Newbie traveller needing LOTS of help & info!!

OK here goes... My husband & I want to go to Germany in the fall of 2014. We do NOT want to have to rent a car and drive ourselves all over. I am really not interested in the logistics of all that, finding gas stations, spending a fortune on each fill up, reading maps, getting lost, don't speak the language, etc. At this stage in our lives, (early 50s) I would like it 'done' for me. I looked into a Tauck tour and I am very interested in a specific itinerary and the hotels. But it is so costly. Cheaper tour companies do not include as much. I am finding a lot of a la carte options with them. I realize that I have plenty of time, but I want this nailed down rather soon if possible. So: What to do... I am open to any suggestions and tips however small they may be. Even if you may know of a discounter who works with Tauck. Or maybe you know of a 'must-see' off the beaten path. I am very interested in hearing from all the experienced travellers here.... I hate to think of blowing my money or wasting it on something when I could have done so much better if only I had some good tips or hints. I am really trying to do my homework before I commit to anything!! Thanks so much.... Jude :)

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2821 posts

With tours, as you are learning, you get what you pay for. Maupintours is another high-end one, where you pay more up front, but get more included. Of course, you could take a less expensive tour and simply budget more for the "extras" you want. Most people on travel websites (not just this one, but Fodors, TripAdvisor, etc) are do-it-yourselfers, so you will have lots of people telling you that you don't need a tour and that with the help of guidebooks and the Internet, you can plan and take your own trip. So, hereby let me be the first <g>. And it's true. But you may still not want that. In that case, you will have to be firm, and try to get information about "escorted tours" (that's the name for the kind of trip where you have a tour bus and a guide taking you around each day). As I said, it seems to be hard to find this information on-line, but it is there if you hunt. As for transportation, there is no need to use a car in Germany if you don't want to. Trains work great for most places, and there are buses and flights and boats to cover other journeys. Certainly to get to places that most escorted tours see, you don't have to have a car. So if self-driving is your main concern, you could avoid this easily, and still not take a tour. If you want to learn about what's involved in traveling on your own, get a copy of Rick Steves Through The Back Door, pronto. It has lots of info about the "nuts and bolts" of independent travel in Europe (booking hotels, finding restaurants, how to take trains, etc).

Posted by Jerry&Stelly
Dallas, TX, usa
163 posts

We realize it takes a lot of time to plan a trip by yourself, but we highly recommend it. Our first trip was in 2007 to Italy. We had never been to Europe. We were 69 and 64 year old people. We got all of the Rick Steve's books we could and planned it all (one month). We made some mistakes but we loved it and have been back to Italy twice since. Going to Portugal and Spain in May. The best advice is to just read the books and decide for yourself what interests you and do what you like. If you don't do everything right remember what Rick says "never assume you won't be back". We said that in 2007 and to our surprise we were planning a trip to Italy in 2010, and again in 2011.
We admit we don't like tours so maybe we shouldn't have even responded. If anyone had told us in 2005 that we we be planning a 4th trip to Europe on our own we would have told them they were nuts.

Posted by CL
Salem, Oregon, USA
914 posts

I'd suggest checking out Rick's "Europe Through the Back Door" book - it has all kinds of suggestions about travel skills to help you think through the logistics of taking a trip overseas, whether planning your own trip or booking a tour. When you're considering a tour company, be sure to look in detail at what they provide: itinerary, hotels (including consideration of location), entrances to museums, meals, cost for side trips, transportation, extra fees to get from airport to hotel, etc. Price out the options (do a spreadsheet) and break out each element to see if a particular company offers more or less of what you want. If it is quite important to you to have everything "done" for you, then it's going to be "expensive" compared to planning it yourself (though I would argue that the time spent planning/arranging your own trip is "expensive" by virtue of using your valuable time to do so). Side note: You may have a challenge finding a tour company that has a fall 2014 schedule set already. You'll have to go with best guesses from the 2013 information, but I suspect you will not be able to nail things down right now.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1583 posts

If you really like a specific Tauck tour and the hotels, you can just copy it and do the same thing as an independent traveller. They have done most of the plaaning for you already. What you would need to learn on your own is using the train system, which is supposed to be really easy in Germany. If you want to invest a bit more time, and possibly save some money, you could research hotels in each place in the itinerary and maybe find some you like better for price, location, etc. People on this website can help with that if you say what places you will visit. And you can look at reviews on Tripadvisor. Often there are smaller, more personal hotels than thrones patronized by tour groups. Or maybe they pick 4 star hotels and that is what you want, that is fine too.

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

wow so helpful already. I am just thinking of the schlepping of the suitcases everywhere, and the perceived (to me, anyway) nightmare of train travel. The brochure price is steep and I could see us mimicking the itinerary on our own. Also, I am NOT a fan of dressing up.... So that would be a plus... I could maybe even stay at the same places, as they looked so beautiful. I know... professional photographers, et all, but I really did like the hotels. So, before I even waste everyone's time any more, how much could I reasonably expect to spend on a 2-week trip? Excluding airfare. Car rental, hotels, food, entrance fees and admissions, gas, and all the extras? Say, under or over $5,000.00 for the two of us?

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1583 posts

Where does this itinerary go? If to cities, you do not want to rent a car and deal with parking, route-finding, etc. within the downtown area. The trains in Europe at every nice, not at all like Amtrak if that is what you are thinking. You can take a taxi from hotel to train station, board the train, put your luggage on the rack. It is not difficult. How much is the Tauck tour?

