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Help! which Europe tour to take that is budget friendly?

My husband and I are celebrating our one year anniversary in Europe in may or june! We love history, tours, museums, sites. We have never been to Europe, and so doing a DIY will be unfeasable the first time. I am a nurse so money is a factor in trying to find the best trip for the best price. We have searched for months, deciding where to go and who to go with comparing goahead, DIY, rick steves, etc. I feel like RS tours will give us great experiences. But which tour! We are open to anything. Which would anyone recommend? Italy and france seems nice or ireland or anything and everything! We love history!

Posted by
544 posts

You should do the Best of Europe tour. It's designed exactly for travelers like you. You will love it. Even though the tour is not cheap, it includes so much that you're spending very little when you get there.

Posted by
3446 posts

Since you've never been to Europe consider this another vote for the RS Best of Europe Tour. It will give you a good taste of a number of different places / cultures and will allow you to zero in on the areas you would like to do in greater depth later on either independently or on another tour. Also, as mentioned before, most of the things are paid for and the only extras are some meals and what you do independently. You are not nickeled and dimed to death with extra excursions and tips.

Posted by
6611 posts

If you sort the tours by price, you'll see Turkey is the most economical (mostly due to favorable exchange rate between USD and Turkish Lira).

Posted by
544 posts

If you want to really save and be a little more focused for this first trip to Europe, I'd consider the Paris 7-day tour. There are lots of flight options to Paris and the May 2 departure is on sale for $1895.

Posted by
6277 posts

If you're really concerned about budget you might consider one of the My Way tours. Basically the same itinerary as the escorted tours; all hotels and transportation between locations are taken care of and there is also a tour manager that can help with sightseeing suggestions, tips on using local public transportation, and give restaurant recommendations. You decide how much you want to spend on sightseeing and meals so you can keep the expenses down that way.

Personally, I agree with the others that a general Europe tour is a good option for a first tour because it gives you an overview of many places and you can get an idea of where you might want to return for a more in depth experience later.

Posted by
1910 posts

I, too, would recommend the Best of Europe tour for an first visit and an overall taste of Europe. That said, besides Turkey, maybe the Eastern Europe could also be a consideration budget-wise? Here's a link to past scrapbooks. These are always a fun way to get a look at what you can do and what you are offered on a Rick Steves tour. I know there's a new one for 2015 (Eastern Europe) but I couldn't find it with a quick look. https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/scrapbooks/contest-winners. Whatever you decide, you will fall in love with Europe!

Posted by
8063 posts

If you have the time (3 weeks) and the budget, then 21Best of Europe is fabulous. You see blockbuster sights every day. It is just amazing. If you have a much shorter time frame, I started with the Heart of Italy and it was perfect! It's a very nice combo of big cities and smaller towns so you get a lot of variety.

For any tour it's good to get there a couple of days ahead of time, and if you can swing it, stay a day or 2 after.

I've done both Rick Steves tours and Road Scholar tours but prefer the Rick Steves tours for the guides, itineraries, educational factor (emphasis on ~teaching~ you how to travel in Europe) and the other tour members.

Posted by
616 posts

It depends the time you've got.
If you do France and Italy
- Paris
- Loire Valley
- Bordeaux
- Carcassonne
- St Tropez ans Côté d'Azur

Italia

Genova
cinque Terre
Lucca
Florence
Rome

Posted by
6 posts

thank you so much for the suggestions! I am loving these quick reply's! I think the best of europe in 14 days sounds great for us! But is this too much packed into a short period of time?

Posted by
2786 posts

I have taken 13 RS tours, #14 coming in June, and when I compare their prices to what it would cost me not just in money, but also in not having to worry about transportation, places to stay, food, entry fees, guide service, etc. I find them a real deal. I, too, would recommend the Best of Europe Tour for your first time travel to Europe. That was the tour I took on my first trip to Europe and it is still one of my favorite. Be sure to get RS "Europe Thru The Back Door" and "Best of Europe" guide books if you do not already have them. They can be ordered elsewhere on this web site. Happy Travels.

Posted by
695 posts

Our very first European trip was just last spring and we did the 21 day BOE. I think the 14 day BOE tour sounds great too! The tours are perfect for getting to see A LOT in a short time because all the guess work is taken care of for you. You are still given plenty of independent time to delve into the things you are interested in on your own and you will learn how to use the transportation system in each city. It's the best money we've ever spent to be sure!

