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Do you have *Criteria* for choosing tour dates?

....and what I mean is, any self-imposed criteria for choosing dates for an RS tour?

Based on some of the Trip Reports this year, I'm thinking I do not want to take the 1st tour date of the year so the bugs can be worked out. Someone else mentioned not taking the last tour of the year. I've taken all the Britain tours, but I would not take a tour there that spanned half term holidays. Something over May 1 for France would probably be out (other European countries as well??).

I'm not sure I'd take an add-on tour if I can help it. Are those generally staffed by the part-time guides out of the RS office instead of the folks that are full-time guides? Or no difference?

I'm considering taking the Belgium and Holland tour next April so looking at dates. Easter is late...April 21 so was looking how that might impact tour activities on Good Friday, Easter and Easter Monday (which looks to be the official holiday). It's possible that I am driving myself crazy trying to do day to day comparisons of dates plus whether to take a tour that starts Wednesday or Saturday.

Or do you just decide what dates work for you and go for it?

Posted by
56 posts

We tend to book in September since the weather is starting to cool, and prices in Europe are cheaper. With that said, I agree with you on not taking the first or last trip of the year. This past Christmas we specifically chose to go on the Best of London tour, instead of handling everything on our own. We were both in need of a true vacation...tell me what time and we will be there. I also was sure crowds would be large and wanted to use the tour to gain access to museums, walking tours, etc.

Posted by
21 posts

Primarily weather... traveling as a family, we're highly restricted on when we can travel already, so once we figure out when we're free, we look to stay as far away from the heat of the middle of summer as possible.

Posted by
5011 posts

I plan all my trips based on 1) probable weather, and 2) avoiding crowds. Everything after that is secondary.

Posted by
600 posts

We always try to pick a date when something cool is expected to be blooming (i.e. the tulips in the Netherlands), but I drive myself crazy with that because there is never one guaranteed perfect time. So I search the internet for photos of the time periods in question in years past and debate over and over. In the end, it's all luck. We always try to pick tours that start on Sunday if we can, because it gives us the chance to work through Friday, take a late flight out on Friday and still arrive the day before the tour. We are all about maximizing our vacation time!

The spring is tough with Easter and a lot of bank holidays. We were in Greece for May day and missed out on one planned itinerary stop because of it, but it turned out ok. We were in Nafplio for the holiday and the town was hopping, as it's a popular place for locals to visit for long weekends. It was crowded, but fun to experience the energy like you would have here in a smaller city on the 4th of July.

Have fun planning! That tour looks great!

Posted by
8063 posts

"but I drive myself crazy with that because there is never one guaranteed perfect time."

Tamara, I think you know me well enough to know that is where I am headed right now, lol!! I have to look at the details a bit...then go do something else...then go back. You are right, in the end, no perfect time. This year flowers were early, I think. Last year they were late. Some years it's flooding in April. I want to pick a date that does Keukenhof for the flowers!!! I've seen some great pictures of the gardens, lol!

Mollie, your Christmas venture sounds like it was fun. I also like end of Sept.

Tedesco and David...yes weather is a factor. Can't possibly go mid-summer as I just can't do heat any more!

Posted by
120 posts

Interesting comment, Pam, regarding the add-on tours. I'm also curious if anyone has any further knowledge regarding if these are staffed by "regular" RS guides or if they are add-on guides as well. That is something I hadn't considered before, but also something I might now take into account. I was considering the 21 day BOE for next year, but due to work conflicts I can only do the Tuesday-Monday itinerary, not the Sunday-Saturday one. Right now for 2019 they only show one Tuesday-Monday tour scheduled, so I'm guessing the others will be add ons that appear later on? I guess I'll have to think about this a bit more.

As to your original question, most of my decision on when to take my trips depends on when I can get consecutive vacation weeks at work, so usually Spring or Fall, when there's less competition with parents whose kids are out of school. I'd rather not travel in the summer anyway though since I like hiking and exploring outside. They use a lottery system at work, so I have to see what weeks I get off and then plan a vacation/tour that fits within those weeks. Kinda stinks, but it's better than no travel at all.