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7820 posts

Ah Judy,,, no, train travel is normal and easy in Europe, many many people do not even bother to own a car, especially if they live in large cities.. you have to change the "car " mindset that we North Americans have. First , I have been to Europe many many times over the last 40 years or so , and other then when with family as a child, i have only once travelled in a car , a rental car I mean. Renting a car and driving around can be nice for some, but many of us don't bother, its easy , cheap and fast to either take the train or a cheap flight between cities.. and no worries about gas, parking etc.. If I was you I would sit down, and for 2 weeks figure out the main 3 or 4 places you want to visit , then just start connecting the dots by train. Travel lightly, no one is going to haul your suitcases around for you , and there are always stairs to carry them up and ledges to lift them over etc ( like when boarding the trains). . Many of us are fine with one small to medium suitcase. I use a 22 inch one and can live with it for a month( one does do laundry and buys new stuff) I would not plan a trip based exactly on any organized tours route and timing, remember, they know where there are going, the bus picks them off and drops them off at hotels etc, so they can fit more in then most independent travellers can comfortably.. especially since you are not experienced, do yourself a favour and only pick a few places to see.. moving around too much can be stressful. Enjoy what you do visit before you run off to another place.

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

Judy, I would suggest looking at Lady Light Travel to get some ideas about luggage and clothing.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I find train travel to be a pleasure in Europe, not a hassle. It's far preferrable to driving my own car or taking a bus! The key with the luggage is to pack light. But you're in your early 50s - I've taken my parents and my inlaws all over Europe by train and they're older than you. (Admittedly, I end up "helping" with the luggage a little...) I'm not sure what this trip's itinerary is, but in Germany there is a German Rail Pass that gives you x number of days on ANY train for that day. No need for buying multiple tickets, or even making reservations (although it's very easy to make reservations online if you want to...) It's a really stress-free and flexible way to see the country, and you save if you are traveling with someone.

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

OK then Jerry and Stelly, what were some of the mistakes that you made?

Posted by donna
roswell, ga, usa
996 posts

WOW! I think you're thinking of doing this on your own! Regarding the price of the trip, that's pretty much up to you, and what kind of lodgings you feel comfortable with. I usually try to spend an average of @$200 a night on lodging. I go to Europe every year, and while I'm not a real tight budget traveler, I also don't stay at the Ritz! I'm fine with a Centrally Located (this is important) hotel in a city so I can save $$ on taxis! In a smaller town, you can spend less, and in a big city, maybe more. I've been taking people to Italy and Spain for years, and so far no one's been disappointed! DON'T stay in the hotels the tours take their customers to! These hotels specialize in tour groups for a reason. Many times they're not centrally located, and all the time the breakfast buffet will be crowded with that day's tour group. These people have a tour bus to pick them up and take them to sites, and you're going to have to get on the metro or taxi to your sites. Once a friend insisted on this great priced hotel, and I relented, and it cost each of us $50+ a day in taxis to get to the sites we wanted to see! So, it wasn't a bargain. And there were no close restaurants to walk to. DO: look at Trip Advisor for every city you want to visit. Choose centrally located 3star (or 4star) hotels that are close to the sites. Check out the "reviews" especially cleanliness, location...and choose one!
Remember that every hotel will have one whiner.......if most of them liked it, stay there! DO: Get the RS Germany guide! He chooses centrally located hotels for the exact reasons I previously stated! I tend to choose his more medium to upper priced hotels.

Posted by Dawn
Denver, CO
257 posts

I agree with you - the idea of renting a car doesn't sound too relaxing. Trains are definitely the way to go. I don't think I've seen this mentioned yet - but check out the German rail website - www.bahn.de. Once here Engligh from the upper right hand corner and then start entering your To and From destinations. This is a great resource that will show you how far your various destinations are. Also, if you're going to be in southern Germany (Bavaria) check out the bayern ticket - it's a great deal that allows for unlimited rides on local trains all day for a very reasonable price. I agree with a previuos poster too about buying the Rick Steves Germany guidebook (or just getting it from your local library). It will give you a good idea of where to start. Good luck!

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

Oh Donna... I just don't know. Ugh... I always tend to go with, and agree with, the last person I talked to. Now tomorrow, I will talk to someone who took a tour and I will be all gung ho for a tour again. I just don't want to overspend, and I know I would be doing that with the aforementioned Tauck tour. Someone previously asked me how much it cost, and the brochure price was around $5200.00 per person. Craziness. I'd feel like such a chump. But I am just not confident in our ability to navigate on our own, nor am I willing to do so much for myself. It's a vacation for me.... (Actually us, LOL) And for me, a vacation means a departure from every day life. I do enough crap at home. It would be so nice to just glide through, and have every little trivial matter handled for me. But maybe, just maybe, if the price was right, I would actually consider this. My husband doesn't have too many opinions, other than the fact that he doesn't want to grossly overspend. Blah.... I am overwhelmed. :)

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1555 posts

I have never taken a tour as I prefer to do my own planning and my first trip to Europe was when I about forty five. My biggest mistake ever, and have made some, is over packing. WHAT A HUGE MISTAKE!!! Now I can travel for two weeks at a time with a weekend bag and a small back pack where I store camera, purse, etc. As others suggest, get Europe Through Back Door and then Germany specific book. Then get a map of Germany, plot out where you want to go and fly open jaw. Transportation is easy there even when you don't speak English.

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

Oh man you guys do not know me! I am a serious over packer.... I would need to really edit and pare down. That is another plus of independent travel versus a tour. I read that there would be evenings where a jacket for men and a nicer outfit for women would be expected on that tour and that turned me off. We went on a cruise about 15 yrs ago and I hated the dress up part. I am much more of a 'fly by the seat of your pants' girl... but I did like the security of a tour. Torn...

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

got a private msg from someone on here.. now how do I pick it up?

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
468 posts

Look up at the top on the right, log in and then click on my profile. Meanwhile, have you taken a look at the Rick Steves My Way tours? They are escorted, not guided. Basically they provide transportation from place to place plus hotels and someone to give you suggestions, but you are on your own for sightseeing. The hotels would not be as upscale as Tauck or Maupintour.

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1555 posts

It will be a vacation for you, someone will make your bed, clean bathroom, you will be eating out all your meals, wow. As far as packing light, look at graffiti section of this site for ideas. When ready to go, take at the most half of what you plan. The price you quoted for tour is more than I would ever spend but to others it is worth it. To each his own.

