To Tour or Not to Tour

Aug 12th, 2011, 06:10 AM
  #1  
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Join Date: Aug 2011
Posts: 49
To Tour or Not to Tour

I am planning my first trip to Europe (specifically Italy. If I can fit in more than that I will) in 2012. I have never planed a trip this involved before and I don't really know where to start. Ideally I would like to plan this trip on my own but I don't know where to start. Feeling slightly overwhelmed I have started looking at tours. My husband and I are in our 20's and I fear if we go with a tour bus (ie globus or trafaglar) it will be too slow, with lots of bus sitting and bad food. We are ok with being the youngest in the croud and like the idea of seeing as much as we can in 2 weeks or so. It is also appealing that we won't have to worry about booking hotels or organizing transportation, but is it really for me? I would prefer to do it on my own, but I know I could settle for a tour and be happy. Any advice on where/how to start planning my own trip, places to see, or even tours you reccomend or not would be nice! Thanks!
CharlotteJ is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 06:22 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 7,142
"I would prefer to do it on my own,..."

Then by all means, do so.

It's quite simple.
Look at itasoftware.com for flight info, once you find the flight that best suits your needs, go to airline website or just call them to book it.

Hotels are equally simple. Here's a site with well reviewed cheap lodgings. www.eurocheapo.com You can book most of the hotels directly through the site, some (usually the little mom & pop places with about 10 rooms) may require a phone call. again, simple. Look also at the eurocheapo city guides there and the various neighborhood descriptions.

Trains are also simple. Usually you just show up at the station to buy a ticket before boarding. Here's a site well worth reading/researching:
http://www.seat61.com/

Any other little questions you have will be answered by the many experts here on the Fodor's forums.
bardo1 is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 06:31 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
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It depends. Do you want to see all the sites or do you want to experience some of the Italian culture and lifestyle? Italy is a place which rewards slowing down and taking it easy.

If you really want to hit as many sites as possible, a tour is more efficient. You won't have to worry about transportation and the bus will take you by - if not to - the most famous destinations. However, if you want to spend more time or go somewhere a little different, a tour is not so good.

To do your own trip, start by reading guidebooks (I borrow them from the library) and searching the web. Once you get an idea of where you want to go (and how much you want to spend), this forum can help you fine-tune your itinerary and make suggestions about where to stay. Also useful is the forum at www.tripadvisor.com, which in addition has a large number of hotel reviews.

Most of us here at Fodors enjoy the planning almost as much as the trip. We're happy to help plan somebody else's trip.
Mimar is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 06:31 AM
  #4  
 
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My fiance and I are in our 20s also and planned our upcoming honeymoon to Italy on our own. We originally intended to use a travel agent, but once we met with her a few times and I started fact-checking on the side, it turned out that we were able to do things much more cheaply on our own. Since it's our honeymoon, we didn't want to be chained to a strict schedule (what if we don't WANT to get up at the crack of dawn for a Vatican tour??), so we decided to do it completely on our own rather than go with a tour company. You're right, it's probably an efficient way to see a lot of stuff with minimal hassle, but we wanted to have the freedom to tailor our trip to our exact preferences.

Buy a guide book. I have Rick Steves Italy 2011, and it's pretty amazing for a first-time traveler attempting to plan on her own. He explains all the basics (airline tickets, hotels, train travel vs. renting a car) and even offers a few rough itineraries based on the length of your stay in Italy and the areas you wish to visit. Chapters are divided up by major cities, and within each chapter he breaks down major tourist sights (including hours, prices, whether you need to book in advance, etc) as well as good hotels, restaurants, etc. I would definitely recommend starting with a guide book.

As bardo said, this forum is an invaluable resource once you start getting into more specific questions. (I also like Slow Travel's Italy forum.) I've been reading this forum religiously for the last several months and have picked up TONS of ideas and tips and tricks from experienced travelers that I never would've gotten even from my precious Rick Steves guide book.

