Can't believe I'm considering a tour.

Sep 12th, 2006, 07:02 AM
  #1  
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Can't believe I'm considering a tour.

Some of you may know me already, I'm a 21 year old female from NYC, am about to embark on my 7th trip to Europe, this time to Italy (6 of which were completely solo)..already planning the next one!

I'd really like to visit Russia but, although I consider myself an independant traveller, feel it would be best for me to go with a tour for this trip.

I'm looking at Trafalgar, Globus and Contiki. For Contiki, I like the idea of being with people in my age group, but am sort of afraid it will be too much of a party crowd--BUT, I have a feeling that a tour of Russia and Eastern Europe won't have as many partiers on it--they'll probably be on the Greek Island tour.

As for the other tours, what's turning me off is, well--and I know this is going to open a HUGE can of worms here--I really don't want to be surrounded by embarrassing Americans for three weeks. Not saying ALL americans are embarrassing, but, well, some of them are. I'm consoling myself by thinking that anyone taking a tour of Russia/Eastern Europe has probably visited Europe prior to this trip and may be a bit more accustomed to cultural differences.

Although out of my age group, I'm leaning towards Trafalgar and Globus only because they offer "first class" tours. I'm afraid of what the accomodations will be like on Contiki, I've heard from others (though from different tours that they offer) that they tend to be quite far from the center of town (important to me because I do want some time on my own). Not to mention, I don't really want to slum it too much.

Any advice? Has anyone taken Contiki's Russia/Scandanavia tour? How about any of the Russian tours offered through Trafalgar or Globus? Any other hats to throw into the ring?

thanks!
MissZiegfeld is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 07:08 AM
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Try this lot. I have been on several of their tours - you get all nationalities (all english speaking so Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, and a fair few septics and Moose-botherers)

Not a "party" tour, but far from straight laced.

http://www.explore.co.uk/
audere_est_facere is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 07:11 AM
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I haven't been on a tour, but I'll throw my hat into the ring.

I think you sound as though you are thinking quite sensibly on this topic.

It sounds as though you have given it thought and are coming up with a lot of valid points.

If I were going to a place that I was a bit intimidated by (which is NOT to say that you are feeling intimidated), I would most definitely consider a tour of some type.

Russia would be on my list of possible places for the above.

I also think you are probably right that a tour to Russia might attract a more sophisticated (in some respects, anyway) group of travelers.

I doubt if I've done you much good, but at least you have my support. ;-)
tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 07:14 AM
  #4  
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tuscan, thank you! That's why I posted all of my feelings on this, to make sure it made sense and sounded fairly reasonable! If it wasn't, I know fodorites well enough to know they'd set me straight.
MissZiegfeld is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 07:16 AM
  #5  
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Thank you for that link Audere, I have it loading now.
MissZiegfeld is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 07:19 AM
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I went to the Baltics and Russia last year with Globus. Normally, I'm an independent traveler, and I hadn't been on a tour in 20 years. But this time, I was traveling with my 70+ year-old mother, and she just wasn't comfortable with an independent trip to Russia. It was fast-paced--of course, I'd have liked more time in each location, but overall it was far better than I expected. We had an excellent tour director and an interesting, very-well-traveled group, ranging in age from 25 to 80s.

My trip report is here:
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34654471
ms_go is online now  
Sep 12th, 2006, 07:24 AM
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I understand your concerns and I do think that if you are visiting a place where even the alphabet is somewhat unfamiliar a group experience for the first time might be easier.

There are people who have done it for the first time on their own who might attempt to dissuade you.

As to the accommodations, etc., that the various companies offer: i would check very carefully if that is a major issue for you. Be aware of the infamous "or similar" wording in brochures when it comes to describing hotels and their locations. i took a tour with Trafalgar of France back in the 80's and we saw a lot of high-speed highways and had hotels out in the sticks many times..learned my lesson.

Now, as to that "can of worms"...you describe the possibility of being surrounded by "embarrassing Americans" and then you imply that this "embarrassment" would come from their possibly not being "accustomed to cultural differences"..at least that's the way I am interpreting your words.

Frankly, I agree that if you were ona tour with a lot of Europeans you would possibly be amongst folks who are accustomed to cultural differences.