Posted by Kathleen
Reston, VA, USA
305 posts

You can get to a private message by signing in; once you do that there will be a little box in the upper right of your screen that says somthing like Private Message or One New Message... sorry I can't remember exactly. I know what you mean about not wanting to spend too much but also being somewhat overwhelmed by the planning and all the choices, and not wanting to make mistakes. But we've all made mistakes. On our trip to France in 2003 we mostly did trains but rented a car in Strasbourg and in Amboise, and my two big mistakes were car related. I forgot that I had paid for a car voucher as part of our railpass and just paid another $100 or so for the day rental. Boy did I feel stupid once I realized that, but as a fraction of our total trip cost it was trivial. And later that same trip we showed up to pick up the car and it turned out I had booked it for the previous day, and they didn't have any cars left. So we went to another rental place and found one there. In other words - you will make mistakes, but they won't matter. You will still have a great time. However, if you want to consider a tour, I've heard good things about ElderHostel, and I personally have really enjoyed the river cruises I have taken with Grand Circle Travel. They are not dressy; my 85-yr-old mom and I did one this fall and there were no ties to be seen; one man even wore shorts to dinner. I also REALLY enjoyed the one Rick Steves tour I did back in 2006, to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland; one of these days I will retire and start doing more! Send me a private message if you have questions about the river cruise. And enjoy this planning phase!

Posted by Jerry&Stelly
Dallas, TX, usa
163 posts

You asked what were our mistakes. The biggest was packing way to much stuff. But to tell the truth the trips we have made and the joy it was to plan them far outweigh any mistakes we made. It did take us a while to figure out the train schedules in Italy, but once we got that down it was easy. We never missed a train but often missed a connection to a bus once we got to a station. No big deal, but often a long wait. Traveling is a learning experience, it's good to be out of your comfort zone once in a while. I'll admit it was scarey sometimes but it keeps you on your toes and the mind working to figure out things.
As far as the cost of a trip. We were in Italy for two months and traveled all around on trains and buses and it cost us around 200 dollars a day. We stayed at places recommended by Rick and paid attention to his directions (which are great) and we found everything pretty easy to navigate. So the whole trip cost us 13,000 including air fare. Of course it was cheaper to fly in 2010 and we went to Italy, Germany, I believe, is more expensive.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2821 posts

You really do sound like you would be happier with a tour, at least for your first European trip. But (understandably), you're turned off by the high price tag for Tauck. So, look at mid-range tours, like Trafalgar, Globus, Insight, and possibly Gate 1. Not everyone is a do-it-yourself traveler. Last year, I helped a coworker, who always takes escorted tours or cruises, plan a trip on her own. She didn't like the experience, and has vowed "never again." She particularly didn't like having to decide what to do each day (and she had Rick Steves's books, laying out a daily itinerary; this wasn't sufficient for her, as she really likes being taken around). Since she doesn't like the pace of bus tours, she's looking at river cruises. Continued..

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2821 posts

Continued.. When looking at tours, some things to consider: If they say you "see" a sight, this can mean speeding by in a bus. Unless you "visit" a sight, don't count on getting out of the bus. Check where the hotels are located. The better tours will use more centrally located ones. But "Munich area" can be an hour outside the city, and this means you are totally dependent on the tour company to take you everywhere. If you're tired and want to go back to your room in the middle of the day, or want to go out at night on your own, you'll need a pricey taxi or long bus ride. Don't expect wonderful local food. Feeding a large group on a tight schedule, it's hard to provide this. For some, having lots of included meals is a plus, but you should try to have some meals on your own. Try to find a tour with at least some free time. Some of the intense ones are like the famous movie If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. But others do build in free days. Don't discount the possibility of adding some days on your own at the beginning or end of the tour, particularly if there's somewhere you want to see that your tour doesn't go. And do realize that Tauck isn't a "rip off." They have many satisfied customers who take many repeat trips with them. Compared with, say, Globus, a high end tour company will use fancier and more central hotels, have smaller groups, have better (certainly fancier) food, include more admissions, won't have as many "optionals" (much more is included), probably include tips, and sometimes even include booze. If you're going to partake of any of these on a less expensive tour, don't forget to add this cost (compare apples to apples).

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17728 posts

Judy, It would help to have some idea on which places in Germany you're interested in seeing? You might find it helpful to check your local Library to see if you can find a copy of the Germany Guidebook. You could certainly arrange your own trip using information from the Guidebooks. However, you indicated that you're "newbie travellers" so you may be more comfortable with an inexpensive guided tour. You might have a look at the My Way 12 Day Germany/Austria/Switzerland tour. It's considerably less expensive than the fully guided tours, so is good value. The tour covers transportation and hotels, and an experienced Tour Escort is provided to provide help along the way. You could of course also take the fully guided tour if your budget will allow. Click the "Tours" tab at the top of this page for more details. Taking the tour would provide skills on how to travel in Europe, and you could always do some self-guided travel after the tour ends, to visit places not covered on the tour. As this is your first trip to Europe, it would also be a good idea to read Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip. That provides a lot of good information on "how" to travel well in Europe. If your budget will allow, I'd highly recommend the RS tours. I encountered several My Way tours when I was in Europe in the fall, and the groups all seemed to be having a great time. It's great that you're getting an early start on planning! Happy travels!

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3578 posts

Haaay, Jude (OK - go ahead and hit me!), I've never seen someone more perfect for a Rick Steves tour in my life! (no, I don't work for the company, own stock in it, etc.) Please click on the "Tours" tab at the top of this page and spend some time looking around, especially at the Tours Reviews and each tour's itinerary. Then, watch the (45 minute?) video (new for 2012) of The Tour Experience http://www.youtube.com/course?list=EC505CBF464260BE01 (actually, YouTube has them split into several little videos) (you can also get your own copy of this DVD For Free by asking for it!) You could take a Best of Europe/My Way two-week tour for $6000, plus airfare. Just an option to consider...and some time to save up some more money!

Posted by Will
Columbia, SC
315 posts

It auto-filled you across an international border? Huh.

