Tour or Indepenent Trip?

Old May 31st, 2001, 03:08 AM
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Tour or Indepenent Trip?

I am planning to visit Europe this fall - most interested in France and Italy, but not sure of exact plans yet. Is it better to go on a group tour or to travel independently? What are the advantages/disadvantages of each?
Old May 31st, 2001, 04:07 AM
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Mike, hop over to or, the messageboards will give you some idea of what people who take group tours enjoy - and dislike- about them. Most feel that when you want to cover the most ground in the least amount of time, a group tour is the way to go, and it also takes less preparation in advance, if you're pressed for time.

On this board, you're likely to get most feedback about the independent route. Most will offer you very good points, just don't allow anyone to convince you that there's only one way to travel.

Whichever way you choose, be sure to read up a little about the places you're going to visit; the Fodor travel guides are a good place to start. Bon voyage!
Old May 31st, 2001, 04:41 AM
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It doesn't have to be either/or, Mike. An in-between alternative is traveling "independently" WITH a small pre-arranged group.

There's such a trip planned for this fall (September 19 to October 2) to the Lake Garda region of Italy, with "excursions" to Venice, and probably some time in Rome (which could be extended, totally on your own, if you so desired). A centerpiece of the trip is a stay in a villa (7 bedrooms, sleeps 11 people total) 2 km from the town of Garda itself (on Punta San Vigilio), September 22 to 29.

The trip might contain some of France (actually, the first three days, and the gateway city into Europe are still being actively discussed) - - or it might not.

Here's a little more info:

Best wishes,

Rex Bickers
Westerville, Ohio
Old May 31st, 2001, 11:34 AM
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You have to decide what you like best. Do you like being independent and it being up to you what you do and when? If so, then a tour may not be for you.
I self-planned an 17 day trip in Italy, hired guides where I needed to, and when I got there was totally prepared to change my plans based on discovery and whim. I would never have considered a group tour - and such a group would consider themselves lucky not to deal with me!
Old May 31st, 2001, 12:22 PM
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I always travel independently, but my parents are frequent tour travelers.
Tours/Plus side: Don't have to worry about things, they will meet you, great you, arrange your transfers, "hold your hand" won't need to learn how to speak the language, will know where you are going, don't have to learn menu choices.. all meals are arranged. Will likely meet many other American's/Australians/Canadians depending upon which tour you choose, who you can bond with.
Tours/Negative: You are moving with a lot of people, no chance to get to know individual locals, if you want to sleep in, but your tour is heading to the next town, too bad! Meals can be mediocre geared to feeding the masses, time allowed at sights may be more limited or longer then you would choose yourself, hotels may be indifferent, or corporate, catering to companies that have "deals in place' with various tour providers, you will meet a lot of other people from your "own home town".

Independent/Plus: You can pick hotels based upon your criteria... charming, budget, centrally located, you will need to comminucate and experience locals and their culture, if you want to spend all day staring at the Last Supper you may do so... want to rush to get out of the Duomo, you can...linger over a sidewalk cafe lunch for 5 hours, go for it! Spend the whole morning in bed, no problem. You will become much more immersed in the locations you visit.

Independent/Negative: No one is there to help you, you are in essence without a safety net, you have to do the leg work, pick your hotels, learn some phrases, if your wallet is stolen, you need to deal with it... if the hotel is icky, you need to find another one.

Frankly, IMHO and this really is just a personal opinion.. for people like my parents, who are elderly, not in the best of shape, who have some minor problems adapting to unusual situations and who simply can't handle the extra work/stress of arranging transfers and figuring out currency etc.. a tour is ideal.. it provides a degree of safety and a comfort zone for them which is appropriate and welcome. But those same aspects are the very things I find horrible about tours. First of all, for me, planning is the best part, I love to pick out hotels, research and plan... equally I love it when those plans go haywire and we "end up loving a hidden castle hotel so much we book an extra night" or we linger on a sidewalk in Monaco for hours just to catch a glimpse of Princess Stephanie on her way to a gala event. For me, travel is about meeting the local people and enjoying an place with all its good sides AND bad.
Old May 31st, 2001, 12:30 PM
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Still writing that guidebook? Or are you supplementing your income by acting as a shill for he-who-shall-not-be-named?
Old May 31st, 2001, 03:51 PM
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We have done both and had a good time on all trips.

The one comment I can make is that I remember and enjoy more the trips we do independently. By planning them yourself you study the area more and retain more of where you have been.

The tours seem to be more leading you by the nose as quick and as painlessly as they can. Sometimes I get home from these and cannot remember exactly where they led me because I did not have to pay a lot of attention. Plus, traveling with a group of people is a hassle. They all want to do different things. Some get sick. Some always complain about the food. That is guaranteed. Some are miserable people to begin with and they all have their pecadillos to deal with. The tour guides need to receive some medal for dealing with some of these groups.

