Solo vs Tour Group 1st time traveler

I'm a female over age 55 and want to start enjoying my summers off as a teacher. Since watching Rick's travel shows I'm really inspired to travel to the UK and would have at least a month in June/July 2014. Being in the planning stage right now I'm debating on Tour Group (small) or solo travel..Sounds extreme but I want to have flexibility when sightseeing..(indoor/outdoor tours) Train travel looks interesting/ as does bus touring. I definitely want to tour HighClere Castle in Newbury..any suggestions???

Posted by gone
2081 posts

hi, ive never used a "tour group" to travel. So far ive been doing it solo. I guess there are pros and cons (+/-) for both, but for now im choosing to do it solo. since you have time to do some planning, i would start there and the list what you want to see and then look for any groups that will do the same. at least thats what i would do. as far as (afa) train travel goes, the train system puts ours to shame. I just love using the trains over there since i hate driving. what ive been doing is to google "whats there do do and see in X". I also pick up (p/u) Rick Steves (RS) books and some others to supplement each other. then i start making a list in whats to do in each city or place. you may want to get a copy of "RS Eruope through the back door". It has alot of good ideas in it and takes some of the mystery out of travels. in my opinion/experience (imo/ime) i think that going solo give you the most flexibility in your plans. I did however, notice that my meals were sometimes lonely. happy trails.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
5190 posts

I second the recommendation to start with Europe Through The Back Door (which will give you how-to information for the "nuts and bolts" of travel). And, if the UK is your primary interest, start looking at travel books and websites (not just Rick's - get multiple opinions). Finally, look at websites for escorted tours, such as Globus, Trafalgar, and Gate 1. Even if you don't go on a tour, these will give you ideas. As for taking a tour vs. going solo, you can do both, particularly if you have a month. For instance, you can start with a 10 day escorted tour, then go on your own to places the tour misses. You can also join a day tour (for instance, from London to Stratford and Stonehenge) or a guided walk, or sign up for a class (cooking, for example) if you want to meet others but have flexibility.

Posted by Arn
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
215 posts

My wife and I were about your age when we first visited the UK several years ago. We did everything on our own for 3 weeks and had a marvelous time. We have been back to the UK since and always go on our own for the flexibility. I believe because there is no language barrier and both London and the UK are so easy to get around by the tube or rail, it is the perfect place for
independent travel.

Posted by Lee
1017 posts

If Highclere is a must, be aware that it is open to the public only at certain times. I suspect, but don't know, that tours may have days when only they get in. Check the calendar on the website to see if you can book a reservation in your time frame. I've never taken a tour, however I've known people who did so and enjoyed it. London and England as a whole are easy to get around using public transport.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
4471 posts

You can do both. Think about doing a city tour such as the Rick Steve's city tour and then going off on your own afterwards for week. I was lucky I had traveled in Europe as a student and felt really comfortable traveling on my own. When I was 19 I was supposed to meet up with friends in Greece for a three week tour. Hey we were 19 and we messed up. So, I learned early that you can do it on your own. But, one of the techniques I used that first trip was to take day tours. So as others have said you can likely do either, but tours definitely can serve you well. When I went to France a few years I was really disappointed in the way that I was able to meet people as I had in the UK. So my next trip was a Rick Steves Tour bookended with trips to Potsdam and Salzburg on my own. So think about where you want to go. Then look at the tours and see if there is a blend of solo travel and tour travel that will meet your needs. Pam

Posted by Dick
Olympia, WA, USA
1432 posts

I agree with Harold and Pamela. You can have the best of both in a month, and Britain is the easiest place to get your feet wet. Literally, if you've heard about their weather. I've never taken a Rick Steves tour but I've heard great things about them, and for a solo traveler they'd provide instant company and a good value. You could sign up for one that interests you, then get to the starting point (London?) early so you can see all you want at your own pace, or maybe just a day early to overcome jet lag if you don't want to cope on your own right away. Then stay awhile after the tour ends and visit places not on the tour, or spend more time at the end point. I'm sure there are other excellent tour companies too, I think you're right to look for a smaller group. Although it sometimes seems like the Brits speak a different language, really we can communicate very well with them, and it's easier to have real conversations with locals in our different versions of the native tongue (in fact vocabulary can be an endless conversation topic). Also, we've found more friendly, kind, thoughtful, helpful people in Britain than anywhere else, including the US. If you stand on any corner looking at a map, within about 10 seconds a nice person will ask if they can help you find something. Have no misgivings, you can do it solo, you might have more fun with a group part of the time. I can't help you with Highclere, but there must be a website!

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
968 posts

" we can communicate very well with them" Try visiting Newcastle - utterly incomprehensible. I just wanted to stress the point about booking early if Highclere is a definite must. It has only limited tickets for going into the house (more for the gardens only), and is very popular (and with another series of Downton Abbey planned, will still be in 2014, I am sure). The website is You will see 2013 is almost sold out (you will also get an idea of which days it opens this year - might be the same next year?). I don't know when tickets for 2014 opening will go on sale, but you might want to start checking after this season closes. Alterntively, if you don't want to make your own way there (fairly easy by car or train/bus to Newbury plus taxi), there are companies that will do Highclere as a day tour out of London and possibly other towns.

Posted by Dick
Olympia, WA, USA
1432 posts

Well yes, Keith, Northumbria and Cumbria talk can be a challenge!

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
4471 posts

No kidding about those northern England accents which go way beyond accents. I was visiting my grandmother's home town in Cumbria and I was introduced to a man whose brother had been a student under my great grandfather. I could not understand what he said. It was so sad. I tried to get his daughter in law to translate, but she really didn't understand the problem. ; ( Pam

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
22545 posts

Laura, I've travelled both solo and with tours, and as the others have mentioned there are pros & cons with each method. For the last few years I've been combining both types of travel in the same trip. I typically travel solo both before and after the tours. For your first trip abroad, I agree with other suggestions that you might consider a short tour (such as the RS London 7-day tour) along with some self-guided travel. That would allow you to "get your feet wet" and gather some travel skills. One point to note is that the walking regimen on many of the city tours is slightly more "strenuous" than on the longer tours, as there's no Bus involved. Hopefully this will be the first of many trips for you. While you could easily spend a month in the U.K., you could also venture a bit further afield and end your trip with a week or so in Paris (or even Rome). If you decide on that, it would be a good idea to book open-jaw flights. Happy travels!

Posted by Barb
Central Florida
484 posts

You are getting a lot of good info. from the posts here. One last tidbit that may help you as it helped my family. Go Online and check-out Rabbie's Tours. You might want to throw one of these into your trip. Some are day-trips, some are multi-day trips. Very small and personal group. Not a herd by any means.