Posted by Dina
Fontainebleau, France
893 posts

IMO, it comes down to whether you want to pay yourself or someone else to do all the work for you. Yes, planning your own trip can save you a considerable amount of money. But paying for a fully guided tour can save you a considerable amount of time (and stress). Maybe what could work for you would be a combination of DIY + guided day tours. I've successfully used this combination on many trips. You focus your time and energy on the itinerary - transportation and lodging. Then you book tour guides and/or group tours for the destinations you've chosen. If you do have the money, and do chose to go with the guided tour, don't feel bad about the money spent. We did our first (and only so far) fully guided tour when we went to Egypt this summer. Now, there was no way we would have even considered DIY in Egypt. But having had the experience of being handed an itinerary and not having to think and make decisions, definitely made it feel a little more vacation-y. So much so that we would definitely consider a tour again if the timing and pricing were right for us.

Posted by Anita
Philadelphia, PA, USA
331 posts

Judy, You're getting lots of good advice. My only comment is in response to the person who advised only 3 or 4 star hotels. The "star" ranking of European hotels basically recognizes what amenities the facility provides, such as room service, a gym, full service restaurant, etc. It doesn't tell you anything about the size or quality of your room, hotel location, etc. It is not necessarily true that more stars means better. Reading descriptions of hotels and reviews are more helpful and reliable. Decide what hotel amenities are important to you. I also agree with the people who advised avoiding the hotels used by tour groups. They have buses to move their groups and don't necessarily use hotels that are conveniently located for individual travelers. TripAdvisor is a reasonable resource for reviews of hotels and b&bs.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
708 posts

My husband and I (I'm pushing 40, he's pushing 48...lol)have been lucky to have 3 trips to Europe since 2008. (We're addicted!) Let me start off by saying that our 1st and 3rd trip, one ticket was paid for with airmiles, and the 2nd trip both tix were - (our tickets for last years trip was about $1900 for the 2 of us). Now, I'm pretty sure that we didn't spend any more then $6000 on any of the trips, we kept fairly good track - this included the airfare, and our trips were 21-23 days. How? I think accom is a big chunk. Most places we stayed were under $100 - even in Venice we stayed at a place that was about $90 - totally happy and have stayed there 3 times. Now, last trip (2012) I used airbnb a lot(5 of our stays - cheapest was $45 a night in Florence in an amazing hundreds yr old villa, most expensive was about $90 in Paris)- but it's not for everyone...but I enjoy meeting people (I also do couchsurfing, again, not for most people, and we had 4 wonderful stays with hosts...). I don't see any reason why you couldn't keep your budget in the 5-6000 range. We also used a lot of trains (we travelled around a lot, most places 2 night stays - not highly recommended, blaming husband). Other then airfare, I think trains was our biggest expense. We aren't big eaters - we'd fill up on breakfast and ate lots of baguettes and pasta! It depends on what you want your experience to be...if you want 4 star hotels and $60 meals, budget 8-9000, but if you are willing to (some would say) lower your expectations, there is no reason you can't do this for 5-6000.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
708 posts

...and regarding travelling light - it can (and should) be done. We take a carry on each, plus a 'personal' size - like a comp bag or overnighter. You really have to edit what you take - 1st trip hubby took a pair of khakis (he is a denim wearer) and didn't wear them once - if you don't wear it at home, prob won't on vaca. Now I make sure to stay at places around 6 days and 14 days that have laundry facilities. And if you are carrying these bags on and off trains/subways/stairs to your room, you will CURSE anything bigger then a carry on (and sometimes I curse that!). People I work with thought we were loony - 'How can you spend 3 weeks with only a carry on?!?' Well, it is totally possible. (Plus, it keeps your souvenir buying to a minimum :) )

Posted by Robert
Liberty, Missouri
96 posts

You might want to get a FREE copy of the "Rick Steves Tour Experience" DVD to see if one of Rick's tours might be the type of travel you are looking for in a tour. Go to the Tour Tab on this web site and order one. They ran that video during the live webcast of yesterday's "Test a Tour Guide" event at Rick's headquarters in Edmonds Washington. It ran in between the tour presentations.
It would give you a true picture of how his tours operate. I have been on 4 Rick Steves Tours and this DVD tells it like is on his tours.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2600 posts

Also look at GoAhead tours... fairly reasonable and you can add on things you want, or if you want to be on your own you can opt out. I am not a 'tour person' but plan on using them for a photography group that we want logistics handled. (I live in Ann Arbor, so maybe at some point we can get a Michigan group going and I would be glad to help you) I am in and out of town alot so dates for me can be tricky. I also only ever take one bag as well as my personal bag with cameras/computer. I have it worked out so I always have a great outfit to wear (and I do car what I look like so I want fashionable and cute outfits to wear) If I were you, given your hesitation, I would take one of the more inexpensive tours that leave you freedom on some days, and then maybe add on a few days for yourselves on the end. Once you have learned a bit about the transportation, etc. you might be more comfortable on your own. Also... don't get so overwhelmed that you give up on it. Traveling to Europe can be a life-changing experience, and lots of people do it every day...and make tons of mistakes and look foolish and live to tell about it!

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

Wow thanks to all who took the time to answer me, I appreciate every reply. You have all been very helpful. I'm sure I will be asking a LOT more questions.... Actually I have been to Europe, on a cruise in 1997. But there was such limited time in each city, I don't feel like I got to see much of anything. This time I am determined to make it a much better experience, hence the title of this thread. I DO feel sort of like a newbie, or novice traveller. I don't want to mess up or make mistakes, as it's a lot for me to do this. So I appreciate each and every tip and/or hint given. This 'open jaw' plane ticket... never heard of it. Is that a different way of saying, or buying. two one-way tickets? Thanks again for any and all replies... I sincerely appreciate them!

