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Best tour companies where Rick Steves doesn't go (?)

We are big fans of Rick Steve's Europe, haven taken 4 tours and signed up for two more this year. But (unfortunately) Rick doesn't go everywhere. Chatting on RS tours we have heard good things about Overseas Adventure Travel. Have folks on this forum used them, or do you have other recommendations for tour companies that compare favorably with Rick Steves? We are interested nearer term in in Australia/New Zealand, India, or African safaris.

Posted by
598 posts

It's not cheap, but TAUCK is the best tour company we have EVER been with. We can't afford many of their trips, but they are a true experience, the best guides, education, history. I'll be curious to follow this thread.

Posted by
438 posts

We know people who have done OAT tours and really liked them. They have even smaller groups than RS. We went to a presentation event for them because we shared your interest in going to locations RS does not.
For what it's worth here was our impression:
This is corporate business model. The presenters were all "kids" who were clearly in their first post-college job. There was a lot of chatter about special promotions if you sign up "right now".

They do not promise you that the date you sign up will actually go. We sat next to OAT travelers who have done several tours with the company- and about half of the time the dates they picked got changed. OAT paid the airfare difference if you had purchased airfare on your own.

Tips are NOT included in the tour price and only about half of the excursions are included.
I think the hotels they use are probably nicer than RS tour hotels. They handle your luggage and if you book airfare with them someone will meet you at the airport. (This service is an upcharge if you book your own airfare.)
I was disappointed, because in addition to the unique locales, they had a Village Italy and an Adriatic itinerary that I thought was better than RS. However, we left that presentation feeling out of sync. I guess RS has spoiled us with the local leaders/guides he pays well enough that they have been with him for decades and don't expect or accept tips. In retirement we have flexible schedules, but the hassle of changing all those airline flights when the tour company suddenly cancels the week you had scheduled seems awful.
The one thing that OAT does have going for it is that there is no single supplement. Since we always travel as a couple that is moot, but for single travelers it is a MUCH better policy than RS.

Posted by
1323 posts

There is a recent thread on this subject in the Rick Steves Tours forum titled "Tour Companies Outside Europe Similar to Rick Steves" which should provide you the desired information.

Posted by
5479 posts

Check out Vantage Travel out of Boston, we have done three trips with them and like their product at great price.

Posted by
380 posts

My other go-to tour group is Road Scholar. There is no tipping with Road Scholar. I prefer it over OAT. I was not impressed with any of the listings with OAT because there are surcharges for side trips/excursions. The initial price is deceptive in that is appears low until you start adding up the surcharges and tips. My husband hates being nickeled and dimed, so we will never use OAT.
I like Road Scholar because there is a group leader who handles the logistics. Another person, usually a PhD, who is the instructor giving lectures and/or you get local instructors as tour guides.
Perhaps, the only advantage with OAT is the no additional charge for single occupancy, which a couple of my single female friends have done.

Posted by
67 posts

We went to Peru on an OAT tour and really enjoyed it. Local guide, small tour, less expensive tour. I will say that I was disappointed in the group meals that were pretty bland, catering to least objectionable tastes - that said, we did try local dishes like guinea pig and alpaca.

Posted by
1557 posts

I've used OAT several times and had no issue with trip departing as planned. I have friends that had some issues though. I like their smaller groups but on some trips, they have two groups of 16 or so. This happened to us on our Egypt trip. They do nickel and dime you with extra tour options which I don't like. I did enjoy my England, Scotland and Wales tour, Costa Rica, and some other country which escapes me.
I've read some pretty bad reviews about the company though. I don't find their pricing of tours to be all that great. They used to be a little less than other operators a few years ago. Some of the hotels used were a little out of the way of attractions. Most were very nice!
I suggested to my husband that we try another OAT tour and he said no. RS tours are for him if he has tours in the areas we want to see.

Posted by
175 posts

We also like Odyssey trips and have taken 5 so far with 2 more in 2017. Group of 24, no optionals, and you only tip the main guide. Nice hotels, good food etc.

Posted by
1540 posts

I've used several different tour companies and now I travel exclusively with Gate 1 Tours. They are better in price and the accommodations are first class. I've been on 8 different tours with them - all places that RS doesn't go. check them out here is a link:
Gate 1 Travel

Posted by
1056 posts

Just a warning when looking at prices of tours. Some tour companies are not including the cost of airfares for airplane trips made during the tour. I found this to be true when looking at Australia/New Zealand tours. On those tours you can have as many as 7 fights. Most of the tour companies are making you book all of the airfares. If you should have to cancel before your final payment, you are still having to pay for all your flights.
I just book a tour to Australia and New Zealand by Holiday Vacations. All of the airfares were included even getting to and returning from New Zealand. I had to put a $200 deposit which is completely refundable up to 76 days before departure. All sightseeing was included like Rick Steves tours. There were not optional tours.

Posted by
260 posts

My OAT trips to Chile/Argentina, Israel/Jordan and Colombia were excellent, but it is true that you have to trip the main guide. No problem with them cancelling trips, at least not on my trips. I took their airfare for the first two trips but bought my own for colombia and saved quite a lot. But I would recommend them. The Colombia trip was great fun.

Posted by
1742 posts

Ditto for Odysseys. We have done two tours (Peru and Tanzania) with them and will be on a third this summer. They are more pricey than OATS but you get what you pay for. Odysseys gives excellent customer service and a great tour experience. Our last tour in Tanzania was spectacular.