Good luck planning!
erries is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 06:35 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Sep 2010
Posts: 289
I have recently planned a trip to Italy. I would suggest staring in this order:

Firm up dates you can travel
Decide which sights/ cities / towns you want/ can visit in the time you have--will require research in guide books, Fodor's etc.
Decide order of travel ( which city first, second etc) and how many nights in each spot to see all that you want to see
Decide where to fly in and out. book flight.
Decide how you will travel between cities--train, plane, car?
Make final decision on how mnat nights in each spot
Book hotels

Pre-book tour or tickets to museums, Vatican, Colosseum etc
gh21 is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 06:37 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 7,525
I understand the dilemna. My first trip, I did a 21-day tour. After that I felt I could handle it on my own. BTW it was a Contiki tour, which is intended for younger crowd. My trip was fantastic, all of use were first timers.

There is good and bad things about tours in general , and you have identified them. Some tours are smaller groups, some have higher grade hotels, but in the end for most of the tour you are on their schedule. No sleeping in, less opportunity to just sit and veg, less 'randomness'.

Your tip..you do what you want, when you want and you can add or subtract as you go along. I've done trips where I have booked every night and others where I booked start and end hotels, after that each day was 'wherever I end up'.

What you could do is this: plan for both. Research prices and desciptions of a few tours. See what they offer, check some reviews, price it out.

Then, get a couple of guide books and plan 'your' trip. Take the time you have and split it between the locations that interest you. Lots of threads and experts here who can help you do exactly that. You may find that at times you need a car, others..train.

It can be done. Most people here are DYI. But tours should not be ruled out, there is a place for them.
Michel_Paris is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 06:39 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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You can look at tour itineraries to get an idea on the various routes, sites, and cities, and then take it from there on your own. 2 weeks is a good amount of time to do a 1st time Italy trip. For starters you should plan an open jaw ticket, arriving in one city and leaving in another based on your itinerary, for example starting in Venice and ending in Rome. Buy a guide book on Italy, and a map so you can get an idea of how near or far things are from one-another.

Most first timers hit the big 3, Venice/Florence/Rome. You can tailor your itinerary based on your interests and the time of year. When do you plan on going? What are your interests and expectations? What is your budget?

If you provide more info, people here can give you LOTS of advice regarding a suggested itinerary, hotels, transportation, etc.

Planning is half the fun so don't feel too overwhelmed!
MFNYC is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 06:45 AM
  #8  
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Thank you all so much! I am loving your replies! Great advice! Keep 'em coming! This is a great forum!
Also @erries: I have Rick Steves Italy 09. So I am sure 2011 will have more updated pricing etc
CharlotteJ is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 06:53 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 7,525
So Charlotte...what would be your interests and your 'always wanted to see.."?

Fast paced or slow? City or country? Museums or not? Beach or not? Nightlife or farm life?
Michel_Paris is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 07:55 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 198
Two 20 somethings that are internet savvy and willing to put in the time and the research should be able to plan a great personalized trip, far better then anything but maybe the most expensive personalized tour.

I took a self planned trip to Ireland with dh a few years ago. It took lots of time and effort to plan it. We had an amazing time. Did everything work out exactly as we planned it? Of course not. Were there things we would have done differently? Of course. But on the whole, I wouldn't have traded the experience for any tour.

Last year I took a river boat tour in Russia. The women I was traveling with would not consider anything but a package tour for a lot of reasons, some of them valid, some of them not so much. I had a great time. However, there were LOTS of things I would have done differently if given the opportunity. Tour companies don't give you a lot of the details of your daily excursions. They told us we would have a half day tour of St Petersburg. They didn't tell us that would include an extended stop at a pretty junky souvenir store and only 10 minutes at the Church of the Blood. They told us all our meals were included, but I didn't consider that would mean an hour bus trip back to the boat when we were in downtown Moscow surrounded by restaurants. And this was a highly rated tour company. On the whole I did not feel that I got the best use of my limited time in Russia.

Now I am planning a trip for dh and I for this October. Yes, it's a lot of work, Yes, it takes a lot of time, and YES! it is occasionally very overwhelming. I have put in hours and hours of research at the library, in bookstores and on line. I've made lists of so many things I need a list to keep track of my lists.