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2600 posts

Judy... Open-Jaws means flying into one city and out of another and is definitely much cheaper than two separate one way tickets. Assume you fly out of DTW, so when you go to book with Delta, you go to Multi-city...not one way and not round trip, then put in the cities you want to go in and out of. I have flown to Germany a few times and typically fly in and out of Frankfurt (its a pretty good non-stop route) and since Frankfurt is kind of central to where I want to travel it works for me. I have also flown non-stop to Paris and out of Frankfurt. Just depends on where you want to go. Frankfurt is also a nice airport that is fairly well marked (compared to Paris) plus you could take one of Jo's walking tours and learn about her beloved Frankfurt!

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

Thanks Terry... Actually I live in Windsor Ontario but it auto-filled in my city as Westland. Close enough.... So I could be open to flying out of Toronto as well. I am just loving all these tips!

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

All right Eileen... so what (in your eyes) makes me so perfect for the RS tour???? I have been researching Germany, (OK, I have been Google mapping interesting areas, and zooming down to street view LOL) and have found a few places that I really want to see. I love Love LOVE interesting and old architecture such as the old walled villages, and the very pretty and picturesque towns in the south. I will look at the videos that you suggested, thanks!!!

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

Yes Will I live in Ontario but my mom is in Westland MI. Most of my mail is directed there, and somewhere along the line I must have filled out a form with her address instead of mine. I guess it remembered my email, and just filled in her city instead.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1583 posts

How about Untours? Not an escorted place to place bus tour, but a carefully chosen apartment for a week, together with a car. In Germany, they offer a Castle "tour" with a one or two week stay in a real 14th century castle turned into vacation apartments in Bavaria, and a Rhine tour with an apartment in St. Goar, Bacharach or Oberwiesel. These run $850 to $950 per person per week. You could do one week in each place for $1800 each, so $3600 for both for two weeks. Of course meals are not e=included but you could choose where you want to eat, maybe make breakfast in and save your $$ for dining out. This is a nice intermediate between completely independent travel planning and a fully-escorted tour. If the castle is well located you could drive to all the cute villages you want. They mention some on the website: Bamberg, Dinkelsbuhl, Garmish, Heidelberg, and some castles. And then have another week on the Rhine to visit those towns.

Posted by Jon
Cincinnati, OH, USA
241 posts

Judy:
Jerry&Stelly and others have given you excellent information. At this stage in your lives you're a perfect fit for a visit that is about just the two of you. Try to not look at the pre-departure planning as a chore, but rather as a part of the visit. By investing time in watching Rick Steves on PBS, reading Rick's Books, Eyewitness Travel Top 10, Rough Guides, etc. and looking at maps, you will be to certain areas almost automatically. If you've traveled in Germany previously don't read this paragraph. If you haven't, get a Germany map (AAA or bookstore), a map of the Great Lakes region of the US or Michigan). Take the Great Lakes or Michigan map to FedEx/Kinkos and have it copied to the same scale as the Germany Map. With this you'll have an excellent tool for understanding distances and just how much intra Germany travel you want to do. My wife and I have learned the biggest hassle when traveling is moving from one lodging place to another. I'd suggest you two major cities in Germany, stay in one hotel in each city, and take day-trips from those two cities. I'd suggest Munich be one; the second might be Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, or other. You'll experience a lot of varying places and sleep in the same bed every night. Also suggested by others: pack lite. My wife and I will be visiting Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary over a 25 day period and we are each taking one carry-on bag. By the way we're quite a bit older than you, so don't think you're old. Finally a huge advantage of planning your own visitis staying in small hotels/B&Bs (recommended on the Helpline) and eating where your hotel host recommends, you'll get a much better appreciation of Germany and her people than you'll get through the filter of a tour guide.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1583 posts

Jon, you might want to delete two of your three identical posts.

Posted by Gretchen
Andover, MA, USA
288 posts

Hi Judy, I'll throw my two cents in: I say to go with a tour for your first trip (although you said you did a cruise). It takes care of any worries you may have for the first time and you can just "sit back and relax." While there, you can learn about how to navigate the trains, etc for the next time you return. One thing that I haven't seen mentioned yet regarding tours is that they also come with tour guides who may offer a lot more in terms of learning about the history of the city/each landmark, etc that you visit. I have taken 3 Rick Steves tours and several times I have heard the "first-timers" mention that they felt they got way more than what they paid for due to the great information from the tour guides. It was also fun meeting people from around the country, but still having some free time during the day or at mealtime. Another thing to consider: trying to do the same itinerary as a tour company, but cheaper on you own may be difficult since you have to spend more time/money on logistics (such as getting to/from the train station) whereas on the bus tour you don't have to do any of that - they just drop you off/pick you up and you're ready to go. The tours may seem really expensive, and there are probably ways you could save but for a first time, I say check out the regular and MY Way Rick Steve's tours. And the other companies too, of course. Wow, I was kind of wordy, but you get the point. :). Enjoy, whatever you decide. :)

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7820 posts

Judy, since you can fly out of Toronto you have good choices of airlines. Have you looked at Airtransat,, they do open jaw( called mulit destination). As for RS tours, they are good, they are not cheap, but they do not nickel and dime you like some tours ( with their intial low cost but then you discover so many extras to be paid once there!).
I think the RS On your Own( or whatever they are called) are a good alternative too, cheaper then fully escorted but all the logistics of getting from place to place are covered for you.

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

Hi Pat... yes I have heard of Transat, but only about a week ago for the first time. Never heard of this open jaw deal until I posted my original question. When booking a plane ticket, would I ask for open jaw? Or is it called something else to the agents at the airline. Or maybe a travel agent or trip consolidator would be better for air tickets. There are so many options! I have already decided upon some 'must sees' so now I need to figure out the best way to see them all. A car can be a PITA but you can stop for a picture or pee break whenever the mood strikes. Not so much on a train. Having said that, there's no chance of getting lost once on a train. I would have to figure out if there are trains going to the places I would like to see. I also like the idea of staying somewhere for a few days and making day trips... No schlepping the luggage that way. That 'Untours' from a previous poster also looked interesting. Another poster mentioned that this is the hard part... all the prep needed beforehand. But I don't consider this work... I dig all the plotting, and planning, and mapping, and reading, and talking to new people here, and all that. So this part is not like work to me. I always have to have something to obsess over!

