To Tour or Not to Tour

Aug 12th, 2011, 05:11 PM
  #21  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2011
Posts: 49
Wow! I am seriously impressed with your replies. Thank you all so much for taking the time to help me. This has always been a dream of mine and reading your replies has givin me encouragment! Being from a small town and being married to someone from an even smaller town who hadn't even traveled by plane until he married me, it is easy to get overwhelmed! You guys are great! Thank you so much for the advice!
CharlotteJ is offline  
Aug 12th, 2011, 10:22 PM
  #22  
 
Join Date: May 2005
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My husband, I and our then 13-year old son took our first trip to Europe in 2004. Like you, I had always done all the trip planning and planned to plan that one myself too. It turned out to be rather overwhelming. Having experience with traveling to large cities in the United States, I was concerned that hotels that were cheap might be in bad neighborhoods. (This was before I found the fodors bulletin boards - now I'd just ask for advice.)

In any case, I decided to pick up some tour brochures to give me some ideas. I had decided that, on my own, I would need to limit ourselves to perhaps London and Paris - just because of the logistics. As I looked over the booklets, I realized that we could probably be able to go to more cities if we tried a tour.

We settled on From the Thames to the Tiber from Globus. It went to London, Paris, Switzerland (would have to think for a bit to remember city), Venice, Florence, Pisa and Rome. We spent three nights each (one evening and two full days) in the larger cities (London, Paris, Venice, and Rome. On each of those days, there was an included city tour. Afterwards, most people paid for optional excursions. Instead, we took off on our own. Having that time to explore fulfilled our needs for independence while the included hotels, transportation, and city tour simplified logistics. It was really a lot of fun. And, although I never would have thought it, being on a tour gave us a sense of camaraderie. It was fun running into people around the cities and having someone to share our trip and discuss our experiences.

In 2005, I took a trip to Central Europe on a Globus tour with a friend. Again, we went more places than we would have done on our own. We also used my plan of taking the city tour, but doing almost everything else on our own.

I had low expectations of the bus tours - but wanted to finally make it to Europe one way or the other. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it all turned out. I expected everyone to be even older than us and for my son to be the only child on the tour. The first tour was in summer and there were a number of families. There weren't any young children, but there were a number of older children and young adults. On the second tour, there was a young couple on their honeymoon. I wouldn't have any reservations going back to any of the places that we went to on our own - but the tours were very convenient.

I'm sure that you CAN do it all on your own - but there's no shame in taking a tour if that simplifies things for you.
traveler2005 is offline  
Aug 13th, 2011, 02:45 AM
  #23  
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 12,269
Go a lot have done it both ways last with Globus for tours.

Tours are good if you want a whirlwind tour that hits a lot
of the high spots with a guide at good prices.Down side for
me early AM bus calls crammed in with older euronewbie folks
you do not know stale hotel food not much time off so self guiding currently LOTS better for me.Have been a bunch in May
my wife and I flew into Rome and did Amalfi/Sorrento Orvieto
Florence and Venice by train we had a great time.

betterbidding.com for Sheraton Roma $69 hotwire Intercontinental Ville Roma top of the Spanish
Steps bidding priceline.com

In Sorrento/Amalfi www.hoteldelfino.com was awesome $60/nt
www.otel.com we paid 10 more euro to upgrade to a sea view
over Capri and Ischia awesome best food and view of our trip.

Then we trained up to Orvieto cool etruscan hill town Hotel Grand Italie there then Florence Hotel Pitti Palace.

We finished in venice-tourism.com which was incredible.
we stayed at the www.bauervenzia.com on the canal on our
FF miles 40000 per nite for a 1000 euro per nite suite there
but Otel.com has lots cheaper rooms there too.We also enjoyed
www.hotelpausania.it #211 a cute little room 59 euro Otel.com
around our Bauer stay

Then back to Rome we had a blast hope you do too.

seat61.com for training
ricksteves.com great info
eurocheapo.com great city guide
virtualtourist.com good local info

With our FF miles etc we kept costs to below $1k pp

Basically I enjoy the FREEDOM and flexibility of self-guiding

But think tours are fine if you are an anxious newbie.

insuremytrip.com always wise from $1-2 pppd saved me
numerous most recently with the iceland volcano.With
riots banks/market collapse in Italy right now inurance
is VERY prudent.

Happt Travels!
qwovadis is offline  
Aug 13th, 2011, 02:50 AM
  #24  
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 12,269
www.cosmos.com/Vacations/Europe/Italy

Most of the younger crowd takes Cosmos if you do elect a tour..

Globus lots of oldsters Trafalgar econo/more Brits

www.affordabletours.com www.vacationstogo.com good comp sites

travelzoo.com great sales sometimes also...

Happy Planning!
qwovadis is offline  
Aug 13th, 2011, 02:53 AM
  #25  
 
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avoid gate1 and european destinations many bbb.org complaints
qwovadis is offline  
Aug 13th, 2011, 06:53 AM
  #26  
 
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Posts: 4,132
Welcome to Fodors!

