Are escorted tours the way to go?

Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 03:33 PM
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Are escorted tours the way to go?

My husband and I are starting to look to traveling to Europe next year. We have been exploring the idea of escorted tours and one the we are leaning towards is Go Ahead Vacations. Some areas that have our interest are Paris, Italy & Greece.

We like the idea because everything is included in the price and it seems to include all of the major highlights of each area.

Some concerns are that we won't be able to do things on our time. Also we would like to be with a group around our age, we are both in our upper 20's.

If you have used one that you liked or disliked please let me know your opinions. Or do you think that it is better to plan it on your own?

Thank you,
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 03:44 PM
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I am NOT an expert on this subject - and I am sure you will get lots of replys.

I just want to say that I think you are correct to have concerns - and this is something you really have to research.

I could never do it, personally. (but that is just me - it was hard enough for me to do an organised day trip a few years ago) - You will spend many hours with "your group" - I was on a bus with someone who talked very loudly, had a mouth "like a sailor" and smelled like a tobacco factory. - Then there is the fact that your time is not your own...

On the other hand, there are a lot of tour groups out there and you could find one to fit your personality perfectly ... organized tours are great for covering many areas in a percise and timely manner.

Just don't go into it lightly. RESEARCH IS THE KEY!! ... I don't particulary care for Rick Steves anymore, but I heard his tours are really good. That is something to look into (and I hear that people of all ages go on his tours - not just "old" people)
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 04:07 PM
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There is no correct answer..some people swear by them while others swear at them.

Age group...well if you stay away from the first class tours, say use a Cosmos tour or a Trafalger cost saver, you will probably (but of course no guarantee) find more people of your own age group. The first class tours usually have rich American type retired people in their 60's and 70's who need all the amenities but again that is a generalization and may not be so on a particular tour. Also the Cosmos and Trafalger Cost Savers will have lots of folks from other English speaking countries such as Brits, Canadians, Aussies, NZ naitives and South Africans. The first class tours generally have mostly Americans.

But on the cost saver tours, the hotels are budget class. They are usually quite clean but probably comparable to a 2** in the US. They are generally not located in the central tourist area but using public transportation to get around, to me at least, is part of the fun of travelling.

In most of the cities, you will have leisure time for yourself but again with the problem of getting to and fro the hotel via public transportation or being picked up by the tour bus at the specified time. You will have many dinners included, usually at the hotels, ranging from adequate to good. You will have evening optional tours available going to the usual tourist rip off places such as you know castles in Scotland, folk dinners in Austria etc. You will have included sight seeing tours similar to the commercial tours with local guides.

You will have breakfast included again ranging from adequate to good. You will be on buses where the seats rotate each day so you don't have to elbow others out of the way to get a front row seat. There will be frequent enough rest stops (generally every 2 hours) at motorway service areas or in small towns. Lunch will be rarely included so you can try the local cuisine or hop into the nearest McD's.

But if you want to see a lot, you can't beat the tours. They will go everywhere that is specified in the brochure. Just read it carefully and understand there may be many tourist spots that are mportant to you where you will whiz right by and the guide will say there is such and such Castle whereas on your own you might wish to stop.

But it's really up to you. I know I've made life long friends on some tours; especially some of my best travelling companions now are Brits I met on a Trafalger Cost Saving Tour several years ago. They come to visit me now and I visit them all the time and we try to arrange to go on summer tours together.

So yes there are pros and cons but the reality is you will never absolutely know what's going to happen!
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 04:10 PM
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If time on your own is important to you, avoid tours. Also, if you do your research, you may find that many tours are not all-inclusive; once you add on the meals not covered and the side-tours the cost adds up very quickly.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 04:16 PM
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This is a public service announcement:

If you are a young adult and you want to be in a group with people your age then DO NOT GO ON ANY ESCORTED TOUR THAT DOES NOT SPECIFICALLY CATER TO YOUR AGE GROUP. There is a reason for this: most escortogroupies are OLD. Not necessarily geriatric, but certainly at least 15 years beyond you. Simply stated, you will be on a tour with people anywhere from 45-85 unless you take a tour that caters to the young adults. [Now wait for all the other Fodorites to jump in saying "but MY group had bunches of young adults" -- that would be the EXCEPTION to the rule].