I know everything is not going to go exactly as planned, there will be glitches, wrong turns and an occasional less then great experience. But we will go as informed travelers willing to make the best of whatever situation we find ourselves in and we will spend out time as we choose.

Millions of foreigners travel to Italy every year. I'm betting a very large percentage of them are doing it independently.

If they can do it, so can I.

So can you!

CindyP
Cpelk is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 07:57 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 5,830
Another idea to consider: stay in each of three cities (Maybe Venice, Florence, Rome) for several nights, renting an apartment in each. Use it as a base for touring inside and out of the city to nearby sights. That way the accommodations booking is not so daunting, you will quickly become acquainted with your surroundings, and have the freedom to go where you want, when you want. I believe Rick Steves offers ideas for day trips out of town.

We find apartments useful because they give you more room to relax in and the ability to cook simple breakfasts or dinners, and to have snacks and cold drinks on hand that don't cost a fortune.

Avoid going in mid-July to September. It's beastly hot, horribly crowded. August is a big vacation month for Europeans as well, so there are even more tourists, more longer lines to get into places. Especially bad at the beaches.

Realize that there are thousands of places worth seeing, and you can't do them all in one trip. We have been to Italy about 15 times at three weeks each trip, and there are still things I want to see! So resist that urge to see every little lovely thing you read about. Save them for the next time.

As for "open-jaw" airline flights, that is really important. You don't want to backtrack to get your flight home. On airline web sites, it is called "multi-city", an option to check in the search box when you enter your flight requirements. It is NOT two separate tickets, as some people assume, and therefore it is not as expensive as two tickets.
charnees is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 08:22 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,516
Heer are some sample itineraries to help you get ideas. Start with the basics---when, how long, how much$$.

BOB the NAVIGATOR’S FAVORITE ITALY ITINERARIES

Here is an updated version of my favorite itineraries & my “Bella Italia” photo gallery. I hope you enjoy.
http://www.slowphotos.com/photo/show...y.php?cat=3827

1. BELLA ITALIA: Five destinations in 15 days—car & train travel
* Arrive in Milan[MXP] & depart from Venice[VCE]or vice versa.
* Itinerary to include the Italian Lakes, Ligurian coast, rural
Tuscany, Florence, & Venice. Suggested timing is 3-2-4-2-4.
* Option: Drop the coast & rent a villa in Tuscany[ 3-7-2-3].
* Best time to go: May & June or Sept. & Oct.

2. LA DOLCE VITA: Three destinations in 12 to 14 days-car & train
* Arrival & departure from Rome[ FCO] or arrival in Naples
* Itinerary to include Rome, the Amalfi coast, and Tuscany
* Best time to go: Easter to end of October
* Option: Fly into Naples & stay at 2 locations on the coast

3. CLASSIC ITALIA: Three destinations in 12 to 14 days-car & train
* Arrival & departure from Rome—may start trip in Florence
* Destinations to include Florence, Rome & Tuscany/Umbria
* Best time to go: Anytime, but May & Oct. are my favorites
* Option: Consider a weekly rental in Tuscany/Umbria

4. SICILIAN CHARMS: Five destinations in 15 days—car travel
* Connections to Catania & Palermo via Rome or gateway city.
* Itinerary to include Taormina, Siracusa, Palermo & more.
* Best time to go: March to November—May is best for flowers
* See: http://www.slowtrav.com/tr/tripreport.asp?tripid=634

5. THE VILLAGE SAMPLER: My favorite venues for those who enjoy natural beauty and quaint, small villages. Arranged north to south.
* Arrive Milan & depart Rome—car travel-- 3 nites per location
* Itinerary to include Lago Orta, Castelrotto/ Ortisei[Dolomites],
Portovenere[Liguria], Montalcino[Tuscany], & Spello[Umbria].
* Best time to go: May to October for the lakes and Dolomites
* Option: Pick 3 out of 5 and stay longer in Tuscany/Umbria.

NOTE: These are only intended to be SAMPLE
bobthenavigator is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 08:28 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 11,876
Many years ago, long before the internet became a factor, I took tours. I too remember being intensely irritated by things arranged by the tour, such as our long unannounced stopover at a carpet shop in Beirut, where I have no doubt that the tour leader got a kickback on any purchases. I would have at least brought a book with me if I'd known we were going to spend two hours at a carpet shop on our way to Baalbek.