Posted by
1910 posts

Mostly this: "Or do you just decide what dates work for you and go for it?".

That said, I prefer traveling during Spring and Fall, I have enjoyed being on tours during seasonal and other holidays so I often look for those special times. Weather is a minor consideration. Of course, these details are flexible. We often take RS tours as a family (myself, my kids and grandkids) and therefore are limited to school and work considerations. I am fine with making those accommodations!

Posted by
524 posts

Since my husband and I have retired from our primary jobs, we both work part time, we travel mostly April-May or Sept-October. To answer your add on question, we took the Best of Germany last minute add on tour. We had a fantastic guide, not a part timer or from the office. By the way, we have had two such guides, and they were very good.

We took the Belgium/Netherlands tour to enjoy the tulips. We almost missed them. We were in Brussels for May Day, our tour had to reschedule activities because of all the closures. We went to Botanic Garden Meise, sorry this is a trip advisor link. These were fabulous gardens, unfortunately everyone was off work that day and most of them visited the gardens along with our group.

Posted by
2786 posts

I have taken 16 RS tours and have never heard of a "add-on tour". All of the tours I have taken were staffed by full time RS guides. We have had some local guides when visiting cities which certainly has added to our experience. We schedule tours in northern Europe in the early summer and schedule tours in southern Europe in May or mid-september.

Posted by
1910 posts

Charlie, I'm assuming by using the term "add on tours", they are referring to tours that are not originally posted as scheduled tours but "added on" at a later date as the staff sees how sign ups are going. We took a Villages South England tour that was added on and got one of the best (yes, full time) RS guides ever! (Thanks, Tom!).

Posted by
1044 posts

Pam, when I was still teaching I was usually limited to late June into July time frames for European trips and RS tours. Now that I am (semi) retired (subbing as much as possible to fund my travel addiction!) I like to travel off-season for somewhat fewer other tourists and cheaper prices.
Last year I deliberately picked the first of the year Best of the Adriatic tour. It's been running for quite a while so all the bugs are worked out. I wanted to go before the guides and locales were tired of us tourists!!! It was terrific!
For Holland and the flowers, maybe pick something in the middle of blooming season and tag on a few days in Amsterdam before and after just in case.
And happy trails whenever you go!
SharYn

Posted by
373 posts

Pam, you always ask intriguing questions.

Placement of tours- Our two least favorite RS tours were both “ first of the season”. They were also both with veteran leaders, who seemed as if they had not yet adjusted their mindsets to being back on the job. Our two favorite RS tours were both “ last of the season” for our tour leaders even if they weren’t the actual last tour. On both of those the energy level and personal interaction were exemplary. As a teacher for 38 years, the first week and last week of school always found me at the top of my game. Excited to begin, excited to be done.

Time of year- Now that we are retired it is “ shoulder season” for us. The weather and the smaller crowds are motivators.

Day of the week- It could be argued that beginning the tour on the weekend has two advantages. If you want to arrive a few days early it allows for mid- week travel which is sometimes cheaper. If you start on a weekend then the whole first week of the tour can happen during weekdays with ( hopefully) smaller crowds.

FWIW, we did do one tour over an Easter weekend. ( Ireland in Ennis). I was very surprised to see what a “non deal” it was. Stores ( and especially bars) were open and occupied the entire weekend.

Posted by
1002 posts

Regarding Easter, we were in Prague and Cesky Krumlov this year, the week before Easter, and really enjoyed the Easter markets. We had no idea that Easter markets were such big events there.
On Easter, we were in Salzburg, and even tho not religious, went to the Mass in the Cathedral, which proved to be the most beautiful and magical music/song experience [2 hours.] It was great to experience a cathedral for the purpose it was intended, and some of the music was originally written to be performed there. Here, as in many Catholic countries, stores were closed, [Easter and Easter Monday], but castles and museums were open.
Our trip was the last week of March, and first week of April. We Californians forgot about seasons in our planning, so did miss the blooming flowers and gardens; the trees still had no leaves. I would return to these areas again, but probably when the gardens are in their full glory.