OTOH if you think that makes them any more TOLERANT of those cultural differences you may be in for a surprise. Whether or not they will be as vocal about all of this as some Americans might be is anyone's guess.

Dukey is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 07:30 AM
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Well, I can offer some insight on Trafalger. My wife and I had the opoortunity about three years ago to take part in a Trafalger tour of Ireland at a greatly reduced cost (like free). We of course could not pass that up so we signed up. We are normally independent and either rent cars or use rail passes when in Europe, so we had real misgivings about this tour. We were pleasantly surprised.

We pictured a bunch of old people with walkers that would gripe and groan about everything and slow us up at every stop. How wrong we were. The group was actually quite diverse, ranging in ages from early 20s to 70s. I would guess the mid-point was about 45-55. The majority of the group were Australians, with a few Canadians and then the rest Americans. Probably about 70 percent Australians. It was a fun group and we all got along well and we made new friends in Australia we still stay in touch with. The tour was well organized, staying in nice hotels and the included meals (breakfast every day and some dinners) were in general quite good. The tour guide was low key and she did an excellent job, and never once pressured anyone to buy the optional excursions. We were given plenty of free time and never spent long times on the coach (which was very comfortable). Overall we were quite happy with Trafalger and this tour.

It seems the guide and the composition of the group will dictate if you hate or like the tour. We had a good experience.

Hope this helps somewhat.
Curt is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 07:35 AM
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Several years ago, I signed up for a Cosmos tour of Russia and booked by airline ticket seperately with BA. The tour was cancelled so I did the trip to Russia on my own.

It was a lot of work, getting the VISA and everything and I did make the trip a little shorter. Spent three nights in Moscow and signed up for a few half day tours and took the night train to St. Petersburg for three nights. I then took the bus from St. Petersburg to Tallinn, Estonia and the ferry to Helsinki.

Eastern Europe is a little more difficult than Western Europe and you may want to do a tour.
wally34949 is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 08:37 AM
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YOu might check out exodus.co.uk, too.
Kate_W is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 08:45 AM
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I went to Russia on my own a couple of years ago and it was very intimidating and I did have some issues. Many of the issues were with transportation, missed flights, drivers that didn't show up etc.
You might consider going on your own but having a tour company to provide a good part of your activities. I know there is one at www.travelinrussia.com and I still get e-mails from one called Patrisky dom tours (sorry, can't find the e-mail to confirm spelling) they will pick you up at the airport and get you to your hotel and then have day trips you can sign up for. I think they may also help with the Visa.

When I went I had a private guide named Olga that picked me up and spent the next day with me at the Hermitage and teaching me a bit about the subway system in St. Petersburg. In Moscow I had a great little boutique hotel that was right by red square so it was a little easier to get around.

This would allow you to meet people in a group setting but still offer the independence of choosing your own hotels and where you want to eat. Let me know if you would like more info on how I arranged my trip.

Debbie
dwc0201 is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 09:04 AM
  #12  
lyb
 
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MissZiegfield,

The first time I went to Europe I did do a tour but since I've done it on my own and do prefer it that way. However, I agree with you regarding Russia, especially if I were to go on my own, which is very likely since none of my friends have a great interest in visiting Russia. I've thought about it and when I go, I will do a tour....as someone pointed, even the alphabet is different and I think it would be much more difficult to navigate not even being able to read street signs, etc..

Whatever you decide, please let us know and do report after your trip.
lyb is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 09:26 AM
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I'm not sure that the idea that travelers to Russia are more sophisticated/less embarassing is at all true.

I have been twice - once with a tour (when that was the only way to go) and they were somewhat embarassing - but more important - it was very frustrating not being able to pick a hotel that was conveniently located and pleasant and we wasted a huge amount of time in looking at things I had no interest in and shopping for tschokes.

After the government changed I went independently - met a friend there for part of the time. Enjoyed the trip tremendously more, saw much more of the cities, had all sorts of expriences I would not have had otherwise and was not stuck with other people - embarassing or not.

If you have comfortable traveled by yourself in central europe - Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland etc - you need to know tht Russia is more difficult. There is less of a tourist infrastructure - it's there but not as obvious/complete. And the concept of "service" is still largely lacking.

