Bus tour or on our own? Help me decide.

Mar 17th, 2010, 08:02 AM
  #1  
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Bus tour or on our own? Help me decide.

My husband and I are planning our first visit to Italy this fall, and are unsure about the best way to do it. We speak no Italian. We plan to go for 14 - 17 days, and are in our mid-50's.

Friends took an Insight tour a few years ago, and just loved it, the convenience, no waiting in line, and what they thought was a pretty good overview. They went to Rome, Venice, Positano, Florence, Venice, and a couple of one night stays at other places. They had lots of free time. They highly recommend it.

The other option is to go on our own. We'd like to see Rome, Florence, Venice and the Amalfi Coast. We'd have to make all the arrangements ourselves, with the help of a travel agent.

I see advantages both ways. It's certainly appealing to have all the work done for us in terms of museum entries and transportation. A knowledgeable guide is just invaluable. We're interested in history and art, but have absolutely no training, so having someone point out all those things, and telling us why this or that is interesting really appeals to me. One the other hand, we'll have to go to places that we're not really interested in, and we'll be with a group of people for at least parts of every day. What if I don't feel like talking one day - will I become that unfriendly person on the bus?

But if we go on our own, we go exactly where we want, but will have to do the train and bus arrangements on our own. Right now that thought overwhelms me, but I'm sure once I get into it, I can figure it all out. We'll have to do all our own city tours. I have no problem finding my own accommodation, that's interesting to me, and I also like just being the two of us.

I guess I'm trying to figure out if the annoyance of a bus tour - someone chattering at the front of the bus, no freedom from the same people, not our own schedule, is worth the good things, like all the information and planning being done for us. As I write this, I'm feeling constrained by the tour, but a bit frightened to go on my own.

Sorry for writing a chapter on this, but can anyone help me clarify things.
Anyone had great or bad experiences either way?

Thanks.
markland is offline  
Mar 17th, 2010, 08:20 AM
  #2  
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I don't think there's anything to be nervous or frightened about in terms of planning your own trip!

A lot of the fun of these cities is just walking around-- there's no "wrong" way to see Venice, or Rome, or Florence-- and I think you'll get a much better feel for the cities on your own. Obviously there are plenty of guidebooks, and even English tours (live or recorded) available at main sites (don't forget-- there's a 300 year history of Brits touring Italy so it's not as though they are unprepared for or unfriendly to English-speaking tourists). Italian is also a relatively easy language to pronounce, so you should be able to do fine with a few phrases and figure things out if needed.

This forum can help a lot with your questions too, so I'd say from what you've written you should definitely go for your own tour.
Doh is offline  
Mar 17th, 2010, 08:26 AM
  #3  
 
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To ease your concerns about planing, you might choose to purchase an "independent tour" package offered by some companies. They arrange for hotels, transportation between cities, perhaps a half day introductory tour of each city, and a contact in each city to help you with issues. You figure out the rest--meals, other sights that interest you, local transportation, additional tours you might like, shopping, and how you spend most of your time.

Most people on these forums prefer to travel totally independently, planning every aspect on their own, so you will get a lot of encouragement to move in that direction.

You can also find a lot of information here to help you plan, whichever method of travel you choose.
ellenem is offline  
Mar 17th, 2010, 08:33 AM
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I've taken many escorted tours, and have never had a problem finding lots of personal time. First, I do lots of research to get the perfect itinerary, and a good tour company. I prefer tours that offer few included meals, because they are usually pretty bad, and I prefer finding a nice little restaurant. When I meet the tour director I let them know that I tend to do a lot of wandering on my own. This way they don't worry, or wonder where I am. I seldom take optional tours, because I have already researched that city, and know my plans. Sometimes I like having hotels, and transportation taken care of. Other times I prefer to do the entire trip on my own. Pros and cons to both ways. If you take a tour just make sure you are at the bus when it leaves. It's also a great idea for us "wanderers" to have the name and address of the hotel in case you miss the bus, and have to get to the hotel on your own. About early mornings: I love to get up and out early, so that's not really a problem. Once in a great while I need a force up, or I'll be sorry later. Whatever you do the key to a great trip either way, is pre-planning. Just because it's an escorted tour doesn't mean you don't have to research, and plan. Once you have decided where you are going, you can come back to the forum and get great advice on things to see and do. Have a wonderful trip to beautiful Italy
TravMimi is offline  
Mar 17th, 2010, 08:42 AM
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The independent tour suggested above might work for you but as I read your post it seems like you are more drawn to going on your own.