Upon cursory review of Go Ahead Vacations' website, there is NOTHING that indicates that their group trips cater to young adults -- that means heaps of oldies (as they say in Australia). You are young, middle-age or older people will suck the life out of your vacation.

There are some groups that do cater to young folks like you: the most prominent one is Contiki ( Their Contiki Superior vacations tend to have clean, comfy accommodations, good breakfasts, decent other meals, time for you to bugger off and wander about, worthwhile optionals and fellow travelers who are ONLY 18-35 years old. The multi-city (London-Paris) or single-country tours (Italy, Ancient Greece, etc.) tend to have 26-35 year olds and fewer drunkandstupid collegians.

My preference is to do it on my own, but Contiki is a good way to go, especially if you're a new traveler to Europe.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 04:25 PM
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You will most likely get answers weighted against tours on this BB because most Fodorites have a passion for travel & travel planning is a part of that we wouldn't want to hand over to someone else.

Plus I have a personality that would *never* be happy on an escorted tour... i am just not a group person & would hate getting up early each morning, being kept on a schedule, having someone else pick my hotel and restaurants, traveling on a bus joined at the hip with a bunch of strangers, etc.

You might consider especially for somewhere like Paris which is easy to plan and navigate, going on your own (simply buy a plane ticket & make a hotel reservation) then booking some of the various day tours offered once you arrive. Might give you a good balance or alone/free time and structure for seeing the sites.

Also you can use the "search" function above, there was a thread answering this same question with some really funny answers within the last week or so.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 04:28 PM
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At your ages, you should really rent a car and do it on your own. You get up when you want, stay as long or as short as you want and can pick your own places where to spend nights. I hate big hotels for example. Read a travel book on the places you wish to visit. Highlight what interests you. Whatever you decide, have a wonderful time.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 04:37 PM
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Let me just give you one more thought to chew really depends too on destination.

For example, I speak a bit of French so being on my own in Paris and in France is not a problem

Holland and Scandanavia, you can be sure almost everybody speaks English so it's not a problem.

But Germany, Central and Eastern Europe, language might be a problem. I don't speak a word of German, Polish, Czech or Hungarian and I would like to visit Prague, Krackow, Warsaw, Frankfurt, Berlin, Budapest and Vienna. It would seem to me I would be much more inclined to do this on a tour as opposed to England, Scotland and Ireland.

So again, there are a lot of factors and nobody but nobody can give you the absolutely "correct" answer. Just make a decision based on your research and have a great great time.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 05:03 PM
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Like most people, I'd have to say that this depends on your personality style. My first trip to Europe was with my parents in college and we did a guided tour. It was one of those "see all of Europe in three weeks" kind of deals.

It was very busy, and stressful for us to have to be crammed on a bus with so many other people on the same schedule. HOWEVER, it did provide an excellent overview of Europe so we knew where we wanted to visit again.

Since then, I've been back to Europe several times (never on a guided tour) and I've felt comfortable booking and organizing these trips myself because of what I saw on that first tour.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 05:12 PM
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My first trip to Europe was with a Globus Tour. Since then I've traveled on my own but can't say that I would NEVER do another tour...just depends on the situation. The pluses were: it was my first time as I say and it was a great introduction. Also, my brother and sister-in-law and my other brother also went on this tour so it was kind of a family thing. The price was excellent and the accomodations ,with the exception of one hotel in London that has since been renovated as I understand, were wonderful..all three and 4 star hotels. On this tour there was plenty of down time if you wanted it. All tour companies offer extra excursions and it is up to you whether you want to avail yourself or not. IF you don't, then you have more time to yourselves. Our group ranged in age from a 13 year old with her parents, a couple of newlyweds in their early 20's, 2 young single girls, others probably in 50's to the oldest i'm guessing late 60's, so we were a mix. Good group to travel with for the most part but didn't always stick with the group. Be sure to read your brochures CAREFULLY to find out what is and is NOT included. Some sites you go in, others are drive-bys. See what meals are included and where your hotels are. Most major cities have great, getting around isn't a problem usually. Sometimes the hotels are out of the way...easier to the buses to get in and out I think. We stayed in Maestre NOT Venice, for example. That was too bad..lost of lot of the "flavor" of Venice but I will go back and stay IN Venice so all was not wasted. So, just do your research...there is a Group Travel board here I believe..check that out too. Hope your trip is terrific.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 05:13 PM
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Yes, there are no definite answers because it depends on you. Some prefer independent travel including the planning going into it. Others such as ourselves have mostly gone with groups such as Globus, Elderhostel, and Grand Circle. Yes, be sure to book a group appropriate to your age and interests.