We did the last RS Swiss tour of the 2017 season, and some of the shops were closed for the shoulder season, [Sept into Oct,] but we had perfect weather! Our guide was not burned out at all, and maybe more energized because it was his last tour of the season. I would definitely travel Switzerland again at this time of year.
I would avoid Europe in the summer if at all possible, due to the heat and the crowds.

Posted by
8063 posts

Oh gosh! Thank you all for your thoughts! You've given me some other things to think of, hahaha!!

I'm retired so not really tied to a certain time frame other than I don't tolerate heat well so July and August are no-go. I've done Paris in 95 degree heat in August (what was I thinking??) and started the GAS tour the end of August also in 95 degree heat. Yikes.

Yes, Andi is reading my mind on what I meant with Add-on or shadow tour dates.

It's good to know others have had shadow dates with the full time guides and have had good experiences! I won't worry so much about that. My Southern England tour this year was the first time our experienced guide had ever done that tour. There was only one time where I could tell his timing was a little off and if he hadn't told us it was his first time no one would have known it.

When I look at the Belgium & Holland tour list for 2019 there are only 12 departures. Six in April, 1 each in May, June, July and Aug and 2 in September. I feel certain there will be more added in May and probably June and probably one more in September. The 4 left for the rest of this year are wait-listed. I know last year 2 dates were added to the Belgium and Holland tour in early May as the ones around them filled up.

It's interesting to me to see how other people's thought processes work!

Posted by
4483 posts

Pam, we generally just go when we can find the time. We've taken RS tours in February, March, April, May, June, July, and October.

At least twice, we've taken the first tour of the year, and both were great. One was Villages of South England; the other was 21 Day Best of Europe. Two of our tours were "off season" tours - one to London and one to Sicily. One was great, the other less so, but still enjoyable. The less enjoyable tour had a guide on his/her first time out, and we found him/her to be not quite ready to fly yet.

If I had my druthers, I'd travel in the fall, but that often (at least every two years) interferes with my DH's political activities. For 2019 we chose the date of one of our two tours to accommodate a friend who suggested we take a tour together. She and her DH wanted to go as early in the year as possible, but we have family and other obligations through early May, so we're traveling late May through mid-June.

It's probably smart to check the calendar for local holidays, but don't make yourself crazy overthinking this. I doubt if the perfect time to take a tour actually exists - weather alone will blow even the most carefully crafted plans.

And I suspect, having read many of your posts and trip reports, that you're going to have a great time, no matter what. :-)

Posted by
96 posts

Pam, I'm partial to the beginning of September for the following reasons:
(1) Weather is generally quite nice and there seems to be less rain in early September than later in the year. Although it can still be quite warm in southern Europe in early September, I tolerate the heat a lot better than the cold!
(2) Daylight hours are still pretty good.
(3) Warmer weather means less bulky clothes in the suitcase. Reading your posts, I know that you are a master lightweight packer, but I have not yet mastered that skill!
(4) Warmer weather is conducive to eating gelato and sitting in cafes drinking sangria (or pick your cold, refreshing beverage of choice)!
(5) Better airfare prices.
(6) RS tour prices seem to be a little less for that first tour at the end of the summer season.
(7) Weather here in the inland northwest is glorious in the summer, so we try to stay in the area to enjoy our short summer season.
(8) Gives me something to look forward to at the end of the summer.
(9) Gives me the opportunity to plant my flowers and vegetables and tend to my garden. By September, I'm burned out and ready to let the deer eat whatever they want!

Posted by
1552 posts

Time of year changes for us. My preference is May or September, but my husband's football passion has put a kink in September, and then he got bored with retirement, so he started teaching at the university and we had to wait for finals to be over in May. So we've actually travelled June, July & August more than anticipated. As long as I get to travel, I'm happy. Weather is so unpredictable that I really don't take that into account. Our Ireland/Scotland trip in late June/early July was so wet and cold I think I have the same sweater on in every picture.

As to add-on guides, I got the impression (correct or not) that some of his regular guides are not exclusive to him, so it may be a matter of number of interested travelers + available regular guides that sets the add-on tour dates.

