Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (https://www.fodors.com/community/)
-   Europe (https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/)
-   -   Tour vs. On our own (https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/tour-vs-on-our-own-20387/)

Don Jan 11th, 1998 06:48 PM

Tour vs. On our own
 
My wife and I are planning a trip this summer with our two children (boy 17 and girl 14) to Europe. We have been weighing the advantages and disadvatages of a tour vs. traveling on our own and are having a difficult time with a decision. Would apprectiate opinions of those who have "been there - done that."
Yes, the cost is a factor.

Neal Sanders Jan 12th, 1998 06:18 AM

Don, there was a rather spirited and lengthy discussion on the subject about two moths ago, so you may want to scroll down the list of topics until you see one without about 20 replies. My wife and I have been to Europe many times, and have never felt the need to be part of a tour. That decision was reinforced by a recent trip to Egypt in which, for the first time in our lives, we did go as part of a tour group. Our decision was based on having a guide who was well versed in the culture and history of Egypt. That turned out to be the one saving grace in what was, otherwise, a maddening experience. There were 14 of us on the tour, and two of those were the archetypes of ugly Americans. We were embarrassed to be around them. We also traveled according to the tour schedule, never having the option to linger at a site. We were also dragged to places we wouldn't have gone on a bet (rug factories, etc.). We ate buffets morning, noon, and night (we hope never to eat a buffet meal again for at least five years). Worst, though, was that we continually hurried up and waited. We had to have our bags outside of our room at 6:30 a.m., even though the flight wasn't until 10. Traveling on our own, we have always altered our schedule if something was interesting, taken detours because the road looked interesting, and eaten wonderful meals. Language? Buy a Berlitz tape and pick up a 100 phrase vocabulary. That, and English, will see you through. Interpreting the sites? That's what guide books are for. After having experienced the other side once, put me solidly in favor of independent travel.

Pete Jan 14th, 1998 11:36 AM


It depends. If you are an experienced driver and
someone in your family is good with maps, then the
no-brainer answer is rent a car and enjoy. Since
there are four of you, a car is the most economical
transportation. Other advantages include being able
to see what YOU want to see and being able to stay
ouside of the city where accomodations are less than
half the rate for downtown hotels. Much has been
made of the Indy 500 type of driving over there as
well as the price of gas. Keep in mind that, in
general, european drivers are better than American.
A Licence is harder to obtain over there. It is not
considered to be a "birth-right" as it seems to be
here. Gas is expensive, but remember that distances
between attractions are short. You would probably
drive no more than 100 miles in one day and some
days much less. Your $40.00 tank of gas should last
several days. Roads are generally well signposted
and traffic signs are in pictures because there are
so many languages in Europe.
If driving is not an option, then consider a
railpass to travel between cities. Family plans are
usually available. Or check out a tour that just
gets you from city to city and arranges for hotels,
but otherwise lets you go it alone. I would
not recommend a fully excorted tour with two
teenagers. The regimentation would probaby drive
them nuts. Europe is a lot of fun and you will enjoy
it no matter how you travel around. Good luck.

Pete Jan 14th, 1998 11:41 AM


It depends. If you are an experienced driver and
someone in your family is good with maps, then the
no-brainer answer is rent a car and enjoy. Since
there are four of you, a car is the most economical
transportation. Other advantages include being able
to see what YOU want to see and being able to stay
ouside of the city where accomodations are less than
half the rate for downtown hotels. Much has been
made of the Indy 500 type of driving over there as
well as the price of gas. Keep in mind that, in
general, european drivers are better than American.
A Licence is harder to obtain over there. It is not
considered to be a "birth-right" as it seems to be
here. Gas is expensive, but remember that distances
between attractions are short. You would probably
drive no more than 100 miles in one day and some
days much less. Your $40.00 tank of gas should last
several days. Roads are generally well signposted
and traffic signs are in pictures because there are
so many languages in Europe.
If driving is not an option, then consider a
railpass to travel between cities. Family plans are
usually available. Or check out a tour that just
gets you from city to city and arranges for hotels,
but otherwise lets you go it alone. I would
not recommend a fully excorted tour with two
teenagers. The regimentation would probaby drive
them nuts. Europe is a lot of fun and you will enjoy
it no matter how you travel around. Good luck.

Pete Jan 14th, 1998 11:42 AM


It depends. If you are an experienced driver and
someone in your family is good with maps, then the
no-brainer answer is rent a car and enjoy. Since
there are four of you, a car is the most economical
transportation. Other advantages include being able
to see what YOU want to see and being able to stay
ouside of the city where accomodations are less than
half the rate for downtown hotels. Much has been
made of the Indy 500 type of driving over there as
well as the price of gas. Keep in mind that, in
general, european drivers are better than American.
A Licence is harder to obtain over there. It is not
considered to be a "birth-right" as it seems to be
here. Gas is expensive, but remember that distances
between attractions are short. You would probably
drive no more than 100 miles in one day and some
days much less. Your $40.00 tank of gas should last
several days. Roads are generally well signposted
and traffic signs are in pictures because there are
so many languages in Europe.
If driving is not an option, then consider a
railpass to travel between cities. Family plans are
usually available. Or check out a tour that just
gets you from city to city and arranges for hotels,
but otherwise lets you go it alone. I would
not recommend a fully excorted tour with two
teenagers. The regimentation would probaby drive
them nuts. Europe is a lot of fun and you will enjoy
it no matter how you travel around. Good luck.

