Tour or On Our Own

Feb 28th, 2019, 05:29 AM
  #1  
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Tour or On Our Own

First I booked a cruise to Italy. then dumped it. Then I booked a group tour to Italy (still have that one but the time for losing my deposit is almost up). But through it all I have a friend who keeps telling me it's ridiculous. She says, I should get on travelocity and book a flight, some hotels and just go on my own. She says it's the easiest place to visit, you can see everything and move around easily with trains.
My friend speaks fluent Italian, was raised partially in Italy, and goes back every year. She also goes with her husband and they have a lot of money. I am exactly the opposite. I've never been out of the country except to England. I speak only English. I'm going with another woman who has never traveled in her life. And money is an issue. I'm also not sure of all the sites I'd want to see.
Do you have any advice about which way to travel? I'm already lost and I haven't even left yet!
sarah887 is offline  
Feb 28th, 2019, 06:42 AM
  #2  
 
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never heard of travelcity
book hotels through booking.com
read seat61.com to understand trains
buy a book, rough guide to Italy perhaps
bilboburgler is online now  
Feb 28th, 2019, 06:58 AM
  #3  
 
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Travelocity is a booking engine, like expedia.com.

Sarah,
First, you and your friend should decide....why are we going to Italy? Is the art? History? Landscape? Food? Just to say you've been?
Here's an approach:
You and your friend get together and (after perusing guidebooks, and maybe a YouTubevideo or two) and decide what you want to experience in Italy.
What time of year are you going? How much do you have to spend? How long will you be on the ground?
Narrow it down. Most first timers visit Rome,Florence and Venice, but you may have end up with other "musts".
If you plan it yourself, think about staying in one or two places, to lessen stress, save money, really get to know a place, and feel more confident. (especially if you only have 7 or 8 days)
To really appreciate Italy, do some research...you will enjoy it so much more, and it will give you a much better sense of being in control of your vacation.

Tours are beneficial to those who like to have all the logistics taken care of. That means you stay in hotels they pick, see the sights on the schedule, and eat in restaurants they pick. You get the idea. Obviously, many people enjoy them.
Calabria62 is online now  
Feb 28th, 2019, 07:11 AM
  #4  
 
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It sounds to me like a pre-arranged tour would be a lot more enjoyable for you. You won't have to sweat itineraries or logistics. Just sit back and enjoy your vacation.

Just make sure you've booked through a reliable tour company.
travelhorizons is offline  
Feb 28th, 2019, 07:11 AM
  #5  
 
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There is a parallel thread you might benefit from on the same subject:
First Trip to Italy
Whether it is "easy" or not depends where you are going and what you are doing. Without destinations and activities in mind, you are going nowhere. How can you decide how to do it when you don't know where you are going?
The tours exist on a spectrum. They either do a lot of things on a fly cheaply or few memorable things expensively. The former is not memorable. You can say you have been to Italy, but you would not remember much as you zip through the country. The latter end of the spectrum gets very expensive. In all cases, you pay more for the similar things over what you can do on your own taking into account they take you to places you don't care to spend time on.
greg is online now  
Feb 28th, 2019, 07:25 AM
  #6  
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Thanks Calabria62! We will have at least two weeks, and would like to see as much of Italy as we can. The cheapest tour is about $10,000 but that one includes airfare. I'd love if it I could keep the cost down for another trip, but I'm not certain going on our own would do that. I forgot to mention that's part of the consideration. This is a bucket list trip, and given my health situation I'm not sure how many I will get. If you have any further advice, I'd love it. Otherwise, thanks so much for what you've already said.
sarah887 is offline  
Feb 28th, 2019, 07:44 AM
  #7  
 
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Yes easy to book everything yourselves - hotels, trains even timed admissions to crowded sites. Trains are best and with just two weeks I'd gothe classic Venice-Florence-Rome and doday trips from them - again easy by train -for lots on trains check wwwtrenitalia.com; www.italotreno.it/en - sites you can book own trains on - general train info and where to go BETS-European Rail Experts and www.ricksteves.com.
PalenQ is offline  
Feb 28th, 2019, 09:47 AM
  #8  
 
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$10,000 seems like a lot to me, but I guess it depends on where you are coming from, what type of lodging, which airline, etc. Just to compare, I was in 3 European cities last spring, for 14 days, and it was less than half that. But, again, it depends.....

On the other hand, if you have health issues, the comfort of having a local representative on hand, might be worth the expense, as well as reducing the stress you and your friend might experience.
Calabria62 is online now  
Feb 28th, 2019, 10:05 AM
  #9  
 
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Since you said money was an issue that would be reason #1 why doing it on your own makes sense. You mention a tour that is $10,000 per person - I regularly travel to Italy for three or four weeks for way less than half that and I stay in 'mid range' accommodations, not ultra budget and that includes airfare, trains, food, admissions, etc.

