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First time travelers to Europe ?s

Old Jun 2nd, 2018, 06:57 AM
  #1  
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First time travelers to Europe ?s

We are considering travel to Europe....Great Britain, France, and Italy, but not sure of traveling with a group. We are in our 60s and active, but never traveled with others and a preplanned schedule. It has been recommended that we use Globus or Cosmos. We do not want to travel on our own due to languages and etc. We are not sure whether we should aim for travel in May or September for less congestion. Weather wise prefer warm to cooler. Any ideas or suggestions from recent travelers our age group? Thank you.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2018, 07:07 AM
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>>We do not want to travel on our own due to languages and etc. <<

What are the 'etc.' you are concerned about? Because Language is not an issue at all.

Your questions are very broad. How long do you have for this trip? You list three countries each of which are FULL of places to go and things to see (countless really). Do you have and guidebooks and have any idea which parts of those countries interest you?

Cosmos and Globus offer large group tours at the budget end of the spectrum/. They tend to be very rushed with lots of 'demonstration/shopping stops and often the accommodations are not central
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Old Jun 2nd, 2018, 07:14 AM
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If you prefer to travel independently, I would not let language stop you. France and Italy are filled with tourists who speak neither French nor Italian. And especially if you are interested in the cities, most people who deal with tourists speak English.

What is your concern about traveling with a group? If you don’t like the idea, try making a plan of the things you want to do and people here can help with suggestions. On the other hand, many people enjoy tours, and you could try one out to see whether you enjoy traveling this way.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2018, 07:14 AM
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Well, most the places you are likely to travel to in those countries will not offer you any language problems and culturally, at the shop assistant level, the key issue is to say hello to everyone rather than just launch into "I would like". So I'd go solo. That does not mean you should not take advantage of group offerings, so if you want to see WW2 beach landings in Normandy then there are groups that form up for the day to tour the place.

May and September can both be good and of course Italy south is a long way from UK north so temperatures do vary a fair bit before you take into account that one is Atlantic gulf stream and the other is continental.

Recommendations, well start in the south in May and head north and the other way around in September to take advantage of the warmth. Fly open jaw if you can to save on back tracking. Get hold of the rough guide to europe or other large travel book and scribble down what you each want to do and post it note onto a wall. Then work how long you can come for and how much money you want to spend.

Ideas, well a week in Sicily, 4 days in Rome, 5 days in Tuscany, 3 days in Venice, 3 days in Avignon, 4 days in Alsace, 4 days in Paris, train under the channel, 6 days in London, 4 days in the Cotswolds, 4 days in Yorkshire and 5 days based out of Edinburgh with Rabbies (a travel company). That would fill a month or so and be an opener to the three countries.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2018, 07:17 AM
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trains are key to taking advantage of the time. seat61.com is the place to start reading but you may also like rome2rio and bahn.de (hit the union flag to make it go into English)
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Old Jun 2nd, 2018, 07:49 AM
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just a thought, given your understandable if unfounded fear of language difficulties, you might prefer to fly into the UK first of all just to get a handle on "europe-lite" things are a bit different but at least the language is mainly similar, then France and finally Sicily as this is the only place I have had to use Italian though this was in mid-winter when the usual staff where skiing.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2018, 07:51 AM
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Once upon a time we looked at traveling with a tour (Rick Steves) but opted to do trips on our own for two reasons: 1) Invariably, friends who went on tours hit so many places in so little time that they couldn't keep memories straight when they returned home. They had the pictures to prove where they'd been, but they did so much country hopping that it was all a blur. 2) We wanted to get a hint of what life for locals was like. That means staying in one spot longer than a day or two, slow travel. You get to know the owner of the pub or the bakery. You have the opportunity and time to talk politics, sports, or history with folks from a different part of the world. Language has never been an issue for us, not that we're fluent in any other than English. We just learned a few basic words before going. It's even easier now with translation apps.

Bilboburgler gave you a great starting point with the post-it note suggestion. I'd also recommend getting a map and marking the places you want to visit so you don't spend too much time on the road/tracks.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2018, 08:25 AM
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I too would recommend a first trip to Great Britain/Ireland if you have any worry about language. It would show you that even if you think you speak the same language, the cultural differences are often much more important.

