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Italy, England, OR France in 2015: Tour Operators - Or go it alone?

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Apr 21st, 2014, 11:26 AM
  #1
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Italy, England, OR France in 2015: Tour Operators - Or go it alone?

I'm just beginning to think about/plan trip to any one or combo of the countries in my title. We're recently retired, only speak English, don't want a lot of hassles, confusing time consuming work, /etc. Maybe with that, I'm answering my own question. (Go with tour operator?). I've also toyed with the idea of Eurail. We're just back from Ireland where we did self-catering and car hire (rear view mirror scraped off within first 1/2 hour!). While we loved the country and our trip, it proved expensive by purchasing food, fuel and tour site admissions on our own - vs. as part of a tour. I've been to Paris. London, Rome, Venice and Florence - but my husband has not. I'd really like him to experience these cities - and include some new sites for me to experience as well. However, this may be the last Europe trip - or 2nd to last. Any suggestions (of tour operators, cost saving ideas, etc) are welcome. Duration: 10 to 15 days. Budget: +/- 2.5k each - not including air fare. Thanks for some ideas to get my planning started in the right direction!
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Apr 21st, 2014, 12:00 PM
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It depends on your metric. It is your choice.

If you want to get something, does not matter what, investing as little of your time as possible, a tour would suit you better.

If you want to get out more from a trip, but don't mind investing your time beforehand, then it is better to plan on your own.

I suspect that the trip you have done on your own would not be directly comparable to an similar trip done as a tour. The tours, while can get group discounts, must be compensated by having to put in profit margin for the operator after paying for guides and the driver. They control the cost by using group tour hotels you would not imagine booking on your own, eating at the restaurants you would not go if you have read reviews, spend less time at locations of your interest while spending time at locations you don't care for. In terms of money spent by figure, they might look attractive. In terms of what you got out for the same money spent, it may be offering a dismal value, hence the metric matters.

The number of cities you mentioned even without more destinations would be a stretch, even for those with a lot of travel experiences for a 15 day trip. If you visit that many cities, it would likely to be your last trip as you would probably don't want to do it again even if given an opportunity to travel again.
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Apr 21st, 2014, 12:17 PM
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Assuming you're Americans, some thoughts below.

<>

Only because you itemized so you felt every europenny as you spent it instead of dropping a lump sum on the tour and then not spending as much out of pocket when you're at the destination. And yeah, self-driving costs a lot in Europe because the fuel taxes are so high that you pay $8/gallon.

<>

This doesn't seem to make sense if you're going to just one country. Each has its own train system. The train geeks will surely ring in on this post and give more advice. Those train systems (and the UK, France and Italy all have more extensive systems than Ireland) alleviate the need to drive.

<>

What's that mean? You could be 55-85 depending upon your vocation(s) and newish AARP-eligible ages are a far cry from old and creaky.

<>

Well, your biggest problems being understood may be in the UK. ;-). We went to Japan, spoke no Japanese, read no Japanese, and navigated the country without problems. English is THE second language in Europe in any place it's not the first.

<>

Define "work." Do you want this trip to be YOURS and enjoy what you want, or are you just going to laze out on this despite your new free time? Do you enjoy waking up at 7 am and rushing about from place to place on a bus? Do you enjoy pre-set meals below the average quality of what you could find with just a modicum of effort?

And if jill loves travel, why does jill seem opposed to actively making the best possible plan that caters to her and Mr. jill's needs?
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Apr 21st, 2014, 12:37 PM
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Choose one destination and do some reading here and in guidebooks. No group tour will ever be comparable to what you can do on your own. If you compare apples with apples, on a group tour you typically get mediocre hotels in poor locations so you can't walk to attractions. Group meals are typically poorer quality than what you would choose on your own. The only place a group tour might save you money is in airfare. Otherwise, compare being in a big group, being herded on and off buses, etc. which doing what you want on your own time table. How do you want to spend your vacation?
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Apr 21st, 2014, 12:41 PM
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"... only speak English, don't want a lot of hassles, confusing time consuming work, /etc."