Get a guidebook. That's the first thing I do when I've decided on a trip. I always get a Rick Steves and a Frommers. Also a Fodors, but that's more for planning than for taking on the trip. I think Rick Steves books are very useful for an inexperienced traveler, and I enjoy reading them.

Arranging all this may look complicated, but it really is fun. I enjoy the planning--well, not as much as the trip--but I really like to do my own planning.

I tend to find hotels in my price range and then my experience has also been that if I just went with a guidebook recommendation for hotels, I have generally been satisfied with them.

I can arrange a trip cheaper than a tour, and I don't like big, impersonal hotels such as I might have on a tour, so I find smaller, more intimate hotels, pensions and bed and breakfast places.

I've taken car trips, including right-hand driving in Ireland and England, considerable travel on the Autobahn, challenging but fun trips, such as navigating around Italy, and train and bus travel. All are generally easy to do and can be quite convenient. You can of course tailor your transportation to your needs. On my last trip (to Spain), I took trains to Granada, Cordoba, and Sevilla and a bus to Málaga. Then I drove through Extremadura for a week.

By the way, I'm 75 years old.
Pegontheroad is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 08:34 AM
  #14  
 
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Posts: 2,989
Hi Charlotte J., welcome to Fodors.

I am a big tour person at this point in life, but they're NOT for 20 somethings.

I would take the advice of above Fodorites, especially BOB THE NAVIGATOR who has traveled in Italy many times. Happy travels...
latedaytraveler is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 08:37 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 7,525
Bob,
Can I sign up now for one of your tours?
Michel_Paris is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 09:13 AM
  #16  
 
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>>>So I am sure 2011 will have more updated pricing etc <<<

I wouldn't get another RS book for updated pricing. Tour book prices are out-of-date as the info is gathered the year before. You can find most prices on the internet.

It will be impossible to fit in everything you want to do in two weeks. I've been to Italy multiple times and am having trouble paring down my upcoming two week trip. Don't be tempted to move around too much. Even staying two nights somewere really only gives you one sightseeing day in that location.
kybourbon is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 09:13 AM
  #17  
 
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Yes, welcome!

When hub and I did our first trip on our own, it was before days of Internet travel being easier. We borrowed travel books from the library and marked on a map those things that interested us. We also went to our travel agent and she let us look at the times spent in each place by tour companies.

At that time it was Rome 5 nights, Florence 3 and Venice 2. After the trip, we found we wanted more time everywhere but especially in Venice. International flight left so early, we lost the last day.

Many of the good guide books make suggestions for what to see in each town based upon the number of days you have available. We found that helpful as well.

We have worked with American Express, the airlines themselves and done it ourselves using info from Fodor's and other on-line sources like Trip Advisor. I liked having the flight and hotels set up beforehand but that's who I am. If you aren't going at the height of the season, you will have more flexibility. Once we arrived, hub and I often looked at available tours and took them simply because they saved us time and someone else drove. Not having to stand in line for tickets to the Vatican Museum was a big time saver!

If it is possible, do the open jaw flight (into one city and out of another) as mentioned above-it will save so much time to not have to back track.

But most importantly, do what calls out to you. If you are like most of us here, you'll get hooked and return over and over.
TDudette is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 10:18 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 212
Well, as it has already been mentioned, you'll find Fodorites biased towards DIY, myself included. But I have a good friend who swears by Contiki Tours. He says he wants to go on vacation and turn his brain off and relax. He likes that all he has to think about and remember is be back on the bus at 6, or be in the lobby by 7 etc..