However, if your principal desire is to tick the boxes of various items you want to see (Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, Big Ben...) before it is 'too late' then indeed go ahead and take a tour. This would at least teach you that you had spent a huge amount of money for things that were really quire simple in the end and also stimulate you to go exploring on your own during a second, third, fourth trip.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2018, 10:09 AM
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Starting in GB or Ireland is a good idea, but there are bigger problems for most people, IME, than language barriers. Most Europeans, at least those under 80, speak enough English to help you out, and in major tourist areas most are close to fluent in shops and restaurants and places you are likely to visit. That does not absolve you from learning at least a modicum of the local language and general etiquette in any country you visit, however. It may be more important for you to understand currencies and local customs and transportation systems than language, and any decent guidebook (and many websites) can help you with that. I would also study maps in advance of traveling so you understand where you are in the world, what the distances between places are, and how to get around on foot in cities before you land there.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2018, 10:12 AM
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I was a bit overwhelmed my first trip, and looked at guided tours. I soon realized by the time I added the cost for 2 of us, it worked out to $400 - $500 per night. I figured out I could stay in some nice hotels for less than that if I did the planning myself, and also have the freedom to spend whatever time at certain destinations we liked rather than being on a set time frame.

I worked out some very basic things that were high priority, then mapped out a journey from UK and Northern France, ending up on the Riviera for a few beach days before heading home.
Planning was part of the fun of the trip, and had lots of good info here, and I booked a tour with Viator for Normandy beaches. It was very worthwhile and informative, more so than if we had just wandered to the sites ourselves. They offer many tours/day trips all over Europe.

There was never really a language issue that couldn't be solved with hand gestures and smiles.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2018, 10:21 AM
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First time to Europe - no language is no problem and you can book all your hotels and trains (best way for going between cities) beforehand and just follow your own drumbeat -for lots on trains check www.seat61.com; BETS-European Rail Experts and www.ricksteves.com. Nothing wrong though with goingon one of those tours - just that language is no problem really and booking your trains and hotels before leaving very simple.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2018, 09:12 PM
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DH & I are in your age group and have traveled to Europe on our own quite a few times. One year we took a Trafalgar tour to Italy because I was working a lot of hours and had little time to plan. The tour stopped 3 nights each in Rome, Florence and Venice and we added a couple nights at the beginning and end. We chose it because the particular tour offered a lot of time on our own, travel between cities by train (I would never put Mr. Wonderful on a long bus drive) and most meals were on our own. Trafalgar offered the framework and we filled in the rest.

That said I suggest making your first European trip to the UK and France on your own. You can visit big cities, major art museums, small towns and villages, amazing gardens and palaces, ancient and modern historic sites. You'll find a lot of help on these boards.

Mr. Wonderful and I studied French before heading off to France some years ago. He needed to check in with work (before the advent of cellphones and iPads) so we went into a Web caf in Paris. As Mr. W. spoke the clerk finally said "Don't hurt yourself". A memorable encounter and a great time in that caf that we could have missed on a tour.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2018, 05:00 AM
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My wife and I are in your age group. Our first trip to Europe 18 years ago was mandated (in a loving way) by my Dad and Mom who rented a villa in an Umbrian (Italy) hill town. As others suggested we started in London, then Florence, Umbria, Rome and Paris. We were apprehensive at first, but English is the first, or a close second, language in most tourist areas of Europe. We have made a dozen trips since then, including a marathon effort that we covered in 100 blog posts: https://16countriesin30days.wordpress.com

Some of our trips have been whirlwind; some have been relaxing such as two weeks in a quiet hill town in Tuscany. There are American tourists everywhere, and after a few trips, you might, like us, prefer to go to more challenging areas, where there are fewer Americans and there is less English. Places in Italy like Sicily, Puglia, Trieste, Castellabate and am hoping for the same this fall in Corsica and Sardinia. We find that, for some reason, when it’s more difficult to communicate, the people we encounter seem friendlier. Two middle-aged female storekeepers in Sperlonga, Italy, come to mind. Last fall, we used hand signals, pointing, etc., and they selected items for our dinners on multiple nights and gave us a jar of dish liquid which our apartment was short on. They even taught us some Italian, and we reciprocated with some English. And, big Italian hugs when we departed.