Posted by
8063 posts

Thanks all! I've enjoyed everyone's views on decision-making.

Jane, yes, I will have a good time no matter what, lol!!

Terri....I just had to laugh at your #9! I am not the gardener in the house but I do enjoy May and June in N. Idaho AND yes, this morning there was a deer in the yard but it appeared to be munching on field bindweed which is a good thing!

Patty, good point about guides not being exclusive to Rick.

Posted by
486 posts

Pam, we did the Best of Holland Tour this year the last week of April and first week of May and it was great. There are some other holidays for you to be aware of during that time. The Netherlands celebrates King's Day on April 27 and Belgium celebrates Labor Day on May 1. The links below are one way to check for local festivals and holidays where you are visiting.

https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/netherlands/festivals
https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/belgium/festivals

Posted by
882 posts

We choose what works with when we can get time off and maximize travel time.

Posted by
1792 posts

Pam,
I choose my travel times based on:
1) Likely weather in shoulder season, April - May or Sept. - Oct.
2) Dates of RS tours that coincide with Holidays so I can maximize my vacation days.
3) Prices of RS tours after factoring in the first items to maximize my tour credits and early sign up discount!

I went on an independent trip to Paris & Amsterdam in April for lovely weather and tulips in Keukenhof Gardens. Paris was hot, in the mid-80's! But Holland was cool and the tulips were fabulous. I was there for the King's Birthday on April 27 and enjoyed the city of Haarlem very much. We spent 6 nights in Haarlem and took the trains to Amsterdam, Delft and the Hague. Loved our time there.

I think someone suggested you book a few days pre-tour and after as insurance in case the tulips are not ready or at their best during the tour. It is a special experience to be there when they are at their peak!!

Posted by
1007 posts

Our RS tours have been in the April-May period, with Barcelona/Madrid being in February. We prefer to avoid the crowds, heat and higher prices of summer travel. Now that i am retired, we could travel in September or October.

We have taken the first tour of the season for the Villages of Southern England tour and Loire Valley/South of France tour. In neither case did we experience any problems. Having a guide with experience on the tour is the key. Having said that, I probably would not take the first departure of a brand new tour.

Posted by
4483 posts

Bob, we did that once - we took the first departure for the Villages of South England tour. Its being a new tour certainly added a certain "je ne sais quoi!" Several times the guides (Roy and Debi Jo) had to backtrack and/or improvise. But everyone was good humored about it, and we all had a wonderful time.

Posted by
815 posts

Hi Pam -

I DO NOT take heat well.... So I like traveling in April-May. We were on the 8 Day Barcelona/Madrid June 2017 and it was extremely hot for my liking. It made the trip miserable.

We are both retired now, so no major issues of traveling, except of summer and restrictions on working at my part-time job of when I can be gone. We have enjoyed the April-May time frame.

So weather and less crowds are my main reasons.

Oh..... guess I better mention....Can't go during September to December because my husband is avid Football watcher. He has to watch his "precious college team" LOL. We went to Cincinnati a couple of years ago to go to a couple of baseball games road trip for our fav baseball team (St Louis Cardinals) and we had to stay an extra day on the Saturday so he could watch OU football. (we have a mixed marriage, I went to OSU- Bedlam in my house). I should of bought a single baseball game ticket and gone to the afternoon game by myself. LOL.

Kim

Posted by
8063 posts

Kim!! Ride 'em Cowboys (Is that still a cheer, lol??) I grew up in OK, went to first year of college at OSU so I TOTALLY understand what you are saying. Moved to FL and encountered the same with UF and FSU, lol. Maybe that would be a GOOD time to travel, hahaha!!

Judy, yes, I like to get that extra $100 off to combine with my discount from taking previous tours. My life goal is to earn enough in discounts to get a free single supp.

Jen, thanks for those holiday links.

Bob, good to hear your experience with a first of the year tour.

Again, thanks to all!