I didn't find it too overwhelming either.....as a matter of fact our trip ended up being about 24 days. So many wonderful memories!

Posted by
4483 posts

Yes, the 14 day BOE (and the 21 day BOE) cover a lot of territory in a short amount of time, but consider them a sampler, a tasting menu, if you will, of Europe. You'll have a wonderful time, and will have a better idea of what you might want to come back to later.

For me, if I had limited time and $$$, I would choose the Best of Rome. Best of Paris would be my next choice. But you can't go wrong with the BOE tours, if you have time and money.

Happy travels!

Posted by
637 posts

If money is a factor then a RS tour may not be the right choice. They do a lot on the tours, great guides, and the convenience of having someone else arrange things for you, plus with the guide/bus/group reservations they can do things more efficiently than you can on your own. But convenience comes at a cost. From your earlier reply it sounds like you're leaning towards a RS tour. You won't be disappointed by the experience if you go on one, although it isn't going to be friendly to the pocketbook (the concern you first raised). When figuring RS tour costs, don't forget to add in half your dinners, plus at least $20-50 per person at least for misc daily expenses. RS actually suggests a total of $50-$100 daily at https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-help/tours-faq (that includes the dinners).

I would especially advise against single-city tours since you give up 2 of the big conveniences a tour offers, having someone else provide efficient inter-city transport and arrange hotels for several stops, but the price does not come down proportionally. The Paris tour, for example, is 6 nites for about $4K per couple. For that kind of money you can easily find a hotel for $200 a nite (total $1200), splurge on a $100 per person dinner nightly (another $1200), replicate many of the tours within Paris by using Paris Walks or a similar company, and take a guided tour out to Versailles. You'd still be $1,000 or more ahead. And with just a small effort you can find more affordable hotels, nor do you need an extravagant meal nightly. This is a DIY where you can just about match what a tour does for far less if you can book 1 hotel and find a few guided tours.

Posted by
127 posts

RS tours will give you a great experience but allow me to go against conventional wisdom and say that I don't think the BOE tour is a good starting point. Yes, you get to see a lot stuff in a short period of time but that means you're flitting all over Europe at a fast clip. I think, especially for an anniversary trip, you should consider a tour that is more focused on a part of Europe. Maybe even one of the city tours which tend to be a bit shorter.

Posted by
7205 posts

Just because this will be your first time to Europe doesn't mean that you are totally incapable of planning and executing a trip on your own. Lots of people do it successfully.

Posted by
415 posts

Don't rule out a DIY just because this is your first time. We did a DIY with 2 kids this summer and it was our first time. We did 6 countries in 35 days. I won't lie. I did spend a lot of time planing. But if money is a factor, you should definitely reconsider planning your own trip. Sounds as though you've already spent a considerable amount of time researching as it is.

Rick Steves books and online videos were invaluable in the planning process.

Posted by
12238 posts

I wouldn't rule out a DIY trip either; we've never taken a tour and have done just fine. It does involve time to do the research and make the arrangements but going solo allows us to go where we want, when we want, and for as long or as little as we choose to. We also aren't spending $$ on things we don't wish to see or do. And yes, we do it more cost-effectively than a tour - not that there is a THING wrong with a tour if that's your travel style.

You don't say say how long you'll have for this trip but do understand that May and June are high season in much of Europe so prices will be at a premium…and the clock is sort of ticking. For a first-timer, I'd line up some cities which are easier places for novices to start, and which offer nice day-trip opportunities without having to do a lot of packing/unpacking/moving around. The more moving around you do, the more time and money you spend doing THAT and not having fun!

There's also a benefit of setting into a country or city for awhile and getting to know it versus having to run off to the next one just about the time you're getting your bearings.

Do you have any idea at all of some locations which 'speak' to you? For instance, we're tremendous fans of Italy (TONS of history and art), enjoyed Belgium much more than we'd anticipated, and loved Paris. Amsterdam? Not so much. We're all different! But I'm sure that there are some corners of Europe which you've thought about more often than others?