You could do both you know! Take a tour to hit some hot spots , and then at the end, stay a bit longer in the last or another city. You would have a tour guide to help you get acclimated to the culture at first and then try it on your own when you have recovered from jetlag.

Normally I plan trips by myself, but one year I took a Globus tour of Italian cities with my son and it was great. We didn't have to worry about transportation, the language, hotels. The meals might not have been gourmet, but they were different and eaten with a group of fun people. We had no complaints. At the end we took an overnight train to Paris and stayed another 5 days on our own. All this happened in the terrible heat wave of 2003 and we were so happy that we had an air conditioned bus to pick us up and drop us off everywhere.

If you plan it on your own, I would recommend staying in a hotel instead of an apartment since it's your first time in Europe. You would have the clerk at the desk to provide info, give suggestions and answer questions. Most hotels in Italy also provide breakfast. We eat a lot then, snack in the afternoon and have a good dinner. More cost efficient that way.

Good luck in your decision. You can't go wrong either way.
kwren is offline  
Aug 13th, 2011, 07:10 AM
  #27  
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
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kwren makes a good suggestion above. If you don't speak any local language, the hotel clerk or concierge can make that reservation or call for info for you. It is lovely to be expected at a resto and I believe the polite thing to do.
TDudette is offline  
Aug 13th, 2011, 07:52 AM
  #28  
 
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We have been traveling to Italy for over 40 years and have always planned our own trips from the first, while still in college, to the most recent a year ago. Somehow, the act of planning gives you so much more information and leads to so much more enjoyment.

If you have the time to research, travel independently. If you can't take the time to plan, let a tour do it for you.
mamcalice is offline  
Aug 13th, 2011, 11:19 AM
  #29  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 861
kwren made a good point that you could take a tour and add some time on your own at the end. We did that with a Mediterranean cruise.

RE: Cosmos vs Globus. From what I understand, Cosmos is cheaper and that's one reason their tours might have more young people. On the other hand, they save money by staying in hotels that might not be as convenient. There's something to be said for hotels that are close enough to walk to major sites or that are near public transportation so that you can do things on your own.

If you do consider a tour and still want time to spend on your own, look for tours that stay several days in each city. At least part of one day will be taken up with transportation. If you have at least two full days, you'll have a day and a half to venture wherever you want. With transportation between cities and hotels taken care of, you can spend your research time figuring out what you want to see. Also keep in mind that the tour guide might strongly encourage you to take the optional excursions. It's my opinion that they probably receive a heavy commission on them. You certainly don't have to take those optionals - and most of the things that they do, you can do on your own much more cheaply and with more freedom. At other times, you might want to take one.
traveler2005 is offline  
Aug 13th, 2011, 11:41 AM
  #30  
 
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Posts: 270
Go on your own! My first trip to Europe (in my 20s) was a six week backpacker's trip in the 1970's. No internet, I used "Europe on $5" a day and aside from a hazy idea of what I wanted to see, no itinerary. Today is different and much easier. Go on all the major sites (Fodors, Frommers, Rick Steves, Trip Advisor etc...) and check out recommended itineraries. Look up some guided tour sites and check out their itineraries. Then, make a list of everything you want to see, cut it in half and organize.
You can run it by the readers on this forum. They'll give you tips and suggestions to improve it.
Italy is a wonderful place to travel to. Take a basic phrase book (so you'll know what you're ordering in a restaurant), a big smile and keep your eyes on your wallet. You'll do just fine. There are also guided one day tours in different areas (wine tasting in Tuscany, etc...)so you can forgo a car and be taken around.
The world is divided into people who want a guided tour and have someone else take care of all the arrangements and people who enjoy figuring out what to do. Try each option and see what you like. But if you have two weeks in Italy, do it on your own. You'll get to see only part of the country but it will be a more relaxed pace and you'll decide how much time you want to spend somewhere.
Taltul is offline  
Aug 13th, 2011, 04:14 PM
  #31  
JBX
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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My trips to Europe have been 'DIY' (do it yourself), however having used tour operator for a trip in South America, do understand the attraction and convenience of having logistics of hotels/transportation arranged
JBX is offline  
Aug 13th, 2011, 04:22 PM
  #32  
JBX
 
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Oooops ..... hit submit button too soon .... as I was saying, can see why a newbie could be overwhelmed with planning. A recent trip report is an example of how you can go on organized tour, and also opt for DIY excursions --- Trip Report~Milan, Turin, Lucca, Parma, CT >>>

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...nque-terre.cfm
JBX is offline  
Aug 14th, 2011, 11:07 AM
  #33  
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 117
I cannot add a lot to the advice given, other than to say I have always been wary of ceding control to a tour so always planned on my own. With Fodorites to guide you, it is do-able. Just help them help you by providing details like your budget, your likes/dislikes and your potential concerns (e.g. Do I dare drive in certain parts of Italy; can i wait to purchase train tickets or tickets to a particular site until I get to Italy?) Also, search the forum before you post to see if a question you want to ask has been addressed before. Many questions have been answered multiple times by gracious posters like GAC, Zeppola, and Bobthenavigator, to name only a few The one other bit of advice I can give is that if you decide to do "the trinity" (Rome, Florence and Venice, which is a great first itinerary), fly into Venice and out of Rome as getting to the airport for flights out of Venice can become difficult in the sudden fog ins that occur there. Take a deep breath and start planning. It will be worth it.
LizTD is offline  
Aug 14th, 2011, 12:56 PM
  #34  
 
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Either way, post to let us know what you decide! You'll have fun no matter what you choose!
kwren is offline  
Aug 14th, 2011, 03:11 PM
  #35  
 
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Great advice given above. You have plenty of time, start learning some Italian now so you won't be limited to where you can go.