Posted by bronwen
maplewood, new jersey, usa
750 posts

I say you will regret it if you don't do it yourself. Dont do a tour, you can easily figure out public transportation.While people say "rail passes are not worth the money" I think Germany is one place where a German Rail Pass can sometimes be worth it and allow for a relaxed paced vacation without stress. We used a rail pass and traveled all over Germany and down to Salzburg. I think the planning is fun and you have control on what you want to doand who you want you spend time with. I love searching out small restaurants I have read about and having our own adventure. Don't worry about the language thing. Seriously - it's never been an issue. Have fun. We loved our German vacation.

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

Thanks bronwin, can you elaborate a little more on the German rail passes? A few of my must sees would include Oberammergau, and Rothenburg, and a Rhine river cruise. Plus I saw some very interesting castles and cathedrals that I would love to see. If the trains don't run too close by, would a cab be an affordable option from the nearest train station?

Posted by bronwen
maplewood, new jersey, usa
750 posts

Choose how many days you'll need train travel. So if you will be in Germany 7 days but only will be using train 5 of those days you buy a five day. Before you board the train you need to date that days pass to validate it for travel that day. How many days do you have for vacation?

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

we'll probably be there for 2 weeks, I have my own business and can take as much time off as I wish, and my husband gets 4 weeks a year.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

A few thoughts. Judy is interested in the nice hotels on the Tauck tour. Couch surfing will not work for them. And they are too young for Road Scholar/ Elder Hostel. And RS does not have an all Germany tour. What Judy needs is confidence that they can do this on their own. Germany is probably one of the easiest places to make that work. Driving is easy, if they want to, as long as they are not in the cities. The castle stay with Untours lookss great, actually I might look into that for our next trip. The location offer good daytrips in Bavaria and Franconia. Maybe combine a week there with city stays in Munich and Berlin?

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7820 posts

Judy do you mean to take cabs/taxis to the actual sites?

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Given Judy's responses I'm also starting to think she might be better off with a budget tour (which the Rick Steves tours are NOT guys, seriously, ok?) But I will agree with the recent posts that if you are going to try to do it yourself, Germany is probably the easiest place to travel independently without a car in Western Europe. Here's why: -The German Rail pass. Provides transportation on any train (other than local U-Bahn and bus transit within cities) on any day you choose to use within a one month period. You can have anywhere from 3 to 10 travel days within that period. It's super easy, you just buy your pass online at home, they ship it to you very quickly (I think my mom got hers delivered in California in about a week and a half), and when you get to Germany you go to a train station's travel center (Reisezentrum) and have the pass validated at the counter. After that, you just fill in your travel days on the day you're traveling and show the pass to the conductor. It literally doesn't get any easier. No hidden fees or mandatory reservations to worry about. If you want, you can also purchase seat reservations at 4 euro per person, either online with a credit card, or at the station at an automated machine or at a ticket counter. But it's not necessary, some people like to for peace of mind so you know you can sit with your travel partner and not worry about the train being full. -Almost everyone in Germany speaks English, particularly in the cities and towns that get tourists (which would be everywhere you'd be going most likely)
Based on my experience living and traveling in Germany for 2 years, I'd say that 3 in 4 people I encounter as a tourist and in my everyday life can speak good English and are happy to do so. Cont.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

-Germany is well-marked and well organized. Meaning finding your way as an independent traveler is easy because Germans excel at signage, directions, and that sort of thing. Important info is either in English as well or in a pictograph that makes it easy (such as a picture of a train with an arrow to point you towards the train platform). Announcements for trains to places tourists are likely to go to will often be announced in English as well as German (but if in doubt you can also ask almost anyone, "What did that say?" if you don't understand an announcement. So if you do decide to go the independent route, I'd get a German Rail Pass, use bahn.com to see train distances between places you want to see, and create an itinerary that works for you. When it comes to hotels, it's probably best to get a hotel somewhere between the train station and the old city of where you want to visit, and just go ahead and take a taxi from the train station to your hotel. It will rarely be more than 10 euro, the taxi driver will handle your luggage, and you'll get to relax and you're still saving a ton of money compared to a tour. Booking.com is a great resource for finding hotels here, as are Rick Steves' recommendations if you dont' mind paying a little more. If you go with a hotel that has a user rating of above 8, you will certainly be satisifed. All that said, you have to be willing to do the research (and enjoy it!) and accept that no matter what, some mistakes will probably be made. Research and paying attention will ensure they will be small ones (and with a German rail pass, getting on the wrong train just means you get off and get on the next train back, you won't be out any money for your mistake). But if doing the research sounds like a chore, just go with an inexpensive tour instead.

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

@ Pat: Yes I meant to take a taxi to the actual site. Are they plentiful? I have been to Chicago a few times, and there are zillions of cabs everywhere you look. I am picturing in my mind, a train station that is still miles from the site or town I would like to visit for the day, and having to carry luggage to find a taxi, then driving a fair length of time ($$) to get to my desired destination. Then, what to do w/ the luggage? Certainly can't leave it in the cab.... Then cabbing it back to the train station. Unless it's a day trip from my hotel. Then no luggage worries. :) Maybe I have it all wrong in my mind....

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

But I must say, I am liking the enthusiasm I am finding on this board.... everyone so willing to help, and no sarcasm. Nice. I am thinking that in order to see exactly what I want to see, going out on my own may be the way to go. Another poster said what I really need is confidence. That is true. I am actually quite bright, but very unsure of myself. So maybe I'll get a map and mark all the spots I want to see. Connect some dots, and see what can and can't be done. I am very excited about this and I hate to have to wait so long!

