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Is a guided/escorted tour a good thing?

Travel Forums Europe Is a guided/escorted tour a good thing?

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1. Posted by Kyle86 (Budding Member 5 posts) 7y

I'm a first timer to Europe and I was wondering whether taking a guided/escorted tour would be better than planning it myself. I'm planning on leaving anytime from May 8th to 20th to be back before mid-June. I'm mainly looking at a 12-16 day tour that let's me see England, France and Italy, with the possibility of Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Spain, Czech Republic and/or Austria.

Here are some of my opinions and questions about tour taking:
1) Nearly everything is planned (airfare, most ground transportation, over half of the meals, guided tours, etc).
2) I'm leaving in a month and don't exactly have a lot of time to plan something like this in that time span. To answer a probable response, this was kind of a last minute decision and no, I'm not waiting longer to go (I start a new job in June and I don't think they'd appreciate it if when I started I immediately said I needed 2-3 weeks off within my first 3 months).
3) I'm kind of a worrier having someone else making the plans and telling me what to do (at least for the first time being there) takes away the stress so I can just relax and have a good time.
4) I've heard that if it's not a youth tour it's likely most or all the other travellers will be seniors. Is this true? There are so many more non-youth tours with the options and destinations that I prefer but I wouldn't want to be stuck with a bunch of seniors for 2-3 weeks (I'm 23 btw).
5) Another thing about the youth vs. regular tours. I've noticed that those Contiki youth tours only offer accommodations in their facilities, which are basically small barracks. On my vacation I would really prefer the privacy of hotel rooms. I would like to have to backpacking experience, but that I'm saving for a later date when I at least know a little bit about where I'm going. For now I'm looking for a nice, quiet, stress free vacation with my nights spent in a comfortable bed.
6) I think my last question about the tours would be; is it worth it, overall? Considering my situation, I mean. As long as I'm going to see the places I want to see and do some of the things I want to do (which are, for the most part, included such as viewing the Louvre, Coliseum, Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, Normandy landing beaches, etc) I'm going to be happy with my tour.

Please feel free to correct any of my presumptions if I have any wrong. After all, most of this information I did just get off the internet.
And I would thoroughly appreciate any insight or information anyone who has gone of one of these tours could give. Any good or bad experiences or if there are any companies I should avoid, etc.

2. Posted by t_maia (Travel Guru 3289 posts) 7y

My main gripe with organised tours is that generally you pay about double than what you'd pay on your own.

This applies especially when you'd have stayed in hostels on your own (dorms, private rooms, pensions) and did self-catering and the tours book you into 3-star hotel rooms and have you eat in restaurants. That quickly hikes up the cost of a trip significantly.

About the only thing that makes me think the tour might be a good thing for you is the following:

I'm mainly looking at a 12-16 day tour that let's me see England, France and Italy

At this pace tour is practically the only option. It is generally recommended that you spent 2-3 weeks in each of these countries if you go on your own. But with a tour a much more fast-paced initiary becomes doable. Just be aware that with such a tight schedule you might miss certain attractions even though they are on the tour initiary. For example, you are supposed to arrive arond noon in Paris and then go to see the Louvre. Yet the bus might take such a long time to travel from Florence to Paris that instead of arriving at noon you arrive in the early evening and just have no time to go to the Louvre.

Another problem might be that they let you loose in a certain city (London, Paris, etc) for a few hours and expect you to manage on your own. Yet without a map and no real clue about what is going on you either get lost or afraid of getting lost, you hang about a cafe close to the bus. In both cases you do not get to see what you want. I've been in both situations with organised tours and I hated that more than anything else. (I was in London for about 4 times with organised tours, everytime the guide on the bus pointed out the British Museum, everytime I swore I wanted to go there when they gave us free time, yet I only managed to go there when I went to London the 5th time on my own without a tour.)

3. Posted by Tuck (Budding Member 2 posts) 7y

I'd strongly advise you to go-it-alone. You can do it!

Try to simplify your agenda i.e. don't try to do too much or overdo it. Start out in London for a week or so. Maybe shoot up to Edinburgh for a few days. After that (English speaking) acclimation, you'll be ready to head for Paris for a week. Then Berlin and/or Munich. Venice, Florence and Rome. That's a full 4 weeks and you can fly home from Rome or go by domestic air (Ryan) back to London. There's not enough time for all those other countries you mention.