Leslie Jan 14th, 1998 12:36 PM

Having done it both ways, and enjoyed both, let me offer a few suggestions. I strongly recommend you have someone book hotels for you, with half-pension (breakfast and lunch/dinner). Arriving in a new city, you don't want to worry about where you'll be staying, you want to sightsee! And if breakfast and one other meal are covered, you'll only have to find one meal in the city. Method of travel depends on where you're going. Some countries have extremely reliable train systems (Germany and Italy come to mind), while others have only rudimentary bus systems (Greece). I'm very glad we elected to train through Italy and drive through Greece, as Italian traffic was insane. And parking can be a problem. I love the autobahns in Germany, and you'll find your speed quickly picks up, car allowing. I also liked the freedom of not having to worry about train schedules. With 4 people, driving is problably cheaper. Some packages include airfare, hotel, half-pension, and car. This would be my recommendation for your family. Just be sure to upgrade your car, as the smallest available is usually a two-person vehicle. And if you travel during high season, odds are you'll find an English-speaking group touring the same sites you are. Or if you prefer total independence, purchase a site guide at the entrance to each site. These are written by scholars of the particular sites and are quite informative. Plus, you'll take them home and always be able to refer back to them.

BOB THE NAVIGATOR Jan 14th, 1998 12:56 PM

Don,We have done it 10 times on our own, and if you
meet Pete's criteria, then it is not a problem.
However, much of the stress and anxiety can be
minimized with GOOD PLANNING---and that is where I
can help. If you plan to drive then starting in
Germany[Munich] makes the best sense--good rates.
If you want a super itinerary to include Bavaria,
the Alps, northern Italy, and perhaps French Riviera, then contact me directly. This is the best of Europe--especially with kids--and can be done
on a budget. I have planned 30+ such trips for others like you, and am doing one for a family of
5 as we speak. Do not be apprehensive---it is not
difficult given some experienced help.

Donna Jan 14th, 1998 09:56 PM

If you were planning to go in the summer of 1999, I would recommend collecting some tour guides and planning the trip yourself and travelling all over by rented car. Since time is short, however, you'd probably be much better off on an organized tour. Yes, there are some disadvantages and it will cost a bit more than booking everything separately yourself, but with limited (or no) experience in European travel, a tour will avoid expensive mistakes and disastrous mishaps. HUGE advantages of going on a tour are that all the headaches are taken care of for you (where to stay, where to eat, where to go, getting to and from your various destinations, hauling luggage around) and various languages are not a problem. Also, for a novice, being with a tour group to visit the major attractions is an enormous advantage, especially in the summer. Frankly, your kids may not be at the age where the expense is worth the experience for them (unless they are really wildly enthusiastic about it and enjoy things like art, foreign cuisine, architecture and lots of churches), so you may want to consider sending the kids to camp and enjoying Europe with your wife. Just a thought.

Carol Grese Jan 16th, 1998 08:14 PM

Want to plan a tour of Italy. I have heard that problems come about with portage fees, transfer fees, etc. Is there an admission charge for most sights, churches, museums, etc. Planning to go in September of 98. Want to see Venice, Florence, Rome, Sorrento and Capri. I hear trains are great.
Did plan on a tour but the more I hear about them, the less I think this is a good idea. I did hear that Alitalia tours are pretty good for just booking hotels, etc.

Joel Jan 22nd, 1998 05:33 PM

Good question. My wife and I had to answer it for ourselves quite a few times. Here's what works for us. It's kind of a combination arrangement. We book a tour through a travel agent that only includes the travel to and from Europe plus the hotel(s). That saves us some bucks. At the hotel we book day tours usually through Thomas Cook or American Express. These companies have local agencies that speak English just about everywhere and there are usually brochures available at the reception desk. That way, once in a region, such as the south of France, we can pick and choose what we see and when we see it. You don't get on that awful tour treadmill and you stay in control.

Finally, I would tell you that if that doesn't appeal to you, do anything else, but don't sign up for a beginning-to-end, "If this is Tue it must be Belgium" tour. They're awful and you always get saddled with a few obnoxious loudmouths.



Peg Jan 23rd, 1998 01:30 AM

Don, Travelling by car around Europe is a breeze we managed each time, even though it was driving on the wrong side of the road for us. A good travel guide like Lonely Planet's "Western Europe on a shoestring" will give you lots of confidence to go it alone without a tour.It covers all the well loved sights and routes for driving tours as well as the full price range of accommodation. you will find all the small towns, camping grounds etc and just find rooms on the outskirts of the main cities and use public transport, so you don't have to worry about parking. We only book our return airfare and the first nights accommodation when travelling until we pick up a car. If you book all your accommodation ahead you always have to stick to a strick itinerary and thats no fun. We started travelling this way when our daughter was only 10 months old, we are now in our 60's and still travel the same way, and never have we not been able to find somewhere to sleep. Language has never been a problem. Smiling is a universal language. It is so satisfying to be a traveller and not just a tourist.

mark Jan 23rd, 1998 06:25 AM

I've done both and, as everyone else has said, it depends where you're going, have you been before, etc. I'm surprised no one recommended taking the trains. If you're not planning on travelling long distances in any 1 day -- say from Paris to Florence -- and you're interested in centering yourself around the major cities, I don't like bothering with a car and driving (besides it's tiring). Most European trains are efficient and probably about a wash financially. Like Joel said, a good idea is to book air & hotel through a tour operator to get the best rates, and plan your day tours/trips in the cities. My preferences are the "hop on/hop off" bus tours of London, Paris, etc. due the flexibility. Also, most organized tours I know of may not be all that interesting for your teen agers since they're usually geared to the "more adult" group. My final advice is RESEARCH AND PLAN! Use the Internet, Fodors, Frommers, etc. This site was an excellent resource recently when I was planning my honeymoon to Paris.


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 08:29 PM.