What I like about DIY:
• With lots of research and planning, I can travel for significantly less than a tour. The less I spend on one vacation, the sooner I can take the next! For example I just booked 10 nights in Tuscany staying in apartments and an agritourismo for $1,000! It took a lot of time, but I enjoy feeling like I’ve found a huge value.
• Doing all the research myself gives me a richer vacation experience. I feel I get so much more out of a city, a town, a church etc. if I have read about it, and know the background. My first trip to Europe, I visited a friend living in Madrid. I just let her show me around. I wasn’t really able to connect with the city, and my memories are so much less vivid than subsequent trips I planned myself.
• I have done both the whirlwind type trip and long stays in one city/area type. I have found I much prefer the longer stays. For example I spent 3 days in Paris, and it wasn’t near enough for me. I feel like I only got a glimpse of the city and have wanted to go back ever since. I almost feel cheated, if that makes sense! I would really recommend in 2 weeks choose 2 or 3 cities. Not only does that give you a chance to get a real feel for each city, it will cut down on some of the stress of the logistics of traveling. You are young, you will have years of vacations to come back and check another city off the list, you don’t need to do it all in one trip.
• Some of my best travel memories are completely serendipitous. We were caught in a sudden downpour on the Champs Elysee. We stopped in one of the expensive sidewalk cafes that every guidebook says to avoid. We had some wine (cheapest thing on the menu!) to wait out the storm and ended up getting very tipsy! I didn’t realize how tipsy and looking at the pics of after the rain passed as we walked towards the Arc de Triumph, and they are all cockeyed! Another evening in Paris we got off at the wrong metro stop and were grumpy and hungry and stopped at the nearest restaurant. It ended up being a Breton style crepe place w communal tables. We ended up have a great time chatting and laughing with a table full of young locals.

Some tips to make the planning process less daunting:
• First think about the approximate timing of when you want to go. As previously mentioned, avoid the summer months if possible. It will be expensive, crowded and hot! The shoulder season offers the best of both worlds IMO, better weather, less expensive & fewer crowds. If you have some flexibility with your dates and length of stay use www.itasoftware.com to search for flights. As previously mentioned, open jaw/multi-city flights are much better than losing days backtracking.
• As far as lodging, the important thing is to figure out which features are important to you. For example I only have 3 things that are non-negotiable when searching for lodging: clean, safe & well located. If I can get additional amenities on top of that it’s added value. But everyone is different and some people need elevators, and fresh towels every day or an attentive concierge. Google & Trip Advisor are your friend when researching lodgings. I generally find Fodorites lodging recs to be over my budget, but my budget isn’t necessarily your budget.
• If you ever feel overwhelmed, just step back, take a few days or week’s break from, then look at it again with fresh eyes. I tend to stress over lodging, I’ll spend forever internally debating, well that one’s $5 cheaper, but the other one has breakfast included, etc.. I take a few days break and then one becomes an obvious choice somehow.

Have fun!
aimeekm is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 12:32 PM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 210
Well...I enjoyed the tour of Italy that I went on with my grandmother in May! It was a Globus "Best of Italy" tour, and surprisingly, there were two other young people besides myself, which made everything very fun! You have your husband, so this shouldn't really affect you too much, whereas all three of us young things on that tour were unattached and greatly enjoyed each other's company.

If you would like to read about my trip ( non-tour and tour sections ), I am busy writing about it in my trip report: http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...the-report.cfm

The Italy section is almost finished, so if you would like to read an in-depth account of a tour of Italy by a twenty-something, it may be of great interest to you! It was an 11 day tour, but Globus do heaps of different ones! I think it's 50/50 with tours, if you get a great tour director and a well-clicking group of people, the tour is just magic! Even with all the early mornings and long bus rides! This was the case for me. I have heard tell of getting terrible tour directors and groups of people that just don't get along, thankfully I didn't run into that! The real bonuses of the tour are the immediate entry into all the sites, the direct transportation, and the thrill of ending up on beautiful islands like Capri without ruining your budget! The perceivable downers of a tour are, early mornings ( though I didn't worry too much about this ), quick visits to places you may want longer at ( though you can pretty much find a tour to suit your exact needs ), and not always eating at local restaurants ( though you could of course ditch the group and eat alone if you had an issue with this ). Both my grandmother and I, and the other young people on the tour had booked extra days in Rome at the end of the tour, which is also a good option.

In the end, you should decide based on budget, time, and what you personally want to see/do.
Irishwhistler90 is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 03:51 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,516
Michael, I have no tours--what made you think so?
bobthenavigator is offline  

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