Our first trip to Italy was with a tour - I liked that as we saw the major sights with tour guides; covering alot of ground. I needed a vacation after my vacation. And don't worry about being the unfriendly person on the bus, alot of the group will use the bus rides as down time - napping! Also most of the people we have met on tours have been very pleasant, sometimes its nice to have someone besides my DH to chat with.

If you do decide to go on your own, I discourage using a travel agent - this board and a good travel book (I like Rick Steves, but alot on this board do not) should be all you need to plan the trip.
suec1 is offline  
Mar 17th, 2010, 08:46 AM
  #6  
 
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I think you are very wise to solicit a wide range of opinions about this and talk out your concerns. Travel to Europe costs a lot of money!

I am thrilled to read a post on Fodor's from someone who wants to visit Italy to learn more about its art and history and have the benefit of someone knowledgeable as they go to see these sights. I disagree with the above poster who said there is no "wrong" way to see these sights. Many people come to Italy and have extremely disappointing experiences in museums, or felt frustrated they were just walking around ancient places without understanding what they were seeing, or actually end up spoiling them for others with inappropriate behavior.

You don't have to book a bus tour if you value learning while you are traveling. You can independently hire the services of guides in the cities you visit. There are many experienced professionals who provide that service.

I agree with ellenem that the majority sentiment on Fodor's regarding Italy is preferring " to travel totally independently" and that you'll get a lot of encouragement for that -- but also a lot of discouragement about doing it any other way,

So I'm going to suggest you also ask your question on Frommer's message board, because I've noticed it's more a mixed bag there, with some people reporting very happy experiences of taking tours in Italy, and looking forward to another one. I think if you use both boards, you'll get a wider range of pros and cons to consider, and more details from people who've taken tours and why they liked them.
zeppole is offline  
Mar 17th, 2010, 09:30 AM
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I think you need to ask yourself a few questions. Do you like planning things? Are you able to tolerate making mistakes along the way and not having everything happen as planned? Do you like to seek out new things on your own ( or with little guidance)? If so, then I think you would prefer to do it on your own. Once you become familiar with airfare, trains, hotels and entrance to sights it is not so overwhelming to do it on your own. Independent travel in Europe is actually quite easy especially with the internet. To be honest, I have never taken a tour anywhere I have travelled, including Asia and South America. So I am biased, but I think planning the trip, getting lost, making some mistakes along the way only enhances your trip. Travelling independently is also a great way to meet locals, not just the ones paid to interact with you.
genio67 is offline  
Mar 17th, 2010, 09:42 AM
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Hi Markland. You mention that this will be your first trip to Italy, but you don't say whether you've travelled a lot to other non-english speaking countries before? I guess you need to weigh up whether you want a holiday where you can completely relax and go with the flow, or whether you want to be a bit more intrepid.

I now live in Italy, but I've previously holidayed here using both methods and for your first visit, I wouldn't be afraid of taking an organised tour if I were you, particularly if it's one that allows you plenty of free time to escape the group if you need to. Tours are a great way to get a "sampler" of Italy, and having knowledgeable drivers and guides can really enhance your experience of what you're seeing. It's also very convienient to have someone else deal with the driving (and the traffic), take care of your luggage for you and drop you off right at the door of your hotel each day. I can't promise you won't find any annoying people on the tour, but the up side is that you might also make some lifelong friends.

If you do decide to go it alone, then the Italian train system is good and generally reliable, however the different types of trains and tickets can take a bit of working out at first. All the larger train stations have self service ticket machines with an English option, which will help. When boarding any train in Italy, you have to negotiate stairs - both to the platforms and then several steep & narrow stairs from the platform up to your carriage and this can be a bit tricky when you're travelling with large suitcases, so my advice is to travel light. I'd also recommend travelling first class where possible (not always available on "regional" trains) when you've got luggage with you, as there is more room for both yourselves, and your bags. Keep an eye on the "partenze" (departures) board because the "binario" (platform) can often change at the last minute and they may not announce the change in English. You might also consider pre-booking your accommodation in hotels which are close to the train station/public transport in each city, so that you don't have far to go with your luggage when you arrive and it can reduce your reliance on taxi's.