People always say things like, "find some young people, they always speak English." That's often true until you are lost and the only person you see is an older lady who doesn't speak English. Or you find the younger person and they are tired of talking to people who don't speak their language.
LSky is offline  
Aug 14th, 2011, 08:24 PM
  #36  
 
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LSky said: People always say things like, "find some young people, they always speak English." That's often true until you are lost and the only person you see is an older lady who doesn't speak English. Or you find the younger person and they are tired of talking to people who don't speak their language.

I think that's true. When we were in France, at first, I was too embarrassed to try my French. I remember watching for a train, but not being able to figure out which direction we wanted to go. I asked a young man in English and he looked at me like he didn't understand. Maybe he didn't, but, in retrospect, he might have been offended that I was speaking English to him. Later, I got more comfortable trying French and people usually seemed to appreciate my attempts and then they'd switch to English if they knew it.

Another time, we were trying to get to Old Venice and couldn't figure out where to buy the tickets and then, again, which way we needed to go. We tried many people. Even if you know a few phrases, they aren't much help unless the question AND answer are really simple. Finally, we saw a woman in a t-shirt with a design in English. She laughed and asked how we knew she spoke English. In that case, we had to buy the tickets in the adjoining quick mart.
traveler2005 is offline  
Aug 15th, 2011, 05:03 AM
  #37  
 
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I agree with the last comment. I always tried out my few phrases of Italian and must have had a decent accent because sometimes I received the answer in Italian and I had to tell them I didn't understand. Sometimes I got an answer in English, but not always.

This tactic really ticked one lady off. I asked for directions and got a very long response in Italian. The jist of the answer was take the first left then first right...or was it first right then first left. I couldn't remember which words corresponded to left and right. I thought about it for a few minutes (ie wracked my brain to no avail), couldn't remember then asked a slightly different question. She glared at me and walked away. Actually it was still enough fun that I could understand what she was trying to say...if I only could have remembered which word meant left and which one right!
kwren is offline  
Aug 15th, 2011, 05:09 AM
  #38  
 
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Bob, I liked the 'marketing' name of your itineraries, nade me want to go.
Michel_Paris is offline  
Aug 18th, 2011, 06:02 AM
  #39  
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Join Date: Aug 2011
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After your great advice I am weighing and balancing. To be honest, I fear that I am an axious newbie My husband more so.
We have narrowed it down to which tours were our favorites. They are all from Globus: *Continential Introduction, Essential Europe, *Italian Treasures, and Italian Highlights. The stars are our top two. He would really like the best value per day with as many stops as possible, but I would like the most free time with entry to the things I would like to see most. I fear he thinks "let's see as much as possible and hopefully only have to do this once" haha, as you can tell this is my dream not his. I am hoping this will be the trip that he falls head over heals in love with travel.

I think the things we are most anxious about are transportation, getting lost, changing money, and of course the language barriar. I speak beginning level Italian and German which I am sure will not help much other than the pleasantries.

So anyway back to planning. At this point we know which tours we like so I am "creating my own" to show him how much we could save this way. As far as Italy goes My priorities are Rome, Venice, Tuscany (Florence) and Pisa for the Leaning Tower is a big one for my husband. If we add to Italy I would love to add any of the following, France (Paris), England (London), Germany (any/all) So I am researching, researching, researching, and learning an amazing amount!! I will let you know what happens!
CharlotteJ is offline  
Aug 18th, 2011, 08:31 AM
  #40  
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
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There are also some small group tour companies you might want to check out if you haven’t already. I know people who have used both of these and were pleased but there are other companies out there as well. Note the different “service levels” ie. basic, standard, comfort..
www.intrepidtravel.com
www.gapadventures.com

My first trip to Europe was a Globus tour with a crazy whirlwind itinerary. I enjoyed it as we had a great group and an excellent tour leader and I didn’t know any better - I was just happy to be in Europe - but I will never do another one like that and I would strongly advise against it. It was way too much time on the bus. Go for quality over quantity.

Well I just looked at “Continental Introduction”- it’s very similar to the one I did back in the 90’s. I think it’s even the same name. Resist temptation. Each stop is like the equivalent of giving a child a half an hour in Disneyland. Okay maybe that’s an extreme statement but your idea of 2 weeks in Italy is so much more sensible in my opinion. Try to get your husband on board with that. Good luck and have fun planning!
reddun is offline  

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