Not speaking Italian is not an issue. Most places you will interact with people who have way more English than most tourists have Italian. Only in very small off the beaten path villages have I run into people who speak no English, and even then most people are very happy to try and understand what you want. To be nice it's a good idea to learn to say please and thank you, etc. in the local language where ever you go. Sometimes it might help to write something down on a card in Italian to show people if there is something specific you need to get across (like a dietary restriction, something like that).

Italy is one of the easiest places to go if you are new to International travel. But keep it simple - don't rent a car, just take trains. Trains are so much different than in the US - they go everywhere, are frequent and cheap. You've been given several websites above that explain things and come to this forum to ask specific questions.

Stick to the biggies for a first trip - Rome, Florence and/or Venice. You can take day trips from them to experience smaller towns and there are always organized day tours where you won't have to worry about transportation, etc. And within the cities you can take organized tours as well if you feel you need to (but with some reading of guidebooks you really don't even need to do that).

booking.com is the best site for hotels. For a first trip stick to hotels (they can be small, family run with lots of atmosphere) - don't try to do air b&b or hotels. It's simpler (no worry about how to get the key, what to do if something breaks, how to pay, etc.) and you have a front desk staff to answer questions.
isabel is offline  
Feb 28th, 2019, 10:24 AM
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$10,000 seems quite high but that of course depends on where you stay, what your meals are, etc. I notice that a 17 day Rick Steves tour is $5400 plus airfare. Quite a bit less. My wife and I spent two weeks in Italy last spring - under $300 per day for the two of us. However we are experienced travelers and the wife speaks Italian. I think for you a group would be a good idea.
bigtyke is offline  
Feb 28th, 2019, 11:14 AM
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Also, don't be overwhelmed selecting places to see in Italy. If you liked the tour itinerary, you might select some or all those same locations and copy their itinerary. What is or what do you expect your travel style to be? We, for example, travel hard and bring only carry-on luggage, walk many miles each day, and are at it from early morning until late at night. We can see and do a lot in 1 or 2 days. If you have checked baggage and like to take things slower, you may want more time in each city. You don't need a guide book; simply google 2 days or 3 days in each place. You will see all sorts of itineraries suggested or done by others. You might google "day trips from..." each city to get an idea of other places you might visit. The bottom line, in Italy, there is no wrong answer. I could list 100 wonderful places in Italy. Language is easy; rail is easy. And, most of the places you would go to on a first time visit would have plenty of other English speaking tourists walking, riding and standing beside you.
whitehall is online now  
Feb 28th, 2019, 05:02 PM
  #12  
kja
 
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No need to take a tour unless you want to do so! I've been fortunate enough to travel to many parts of the world, all solo and all by planning trips on my own. (Well, with a little help from my fellow Fodorites for the latest trips.) Get a few good guidebooks, identify a preliminary wishlish of destinations, think through what you MOST want to see and do and then make a plan that maximizes your options -- and then come back to us for input.

FWIW, the idea that I might never return to an area makes me want to maximize the time I have to actually see and experience the places that I choose to see, while minimizing the time spent traveling between places. Rather than skimming the surface and spending time getting from place to place, I choose to skip some places entirely, even if I am sure I would enjoy them, because to me, the most important thing is to maximize the time I have to see and experience relative to the time I’ll spend in transit. JMO; YMMV.

Speaking Italian won't be an issue (although learning a few civilities will go a LONG way).

I think planning to rely on public transportation is a great idea!

I wouldn't necessarily limit myself to just the most common tourist destinations: If there's a place a bit off the beaten trail that you know you want to visit and are willing to see even if you have to curtail your time in the major destinations.

Looking at itineraries offered by tour groups can be very helpful, but if you do try to adapt an itinerary presented by a tour company, consider doubling the time as a starting point for your own planning -- tour groups will have made arrangements for transportation (so you will need less time for getting to / from buses, etc.) BUT they also won't give you any flexibility, and sometimes the tour plan is just to drive past something, not to actually visit it. And to me, part of the fun of traveling is walking through various neighborhoods and even getting lost. Too, the tour will have arrangements for lodging and restaurants, but lodging might be on the outskirts (making it difficult to walk through the most charming sections of town after dark -- which can be a delight!) and restaurants might not offer the best of local options at any price point. You might not need twice as much time, but IME, it's easier to realize one can add something than to struggle with what to cut.

I strongly encourage the use of guidebooks -- yes, you can google plans for X days, but you won't know if those plans cover the things that would most interest you and it won't tell you whether X is the right number for YOU for any specific place. They certainly don't capture my interests well! And a guidebook will give you answers to questions that you don't know to ask -- something you can't google, and that can be particularly important for first time travelers.

Hope that helps!