Bottom line: If you are healthy and confident about being in Europe, do it in a nice rental car and enjoy the area at your pace. Wake up when you want. Eat where you want. Sleep where you want. Shop where you want. See what you want for as long as you want.

If you are not any of the above, sign on with a tour, show up at the bus at 6am each morning, hear about Harry's gall bladder, hold on to your bladder until they stop for a rest room, eat the group mass meals, look out the window and watch Europe fly by. You will see twice as much and remember half of it.

Ain't it great?
Old May 31st, 2001, 04:14 PM
Bob Brown
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The arguments for a group tour and against a group tour are well stated above, except for the well known posters on this board who are indulging self interests because they stand to make a few dollars by hustling customers.

The main argument in favor of a tour that has been designed and planned by a reputable tour company is this:
It can ease your path through the unknown and, at times, get you to a destination that is otherwise time consuming and/or more expensive to reach on your own.
I have free lanced my trips to Europe, with a little planning help from some of my friends with a minor exception.
Last year in Paris I took a guided day tour from Paris that provided transportation to Vaux le Vicomte and Fontainebleau. Vaux le Vicomte is a little difficult to reach and the bus provided a ride to the front door. On the other hand, I found myself longing to linger at both places.
So I think that one tour illustrates
the pros and cons succinctly: It provided convenience and saved me a lot of time, but it had a fixed schedule that was at variance with mine.
There is one other advantage that sometimes means a lot: tour groups often have priority at crowded attractions. You don't have to wait as long to get in.
I much prefer to free lance my travel because I learn about the area while planning. Also, when I am with a tour, I feel like I am in bubble and out of touch with the reality of local life.
In Switzerland, we lived in an apartment. We shopped the markets like we lived there and interacted with the local people. Many of them spoke some English and I could communicate a little in German. At one hotel in Zinal we got a little more of the local interaction because our waitress spoke no English.