Posted by
2 posts

I just returned from a wonderful trip to Cambodia with Explore! a UK based company. It was my fourth trip with them -- they have a US office: https://www.exploreworldwide.com/destinations. Note that since they are a UK company they do not book air arrangements from US cities. They typically offer several trips to many worldwide destinations. Also Road Scholars has a wide variety of trips: https://www.roadscholar.org. I only traveled with them once but was very happy with all aspects of the trip. Both companies have roommate matching for single travelers. I have also traveled several time with OAT but their prices tend to be higher than these two companies.

Posted by
12 posts

I have used Caravan to travel to Costa Rica and Guatemala. They are very inexpensive and I really enjoyed the trips. The hotels were beautiful. Our tour guide in Guatemala was a former professor who was very interesting and very into giving tours. When someone is passionate about his or her job, it makes all the difference. She was the best tour guide I ever had. I highly recommend the Guatemala tour. All the meals were included on the Costa Rica and Guatemala tours and they give you unlimited bottled water. The tour group is a max of 50 people. There is a single supplement but they are relative inexpensive so it is not a big deal.

As for tipping, it is pretty common to tip your guide and driver. I have never been on a tour with any company where it wasn't expected.

Posted by
2018 posts

You might want to check out this company: http://imprinttours.com Caveat-I haven't traveled with them but do know Reid Cohen has been with Rick Steves for a long time. In her blog, Sarah Murdoch (also an experienced and excellent RS guide for several years) talks about an upcoming association with Imprint Tours beginning next year during her off season. Since both Reid and Sarah have been with the RS organization for so long, I would think their tours will be run much the same as RS. I have looked at the offered itineraries and tours and they appear to me to be very similar to what RS offers in so far as what's included and expectations of tour members. I know they go to Africa, Thailand and some other (to me!) exotic destinations but not sure if this is what you might be looking for.

Posted by
31471 posts

James,

There are dozens of tour companies and you shouldn't have any trouble finding one that travels to places that ETBD doesn't. A few that you could look at.....

  • Trafalgar Tours (one of biggest operators world wide, but some of their groups are ~52 people which would be a problem for me)
  • Globus Tours
  • Insight Tours (smaller group sizes than the first two, but slightly more expensive).
  • G Adventures (also smaller groups I believe and they cover a lot of destinations)
  • Tauck Tours (as mentioned previously - very high end and nice if you can afford them)
  • Collette Tours
Posted by
41 posts

Hey James
how are you man??
For India you can try www.indiasomeday.com
its a bunch of young guyz n galz n caters to your need as per your requirements.
they r specialists in customised travels.
hope this helps
Vikas.
P.S How's your love with Budapest???

Posted by
3551 posts

I have been successful with Smartours out of NY. Great price , guides and lodging, taken 4 tours so far. I have been disappointed with RS tours lodging selections in general for the 2 tours I took. However I do enjoy RS guidebooks and find them very accurate and well done. His tours are Way overpriced imo. Smartours is spot on for price, free time, guides etc. I am a decerning traveler who has traveled all my life independently and now want someone else to do the planning, driving etc.

Posted by
13082 posts

You might consider Earthbound Expeditions, based in the Seattle area. They offer guided trips to Australia and New Zealand, Africa, ans South America, in addition to Europe.

http://earthboundexpeditions.com/

The owner is on our local PBS stations on Thursdays.

Posted by
35 posts

We used Globus when we went to Europe a few years back. They were awesome. As it was our first time overseas we wanted to do a one week bus tour before we went out on our own for the rest of our 13week holiday. Our Globus tour took us England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and back to London. Host and driver were awesome and knew their stuff perfectly.
In my planning it became clear that they do more than other bus companies. For instance, in Venice they stay on one of the islands whereas most others stay on the mainland.
So I'm sure the Globus travels in other countries would be just as good...

Posted by
362 posts

We recently took a tour with G Adventures to Costa Rica. It was fabulous tour, but it is not the exact same model as the RS tours. They have a lot of optional activities that you can do, and you have to pay for those activities after you reach the destination.

They also don't include nearly as much food as the RS tours. Tipping is not included in the cost.

Having said all of that, it was the trip of a lifetime. Our guide was amazing. I fell in love with Costa Rica.

Now I haven't been on a RS tour yet (first one is later this year!), but those are the most obvious differences that I see from what we did there and what I have read on the website here.

Posted by
977 posts

James, I can highly recommend Back-Road Tours based out of the UK. We recently did one of their 10 day Highlights of Britain tours. It is was as the name implied absolutely 'backroads'. They are small group tours. We had 16 people. Max is 18, I think. Travelled in a late model well equipped Mercedes Benz coach. Out Hotel accommodation and meals included (for 6 nights) were all first class. Check out their web page.

Posted by
714 posts

Andante travels in the U.K. (And they have an office in NYC) arrange tours for those interested in archaeology to countries all over the World. They are accompanied by both a tour manager and an expert, usually an archaeologist with special expertise in the area. All meals, with wine were provided!

Adventures Abroad in Vancouver are also recommended. A friend of mine has been in at least six of theirs and swears by them. I have used them once on a trip to Libya (!) when that country appeared to be opening up for tourism. After months of waiting for a visa only two visas were issued from the group of 11 but Abventures Abroad went ahead with the two of us. An amazing trip and one that will not be repeated any time soon.

Both companies include Africa and Australia and New Zealand.