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Reluctantly switching from independent to group travel

Reluctantly switching from independent to group travel

Old Dec 1st, 2021, 07:17 AM
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Reluctantly switching from independent to group travel

We are a couple in our late 60’s who, prior to Covid, took annual trips to Europe for about 25 years with another couple. We did everything on these trips independently – from itinerary planning, booking our own accommodations, planning each day’s activities, driving ourselves throughout Europe (except for large cities), choosing restaurants, etc. Due to health and personal reasons, our friends are not currently able to resume traveling, and my wife is unwilling to return to Europe by ourselves – among other reasons, she does not feel confident that, were I to become ill or if some emergency to arise, she would be able to deal with such matters in a foreign country. She wants other people around to lean on if something unforeseen occurs.

All that being said, we want to return. We are still in good health, though my mobility is somewhat restricted due to bad knees – I can do some limited walking, but not the multiple-mile joints we used to take almost daily in prior trips.

So, we are interested in joining a small tour group that offers as many of the characteristics listed below as possible:
  • We can book our own flights
  • About 10 – 25 people
  • Trip length of 2 – 3 weeks. No stays of less than 3 nights.
  • Comfortable accommodations – not 4 and 5 star hotels, but no hostels or dreary “budget” rooms. We like small, privately-owned hotels or BNBs.
  • A fair amount of free time – some group activities, tours, meals, etc would be fine, but we don’t want every minute of every day to be stringently mapped out in advance.
  • We’ve visited most of the major cities multiple times – London, Paris, Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence, Madrid, Seville, Lisbon, Dublin, Brussels, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, and others – and though we are not opposed to spending some time in these or other large cities again, we‘d prefer to concentrate on smaller towns and countryside.
We realize this may be difficult, as most group tours I have seen seem to concentrate on large cities and very well-known locations. We are more interested a more relaxed pace, with fewer typical tourist stops.

If anyone has experience or recommendations for tour operators who work somewhat as described, it would be greatly appreciated.
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 07:48 AM
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If your knees are up to handling stairs Rick Steves would work, except that they don't do three night stays (unless you do a one week city tour). I'm not aware of any company that does three night stops, come to that. You might also look at Road Scholar, but same caveat.

https://www.ricksteves.com/tours
https://www.roadscholar.org/

I have traveled with RS, but not Road Scholar. I have been considering this company, but have no personal experience:

https://www.martinrandall.com/

If you have good medical/evacuation insurance your wife would not be handling a medical emergency on her own. (I once needed my insurance while traveling solo, something I still plan to do.)

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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 07:59 AM
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Have you thought of a river cruise, say up the Rhine from Amsterdam south, just you get a lot organised for you but can wonder off in the afternoon and act independant?
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 08:43 AM
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thursdaysd - Thank you. We are familiar with Rick Steves, and have done some research on his tours, they are probably not a great fit for us right now. We will look into Road Scholar and Martin Randall.

bilboburglar - Thanks very much. A river cruise may be in the mix, my understanding is that people who have experienced seasickness on ocean cruises generally do not have problems on river cruises - is that correct?
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 09:13 AM
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Have a look at Odysseys Unlimited
https://odysseys-unlimited.com

My preference for Europe is Rick Steves, but I have done a recent trip with OU, and they might meet your needs.
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 09:31 AM
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You might want to take a look at the possibilities with Rabbie’s. We no longer hire rental cars in Europe so we appreciate letting someone else do the driving (in a small bus) in the countryside and providing commentary and guidance. We have done several of their tours in England and Scotland; they have recently added tours on the continent.

https://www.rabbies.com/en
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 09:48 AM
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Check out European Experiences - https://european-experiences.com
i have not personally done one of the tours but I have friends that have and they keep going back, so they must be good.

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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 11:28 AM
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If the assistance for extraordinary event is the only reason, you might consider a concierge travel insurance policy. I have no experience with these. But had read about them. Here is a Forbes article. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/trave...ierge-service/
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 11:35 AM
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Another thought is this company, the link is to an Andalusia Spain trip, but they have many both in cities and countryside. https://www.untours.com/andalusia I can't make a personal recommendation but have heard good things about them.
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 12:44 PM
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We have taken two Road Scholar tours (but not in Europe) and were very pleased with them. One was billed as being "on the go" and didn't have much free time built in. The other was billed as a little less busy and allowed for a little more time on our own. Both trips were excellent.
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 12:57 PM
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We have traveled independently for years. Lately we have taken a few tours to places we didn’t want to do independently. We were very impressed by Odysseys Unlimited and the quality of their tours, especially the guides. We went to Egypt and Jordan with them.
We did one Untours. We loved being in Leiden for two weeks but the accommodations they gave us were very very basic and other residents in the building were behaving in less than appropriate ways. There were no other Untour guests staying nearby so we didn’t experience the social gatherings they plan which was just as well.
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 01:10 PM
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Another big ditto for Rabbies. They originally specialized inScotland which I highly recommend. But now they have lots of coverage re England and Ireland and some on the continent. Now, with their group tours they don't do 3 night stops anywhere that I know of . . But they do a terrific business with personalized itineraries where they will take you where you want to go and handle all the arrangements at the level of accommodations you choose.
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 04:12 PM
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I think about this occasionally, as I get older and know that my travels are likely to be solo. It's hard finding the right tour company but it's smart to set your criteria. I think it's a shame that most tour companies don't offer slower paced tours. They seem to think that everyone wants to move on every night or two, which is often not the case. I enjoyed my holiday some years ago in Italy with Intrepid Travel (10 people) but they may not offer the level of luxury that you want (although they do offer different levels of comfort, depending on the tour).