I think it boils down to doing what makes you comfortable. No tour is worth the expense if you return home with a host of negative experiences.
Old May 31st, 2001, 04:18 PM
Al Godon
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My father was a world traveler of the first order. He went all over the globe. In Western Europe, he did his own planning. But when it came to Eastern Europe, he went with a tour because he frankly admitted he did not know the lay of the land.
When he went to Africa, he took a tour because there was no way he could organize the same tour independently.
But a guided tour in England, Scotland, Wales, Switzerland or France? No way.
Old May 31st, 2001, 04:46 PM
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"Elderly" doesn't always mean a tour is a must. I have a 61 year old brother-in-law who has been touring Africa independently since last September! We get emails from Kenya to South Africa and he's having a great time. He would never consider a tour; even the hop-on-hop-off bus in South Africa bugged him a little bit. He's also extensively independently traveled in Asia twice since he retired.
Old May 31st, 2001, 05:06 PM
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The posters above are absolutely correct(mostly--forget theresasucker's snide comments. It really depends upon the type of person you are as to whether you would be happiest traveling independently or with a tour group. I've done a lot of traveling, both ways, and have found that the first time I visit a country/area I prefer going on a tour. It doesn't always go everyplace I want to go or when I want to go; there may be some very obnoxious people in the group; few tours are absolutely perfect. But going on a tour the first time gives me a chance to "size up" the country. I have time to learn more about the customs and what the roads are like, etc., in relative safety. I know that if I have any real problems there will be somebody to help me out. I also get the big "places to visit" crossed off my list, like the Duomo in Florence, or the Alhambra. Then, I make sure I return to that country later, on my own. I'm more sure of myself because I've already had an introduction. I have a better idea of what to avoid. And I can spend my time seeking out those little nooks and crannies that make the real memories of a place. The other thing I do is to make sure the tour that I choose doesn't hop around too much, spends more than one night in each town, and offers plenty of free time and the freedom to chose my own restaurants for most of the meals. I guess it all boils down to which weighs more heavily in your personal psychological makeup: safety and security or being adventuresome. Whichever you choose, have a great time.
Old May 31st, 2001, 05:31 PM
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The one comment about where you are going is true. In Europe I would do it on my own. In Africa, the Orient or Japan, I would do a tour one time to get the lay of the land....then do it on my own next time.
Old Jun 7th, 2001, 07:24 AM
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i had a very hard time with the same question. i chose to take a globus tour. with a tour i will get to see the highlights of the country in a short amount of time. i did not opt for all the dinners included. we will do this on our own. and perhaps thats how we will "meet the locals". there is still free time aloted each day to browse the area on your own. also, we chose to stay add'l. 2 days in rome to tour around on our own or go back to something we wanted to see more in depth and do some shopping.
Old Jun 7th, 2001, 03:04 PM
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My husband and I are in our early 50's and have never been to Europe. I planned a 2 week trip from reading these message boards and it was wonderful. We got back a couple of weeks ago from italy...Venice, train to Florence, rented car to San Gimignano, drove to Porto Santo Stefano then drove to Rome. If we can do it, anyone can. Also, when we saw those tour groups, I was so glad we didn't go that way. They were like sheep being lead by the nose (usually umbrellas held in the air) I'm sure everyone in the group couldn't always hear what the leader was saying, plus the groups really annoy other people because they stop in their tracks at the most inconvenient times (like stopping in the middle of the map room at the Vatican museum)I like to go at my own pace...not whip through sites so that you can get the most in (it's exhausting!)I think the way to discover Europe is on your own (we met a lot of locals who loved to chat and swap email addresses)and with a good guide book. We used the Eyewitness was great.
Old Jun 7th, 2001, 04:20 PM
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I completely understand your quandary Mike & my way of dealing with it do both! I'm going to France in late September & will start off with a tour around the country & then finish up with 9 days on my own in Paris. The tour portion suits me as I don't drive & am not particularly fond of long distance train travel (see the thread about memorable train trips to see why...). Once I am in Paris though I will be free to see & do what I please when I want & while on tour I will when possible break away from the group & occassionally skip the included meals to seek out a more authentic french food experience instead! Whatever you decide have fun!!
Old Jun 7th, 2001, 04:43 PM
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We recently got back from a two week European trip that we planned on our own (with our four kids!). For us, the intent of the vacation was much more than sightseeing. We wanted to really experience the small villages, visit markets and grocery stores, and stay in accomodations other than hotels. We rented apartments, stayed on a farm, and in a chalet (and paid much less than a hotel). If it's the "experience" that you're after, rather than "sightseeing" being your primary objective, definately go on your own. It's not that hard to do. If you want to really hit all the famous sights, a tour might be your best bet. We saw lots of the famous things, too, but did them as a "day trip" from our smaller villages. We refer to our vacation as an "adventure", which is exactly as we wanted it! Good luck with whatever you decide is best for you.
Old Jun 7th, 2001, 04:53 PM
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Mike there is no way I would ever take another trip as a part ofa tour group. I think you waste a lot of time seeing what the tour group thinks you should see or stopping at little shops where the tour group gets a cut.Don't be worried if you don't speak the language either. It has never been a problem for me. You can buy a packaged tour from a company and do it independantly where they give you a choice of hotels get you to the hotel etc. I just feel that traveling independantly is easier for me. You get to spend more time on the things you are interested in and bypass things you think are worthless. Have fun which ever you choose.
Old Jun 8th, 2001, 07:20 AM
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As a single person, I've also traveled independently and taken tours. I don't drive and also don't enjoy being a prisoner of train schedules. I never would use a tour company to visit one place--Paris, London, Rome, Naples, etc., but I prefer an escorted tour when I want to cover a particular region, e.g., the Dordogne. However, and this is a big however--I really don't like budget tours (luckily I don't have to)--too big, too many one-night stops, not enough time in places of interest, etc., etc. I do very much enjoy very selective, top-of-the-line tours that cater to small special interest groups, and offer really special and charming hotels, select wonderful restaurants which reflect the best of local and regional cuisine, and have extremely well-informed and entertaining guides. And, yes, such things do exists, but you have to search them out--and you do get what you pay for!
Old Jun 8th, 2001, 07:39 AM
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Hi, Mike
Might seem blase to say everybody's answers are correct but........
We did Italy in October and I feel we had the best of both worlds. We did a tour with Tauck for the first week - got familiar with the language, the money, had guides to the major places and museums. We then rented a car and drove Rome to Tuscany, spent two days, dropped the car in Florence, train to Venice and then train to Santa Margherita Ligure and then to Milan.
We are traditionally independent - we have taken three tours in our lifetime. As already stated, there are benefits to both methods. Don't be "intimidated" by the tour schedule - we left the "group" and did our own thing several times in a recent tour/riverboat trip in France. Were not real interested in Monte Carlo so we took the train to a small seaside village on our own.
Many say tours are for "non-planners" with which I strongly disagree - probably spent at least 50 hours each planning and researching the Italy and France trips - we knew what we wanted to see/do in each location so we were able to branch out from the group.
If you want any more info, e-mail me.
Old Jun 8th, 2001, 11:18 AM
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Annette, you said "elderly" then mentioned your 61 year old brother-in-law.....arrgghhhhh!!!!
Have you looked into Untours? They get a lot of positive responses on this board and other sites. We have always been independent travelers but may try Untours to France because it seems like a good deal.

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