Tour Group vs. Independent Travel ??

Jun 22nd, 2005, 08:36 PM
Original Poster
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Tour Group vs. Independent Travel ??

My husband and I are planning a spring trip through various parts of Europe (no more than 4 countries-probably Italy, Switzerland, France, Netherlands). We are debating whether to travel alone by rail or to book a tour. We are fairly young (late twenties are mainly concerned that tour groups may be a older crowd) Which would you choose and why? Also-what are good (cheap) tour companies to go through?
megtr is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2005, 08:45 PM
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I took two escorted tours. After the second one I didn't want to book another one. I found that you don't have a chance to see what you want at your own pace. You're on a schedule and most of the time you are (we were at least) on a bus traveling from one city to the next. Plus you are stuck with the same people daily. It's good in a way. Everyone on our European tour got to know each other, but I think for some that may be too much.
francophile03 is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 04:20 AM
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Hi meg,

The folks here are biased toward DIY.

How many weeks for your visit?

ira is online now  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 04:21 AM
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Hi megtr, I agree with francophile 03 but do remember that arranging for your own transportation and tickets to museums can add time. In a tour group you will not have to worry about what days things are open or wait in long lines.
You will also not have to worry so much about not knowing the language. Although that is not so much a factor in most tourist places these days, we had trouble understanding the loud speaker at some train stations.
My husband and I often book local tours through our hotel once we arrive-not always cheapest way to go but it's great to get picked up and dropped off at the hotel! Meeting people and getting a "taste" of the country is easier, imho, when you are on your own. Good luck!
donco is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 04:22 AM
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With a tour group you will definitely be with people older than you. If you choose your tour carefully, though, you will see the places you want more easily and inexpensively. And on those bus trips, the tour guides frequently are quite knowledgeable and can provide interesting information about the area.

You probably will not be able to stay in charming little b&b's, and if you fall in love with a particular restaurant or museum or whatever, you will not be able to linger there. On the other hand, you will learn what spots you want to revisit sometime in the future.

For us, a grand tour type thing worked well for our first European trip, and now we pretty much go where we want and when we leave the city, we rent a car.

Enjoy your holiday!
rachel_s is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 04:35 AM
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Assuming you are reasonably independent and like organizing your own lives I would not do a tour. Esp the less expensive ones often put you in hotels at the end of hell and gone, require 7am hotel departures, and herd you around based on the needs of the least commn denominator. Also - IMHO the food tends to be quite ghastly except on the most epensive tours.

Most tour groups are primarily older folks. The groups that have mostly younger folks tend to resemble fraternity keggers.

But - organizing your own trip is much more work (esp up front) - but this is one of the parts I love - so you know you're going where you want, seeing/doing what you want and deciding on your own balance of price and location/amenities for hotels.

If you would rather have the convenience of someone else doing all the planning and making all the decisions go for the tour. Otherwise - organize what YOU really want.
nytraveler is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 04:40 AM
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If your ageism is the only reason for avoiding organised tours, then try someone like Contiki.

The Western Europe thread at the Thorntree site will throw up some other operations, and you're less likely there to catch something (wisdom, for example?) from contact with grownups.
flanneruk is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 05:12 AM
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Rachel_s and nytraveler reminded me of a couple of things. As rachel_s says, your choice of hotels will not usually be the charming type of accomodation, but you will get an idea of the places to revisit. And as nytraveler states many times your hotel is really far out from the city center-yes, definitely at the end of hell. I guess we took the cheapest or one of the cheapest tours available (my mother booked it) as we stayed at the Novotel near CDG when we visited Paris--and for just one short day! It wasn't as though we could take a nice walk by the Seine as we were so far from Paris. And there was no time to organize a trip using the metro; we were on a tight schedule.
francophile03 is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 05:31 AM
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If age is a problem, agree with looking into Contiki, or actually their sister company which is aimed at an older crowd (your age). Contiki tends to be for the late teens to early 20's crowd who like to do A LOT of partying. And the hotels are usually cheaper, some with shared baths. But it's great traveling with people your own age and I still keep in touch with people from my trip.