In the major tourist centres, you'll definitely find a lot of people who speak at least a little English, but learning and using a few words of Italian seems to be appreciated.

Whichever option you decide, I wish you a wonderful holiday in Italy.
Wooders101 is offline  
Mar 17th, 2010, 09:55 AM
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There are a couple of things to consider about bus tours:

Starts are often very early - bags outside your door at 7 am
There are lot of stops for shopping for tscotkes - IMHO a complete waste of time
Hotels are often outside the towns - making use of your free time inconvenient
Meals provided are usually basic - and not nearly as good as you would find on your own in even modest restaurants

If you travel independently you go where yuo want and when youwant, pick your own hotels and meals - but it's much more work. (And yes, you can easily pick up a day tour in any city if you want.)

To me, the work beforehand is part of the fun of the trip.

And you can get along in Italy just fine with nothng but English.
nytraveler is offline  
Mar 17th, 2010, 10:02 AM
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If you do it on your own, you can day off from sight seeing, relax and do whatever you feel like.
HappyTrvlr is offline  
Mar 17th, 2010, 12:37 PM
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I think nytraveler has listed what I consider to be the big drawbacks of a tour. If you decide to take one, pay particular attention to the location of the hotel, since they indeed are often far from everything you want to see, making it difficult to stop back at the hotel during the day. Get a map so you can really see the location compared to what you want to see.

Yes, it's more work to do the planning, but I consider it fun. Do you?

Another thing to consider: are both you and your husband the type of people who will go with the flow if something goes wrong, or will it ruin your trip? If the later, then go with a tour. It depends on you. All my trips to Italy have been arranged by myself, to a great extent with information found right here on Fodor's (and I've traveled by myself), and I wouldn't trade that method for a tour for anything, but only you can decide what's right for you.
SusanP is offline  
Mar 17th, 2010, 01:26 PM
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I'm not a morning person, and super-early starts would ruin my vacation. We also don't like large, chain-type hotels which is where most organized tours are booked.

My SIL and her husband, however, have taken two guided tours of Italy and had a great time on both for the reasons you mentioned, no work on their part to book and organize, etc. They did no advance research, so they had no idea what if anything they were missing, but in more than one case couldn't remember what they saw where. I call this the "blur factor" caused by moving too fast without time to digest and reflect.

I agree with SusanP's comment about how you deal with the unexpected.
Jean is online now  
Mar 18th, 2010, 05:40 AM
  #13  
 
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My wife and I are in our mid-60s and dreading the time to come when the only way we'll be able to travel is by organized tours and cruises--blechhhhh. Of course we will do it when it is the only way we are able to travel, but hopefully we can keep in good enough shape to put that off for a couple of decades or so. I've got good genes, my father is 87 and still driving himself and his 42 year old second wife to Mexico and Canada and all around the USA on his vacations--and driving well to boot! They also just got back from a self-conducted 2 week trip to Australia. So there is hope.

BUT, to be specific, I have looked at tours in the past and listened to the experiences of people we know who took tours. Here's what I especially don't like:

1. Hotels are often very poorly located, often not even in the city that you're supposed to be visiting.
2. Hotels tend to be chains--some rather pedestrian, others very luxurious depending on the tour, but chains. I prefer to stay in something at least somewhat reflective of the culture of the place I'm visiting.
3. Meals are often hotel meals. Usually OK to keep your body fueled, but I would much rather experience something local.
4. You go where the tour tells you to go for the time the tour allows you. So your stuck too long in something you couldn't care less about, and you don't have anywhere near enough time for something that does interest you.
5. Not enough days in one place. Cruises (sea and river) are especially bad on this one and on #3.
6. Expense--I've never seen a tour that is less expensive than what I can do on my own. Partly because of the hotels that they select, but other inflated costs as well--they have to make a profit, while I don't have to add a profit margin when I plan my own trips.
7. Knowledge: I learn a lot about destinations (history, culture, geography, current events, etc.) when I'm doing my own research and planning, a lot more than I would if someone else was arranging it all for me.