As in life there are plusses and minuses...but those who do travel solo should study up because a guide does give you lots of insights. In Grand Circle which is for older travelers, you have included and optional trips and also free time as you desire. The thing we like is locating in one place for a period of time in what they may call "extended vacation" and then go our from there (Greece, Italy, Scandinavia are the ones we've been on).
This instead of packing and unpacking every night or so.

Good luck...
Bill in Missouri
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 05:17 PM
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While escorted tours can be convenient, they can also be very restricting. You'd want to get a true flavor of the places you go to and you may not get it from a tour that just whisks you around to the main sights. I also think you would do better to go on your own. Lots more room for spontaneity and finding hidden treats that you would otherwise miss.
But if you do want to go on a tour, I agree with trying to find a group with people your own age. I have traveled with tour groups that were my age (20-30's) and with others that were substantially older (50+). It was definitely more fun and more memorable being around others my age. A whole different energy level.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 05:53 PM
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My first trip to Italy when I was in my 20's was an escorted tour. We saw a lot, but I would NEVER do one again. We were the only young people on the tour. Everyone else was 50 and up. I felt like I was on vacation with my grandparents (although the people were very nice). We were up everyday EARLY!!! Checked out of the hotel and on a huge bus by 8am almost everyday. Getting up at 6am every morning on my vacation is not what I had planned! It was exhausting...I don't know how the older people kept up...then again, I suppose they were in bed by 8pm too. We did not stay out late bar hoping or anything, but it was tiring. I really disliked being trapped on a bus for hours. I prefer the train.

I have been to europe 8-9 times since and have always done it on my own. I prefer that much more. If you want some structure, you may find some "city packages". Some tour companies offer 4 nights hotel in a city with a basic city tour and a few excursions you can purchase to add on. Then, the rest of the free time is your own to decide what you want to do. YOu can easily get train booked between a few cities and have a few city packages and it is more structured, but you have way more flexibility. Just a suggestion. Either way, you have to decide what is best for you. I have travelled to England, Scotland, Greece, Turkey, and Italy on our own and had no trouble (as long as you do research first). Either way, you will have a GREAT TIME!
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 06:07 PM
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We have a trip to Paris and Normandy booked with Go Ahead Vacation scheduled for Sept. We are using an escorted tour because we have are not world travelers, in fact this will be our first overseas trip. I guess you would like to know our ages. Well, we are 62 and 60. So the other posts are correct maybe most escorted tours are for old people. As as far as travel is concerned, I would rather be at the beach house, on the beach looking for 55 year old young chicks.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 06:17 PM
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We occupy "both" worlds. Raised as independent travelers, my husband and I eschewed all tours until it came time when we went abroad for "adventure" type vacations when we had very limited time and had responsibilities for other family members. Then it made perfect sense for us to employ someone who had mapped out bike and hiking routes who also had instant access to emergency services, etc.

If we were just touring cities and seeing museums like "normal" people in our 20's--sorry, we would NEVER take a group tour (until we qualify for Elderhostel--we must admit we "trail" these groups in museums because their guides are so good). During the winter months, our trips to even the most distant locales tend to be on our own.