Posted by Diane
Ottawa
1154 posts

Timewise: You seem to have the flexibility to be gone 15 days or 22. Do not yet make a decision as to how long your trip will be (i.e. "2 weeks"). Also do not pre-decide that your trip will start on a Friday or Sat, if you do have that flexibility. Leaving mid-week or on a Sunday is often cheaper and your itinerary may work out best accordingly (see points 5 & 6 below). So here's my advice regarding time, in relation to your itinerary: 1. Do not count a travel day as a sightseeing day in planning out your "must-sees". You will get to sightsee on your travel days, but don't make it the only chance that you would get to visit a site - you may be sorely disappointed if you do. 2. Work your itinerary without back-tracking or too much zigzagging, if you can help it. 3. Geographically cluster your "must-sees": choose a home base and plan day trips if you need to. Use the train routing/scheduling tools at bahn to help with that. If you think that a car would be a real asset for 2-3 days, or a week or so, then rent one for just that cluster(s). 4. Don't cram too much in for each day. Bus tours can, but independent travelers less so. The tour bus itself is the reason that they can, combined with the very limited time that they allocate to "see" and "visit" sites. You will not be having the same experience at all - hence the absolute need to not over-plan each day... you will want time to wander those pretty pedestrians streets, window shop, or just sit and enjoy the strudel ;-) Cont'd next post...

Posted by Diane
Ottawa
1154 posts

cont'd 5. Make a sort of schedule of where you want to go and how long you want to be in each place (the map work that you are doing now will lead you to your "clusters" and to this next step). Factor in the travel days. Then see how many days you'll need. If your trip works out to 18 days, then budget for 18 days! :-)
Don't short-change yourself, timewise, if you can get away with it. 6. Pay close attention to closure days - many sites are not open everyday of the week. If a site you really want to see is closed, when you'd like to include it in your itinerary, then just shift your itinerary sideways by a day or two. Once you've figured out how many days that you will actually need, THEN you can start seriously fleshing out your itinerary. Don't be shy posting each version of your itinerary here... lots of opinions and good info will be provided to you on that score, LOL!

Posted by Diane
Ottawa
1154 posts

Regarding airfare from Toronto to Germany: Transat will not be the better choice. It is for France, Italy, Ireland, etc. - but not for Germany. Lufthansa is, by far, a much better bet for Germany and will enable you to most effectively build an open-jaw itinerary. There's talk that Air Berlin may start flying into YYZ (they only do Vancouver for now), so keep an eye out for that - because if they do launch service for this summer, there should be some very attractive fares offered initially. IMO, if by March at the latest they do not officially announce it, then they will not be flying out of Toronto for 2013... Lufthansa codeshares with Air Canada, so the identical ticket from either airlines will use a combination of Air Canada and Lufthansa planes. HOWEVER, the Lufthansa ticket often is a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than with AC, for the exact same flights (on the exact same AC planes out of Toronto) on the exact same dates! In addition, when you book directly on the Lufthansa website, that website price rarely can be outdone by a consolidator/wholesaler fare. You can get your AC Aeroplan points credited on all Lufthansa flights. Go sign up now for the Lufthansa e-mails and shop for your flights on their website directly, as your planning progresses. Ditto for Air Berlin. Good luck and have fun!

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4755 posts

If you are coming in from Toronto, you can also fly with Air Canada. I just flew with them this past Oct. and we were very happy with our seats, the food, and the movies. It is only 8+ hours from Toronto to Frankfurt. Have a look at some guide books. The RS ones often have maps of the central cities. See where the train stations are located. Right smack dab in the middle of the city. Hotels are always located around these areas too. You get off your train and either walk about 5 min. to your hotel, or walk 5 min. to the taxi stands if your hotel is just a bit farther away. Once you are at your hotel, using public transportation is also very, very easy and cheap. You will probably stop using taxis as riding the trams, buses and subways are more fun. Many of your worries are because you haven't been able to see just what is involved with traveling around on your own in Germany. This is where sitting down with a RS guide book can set your mind at ease. It isn't difficult, and some of your ideas about train travel, where train stations are, and where tourist sites are located will automatically change, once you find out the reality. Many tourist sites are also located in city centers, so you don't have to spend a fortune on taxis either. The train system through-out the country can pretty much get you where you want to go, and without stress.

Posted by Tracy
Saint Cloud, MN, USA
44 posts

When planning a trip there's always the possibilty of wasting money or screwing up on something but as long as you don't blow it out of porportion you'll be fine. A couple of years ago i planned a trip to Italy all by myself, i was scared before going and i made some mistakes but overall it was a great learning experience and i'm not afraid to travel by myself anymore. I researched a lot before going; i love this website and the rick steves travel books. I kept it pretty basic and chose a few main cities that i wanted to vist and looked at train travel websites to figure out connections. Before i left i had all my hotels booked and an itenerary of what i wanted to do and see in each town that i was going to visit. This saved time when i got there so i didn't have to waste time planning a lot of things out and that way you can group sites together so you're not wasting a lot of time backtracking. It wasn't a rigid schedule; things happen and you can't always plan how much time you'll want to spend at each spot. I also did a few day tours that were great. Sometimes it's nice to sit back and let someone else take over and drive you to places and the guides can give you useful information and history of the place. Have a great time in Germany!

Posted by lindley
Gresham, OR, USA
40 posts

Judy: Wife and I in late sixties, not seasoned travelers by far, but recently did Holland, Belgium and France on our ownthe trip of a lifetime. For what it's worth, several thoughts for going on your own or the sardine-in-a-can experience: PREP: The RS book, city/country map and train/bus maps. First buy the largest format notebook that would fit a back pocket. Three or four pages for each date, as headings. Curl up with your resources each night at bedtime, get info, phone numbers, emerg. numbers etc., into your book. I did this almost nightly for three months before the trip. And, bank info, medical info, password info in code... Used our credit union, and opened a 2nd for the trip.
I studied the RS map of Amsterdam and Paris. My memory is no longer my best asset, but when we got there, I seldom used the book except in the hotel. I had small photocopies of each neighborhood map, museums etc. and knew each morning where we were headedwhen needed, I could refer to that day's map by pulling it from my pocket. If detouring several streets aside, I used the miniature crackerjack compass i.e. "...we're heading four blocks easterly, so return four westerly." We found the natives very friendly and helpfulespecially Paris and Amsterdam! Going up those 6,000 stairs from subway to CDG/Paris my carry-on was suddenly yanked outta my hand. Never a theft concern on this trip,"...now I'm ripped off on the last morning??" I noticed this 6'-5" African-looking man now had an identical bag in each hand. Mine and my wife's. At the top, he set them down, smiled ear-to-ear at us. He said svp, I said merci. And we experienced nothing less than that on our "European vacation." "Bon Voyage!"