These are just my main reasons for not preferring tour groups, and, for me, they far outweigh the negatives of independant travel. BUT this is just MY view, and someone with a different personality and interests and frustration limits might well come to the opposite conclusion.
Paul1950 is offline  
Mar 18th, 2010, 07:21 AM
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It sounds like you would enjoy planning your trip. Train and bus arrangements are not hard to figure out and you can choose your hotels on the internet. You have enough time before fall to read and learn and research to make a decision.

Although I disagree with some of the posts about group travel -- the tours are not all the same -- some tours book hotels right in the city center, but you would have to read carefully, check out the hotels, etc. before booking, but for a trip in Italy, I think you'd enjoy yourselves more on your own.

Make a tentative plan and take it one city at a time.
Luisah is offline  
Mar 18th, 2010, 08:08 AM
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I highly encourage you to research even if you book a tour.

A few years ago my mother and I took a tour of Turkey (There are places I won't drive and Turkey tops the list )

The first day we arrived hours before the "tour" organization meeting and we were off and running to see the places that were NOT on the "tour" At the meeting that night several travelers were "whiny" because "they should have told us what to do, we just sat in the hotel room" I really didn't feel sorry for them. They seemed to be able to read They could have found the same things we did and not wasted a day or half a day and whined later!

We also "dumped" the tour a couple of times. We made sure the guide KNEW, it's REALLY RUDE just to not show up. I would tell him TWICE just to be sure. But that way we got more time in some places instead of a "rest" at the hotel.
CarolA is offline  
Mar 18th, 2010, 08:10 AM
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By the way I drove in Italy. No problems there.

(Greece scares me for some reason and I have not been brave enough to try the UK. The 'other side of the road' freaks me out )
CarolA is offline  
Mar 18th, 2010, 09:14 AM
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OP,

The fact that you can come in here to seek advice SHOWED that you are more suitable to travel on your own
fcuklp is offline  
Mar 18th, 2010, 09:17 AM
  #18  
 
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I forget to mention the advantages:

1) Planning the trip is fun,
2) You get to visit more places,
3) You have more freedom in timing,

JUst compare with the disadvantages if you can think of any(I can't) and consider.
fcuklp is offline  
Mar 20th, 2010, 06:36 AM
  #19  
 
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You can start by getting travel books at your library. Also go to a book store where there may be a wider range of books. Most travel books suggest itineraries.

Decide what cities or areas you want to visit and work on a tentative plan.

You can hire local guides for museums and sights to take you where you want to go.

You could also take day excursions from major cities.

With 14-17 days you could also combine a tour with time on your own. Here is a sample of a Perillo Tour of Tuscany. Note you would spend 7 nights in one hotel, so no early morning "put your suitcase out" ...

Perillo Tuscany: Visit Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Siena, a Chianti Castle & Vineyard, San Gimignano, 8 Days/7 Nights

Escorted Tour Includes:

Accommodations for 7 nights at 4 Star, Grand Hotel Locanda Maggiore in Montecatini
Welcome cocktail reception
7 Breakfasts, 3 Lunches, 7 Dinners with beverage included

Or
Discover Sorrento & The Amalfi Coast

vacation package to Sorrento and Amalfi
8 Days / 7 Nights

Escorted Tour Includes:

Welcome Cocktail reception
Accommodations for 7 nights in the 4 star Hotel Capodimonte in Sorrento
5 light lunches
7 Dinners with beverages

Visits to Amalfi Coast, Certosa di Padula, Pompeii, Paestum.
Guided sightseeing tours and excursions throughout
Entrance fees to all sites
Your choice to spend the day: Taking a cooking class, visit the magnificent island of Ischia, visit Mount Vesuvius and Herculaneum, stroll around Sorrento and visit a Limoncello factory, or go on your own to tour of the Isle of Capri and visit the Blue Grotto.

I haven't taken a Perillo Tour but this is just a sample of possibilities to consider.
Luisah is offline  
Mar 20th, 2010, 08:14 AM
  #20  
 
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I would start with a tour, after that you will feel better about being on your own, going places the tour had missed. Pick a short one: 7-10 days, after that on your own - so for next vacations you will know what to do for sure!

Or there is such thing as "untours" where you are met at the airport, taken to a hotel or a house, 1/2 day city tour, the rest is on your own.

Sorry cannot advise you on a tour company - I only had one in Switzerland, surprisingly good locations of hotels, great breakfasts, we only had 2 dinners included, some time was on our own to explore.
Dayenu is offline  

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