I initially titled this post as "How Cruising Helped us be Better Travelers", but along with the word cruising it’s another term that creates dissension on this forum.
Our first European adventure was a cruise from Rome and back followed by a week in Rome. We were young-early 50’s, we were fit, and wanted to be adventurous, in the past with kids in tow, and budgets, and time commitments we’d always stuck to North America plus Hawaii. But with the kids grown and our 25th anniversary coming up we decided on Europe and started the planning.
It’s one thing to be brave while driving in North America with a language, signs and habits that you’re used to such as a North American tipping culture, and having an expectation of a hotel with big rooms and roomy showers, as well as everything else you’re comfortable with, but that all changes when you cross the Atlantic; it’s different, and while some think they are ready to dive right in, others need to dip their toe first. We needed to dip our toes. The cruise allowed us to experience and learn at our own pace while being able to retreat to the creature comforts that we were more used to. The one thing we did not have prior to this trip was enough travel confidence; we gained that on the cruise, everyday we were immersed in a new place, needing to learn the lay of the land on the fly. Sometimes a new day meant a new country with a new language and new customs. That’s no different than doing it ourselves, except at the end of the day we could recharge, learn from mistakes and be ready to tackle the next Port.
The only time we took a ship excursion was for a bus from Livorno to Florence, other than that we figured things out ourselves. We have always been planners and so the notion by some that cruisers are not planners is mystifying. Just like any form of travel there is going to be sheep that follow along, but we had read about the crowds and prepared accordingly. Honestly, we experienced larger crowds during our week in Rome than in any Port while on the cruise. In any event, one of they key things that we took away from our cruise is the value of planning ahead. I suspect if we would have jumped off a plane and rented a car, or hopped on a train and tried to tour the Mediterranean ourselves, it would have been a disaster because we didn’t have enough of the travel skills that you only get through experience. The cruise helped us by allowing us to take baby steps.
We’ve now been to Europe 4 times in the past 5 years with a trip to Scotland coming up in June (on our own). We’ve cruised, we’ve done an RS tour and we been on our own via train and rental cars. Each trip we’ve learned a little bit more about traveling. No method is off the table for future trips, it comes down to what suits us at the time, and that’s something we learned by trying all methods.