Please don’t go on an organized tour. Just go. Travel in Europe is very easy. People are friendly.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2018, 06:45 AM
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Years ago we traveled with Globus. It was a good way to see a lot of places and decide if we wanted to re-visit them again on our own in the future (some of which we did). At the time, we estimated the cost of touring vs renting/driving cars, gas, staying in hotels, entrances to sites, negotiating unfamiliar roads. At the time the difference in $$ was actually minimal. You’d have to calculate in today’s prices.

Pluses:The tour group gave us an itinerary with highlights of areas and entrance to places without waiting in long lines. We didn’t have to worry about driving in unfamiliar areas and could see the countryside instead of watching the road and cars around us.Our tours gave us tours of places in the morning and afternoon and then we were on our own (or you can “buy optional” tours).We looked up the places we were going to visit and found other sites we wanted to visit while we were there, and toured these on our own while the others were on “optional” tours. We actually ended up in one place that was an optional tour – we took the local tram to the site, ate in a local restaurant and paid maybe $20 total while the optional tour group paid at least $50 each.When meals were not included, we asked for recommendations, walked and found local restaurants, bakeries and pubs instead of dining with the group.

Minuses:
You will have at least 20-30 traveling companions
You will have to adhere to their schedule.
You will stop at shops along the way
Many, but not all meals, are included.
You can buy “optional” tours with the group.

Whatever you choose, enjoy your trip.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2018, 07:50 AM
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Momburd: On my first trip to Europe, I asked myself' "What are the places that I really want to see before I die?" Everyone will have a different answer. I was (am) into history and art history and had to see the Louvre and Florence, I threw Lichtenstein in the mix because it was interesting and on the way. It was over 20 years before I went back and have asked the same question each time. It seems to work for me at least. I'm not a group travel person, but I might do it for some place way out of the mainstream, but not Europe. I have a friend who only seems to want selfies at each monument; group travel is great for that.

I don't know how long you have, but for a first time trip, maybe a week each in London, Paris, and Rome? You should learn a few words and phrases in each language. "Where is the loo?" for example. Also, learning greetings, "please", "thank you", etc. will go along way with a humble and grateful attitude.

May has always been our month to travel. Watch out for school holidays in the country you visit and also the US.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2018, 08:08 AM
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I, too, am more of an independent traveler. However, if you do decide a tour group is what you prefer, do carefully look at what each tour offers.

You will want to be certain to spend an adequate amount of time in the locations you really want to see. Centrally located hotels give you the opportunity to see more rather than hotels located on the outskirts of cities and towns. Some tours include almost everything, others give you some free time and some have expensive "add on" options. If the type of hotel is important to you, some tours stay at deluxe accommodations while others are more mid-range. Some tours offer smaller group sizes than others. Also, pay attention to how the group travels from location to location. Is there a lot of time spent on buses?
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Old Jun 3rd, 2018, 08:09 AM
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I would check out Rick Steves tours as well. I have never taken one of his tours but they sound appealing to me.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2018, 08:21 AM
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DH and I started out with fully escorted tours and over time did more and more on our own. I agree with gbelle1--find your level of comfort. As DH and I got older, we took more tours--all the ticket schlepping done by someone else.

Please report back when you return.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2018, 09:44 AM
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Tours are great for many things - cost could well be cheaper than going on own (or not) - and folks that like to socialize while on bus or at hotels have lots of new friends. Worries are gone about anything going wrong. The minuses have been noted but I think for OP on first trip group trip is best - may want to go back on own later. Many universitiy alumni groups have themed tours with smaller groups - all different types of tours - I'd eschew the mega bus tours for something smaller more personalized with ample free time on your own and not rushed with the Tuesday if must be Belgian syndrome of many tours who like to advertise so many countries and then you are on the road a lot - boring autoroutes mainly.

So look over lots of tours and try to get something made for you.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2018, 09:48 AM
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Agree with Pal about university groups. Our local community college offers a tour of Chicago through it architecture department. We got a great London tour with theatre visits included some years ago.

This may be more difficult these days, but DH and I often tagged along with charter trips--we got the plane and hotel rates but didn't go with the group. This was through a local travel agent who is no longer in business. She retired.
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