I have researched most of the tours offered by Mr. Steves. I am curious why anyone wants to take a tour that spends 2 or 3 nights in a location only giving you 1 or 1 and a half days to explore these awesome cities before packing up and moving to another place only to see the bare minimum again. Last year I visited Paris for 5 nights/4 days and barely scratched the surface. Then I trained to Lucerne for 6 days/5 nights and felt the same. This past July I was in Barcelona for 7 nights/ 6 days (doing day trips) and could have spent another week there alone. What is the fascination with 2 nights in each location just to pack and do it again? Is it just to see the highlights and check it off a listto tell people " I have been there and seen that?"
I think it depends on your style of travel and interests. Could I spend more time in each city? Absolutely! But I have limited vacation time and a long, long list of places I'd like to see, not just in Europe but world wide. I just don't have the time to dig as deep as I might like. So for me the tours are perfect, as I get a taste of many different cultures and I get to see many different places I've always heard, read, dreamed about. And I can always hope to go back one day. And I could spend 2 weeks in a place like Paris and not see everything, I'm sure, but I'm sure there are a lot of things in each city I have no interest in seeing, just as there are many places in my home area I've never done because they don't interest me.
The tours are structured so well that you can see a lot in a much faster time than you could on your own, so even though it's a short time in each place, I feel like I've seen a lot. For the people who are the sort of travelers that love to stay in one place and soak up the culture for weeks, I'm sure the fast paced tour would be very dissatisfying. I travel like this at home too, however - I try to maximize my time off by taking 3-4 day weekends. This fall we flew from Florida to Colorado for 4 short days and saw the Garden of the Gods, Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park. It was lovely, but fast. I could happily spend a month hiking in the Rockies, but my memories and photos of those few days get me through the more tedious realities if every day life :)
I always add several days before and after a tour. I often extend my trip by going to another city/s in a nearby country. I often pick tours that begin and end in places I want to see more of. I pick my tours to see countries and cities that I want to see because I know I will return to some areas in the future. I have been in Europe every summer for the past six years with tours and without. I see much more on tours than I do on my own. I am very comfortable on my own in London Rome, Florence, Venice, Amsterdam, Brussels, etc. to name a few. To me it is pure luxury to have a good tour company plan much of my trip. All I have to do is pick where I want to visit, book it and show up on time! I don't travel to see the highlights and to check off a list just to tell people I've been there an seen that!
Which is why I don't generally take tours. But they suit a lot of folks. For some people, it's a stepping stone . . . see the highlights of several cities in several countries, "get your feet wet" and learn some travel skills, then go back on your own. There's the camaraderie of a genial group, and the "luxury" of not having to do much planning, plus the back-door experiences that RS provides.
I took the Turkey tour and didn't find it was too fast-paced, except in Istanbul, but just about everyone on my tour spent time there before and/or after the tour on their own. I got to meet some locals and felt I came away with a better understanding of the culture and the daily life in rural Turkey. I think a lot of the tours are like that - Ireland, Greece, Village tours.
I have taken dozens of trips to Europe.. some solo, some with my kids, some with friends, and the last 3 with my new hubby.. hundreds of days over the last 3 decades ( and before that I logged several extended visits with family as a child)..
I still took my 11 yr old daughter on a RS tour and guess what.. it was a BLAST.. I could have easily done the trip by myself.. as I said.. I didn't need the hand holding.. and we did extend our visit an extra 12 days on top of the RS Family Europe in 14 Days..
The tour made it easy for me to give my daughter a whirlwind trip to visit a lot more places then I would have booked myself( I prefer minimum 4-5 nights in any one place) but I wanted my daughter to just get a taste of a lot of places as this was to be her one on one trip with me on my dime.. and when she got older she could decide where to go back to on her own. ( it worked.. shes going to do almost 3 months in Europe starting late this April..backpacking with two friends)
Tours are easy. They just are.. no looking at the time tables, no renting a car , no worrying about finding the hotel from the train station , every thinking part is done for you.. you just show up every day for breakfast and the plans are laid.. no rushing for planes buses, trains.. just enjoy. Yes.. you do plan your free time ( and I felt we got a fair amount for tour duration ) .. but that's also the fun part of the trip..