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

Thanks again EVERYBODY for such great responses. Yes, we will be doing this on our own. (gulp) You have convinced me... Another question: How possible is it to do a day or two on the Rhine as part of this trip? Are there any companies that let you go for such a short amount of time? Jude :)

Posted by Lo
Tucson
645 posts

You might take a look at the KD Rhine options. We went on one of their boats from Bingen to Koblenz. It was transportation and lunch for us as well as fun. They run from Dusseldorf to Frankfurt according to the map and have many, many options that might suit your interest in seeing a bit of the Rhine in a short period of time, including a one day pass.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3578 posts

What made me think a RS tour would be perfect for you? "At this stage in our lives, (early 50s) I would like it 'done' for me.""But I am just not confident in our ability to navigate on our own, nor am I willing to do so much for myself. It's a vacation for me.... (Actually us, LOL) And for me, a vacation means a departure from every day life. I do enough crap at home. It would be so nice to just glide through, and have every little trivial matter handled for me." Sounds like a perfect fit for a tour to me! BUT now that you've said "... I don't consider this work... I dig all the plotting, and planning, and mapping, and reading, and talking to new people here, and all that. So this part is not like work to me. I always have to have something to obsess over!", you could certainly do an independent tour! First - are you familiar with Rick Steves' travel programs? (if not, you can find them in the same place as the Tour videos, or click on the tab above 'Rick on TV') Also, have you read any of his travel guides? His philosophy includes staying in the center of town, close to your sight-seeing priorities (typically the 'Old Town') AND close to the public transportation. So, minimal-to-no schlepping of the luggage, a cheap bus ride, or an inexpensive taxi ride to your hotel. Yea! You also said, "A car can be a PITA but you can stop for a picture or pee break whenever the mood strikes. Not so much on a train. Having said that, there's no chance of getting lost once on a train. I would have to figure out if there are trains going to the places I would like to see." I can always 'go' when I want to on a train ;-) That's one of the benefits of train travel LOL! Of course, you want to minimize your time on trains and maximize your sight-seeing time. (con't.)

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3578 posts

(cont.) My strong suggestion: before you do another thing, read RS' "Europe Through the Back Door" for some basic info, travel skills, travel info (the how-tos of all the minutia of independent travel in Europe). He'll convert you to a one-suitcase packer ;-) Also, watch some videos - although you should watch the new three-part 'Travel Skills' videos coming out in March, watch the older ones on YouTube now. You can do this for a LOT less money than ANY tour! "Maybe I have it all wrong in my mind..." Maybe... And James, I'll let you have one "Come on, Eileen", and only because I did a "Haaaay, Jude". But she set that one up herself ;-) Look at the original post... Too-ra-loo-ra too-ra-loo-rye, aye...(great; now we can ALL "hum this tune forever...")

Posted by Judy
Westland, MI, United States
20 posts

Ok Eileen I just have to say.... I am sitting in a restaurant waiting for my very good EILEEN to show up. We always used to sing that song to her! And she hated it.... but I don't mind the Hey Judes. If I had a dollar for each one I have heard, I could BUY Germany. Lol I guess I just thought that independent travel was a lot more difficult than it seems to be. But the mapping and planning is a pleasure for me. I will definitely get the RS books and plan something that is EXACTLY what we want. And like you said, for a lot less too!

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3578 posts

LOL! The first several times I heard that blasted song, I hated it! Then I heard the lyrics...and was sooooo disappointed! Michelle, Mandy, Delilah, Amy, Angie, Annie, (Sweet) Caroline, Beth, Jolene, Roxanne, (Mustang) Sally - they all got songs. I never thought I'd get a song with MY name in it, and spelled 'correctly', too! I'm still trying to come to some type of acceptance of 'my' song; I doubt another one will ever come along...(sigh). Judy, you can DO this! Do know that your itinerary will probably change several times over the course of planning, though ;-) Don't let that throw you! It'll settle out in the end...Start with some videos, and read - beginning to end is my suggestion! - "ETBD" and then you can start doing some detailed research (looking at each country's train website and playing with schedules, poking around in Trip Advisor looking at hotel reviews/websites) and asking some detailed questions here if you want. The more detailed the question, the better the answers. Going independent vs a tour just bought you an extra week or two of travel 8^D Happy Dreaming and Planning!

Posted by Judy
Adelaide, SA, Australia
802 posts

Hey Jude if your love mapping and planning, you are a ready made independent traveller. We had a wwwonderful time in Germany as independent travellers. The train system is so efficient and extensive it enabled us to visit all our 'must see' sites easily. We based ourselves for a minimum of 3 nights in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Freiburg and Berlin. From these bases we used trains to visit our places of interest. We pre-booked all our accommodation. I used the Trip Advisor site for this and found it to be an excellent accommodation resource. Personally we found it less stressful to take taxis to our acommodation from the station or airport. We stayed in smaller hotels and found the staff to be very helpful with tips and advice on what to do and see. We were in our mid-60's when we did this trip. As advised, sit down and work out which cities/regions you want to visit (avoid back tracking if possible) and go from there. Google the city/region and check out what it has to offer. Go for it. You won't regret it.
Viator is an excellent company to organise day trips too.

Posted by Jeff
Holland, MI
24 posts

I agree with most on here. PLAN YOUR OWN TRIP! Take the trains (very easy!) I spend 3 weeks in Europe and the planning was almost as fun as the trip itself. I'm planning a trip even though it might be a decade before I actually get to take the trip. $5200 is quite high... much more than you would pay if you would plan your own.