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks everyone for the advice! My husband and I really wanted our budget to be $10,000 including food, transport, tours, a little spending money, etc. The RS tour for europe will end up being $16,000 including food, etc. coming from America. Does that sound right to everyone? We want to take 10-14 days. We have been looking in DIY for rome, paris, and london. London, just because it is close to paris, and def. rome because that just seems like amazing history and tours. When looking into DIY, it looks like just a couple thousand dollar difference. Is that correct? If we really buckle down and save money, we will have enough. I'm just really torn on what to do. My main concern is trying to navigate the city without knowing the language, going from point A to point B, without killing my husband. Any suggestions?

Posted by
5577 posts

Suggestion: celebrate your first anniversary by going out to a really nice dinner near home and then take your trip in the fall, which will allow more time to plan and to find off-season airfares.

Posted by
6 posts

Actually, that is a great idea. My husband also just suggested going in September. Thanks!

Posted by
637 posts

Off-season airfare to Europe is generally November thru March. Spring and Fall can have better prices than summer, but it may not be a huge savings.

The RS tour for europe will end up being $16,000 including food, etc. coming from America. Does that sound right to everyone? We want to take 10-14 days.

Which tour or set of tours did you look at to get this estimate? What region of the USA are you starting from?

Also keep in mind that as with all tour operators days are counted via "tour math". The 1st day you meet in the afternoon (typically in the range 2-5pm, varies by tour). The last day the tour ends at breakfast. None of this is hidden, click on Itinerary of any tour and its right there to see. But if you're thinking of a "day" as being with the group and guide from morning to nite then subtract 2 from the listed length.

As an aside for planning, most people on tours show up (in Europe at least, if not at the starting city) a day or two early to give themselves time to get over jetlag, explore a little on their own, and provide some padding in case they have a delay. Some people also spend time in Europe after their tour.

For 14 days on your own a coarse budget for Paris/London/Rome could be $3K airfare for two, $2800 for 14 nites in a hotel (never been to London so a guess on those prices), $2100 for $150 per day in food, $1000 for daily sightseeing and tours, and $1000 for flights/trains between cities. That is about $10K.

Posted by
3492 posts

Many years ago, I saw/read/heard a suggestion from RS that a middle-of-the-road trip to Europe budget would be $150-$180 per person, per day. That's for everything except airfare from and back to home, wherever that is. We decided to raise the upper end a bit and target $150-$200 per person, per day. Over the years, my husband and I have managed to stay in that ballpark budget while having a great time, staying in nice places, eating great food and enjoying all the tourist sights we could take in.

That budget covered local transportation, including subways, planes, trains, ferries, buses and rental cars. It covered all the entry fees to things we wanted to see. It covered all the hotels, B&B's and apartments we stayed in. And it covered boarding our dog, long-term parking, and similar expenses back home while we were gone -- items often not included in people's trip accounting.

We have visited Europe for 4 weeks up to 8 weeks each trip since 2009, and the per person, per day cost has remained fairly constant with 2 trips averaging $190 per person, per day and the rest lower than that. If you plan well, and with all the online resources available you can do that, even at the high end of $200 per person, per day, your cost would be well within your $10,000 budget.

Full disclosure: I had planned all our trips up until 2014 when we went to Istanbul on an RS tour. I felt totally out of my depth in trying to plan for 6 nights in Istanbul, so we took an RS tour. It was well worth the money for all the reasons others have mentioned, but the cost did come out to $325 per person, per day, well beyond our usual daily costs. I did the rest of the planning for the Greek part of that trip and that was cheap enough that our average per person, per day cost for the whole trip was $180.

If you get into some research on the places you want to go and what you want to see, and try to learn a bit about the cultures and a few useful phrases, I think you will find the planning fun. It is a lot of work, but for me, every piece of the logistics and planning to visit something I want to see gets me more hyped to go. Perhaps I'm just a control freak, but I did very little preparation for Istanbul, and although I learned a lot and enjoyed it thoroughly, I felt like I didn't do my homework.

Whatever you decide to do, my advice is to learn as much as you can before you go, including those phrases and cultural bits, even if you do decide to do a tour.

Posted by
31252 posts

ns,

As this is your first trip to Europe my suggestion would be the 14-day Best of Europe tour, as that will provide you with a good blend of history, cultures and foods in a relatively short time frame. You can use your experiences on the tour as a basis to plan future trips. Whether that will be "budget friendly" is difficult to say, as none of us here know what type of budget you're working with.