I have never regretted taking the tour.. and I will again, but likely not for another 10-15 years when I am tired of doing all the logistics( I am just in final stages of planning the logistics of this years trip and its been a real slog.. 5 flights, 2 rental houses, 4 hotels, one ferry, one train , 28 days.. whew.. looking forward now to the fun part.. what sights to see where)
I see sometimes sense an air of superiority in these types of threads.. I do not like the terms "traveller versus tourist".. it implies one thinks the way they do things is better..
Since I consider myself a fairly experienced visitor..so I feel qualified to say taking a tour is NOT just about being a nervous nelly or ticking things off lists.. I chose the Family tour so my daughter would have fun with other kids.. and she did. I am sure others have various other reasons.
Happy to share my rationale for doing a Best of Europe in 14 days tour last year, which gets you to 7 cities. First, while I do have 4 weeks of vacation time a year at my job, it's impossible to take it all at once. So whatever I do pretty much has to fit into a 15-16 day timeframe. Secondly, having not been to Europe before this tour, I wanted to see as many places as possible. With the short visits to each place, I put a premium on getting the most from my time. Not much sleep, not much relaxing. I saw a LOT in Paris over 3 days, and feel like I maximized my time in each city quite well. I mean, over that 1.5+ day in Rome, I got to the Coliseum, Roman Forum, Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museum, St. Peter's, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and checked off a few more things on my personal to-do list.
Yeah, it happens fast, but I think the tours are good ways of helping you figure out what you like. I could definitely spend a week in Paris, Switzerland, or Rome. But Beaune, in France? I thought one night was one too many. Munich, I enjoyed, but I feel like I saw what I wanted in 2 nights there. Venice and Tuscany - would have liked an extra night in each place, but that would have been enough.
As long as I am working full-time (which I will be doing for about the next 35 years), I'm not going to fly across the Atlantic for 2 weeks and only visit two cities. I would say that if I do a trip of my own, I would concentrate it more to one region, rather than stretching across Europe. But I would still move around every 2-3 nights to vary the experiences.
Yes, the tours are fast paced, but as other posters have noted, they are well planned, and usually allow plenty of free time.
We have found the tours give us just a taste of each city; in some cases we decided to go back for a deeper experience, and in other cases we didn't. We enjoyed the Paris segment of the 21 day BOE so much that we went back for about 10 days the following year. And the taste of Amsterdam we had in the same tour led us to take the longer Low Countries tour - and to add on extra days before and after to extend the experience even more.
The tours are a great way to try out new places; we're hooked.
I am preparing for my 7th visit to Europe in the last 10 years. I have always traveled independently and enjoy the planning. One thing different about my trip this year is that it will include the RS Village Italy tour. Originally about 8 people I know planned to do this together. It may end up that only 4 of us are actually able to go, but it will still be fun. I have been to several of the places the tour goes, and I think that 2 nights in each location will allow enough time to get a good taste of the villages. The friend I am traveling with loves to travel, but is not very independent and isn't interested in planning. With a tour, I know we can enjoy it without me feeling responsible for making sure she's having fun. We will arrive a week before the tour, and after it's over she will return home. I'll meet my husband in Prague and have a few weeks to travel with him. He's no longer able to take an extended time off of work. He will return home, and I will stay an additional week. This may be the only tour I ever take, but I'm looking forward to visiting the Italian villages and not have to deal with the logistics.
I personally wouldn't chose to take a tour that would only spend 2 nights in each city, but I understand why some people would.
Although we do a lot of independent travel, we also take RS tours.
Why? Well, as Pat stated, "Tours are easy. They just are.. no looking at the time tables, no renting a car , no worrying about finding the hotel from the train station , every thinking part is done for you.. you just show up every day for breakfast and the plans are laid.. no rushing for planes buses, trains.. just enjoy."
There is a time and place for everything. Independent travel and tours. Depends entirely on the situation and one's wishes for a particular trip. Neither independent travel nor tours are always right for everyone. Just different strokes for different folks and situations.