However, we will also tell you that although our reasons to join group tours for biking/hiking are certainly practical, I personally enjoy being relieved of the responsibilities of "trip God". There are no arguments about where to go to dinner--it's a done deal. We have greatly enriched our lives through the countless friendships we have made on these tours, too. Because even older people on biking/hiking vacations have "been around the block" so to speak, I never, ever have been bored with my dinner companions in 11 of these trips.

Therefore, if you guys want to take advantage of a tour group, why don't you take some type of hiking/biking vacation? Even if the people would be geriatric on these type, they'd certainly have the energy level a 2o-yr-old could respect.

If that type of tour isn't appealing, do it yourself. It's not that hard. BELIEVE US!
Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 06:26 PM
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My vote is to consider very carefully before committing yourself to a tour.

You know the possible benefits. The possile detriments are:

Ending up with a group that is primarily middle aged and older

Being stuck in hotels on the outskirts that are very inconvenient to do anything on your own (NO tours are really all-inclusive - although some are more inclusive than others - you need to read the info very carefully - frequantly they say "view" of something - which means drive by and glance out of the bus window

Your time is not your own - you will be up very early each AM - usually luggage has to be packed and in the hall before 7am

Not every group member will be congenial (I have done only one group tour - and we had a couple who were LATE - and not 5 minutes - for everything - I cannot tell you how much time this wasted for everyone [15 minutes 3/4 times per day for two weeks] - and how much resentment/backbiting this caused.)

Lastly its like a chain and the weakest link - you are always operating at the least common denominator (we also had one boo boo who lost his passport - incredibly he managed to drop it over the side of a canal boat - and you can't believe the trouble that caused.)

If I were you I would definitely do either an independent package (air and hotels arranged, then do what you want) or a road trip - depending on where you want to go.

Do not worry about language. This is not really an issue anywhere in western or central europe - people in the tourist infrastructure almost all have some english - and leaning a little of whatever language it is is part of the fun anyway. (FYI in europe children are required to learn a second language - almost always english - from the age of 10 or so - and the number of people who speak very good english is astonishingly large.)
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 06:36 PM
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To add my 2 cents. We pulled into the parking lot for Kylemore Abbey, Ireland after 2 tour buses. I counted 85 ladies in line to the restroom. We toured the abbey, took pictures, walked around, bought Irish wool socks,etc. When we left for our next adventure, there was STILL a long restroom line, so it depends how you want to spend your time.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 07:27 PM
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Used group tours because of difficult self tour destination (eg Morroco) or inexperience (first trip to Europe). Would not do in future except for exotic location. Reasons: Too little time for some things (the stuff I like more than the group), too much for others (the daily Gathering of the Stragglers, the Wonderful Shops of Souvenirs and Kickbaks), the extra cost excursions, the feeling that if there are three great sights in a town, you will tour one, skim one and miss one, and of course the lowest common denominator food (on one tour we all learned to chant "A soup a fish a meat a dessert!"). Your time is not your own and too much is wasted on the chores of managing a group: Getting onto the bus, stopping frequently enough for the weakest bladders, going only where many people can go at the same time, and so on. If I want to waste time, it will be when and where and why I want to. That said, I doubt I would go on my own to third world or environmentally difficult locations.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 07:29 PM
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You say "We like the idea because everything is included in the price and it seems to include all of the major highlights of each area."

Look carefully at what is included in the tour. I glanced at one "11 day" tour of London, Paris, and Amsterdam. It includes breakfast 9 times plus 3 dinners. My guess is that wine is not included in the dinners. The tour has several "free days" which means that you are on your own, unless you buy one of the optional tours. The Amsterdam portion only included one tour, to the Anne Frank Huis. Now, anybody could find that.

To repeat what most of the above have said, go on your own. You're young and free. Using a rail pass is the best way to see Europe. It's an adventure. You don't need to be part of some shephard's flock.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2004, 07:50 PM
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Please, go on your own. You will have a great time, you will make a few goofs (oh my, I know I did) and you will have the time of your life. Come back to the idea of a group tour in about 35 years, when the knees aren't as great as they once were, when you & your husband can look out the bus window as you whiz by the sites and say 'remember when?' You can get just as good of a deal by some planning, researching & reading here and a much more memorable time IMO going it alone.
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