While you could also consider the My Way Best of Europe, I don't believe that's the best fit for your situation. While there may initially appear to be a significant cost savings, once you've paid for the sights, meals etc. that you'd get on the full tour, the savings won't be as much. I've taken both types of tours, and that's what I found. Also, you'd have to work out all sightseeing and other details on your own, and as you haven't done that before that could be a daunting task. The full tours also provide many free afternoons and evenings, as well as at least one full day so you'd still have some flexibility to tour on your own.

If you decide to take one of the RS tours, I'd highly recommend arriving at least a day prior to the start of the tour. That will provide some time to get over jet lag, and perhaps tour a few sights that aren't included on the tour. You could also say a few extra days after the tour to do a bit of exploring on your own.

I'm confident that if you decide to take a RS tour that you'll find it one of the best and most memorable travel experiences you've ever had!

It would help to have some idea where you're travelling from?

Posted by
14241 posts

Hi ns!

You can have a great time on your own if you invest the time in planning - something most of us find as enjoyable as the actual trip. And it will be cheaper than a guided tour. You can hire private guides and take small group tours for special sights/experiences. You can save some money with picnic meals (lunches or dinners) put together from local markets or supermarkets.

September and even October are good months to visit. For a 2-week trip I'd limit it to 3 major cities or one country. If you want to get the most bang for your bucks, choose the less expensive destinations. You don't have to see London, Paris and Rome on your first visit (and you will be back again and again). Prague-Vienna-Budapest is a lot less expensive in September and just as great (and easy to tack on Berlin). Spain is another "bargain" destination with so much to see and do, and October is a very good time to visit. Both these options are very easy as DIY trips. I've had great vacations in Spain and Italy in February when hotels have very low rates.

Posted by
4483 posts

We generally budget $100 a day for the two of us, plus our hotel. When possible, we try to keep the hotel under $150 a night - under $100 if possible. This does not include airfare to and from the States. So a 14 day trip for us would be somewhere around $3000 - $3500, plus airfare. And we often come in under budget.

That's when we travel on our own. RS tours are more expensive, of course. We do, however, enjoy them very much, and splurge on one a year. Our extra days before and after the tour are back on budget, though. (That's how we can justify the added expense of RS tours)

I will say that as we have, ummmm, shall I say "become more chronologically enhanced?" we are more likely to toss in special treats occasionally - a cooking lesson in Palermo, a food tour in Rome, and the occasional - very occasional - splurge meal.

Posted by
23 posts

Since you are first time travelers to Europe and if you want to perhaps DIY. I recommend going to England. I have taken 30 different trips to the UK and taken 3 RS tours Eastern Villages France, Scotland and BOE21. England has loads of historical sites, theater, wilderness, you name it and it's super easy to travel by train.

  1. Buy Rick Steves Best of England and London tour books and read
  2. Make a plan on where you want to go and in which order--- Bath, Salisbury, Cotswolds, York, Edinburgh, London? Maybe Cornwall, Dover? Make a plan. I would end in London where you will be a real pro by then. You could take the Eurotrain to Paris. Since you have 10-14 day take your time and savor.
  3. -Rick's hotel suggestions are great but often booked-try booking.com and trip advisor.com
    1. Look at bundling on Expedia- Air fare+ Hotel- you only need to book one hotel for one night to get the bundle price. I did this today and found that by doing this airfare alone was 1800 RT from Chicago--Leaving from Milwaukee (which requires one stop and is usually more expensive) and adding one night at a selection of hotels all over London was 1250! Worth a try
    2. Buy a train pass from rick steves or from RailEurope.com for any 8 days in 2 months or any combination if you validate your pass at Heathrow its good to take the Heathrow Express to Paddington station and then you can hop on your train to Bath from there or if your pass is still valid at the end of trip, use it to take Heathrow Express for your return flight. If you want to reserve your train seat (not required) do so at any train station in the UK.

Good Luck!

Posted by
33 posts

My wife and I celebrated our 20th, 25th, and 30th anniversary in 2015 with our first trip to Europe (Heart of Italy). There is no disputing that it lot cheaper to go on your own. Since we made the decision to go kind of last minute (although we talked about it for years), we liked it that things were planned out for us, tickets to venues were pre-purchased, guides were arranged for sites, hotels and transportation were taken care of, hints and tips on getting along in a different culture were shared liberally by our guide, plenty of free time. The part of the trip that surprised us was how much fun we had getting to know the other folks on our tour. It really was a unique experience and one of our great memories from our time in Italy. And we loved Italy.