I've done fast paced tours as well as independent travel. There are certainly benefits to both. With a tour, you trade in your sleep for all the planning and logistics work that the tour company does for you. So really, all your physical effort comes in the form of waking up early and packing/unpacking every two days. You're also not worrying about transportation (and getting to/from it) because there's a tour bus waiting for you. With independent travel you can sleep in if you want to and take things at a much more relaxed pace. I will say though, that what can make or break an organized tour is the location of the hotels. If the tour company uses centrally located hotels, you have much more freedom to stay out late and go to/from the hotel at your leisure during your free time. If the hotels are in the middle of nowhere, your time is much more limited and you're rushing to get back to the bus to make it back to the hotel at the end of the day. I've never been on an RS tour but I've hard all their hotels are centrally located. And like everyone said, the allure of a tour is that you can see many things in a short time, perfect for first timers in Europe who are looking for a taste of everything and perhaps deciding which city they'd like to return to and spend more time in independently.
Another thing that hasn't been mentioned is that some people cannot afford to go to Europe every year (or every other year) and spend several weeks traveling with 4 or more nights at each location. For some people this may very well be their only trip to Europe because they don't have the budget (either $ or time) to do more. In that case the important feature may be the 'bang for buck' of the tours. Even though the tours may cost more in $$ they offer more in value for some people who don't want to spend the time and effort searching for the best budget hotel, cheapest transportation option, etc..
As others have said it's really a case of different strokes for different folks, to each their own, etc. There is no one right way to travel.
I have traveled on tours (quite a few actually) but mostly independently, and I too prefer to stay in one place for a minimum of 3 nights and usually 4-6 nights and minimize the packing/unpacking and moving from one place to another. But there's obviously a place for tours in the travel spectrum because they are very very popular, especially the RS type of tours with small groups and centrally located hotels and quite a bit of free time to venture on your own.
For whatever reason, the human brain craves variety...coupled with work/ life/ budget constraints, sometimes what we must settle on is not necessarily what we would choose absent any constraints (the ideal). It's a trade-off and it works for a lot of folks. Tour companies have to respond to those pressures by offering a mix of places so everyone is happy and gets a sample of various sites to enjoy. Tour companies also recognize that some people want to dive deeper into one location - hence, "city tours" that are centered on only one city. When I travel solo (don't take tours generally), I have maybe 10-12 days to work with and that means that some cities will get less time than others (some even 2-3 days) if I want to see a variety of smaller/larger sites on that trip. It's a long time 'till retirement...
I've done 7 of Rick's tours and 2 international tours from Road Scholar. Of the 9 tours, 2 were week+ in London (Road Scholar) and Paris (Rick Steves) while the others moved around an area.
I have really enjoyed all of my tours but my favorite of all was Rick's 21 day Best Of Europe. Oh my word! What fun! Before I went I was talking to one of Rick's Ireland guides who knew I was going that trip. He said he went as an assistant guide on that one and what he loved was seeing blockbuster sights every single day. Wow, he was so right. There is no way you could get in all those sights on your own in 21 days without having the infrastructure of an experienced tour company, tour guide and tour bus driver.
While many do like to check off highlights, that is not my motivation. I don't do selfies in museums in front of famous paintings and move to the next one, I do like to spend time experiencing what I am seeing. Freeing myself up from having to worry and plan the basics of transportation and hotels gives me time to enjoy.
Each person works out what travel style suits them. As an older woman traveling solo, I have found the combination of some independent travel along with the Rick Steves tours are perfect for me.
Well, I just don't unpack.
Yes, the tours are fast paced and cover a lot of territory in the two weeks or so they last. But if you are not an experienced traveler, they teach you how to travel. It is a great way to get the feel for the area you are traveling through.
I have been on 10 RS tours so far that have been a mix of the move every other night ones and the week in the same hotel ones. I have enjoyed every tour and am enthusiastically looking forward to my next one. And I have been back to many of the places the tours only touched on for a more intense visit. And some of the places I will never go to again. These tours have helped keep me from picking a spot and being stuck there for my entire trip if I don't like it.
And as to that not unpacking comment, it is true. I only pull out of my suitcase what I need at each stop. It takes me 5 minutes after arriving to be as unpacked as I need to get and maybe 10 minutes at the most to pack before moving on. It helps that I only bring a carry on bag with everything in it I will need for the trip.
Mark, good point, and yes I agree. I use packing cubes, pull out fresh clothes from the cube and I am set.
No, I don't go for the pack up and move every 2 nights. Not a really a good way to do anything except see a few main sites. But it's vastly better than taking one of those "European Cruises" where you basically have 6 hours to see 1000+ years of history before being corralled back onto the boat for your lobster dinner and champagne.