Last edited by kja; Feb 28th, 2019 at 05:09 PM.
kja is offline  
Mar 1st, 2019, 01:05 PM
  #13  
 
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$10,000 is a lot. If you budget for 14 days X $300 per hotel per night = $5200. You will not spend another $5k to get around and see things.
I would get a map of Italy out and work out what you want to see and go from there.
Come back to the Forum and people here can help you plan your way. Go on Trip Advisor... you really need to do the research. You can book day tours to see things or visit wineries.. it really is not that hard.
Even though you do not speak Italian, many Italians speak English, especially those that deal with tourists.
booking trains is also very easy as the sites have an English version of everything.
millie2112 is offline  
Mar 1st, 2019, 02:00 PM
  #14  
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Tour or On Our Own

Thank you guys so much for all your great advice! I was pretty convinced I needed to do it with a tour group (I was choosing between Zicasso which is an expensive "VIP" tour and Go Ahead which is a kind of budget group tour. But the lowest amount was way over $10,000 for two of us, plus excursions and most of the food. Now, based on what I've read, I'm thinking my friend might be right about going on our own. Mostly I'm concerned about getting into places - the tour people tell me that you have to book everything you want to see way in advance - like Accademia, the Vatican, etc. That feels really hard from here. Then finding accommodations from here and knowing what I'm doing. But still, you've given me a lot of food for thought, enough that I'm strongly considering getting my deposit back (I have until Monday). Thank you all so much!!
sarah887 is offline  
Mar 1st, 2019, 03:21 PM
  #15  
 
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I think everyone assumed you meant it was $10K each, but now you say $10K for both, which doesn’t sound so bad. I think it’s quite easy to book everything yourself and save some money, but if it’s your first trip to Europe and your friend’s first overseas trip ever, maybe an organized tour isn’t such a bad idea.

My sister is a very anxious type of person and booked a tour of Italy for her first trip to Europe with her husband ( they were both 60 at the time). She would have been capable of organizing it herself, and I kept encouraging her to do that, but her anxiety made it better for them to use a tour.
jacooper is offline  
Mar 1st, 2019, 03:49 PM
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I have always traveled on my own. And yes Italy is relatively easy. I don't speak Italian. I don't have a husband. I don't have a lot of money.

But I can plan my own trip As far as what sights you want to see, what cities you want to visit... get a guidebook and read it.

That said... since you mention going with a friend (who has never traveled) that complicates things. If you feel she might lean on you too much, or there might be problems because of her to travel independently... maybe a tour group is the best answer for you this time? Not because you couldn't do it on your own, but it might be less stressful for someone else to be in charge of everything for both of you.

sincerely, suze
suze is online now  
Mar 1st, 2019, 05:01 PM
  #17  
kja
 
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Originally Posted by sarah887 View Post
Mostly I'm concerned about getting into places - the tour people tell me that you have to book everything you want to see way in advance - like Accademia, the Vatican, etc. That feels really hard from here.
I'm sure it seems hard, but it really isn't. Any good guidebook will have the web address of the place from which you can get real tickets at the best price, and in most cases, it is surprisingly easy to do so. (Many web sites will sell you tickets with tours or tickets at a hefty commission -- that's why I recommend consulting a guidebook to find the correct websites.)

Originally Posted by sarah887 View Post
Then finding accommodations from here and knowing what I'm doing.
As mentioned upthread, use booking.com. Make sure you select the cancellation option you want. Check its reviews (limited to people who actually used their booked reservations) and perhaps also tripadvisor, which allows more complete descriptions, but can include fake reviews (so read with a bit of caution). Many guidebooks have sections on which parts of various cities are most desirable as places to stay, or at least the advantages and disadvantages of various locations. I usually look for places that are within walking distance of the places I want to visit, or near metro stations if the city is too spread out for that.
kja is offline  
Mar 1st, 2019, 06:16 PM
  #18  
 
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For many of us, a lot of the excitement is in the planning stages. Some people use printed guidebooks. Others like me can find everything I need on the web. A simple web search, for example, shows a website that lists all of the museums in Italy and links to their online tickets: http://www.italia.it/en/useful-info/...ts-online.html If any of those links don't work, you can google official tickets Vatican or Colosseum, for example.

If you are going to do it yourself, you will need to first create a rough itinerary. Once that is done, perhaps you can ask for input from people here. But you will need to communicate the types of things you want to see and do and provide some idea of your travel style (some prefer to take it slow; others can travel hard and fast).

It sounds like this process may be more headache than joy for you, and, if that’s the case, perhaps an organized trip would be best for you. In any event, you will not regret a trip to Italy; even most cruise passengers making brief port visits generally rave about the experience.
whitehall is online now  
Mar 1st, 2019, 06:18 PM
  #19  
 
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Jacooper: I don't think anyone thought it was $10,000 EACH. $5000 is a lot per person, especially since the OP sayid it wasn't for everything.
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Mar 1st, 2019, 10:20 PM
  #20  
 
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janisj

If you read through all the posts you’ll see that several people thought she meant $10K per person.
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