The sister company can be booked thru Contiki's site and stays in nicer hotels. It's aimed at the late 20's to mid 30's.
nibblette is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 05:34 AM
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Forgot to add, I would vote for doing your own trip if you're independent. Now, I only use tour companies for places where it would be difficult traveling independently or for adventure travel.
nibblette is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 05:59 AM
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I'm not sure how anyone can answer that but you. Several years ago I helped friends plan their own excursion to Europe -- Paris, Venice, and Rome. I helped them select and book hotels, armed them with transportation explanations, maps, and even lists of restaurants. They were about as prepared as the could be. They came back thankful for my help, but overwhelmed and frankly totally stressed out. Two years later they did a package tour -- Vienna, Budapest, Munich, etc. They had a FABULOUS time, and now will never go it alone again. For them, having someone else make all decisions and lead them around was perfect.

By the way, they were in their early 30's. On their tours, they said everybody treated them like they were their kids (grandkids?) but they loved that. Yes, they were the only younger couple.
Patrick is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 06:35 AM
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I think Patrick ahs given you some very sage advice.

Generally, I suspect organized tours are like cruises where the "rule" seems to be, "the longer the tour(cruise) the older the folks." Why? Simple..because these "older" folks are more likely to have the time, and the money, to do this.

I assume you are shying away from the "older crowd" (to use your term) because you feel you wouldn't relate to them or would feel uncomfortable (which may be other "issues" to be resolved in other ways) what to do?

Go with something cheaper? Sure, but the cheaper it is then the more likely you WILL BE stuck out at the hotel in the weeds with less than wonderful food and so forth...participants might be younger, though.

You CAN arrange this yourself and a lot more easily than you probably think...if you are willing to do some work up front you'll end up with the best of both worlds...your time, your schedule, your ability to be will be all about what you want... and when you want it. If those things are the most important..forget the whole tour group idea and start planning.
Intrepid1 is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 07:23 AM
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You're going to have a great time either way, but here's my advice (BTW- I'm a married teacher and 32):
I tried the hostels, pensions and other budget accommodations. With a Let's Go book, Eurail Pass and a passport, I had quite a few adventures. At age 26, my best friend and I "did 4 countries" in two weeks before our impending marriages. All of a sudden, hostelling proved to be a major pain in the *ss. I had lost my tolerance for shabby hotels and the frat-style club environs, no a.c. ...sharing showers...etc. From age 26 to now, I use the internet to book all of my trips, including hotels and train passes, some with Fodorite help actually. In my opinion, countries like Switzerland and the others you listed are EASILY doable on your own, with a rail pass. In fact, you may want to rethink and see 1 country completely. For that, I'd suggest Switzerland via Swiss Rail Pass.= (our favorite trip and we saw EVERY main city out of two bases, Zurich and Lauterbrunnen). To do all 4 in one trip, well, you just have to research and plan very well. Be willing to rush some sites unless you have more than 2 weeks.
I used Collette Tours for Costa Rica (because I'd never travelled the region and was not willing to rent a car there) and been very happy. However, we were the only couple under 55. Although a little slow at times, age was a plus sometimes because everyone was nice and understanding when my hubby and I wanted to explore on our own--we basically didn't have to do any planning. The main negative was not age, but the realization that these tours involve A LOT of coach bus time and at 6'7", my hubby was very uncomfortable sitting for hours and hours. We also used Collette again, but this time for Christmas in Austria/Germany, and via an "Independent Vacation," for which Collette books flights, hotels and meal vouchers, but there is no guide or strict itinerary. This was the BEST, and a very good deal, because they pick nice hotels with central locations, got a great deal on the flights, but we did everything else online (e.g. rail pass, site choices). My sister and I are using Collette in July, their "Italian Vistas" vacation, as we will be venturing sans men, and we want to see everything possible in her short vacation term w/o worries. Therefore, my advice to you is, to do it on your own if you are willing to research, plan and have fun with mistakes, missing trains...etc. Tour groups are good for the contrary reasons, but age is a factor. There is a lot of down time on those buses, but you will see a lot in a short amount of time w/o a lot of worry. I've heard Globus and Contiki are more "young."
susanteach is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 07:32 AM
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Tours suck. Go independent.
Edward2005 is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 08:10 AM
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I did a Globus tour in 1999. I have since traveled on my own. When looking at tours look at the schedule. They will give you an idea of what is included, and what is offered as an extra. On our tour, if you didn't want to do all the extras, you had quite a bit of free time...usually every afternoon if you wanted to use it for your own exploration. We also had a "free day" in London, Paris, Rome, and Lucerne to do our own thing. I liked not haveing to wait to go up the Eiffle Tower, get into the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican etc. I liked the commentary and such. Get a map of the cities you will be staying in and then you can see where your hotels are and check on what kind of transportation there is for getting around. I know that the companies reserve the right to change hotels etc...I was lucky and we did not have any changes. Except for London, all our hotels were great. With tube, metro etc. we had no trouble getting to where we wanted to be when we were on our own. Our group was mixed...mostly 40's and 50's but we had one couple older, two single girls in their early 20's, and a couple of honeymooners, again in their early to mid 20's. Two couples that were the people from hell....NOTHING was right with them...the rest of us laughed at them most of the time. Food was average...not great, but never bad, and a couple of meals were wonderful. I didn't hang with the group all the time. I liked being told some of the local customs...I avoided some of the "issues" that seem to pop up from time to tiers of service or price in having coffee at the counter, table inside, vs table outside. I knew to pay for the coffee and then take your ticket and order it. That kind of thing. It helped me. I have since been back to London and Paris on my own, and will do my next trip on my own. Under certain circumstances I would take a tour again..just depending on destination and other things. So, you have some time. Do your research carefully, check out some of the travel board that have people posting about various tours and then make your decision. Everyone has their own style of travel, if you haven't traveled you don't know what your style is so you just have to start somewhere and you will find out what suits you. I mean anytime you're going to bad can that be. So maybe you tour and decide it's really not for you so you learn something and the next trip you do differently. I get amazed sometimes when people comment about how rushed the tours are..and yes there IS some of that, but then you see some of the intineraries listed here from people traveling on their own and I'm just exhauseted reading it. It's just run run run all the time. So, what ever works, and you won't know what works until you take a stab at it. I did notice where you said "cheap". That can mean a lot of different be sure to check prices, read all the fine print, and be sure of what you are getting. Hope it all works out and your trip is wonderful.
crefloors is online now  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 08:30 AM
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Keep in mind that there are various types of group tours that allow varying degrees of independence.