I think one of the reasons we have emphasized the '2 nights in a row in the same place' historically is that most mainstream tours have a lot of one night stops. Just fyi, for what it's worth.
It is well said, different strokes for different folks. I think the reason I like traveling independently is that a great part of the fun is the research. I love reading guide books (I buy Rick Steves as I really enjoy his information and insight), looking at hotels or apartments online, researching sites and activities, train tickets, etc. I travel with a friend and we enjoy the flexibility of having an itinerary and being able to deviate from it if we see something we might want to try.
And Tim, I absolutely agree! I know many people who enjoy cruises and good for them. However, not my thing....I have no desire to cruise anywhere: Europe, Hawaii, The Caribbean, etc.
Steve you're an experienced traveler. I see most of the RS tours as being designed for people who want an introduction to a country or countries. What I have found in three RS tours is that you have more time to see things at a location than you would on your own, because you're not wasting time with logistics. The benefit that is hard to quantify is having the guides who make your visit more efficient and enhance the experience. Thats the attraction of a tour.
Look at most of the posts in this forum asking for advice on itineraries. Rarely do you see one where a person is proposing more than 2-3 days at a stop. Often its a bunch of one-two nighters and day trips with large travel time between destinations not accounted for. Its those people who would most benefit from a tour. Four-five nights at each location is a luxury.
Hi, Steve. I have taken several RS tours, often to places new to me. When I do, I usually choose to travel independently before and after a tour for a few days. Now, I am pretty proficient in German and was trying to pull off a solo trip to the Black Forest and Alsace this past December. Work commitments just prevented me from giving the time I wanted to planning. When the new Munich-Salzburg-Vienna tour was listed earlier this month, I signed right up.
I have lived in Munich and have visited Salzburg before, but compared to my struggles trying to plan on my own this past Christmas, this was easy-peasy, and sometimes I just need that. To some extent, I may operate during this tour as if it were a MyWay version, but even if I followed the itinerary just as published, just think - I am in places I love with no responsibilities but to enjoy.
I do like travel planning a lot, but sometimes I can't swing it. This time around, instead of trying to figure out how many days where and when and what kind of transport I need, I am already listing what I am going to do: creche museum, Dallmayr, even a visit to my former junior year abroad headquarters.
I just felt so happy, anticipatory, and not bothered about details when I made the reservation. Sometimes a tour with 2 night stays and a group just works. Gee, and I even forgot Hallstatt was thrown in there for one night. Gravy!
Have I also begun to think of a few days before and after on my own - you bet, but with an eye towards minimal agita and the time constraints I face at home.
Lots of hours of happy anticipation in store. I may even go super light with luggage, even forgoing my tiny wheelie. Woohoo.
Someone else pointed out that many of us here in the States only get 2-4 weeks a year and some can only take up to 2 weeks at a time. This is not something that's going to change soon. With that in mind, consider how much time and energy goes into planning an independent trip; all those hours staring a computer screen or flipping through guide books to find hotels, flights, laying out logistics, and so on. And then there's all the shopping (whether online or in person) for any travel gear you may need, even if it's good shoes and a good bag (especially for those first time travelers that don't already have some travel gear). By the time it's departure time, you're already worn out from all that work and then once you land, there's even more work with physically executing your plan. I suppose that's another attractive element of an organized tour: there's much less physical effort in preparation leading up to departure time. So you can continue to work your 9-to-5 job right up till you leave with plenty of energy for the trip!
I've been to Europe 8 times. The first two times my husband & I went to Europe, we took RS tours. Why? Because we live near Edmonds, WA and had stopped in during one of their tour guide weekends and heard how great the tour would be. 3 years later we took another RS tour. Since then, I've prepared our itinerary, and we travel on our own. But, the RS tours gave us a fast-paced view of so much in a short amount of time. (We were younger and couldn't get as much time off.)
Now we stay in most locations 3-5 days, but we've now returned to almost each of the locations we saw with the RS tour sometime in our own itineraries, so his tours have left us with great memories to want to return!
I do think if we go to Ireland, we'll do it through a RS tour, It just seems like that country would be more fun with a group of "friends" - tour group friends.
I appreciate all the comments and thanks for sharing. I didn't even give it a thought that these type tours are an "introduction" to many who have never visited Europe and gives them a springboard to come later and spend more time in the places they enjoyed. I also forgot the incredible value of guides to show and explain things we wouldn't otherwise know or discover.