Bear this in mind: You're surely going to meet others your age along the way. You'll hang out, make friends and have experiences this way that you'd never, ever have with a tour. Stay loose and flexible with your plans, taking advantage of serendipity.

4. Posted by bentivogli (Travel Guru 2398 posts) 7y

Europe is exceptionally traveller-friendly. Public transport generally runs on schedule, almost everybody speaks at least some English, and online resources are of unparalled reliability. You should have no trouble at all planning it yourself.

That said, I strongly agree with Maia that you should be realistic. You seem to have about a month; don't cram more than two, maybe three countries in your itinerary.

5. Posted by Daawgon (Travel Guru 1993 posts) 7y

Bentivogli is quite correct - W. Europe is so so easy to navigate (far easier than Canada/USA) that you would be a fool to go on a tour. Not only is there the problem of being in the "wrong" group, but who wants to waste their vacation time waiting on people who are s-l-o-w! You will appreciate your trip far more and come back with far greater memories if you DIY! Just get your feet wet, and after that you'll know what we're talking about.

Have a good trip, but be prepared for a somewhat crowded Europe at that time of year!
Suggest you travel by 2nd class train as much as possible.

6. Posted by laoutlaw (Budding Member 41 posts) 7y

Is there not a way you can find out what type of tour this is? Certainly the tour operator would be able to inform you if the usual majority of tour-goers is in the "above 50" crowd. Possibly event suggest the type of tours that attract "younger" crowds?
Here is my take on tours: Personally, I wouldnt take a tour, mostly because I dont like being told when/where/what to do, and I feel like you do not get a chance to truly 'connect' with the city & people. But, I will freely admit it was a ton of work planning for my last trip (Spain {3 cities} & Morocco {1 city} over 2 weeks), finding hotels and hostels and making reservations/confirmations, and planning out how to get from one city to another via the quickest and cheapest way... I literally spent about 2 months researching and doing it and that was just the places to stay and public transport, not a minute by minute intinerary.....
You yourself said you have neither the time nor inclination to make all those seems like the only option you have left yourself is a guided tour. However, if all you want to see are the main sights, does it matter who else is along for the ride? I would inquire from the operator if the tours, once you arrive, are "stay together" tours, or if you have a few hours to spend as you like. You can always plan to revisit the cities that spark your interest on your future backpacking trip.....

7. Posted by Kyle86 (Budding Member 5 posts) 7y

Thanks all for the input. I think I will take the advice and plan it myself. This way I will get to see a few places offered by very few tours (and usually the more expensive ones from what I saw) such as the D-Day beaches in Normandy, Carcassonne and Pompeii.

8. Posted by Redpaddy (Inactive 1004 posts) 7y

So many excellent suggestions for you covered here - and the majority are going for you doing it solo, to which I totally agree.
The only suggestion I could add, is that if you're wary, avoid night travel on trains with compartments only. Do your train travel and walking in daylight and your drinking and eating in your hostel/B&B after dark.

9. Posted by coliep (Budding Member 7 posts) 7y

I agree with all the posts . Europe is very travel friendly . get a lonely planet or Rough Guide and have a look at accomodation . Train network is generally excellent if u want to mainly cover cities, you can also travel overnight for long distances and gets u into the centres fairly quickly . NOt sure if inter railing tickets are still available to over 26's which used to give unlimited train travel all over the EU network over 4 weeks for a very reasonable fare

If doing Italy , personal highlights would include , seeing an open air opera in Verona Collesium , much better preserved than the one in Rome, Pompei which is awesome , one or two days wandering around Venice .

Personal favorites in Spain would include Seville , going to see a bullfight in the beatiful old bullring , visiting the allhambra palace and seeing locals perform flamenco in a local bar .

Enjoy planning your trip

10. Posted by frankie 75 (Budding Member 28 posts) 7y

Kyle ,I have alway traveled alone around Europe, and find it easy to get around and yes it will be cheaper than doing a tourrfor the hole trip.
But can I recommend that you do do a few guided tours even if they are just day trips .This will allow you to see a wide range of thing in one day and be much more educational you may learn something that you find interesting that you can simple not get by looking in a guide book or simply seeing a location. I find a day tour every now and than interesting.
these can be organized with a day or twos notice. I sure our friends out there could help you with operaters that do this stuff with first hand experince. if you have any places you would like to do a tour in. ;)