There are group tours that have activities scheduled for every waking moment, with a guide waving a flag and blowing a whistle.

Then there are group tours that provide transportation, hotels, a host, maybe a couple of meals while in transit from city to city, but leave you on your own to do whatever you want in each city.

There is a world of difference between these group tours.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 01:38 PM
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I agree with Crefloors. I've done tours and I've done independent travel, and both have advantages and disadvantages.
We took a Globus tour to England and France that included the highlights that I wanted to see, and we had a very learned tour guide who gave us a lot of historical background. (But, some of the group preferred to sleep on the bus and not listen to the commentary.) On our own, in the time frame of two weeks, I could not have managed to see the sites we did, (everything from Stonehenge to Normandy to Versailles) although the downside was that we could not spend enough time at places I found especially interesting. Tours are a matter of compromise, but they do allow you to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. We were able to visit Hampton Court Palace one morning before it was officially opened to visitors, which felt like a very private tour indeed. You also have to be prepared for some very early wake-up calls, by the way.
Many years ago, we took a tour to Italy (not Globus) and we liked it, except for the time we spent in leather, silver, and cameo factories instead of historical places.
As far as DYI, we took a month-long driving tour of Spain, and the plans we made worked out well for us--except that you spend a lot of time reading maps (in cities) and trying to figure out how to get to places and where to park. That was the only downside that I saw, because I did a lot of research ahead of time and knew what we wanted to visit and where we wanted to stay.
I would say that you can do your trip by rail rather easily in those countries, if you enjoy the planning part. If you don't want to be bothered, book a tour that covers the sites you want to see, and you will find out if that kind of travel appeals to you.
MaureenGP is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2005, 03:07 PM
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You might want to look at Go Ahead travel. They are a great blend of tour and independent travel. They provide the package (hotels, air, tranfers, etc.) and a number of optional excursions. I took a trip with them several years ago, and there was a local guide who met us at our hotel each morning to help us set up our plans for the day. I think this company is an excellent option that gives you the sense of security of a tour, but the freedom to do what you want.
msteacher is offline  
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