I would reco you go by ourself IF you can afford a top grade hotel in a central location (in Russia it does make a diference that it doesn;t in other countries) and if you're willing to learn the cyrillic alphabet and a few words of Russian.

You have to realize that you can walk or take taxis (inexpensively and all the drivers speak english) everywhere. And you can pick up day tours to places out of town if you want at the hotel. But for exploring most of the cities - it can easily be done solo - if you're confident and even a tiny bit adventurous.
nytraveler is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 10:44 AM
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I believe that while Trafalgar tours are slightly more upscale, the Globus hotels are more centrally located. One suggestion that will make your group tour much more rewarding: do a little research (which I'm sure you love to do) on the area around the hotel, and the spots where the tour will leave you "on your own." Then when they drop you off, you'll have a plan ready of what's to see & do in the immediate area, as well as recommendations of good restaurants & shops. So many clients end up taking the optional, and often high-prced, side tours because they're not really prepared for anything else...
lol930 is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 12:29 PM
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I wouldn't go to Russia on my own out of concern about its reputation for high crime, poor health service and poor transporation infrastructure.

A huge part of the reason I travel is to get away from America and Americans! I would look to join a tour that begins in another English-speaking country (I've rather enjoyed being around Scots) or I might consider joining a tour organized by a great university or international museum, which cuts down on bozos and forced shopping marches -- but they tend to be expensive and attract retirees.

I, too, live in New York City. Don't you think you could find a cultural exchange program here in the city? Or possibly hook up with a program where Russian immigrants go back to visit their families? Perhaps if you made some Russian friends here, they'd help you connect with people in Russia who'd take care of you and show your around, and perhaps even go with you.

It's worth a shot. The weather's beautiful. Why not go down to Brighton Beach this weekend and nose around?
nessundorma is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 01:16 PM
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Obviously, you never absolutely know...

For the most part, on the Trafalgar tours I have done, there have been a good many Australians as well as North Americans (I find it hard to differentiate between Americans and Canadians on these tours) although for example a tour of the Alps I took with Tranfalgar this past June had mostly North Americans.

You are right about Con Tiki tours, they do have a reputation of being about partying and sleeping the next day on the bus and not really caring about the sites they are seeing.

I would go with Trafalgar myself and you'll probably find a group you are seeking.
xyz123 is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 01:18 PM
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I have done both tours and independent travel, in addition to studying abroad in Russia and bringing students there every other year.

As far as fearing medically for yourself, there are American doctors and American-run hospitals in the cities. Have no fear- you will be fine.

As far as muggings/ pickpockets are concerned, there is always a chance in a major city that a pickpocket target you.

One girl in my group was very obvious about where her $$ was on the street (on Nevskii Prospect in Piter)- it was in her eyeglass case in her coat pocket. A man came by and swiftly removed the case. It was traumatic, sure- but these things happen in any major city.

I agree that a tour may be the good first option, so that everything will be done for you, regarding accomodations, visas, etc. But if you fear being with a group of tourists, then no tour will ever be good... Maybe in Brighton you could find some more info. but on my last visit to Brighton, no one even attempted conversation in English! Pure Russian, which was fun for me...



katya_NY is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 01:22 PM
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Wouldn't you have a lot more fun if you could get a friend your own age to go with? You could be stuck on a bus with a bunch of old farts!
wliwl is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 01:27 PM
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I went on one tour many, many years ago and said never again.

Some places, it is the only way to go for various reasons.

I am considering Russia. I have found that I can have everything that a tour offers as far as help goes, along with private touring. Also I have found this really great outfit that has such small groups...take a look at it..many places..but you look at the Russia trips offered
http://earthboundexpeditions.com/

Enjoy......
gracejoan3 is offline  
Sep 12th, 2006, 01:53 PM
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I understand your issues around the American thing ..... that's why when I went on my first organized tour, I did so with a group of Canadians (it was a trip to Costa Rica in Nov-2002)--- http://www.adventures-abroad.com

In my instance, since the trip was to CR, I can't advise how their Russian trip is. And I'm sure there are other Canadian based tour organizations as well as British ones. Truthfully, I selected the "Adventures Abroad" group not because they were Canadian (it really was by happenstance); rather I was seeking a tour that was reasonably priced, and a small group, somewhat in the manner of how Rick Steves does for Europe.
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