9 years now and I now plan my own holidays using the advice here, even if I know the area well, there will always be some--(smart a)--one who knows something I don't.

58, so 3 years older than me.
bilboburgler is offline  
Dec 14th, 2015, 06:21 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 25,288
"Insight Tours is very good"

Not with that itinerary, it isn't! And I hear the groups are 40+ - NO WAY.
thursdaysd is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 07:03 AM.