My thoughts, for my own future as I age, veer more towards staying in, say, one place for a few weeks instead of moving on more frequently. Staying longer would give me a sense of familiarity and I might get to know some people, not necessarily to be friends (because I wouldn't be there long enough) but who might point me in the right direction if I needed medical assistance or some other help. I also like the idea of getting to know a place in more depth.
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 04:54 PM
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We started traveling with a guided tour through a local university. A nice, albeit more expensive, method you might want to explore. We became more DIY until we also enjoyed more birthdays. Most large cities have tours, Fodors folks can help with private guides, and often towns have volunteer guides who simply love their cities. Also, check on good evacuation insurance.

A friend broke her hip during a trip to Greece. I want to say Road Scholar....had insurance options... and it reimbursed her surgery and paid for a nurse to accompany her back home. They had to pay some up front but were reimbursed later.

What's your next place to see? Maybe more help to come.

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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 06:00 PM
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If the concern is one of you becoming ill, then I'm not sure a group would help. The group needs to move on, and you'd still be left alone in a foreign city/town. I considered that possibility, even though we are younger than you, and I think hotels with 24 hrs concierge are a better option. There is always someone there who speaks English, and they can help you with advice and info. Make sure you always have insurance.
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 08:43 PM
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I sometimes entertain myself looking at the offerings on the HF Holidays website. UK based, they have a huge variety of vacation possibilities in a lot of locations. Walking, country house hotel-based, special interest. I haven't done any of them yet but may very well when I, too, feel I'd like to let someone else do the planning. They've been around a long time so must be doing something right. Have a look: https://www.hfholidays.co.uk/destina...l-destinations
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Old Dec 2nd, 2021, 01:19 AM
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Originally Posted by xyz99 View Post
If the concern is one of you becoming ill, then I'm not sure a group would help. The group needs to move on, and you'd still be left alone in a foreign city/town. I considered that possibility, even though we are younger than you, and I think hotels with 24 hrs concierge are a better option. There is always someone there who speaks English, and they can help you with advice and info. Make sure you always have insurance.
this was my thought as well. The times that I’ve really needed help, I’ve been lucky enough to stay at a hotel with 24 hour front desk. This includes when I travelled with my grandmother. A group tour would’ve been more stress than help, in those cases.

maybe it would be worth either doing something like a river cruise? Or a split trip, for your first Covid trip? Half on tour, half solo, just to get your feet wet again, and to build your wife’s confidence. You could go from there, and evaluate whether you’d want to more tours, or more solo. It may be that she’s worried about the social aspect as well. Going from having traveling pals to no traveling pals was a big issue for my grandmother, and tour groups didn’t solve what really bothered her, which was the loss of friends.

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Old Dec 2nd, 2021, 02:24 AM
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sea sickness on a river... not sure as I seldom suffer from sea sickness but the Rhine is not really big enough to generate large waves and the cruise boats tend to be some of the biggest things on the water so I'd not worry but you know your ears/stomach.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2021, 07:44 AM
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Originally Posted by xyz99 View Post
If the concern is one of you becoming ill, then I'm not sure a group would help. The group needs to move on, and you'd still be left alone in a foreign city/town.
This is true. Several years ago I was traveling on a group trip with Intrepid in Myanmar. We had a small group of maybe 10 people. Half of our group overnight developed varying degrees of food poisoning symptoms from something that they ate from the night before (and carried through the morning) that we were supposed to fly back to Yangon. Luckily, I wasn't one of them.

The morning we left was quite chaotic - I was doling out Imodium and Tylenol from my luggage like candy (does no one else pack a just in case med kit when they travel? I've done this with Band aids on other trips also) - we were running late, our guide was desperately trying to get us to get to the airport on time and the one woman who was ALWAYS late, didn't care about the group's schedule, always complaining - she apparently was the worst affected by her symptoms and was saying she couldn't leave her room. Everyone was on the bus waiting, half the people laid out and suffering, waiting for this one person.

It got to where our guide (he was so great and patient the entire trip with this woman) explained to her that she could stay, but the group had to leave and while the company would try to assist her finding her way back, she wouldn't have a guide with her on hand to do that. So lo and behold, she managed to get herself on the bus about 20 minutes later and people were not happy - especially the ones who were likewise afflicted and had been sitting on the bus waiting for her for the last 45 minutes. A couple people had some comments for her when she got on the bus and it was a tense ride to the airport with our guide trying to smooth everything out lol.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2021, 09:29 AM
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I went on a wonderful trip to Gardens in North Wales with National Trust small tours. We stayed five nights in a 16th century manor house converted to a small hotel. It had acres of gardens surrounding the hotel and each day we went to other gardens and small towns.
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