That describes my SIL and BIL to a T. They have been on two organized tours (Globus in Italy, Viking River cruise in northern France) and had a great time on both. I would have HATED the Globus tour. Too many early morning starts, too many sights in a day, multiple bus rides, uninteresting hotels in dull areas, marginal group meal restaurants, etc. The river cruise sounded somewhat better mostly because the scope of the tour was greatly reduced.

IMO, food costs are very controllable (esp. if you stay in apartments), and you can save money on public transportation by early purchase of discounted fares and on museums and other sights by purchasing city passes in many destinations. If you rent a car for part of the trip, then yes fuel costs are higher than in the U.S., but I've found lodging costs tend to be a little lower in the rural areas where you'd be driving. Also, distances would likely not be great, so you probably wouldn't be buying much fuel.

FWIW, with 10 days I'd pick 3 destinations at most (but probably only 2). If 15 days, I'd pick 4 at most (but probably only 3). You'll lose a half day or more each time you change cities.

There are pluses and minuses to both independent and guided travel. Personally, I think only you can decide whether an organized tour would be more enjoyable.
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Apr 21st, 2014, 12:48 PM
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England would probably be the easiest country for you to travel around on your own. I find it a bit cheaper than Ireland for equivalent quality.

Any tour I've ever seen costs more than an equivalent trip would cost if I planned it myself. The key word is "equivalent". Greg is correct. You can't compare a big ugly hotel on the outskirts of a European city with the little B&Bs you might have chosen in Ireland. The restaurants used by tours are usually little better than cafeteria food. If you choose a high quality tour, you may stay in lovely central hotels and eat at decent restaurants, but these will be expensive.

Tours do take care of all the planning, and they haul you and your luggage around without your having to read a train schedule or call a taxi.

In most countries, a rail pass costs a lot more than buying tickets in advance, with advance purchase discounts. These tickets are usually quite inflexible, but if you're willing to give up a little flexibility, you can save a lot of money. In Italy, where I live, it's much faster and much cheaper, and more convenient, to travel from city to city by train than by car. In rural areas, on the other hand, a car is very convenient.
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Apr 21st, 2014, 01:00 PM
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For me, 2.5k each would be a huge budget for two weeks. Budget aside though, and paying no attention to this being the first of many or the absolute last trip ever to Europe, I would focus on selecting the two or perhaps three cities or areas I was most excited about, using those as bases and doing day trips by train or bus (car for a rural area), and not flit all over the place trying for a glimpse of every place your DH has not seen. There is always something new for you to see, even if you have been there before.
What single place most interests your DH? Start with that.
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Apr 21st, 2014, 02:13 PM
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I've also toyed with the idea of Eurail.>

Well Eurailpasses don't pass in the U K or on the Eurostar trains to Paris - you may want to investigate the France-Italy Eurailpass, valid in just those two countries and much cheaper than a Eurailpass covering many countries.

Anyway for loads of great info on a rail trip in those three countries here are some IMo fab sources: www.budgeteuropetravel.com (download their superb IMO free online European Planning & Rail Guide for lots of rail-oriented itineraries in those countries; www.e=seat61.com - especially good on British trains and rail itineraries from the UK to places in France and Italy; and www.ricksteves.com.

Check www.eurostar.com for Eurostar trains London to Paris or v.v. - booking very early can save a whole lot of money - never just show up or you may pay literally hundreds of bucks more.
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Apr 21st, 2014, 04:56 PM
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>>>I've also toyed with the idea of Eurail.<<<

Eurail is a pass so not sure what you mean. Do you mean you are thinking about buying a pass? Does it mean you just want to take some trains?

If traveling in Italy only, some towns are better served by bus. Just depends on where you want to go.

Since airfare is one of the biggest expenses, it makes sense to stay as long as possible. You can rent apartments in most cities for a minimum of 3 days which might save you a few bucks. In the countryside in Italy, they may want a week's rental, but not always (mostly in high season).
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Apr 21st, 2014, 05:54 PM
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If you don;t want to do a substantial amount of research up front - just sit and be told what to look at - I think you should definitely do a tour. An independent trip without the preplanning will be expensive, frustrating (in town only the day the major museum is closed), not great hotel deals and expensive trains (if you don't buy when the discount tickets go on sale they will be gone).