I have taken 3 tours in my life. The first was a 14 day Best of Europe tour my parents sent me on in 1984: LONDON..PARIS..LUCERNE..LAKE COMO..NICE..BARCELONA..MADRID. As a sixteen year old this whet my appetite for places I wanted to see and now over 30 years later I still return to the places I love in addition to new areas (Germany and Amsterdam for the first time).
My other 2 guided tours were to Israel and Jordan (Petra) in 2004 and again in 2005. I could never have done that independently. As with RS everything was planned from bus transportation, hotel rooms and meals taken care of to sites visited and the knowledge of our tour guide who explained, taught and showed us things we could never have seen had we traveled independently.
I apologize if I offended anyone.
Hi again, Steve. No offense taken here.
And just so you know, RS tours are not planned down to every minute. If you check out the new one I am signed up for (Munich, Salzburg, Vienna) you will see that many afternoons and evenings are not group time but are for individual exploration and dining. The MyWay tours are totally unstructured except for destination and hotel. On the one MyWay tour I took, the group was so friendly, we frequently ate together from sheer camaraderie.
Steve - I don't think you offended anyone. It was a valid question. I've found that those who love Rick Steves' tours just get rather passionate about them! I would love to be able to travel the way you prefer eventually, when time allows and my travel wish list gets whittled down a bit. I think I would love to return to almost every place I've traveled to so far!
No, no offense. It was a good question to generate discussion.
I think yours was a great question, and my response probably didn't highlight the fact that I am certain I got more from the trip given top-notch guides (both RS and local), and having the logistics arranged. That's a huge burden off my shoulders, and one of the reasons I chose the tour.
For me, the RS tour gave me the confidence to go and do something on my own, if I were to so choose. I fully intend to return to Paris, Switzerland, and Rome in the future, and I will likely do it independently. My next venture to Europe will likely be Ireland, the UK, and Paris, which I fully intend to handle myself. But to get the most bang for my buck in countries where I don't speak the native language, I would be willing to do another tour.
These days when friends who haven't traveled much or have never been to Europe ask me, "tour or independently?" I always offer up both options and describe both positively. There was one other thing I remembered and perhaps others already mentioned it here, is that the times I went with a group, there soon developed a fun and often comical camaraderie among the group, such that even when the tour or sites felt boring, there was still a social aspect to enjoy. And while independent travel might afford more time to mix with locals, being in a group with like minded travelers has its advantages too.
I completely agree with the friendships that develop on a tour. We knew no one on our first trip to Israel but met many good people and became friendly but did not stay in touch. When we signed up for the second tour we got a list of the tour members names and addresses and to our surprise several from our last tour were booked again. So it was like returning with familiar faces. We became friends with about 10 and one decided to have a tour reunion in his hometown in North Carolina. It was such a success that it continued for several years: Kentucky, Seattle, New Orleans and New York. We visited with old friends who acted as tour guides and showed us around their cities. We still stay in contact today whether it is Christmas cards, emails or phone calls....tours with great people sometimes lead to life long friendships.
Last year we wanted to visit England and some good friends told us to do it independently. We bought Rick Steves "Great Britain" guidebook and after reading the book, we found out what he estimated costs would be per day for lodging, travel, meals and sightseeing. We reasoned that it would add only a minimal amount to get the use of a great RS guide and the ability to make lots of new friends. The guides are one of the main reasons that we took the tour instead of doing it on our own. The guides are wonderful! They are talking to you while you on the coach about local history, politics, art, architecture and current affairs. They can give you so much more precise information at local historical sites than you can get from a guidebook or by trying to glean it from signage. We also really enjoy the opportunity to meet new people. You learn as much about your own country by meeting tour mates from all over the U.S. and Canada. What a joy! Both the guides and the comraderie will keep me coming back to Rick Steves tours. The 2 night stays are not a problem. That is how we usually travel in the US. We want to see as much as we can as fast as we can. We sleep when we get home!
The reason why some people take a tour with only 2 or 3 nights in one location is simple - it meets their needs at that time.
Whether one's travel stays are one or two nights each, or one or two months each are an individual matter, IMHO.
" You learn as much about your own country by meeting tour mates from all over the U.S. and Canada."
Now there's something I don't hear often with regards to international travel. What a great unintended consequence of our travels.