Posted by
2672 posts

Oh, Pam, are you making me rethink my system? I never heard of a negative reason for the first or last tour. I took the first tour of the RS season in Greece due to the weather, mostly. I like it as cool as possible. I loved the tour! That's my only tour. I had just about decided on the last tour next year for BPV in hopes of getting fall weather...can't fit in a spring one. So tell me, what is rumored to be wrong with the last tour?

Posted by
8063 posts

Oh Wray, I'm not trying to start something! Someone recently in a discussion mentioned a less than good experience on the last tour of the year. Now of course, I can't remember who it might have been and what tour they were talking about. The post just stuck in my mind as maybe making a difference in how I would look at things.

I completely understand wanting some fall color and based on the responses here it doesn't seem like doing the last tour has been an issue for people. I'm trying to avoid heat as well!

Posted by
815 posts

Yipper…… RIde 'em Cowboys!! I bleed ORANGE!!!

Posted by
8063 posts

Hahaha...well, I used to bleed Orange...and Blue, fight fight Florida U, hahaha!!

Posted by
3449 posts

My criteria is:
1. Can I get time off work during the time I want to go.
2. Where am I going in Europe. If further north, I prefer mid summer.
Further South the shoulder seasons of Spring or Fall. Don't like
Winter travel for anything.
3. Can I get an affordable flight there at the time I want.

That's about it.

Posted by
62 posts

I've taken one tour and just booked the second. Here is what my 'criteria' was!

  1. Public holidays...avoid it possible as things are shut and crowded
  2. School holidays...avoid at all costs!
  3. weather....decent as is possible for location
  4. What day does the tour start...important as I work full time and want to make most of precious vacation time.
  5. Airline prices for time of year and location
  6. How easy is it to get to start location of tour.

Worked well for the Best of Europe 14 day I took on April 29. I just booked Athens and Greece, however today there are horriic fires in Athens, you can never plan for natural disasters! I leave in 6 weeks when hopefully it's a little cooler and the fire threat has lessened but outside of that I followed my criteria above!

Good luck!

Posted by
996 posts

I have traveled with multiple companies across the world. If I know ahead of time that I'm looking at their last tour of the year, I don't want to take that one.

Generally speaking, I look at the dates that work best for me and mine.

Posted by
4637 posts

First I am choosing tours which are not so easy to do on my own. In choosing when to go: generally to avoid south European countries in summer.

Posted by
3449 posts

Several people remarked they don't want to take the final tour of the year that any company offers. Why? It would be nice to understand that choice. Is the next to last tour OK? What makes the last one a no-go?

Posted by
215 posts

Mark:
In 2015 I took the last Greece tour of the season. It was a tour that was added after others filled up, not the last one of the regular schedule. We got a new-to-RS-tours guide, at least one of the hotels was closing the minute we left (they actually said they were waiting for us to leave) with reduced staff. That hotel breakfast was pathetic with a tray set on the reception counter that I mostly recall having dried up bread and a couple pieces of cheese. It seemed obvious we were getting leftovers with them using up what they had on hand before closing for the season. We also experienced a bad storm as the winter season began. Yes that was unusual but more likely as the usual travel season ends. (The storm was really unusual, we were on Hydra which had worst flooding in 30 years and the whole island lost running water in addition to flood damage.) So I am one of the people that will not take another last of the season tour. I have taken another RS tour since then and probably will do more, but will increase my odds of having a better tour experience with selective date criteria.

Posted by
8063 posts

Lynn...urk! Thanks for the info on your last-tour-of-the-year experience!

I'm still enjoying reading how others make the decision! Thanks!

Posted by
931 posts

Our first and only tour was the RS 21 day, last one of the season during the month of October. It was fabulous! We had a good tour guide, exciting experiences, and good food at every breakfast and during group dinners (except for that awful place in Rome!). We went early and enjoyed clear sunny days and mild temps in the Netherlands for 10 days before our tour began. We did experience a cold snap at start of tour (we even got to enjoy a light dusting of snow) but then the weather cleared to mild and mostly fair again. I also don't do heat without air conditioning so won't travel to Europe during summer where I would be doing more strenuous activity every day. Right now I prefer fall and winter travel, but only because I have not experienced Europe in the spring.