However, with a tour be prepared for 7 am luggage at the door, long days on the bus and a lot of stops for "shopping" versus major sights. And food that is buffet/steam table americanized versions of local cuisine. And do read the tour books carefully for 2 things:

True cost - see exactly what is covered and what is "extra"

What you will see:
View - means seeing out the bus window as you drive by
Stop: a 5 minute photo op out front
Visit: You actually go inside - but perhaps not for as long as you would like (often seen parts of a house but nothing of gardens/grounds, etc)
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Apr 21st, 2014, 06:03 PM
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If you want relaxed, I'd rent an apartment in Paris or Rome, Easy to take day trips by train.Don't have to rely on restaurants/cafes. Can go to the markets, get great fresh produce etc. Your schedule is your own.
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 12:49 AM
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Mrs Bilbo comes from Yorkshire, as careful with money as a Scotsman with the genirosity taken out , when she holidays on her own she

1) she spends her time on research, lots of it, works out what she wants to do and when
2) she books public transport early so as to get the best deals
3) she stays in 2 or 3 star hotels in the better areas (all the merit non of the cost) and makes sure she has 2 nights in one hotel over the weekend to avoid the price hikes
4) chooses weeks when the all the kids are at school (so June is mainly good but check out bank holidays)
5) eats when the locals eat and where they eat, doesn't mind fitting on tables with others and often finds people to help her with the menu (people love to practise their English except in the UK)
6) looks for deals, so most musuems in the UK are free (not all), does two for one deals etc
7) walks
8) carries an empty water bottle
9) drinks her coffee at the zinc

Take a tour? nah far too expensive
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 05:51 AM
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No one has yet suggested the hybrid model.

Get an air/hotel or air/auto package without an organized tour while taking advantage of the big tour company discount, perhaps with add-on hotel days at either end of the package. Then do your own sightseeing arrangements, which can include purhasing an organized tour one day, a walking tour on another, a museum on a rainy day, a day trip on a sunny day, and so on. The company solves the infrastructure grunt work of air and hotel or car, you set up what you want to do and when to do it.

This works best with a one or two city vacation. Check out what is being offered for 2014 to get ideas.
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 08:19 AM
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I think it is best to do things on your own so you can decide for yourself where you will go, what you will see, how much time you will spend in each place and what you will eat, etc.

Deciding where to go in each place, figuring out how to use trams, buses, etc. and getting tickets is the real work.

Honestly, booking air and hotels is the easy part, and packages that do only that do not seem to be a great savings, if any. Why pay someone to do the quick easy stuff?
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 08:23 AM
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If the big cities are what you want to see check out www.Monograms.com. They cover the air and the hotels and a half day of sightseeing and the rest of the time is on your own. You can get a trip with multiple cities and they handle transportation between them.
Seems like a good balance between all your own planning and someone else planning.
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 08:49 AM
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Never quite got the old saw about Scots being cheap. Perhaps that's because of a certain Scot's philanthropy . . .

Carnegie library, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Institution for Science, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, Carnegie Hero Fund, Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh . . .
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 09:34 AM
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It's a joke mainly about Yorkshire people, who famously have short arms and long trousers but really are very friendly.
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 11:56 AM
  #18
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People - Thank you! I appreciate the comments/guidance/suggestions. I think I like the hybrid model idea. In fact, I just came across a website europe.tripmasters.com which seems like a fun place to start. Btw, we are 60 (someone wondered) and I do like to plan. I do MAJOR research on almost everywhere we go. After Ireland, however, I thought it might be nice to just go with the flow (someone else's plan!) The driving was fairly taxing on my husband, but I'm the best navigator, therefore he drove. Most of you suggest that cost is not necessarily greater one way or the other: tour vs. if I plan & execute most of the trip myself. I was just a bit concerned about not speaking English in Italy (and France!) I was in Italy in 1997 and when I wandered off on my own I was able to communicate, but it was certainly limited. Again, thanks all!
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 10:08 PM
  #19
 
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You might look into a river cruise. While I have never been on one, they have become very popular. I know there are some who look down on organized tours, but to me, the important thing is going on the trip. How you go depends on your comfort level. Have a good trip!!
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