Posted by
4483 posts

I'm wondering which tour (if any) ns and her husband have decided on.

Posted by
3072 posts

$16,000 for a 2 week trip sounds very expensive to me. Our typical trip is 3.5 - 4 weeks. We stay at moderate price ( 100 euro/nt., more in cities) hotels or inns, but I look for and usually find charm and convenience. We usually eat one main meal in a restaurant. Often we hire a guide for a day or half day tour. If I want something like a ceramic piece or other special local product, I buy it. We normally spend $10,000 including airfare.

Of course there is a learning curve for accomplishing all that. We've been traveling to Europe since 1984. It's not so much that we spent more back then, but that I know how to get more bang for the buck now. Also, I enjoy the planning process, which is much easier now with the Internet.
I think the idea of waiting 'til Sept. or Oct. is a very good one. It's a bit late for a DIY trip in May or June in the very popular places you'll want to go. You might try doing a little planning for a DIY trip (without making any reservations) now, and see if it feels doable or not. If not, you'll have the option of signing up for a tour.

Posted by
208 posts

I love, love, loved the Best of Istanbul tour - and it's one of the cheapest of the RS tours. An amazing city that could be very romantic, and history everywhere.

Posted by
45 posts

We did a DIY tour of Germany, Austria and Switzerland in December for about $300 a day for a married couple (exclusive of air fair to get to Europe) and had a great time. It did, however, require a lot of advance planning (which I enjoyed doing). Most tours cost about $500 a day for a couple. Since you have not been to Europe before, it may be best for you to take a tour for your first visit, and if you want to return, and if you can take the time to pre plan, and if you feel comfortable traveling on your own, do a DYI tour for your next visit.

Posted by
277 posts

One of the most intimidating things about traveling in Europe is being unfamiliar with the language. Especially when you first arrive. You are jet lagged, and totally unsure of where to go and what to do. So I might recommend traveling to England. At least they speak the same language! My husband and I took the Best of England 14 day tour last May and loved it. You get 2000 years of history in Bath and Hadrians wall, beautiful cathedrals, gorgeous gardens in Bodnant as well as castles. There are big cities such as London and small quaint towns in the Cotswolds. Wonderful tour. They will teach you how to get around on your own. The only problem is that it's a little more expensive because of the exchange rate between the dollar and the pound.
Look at the scrapbooks and see where you want to visit, then splurge on whatever interests you the most. You can skimp on Starbucks and Christmas gifts for each other when you come home with a suitcase full of memories. My favorite part of the RS tours are the wonderful people that you meet and the terrific guides. You won't get that on a DIY trip. Two of our trips have been in September and it was a wonderful time to travel. Happy Anniversary and happy travels. Half of the fun is the planning!

Posted by
340 posts

You can do it yourself and save money no doubt about that.

However, if you feel the need for a tour for whatever reason, that is OK also. Sometimes we don't have the necessary time, background and experience to be able to make the plans ourselves. My first European visit was a one week RS tour. I came back and in a few months started bookings for a do it myself tour of three weeks. I made a point of taking good notes and leanring as much as I could about how these things are done while on the RS tour. Since then I have taken many RS tours as well as done much on my own traveling. I do what is right for me and mine, not what is best for somebody else.

IMHO, while the My Way tours are cheaper they are not as good a value as the fully guided tours. I have taken both. With the fully guided tour I only opened my wallet for a few meals and snacks and some souvenirs. (Really, they feed you so well, that on days we had a group dinner, I avoided lunch, and on days we had a group lunch, I had gelato or a pastry for dinner. I can't eat that much food and be a happy traveler. :-) ) But, on the My Way tour I was paying for every museum, bus ride, train travel, meals and more.

If you like the itinerary of the guided tour ( the main IF in my conclusion) I think that the guided tours are a better value, though they may not be 'cheaper' than the My Way tours.

Cheapest is to do it yourself and find the less expensive options in hotels, meals, museum days, etc.

Posted by
556 posts

Hi NS!

I have been following this thread on and off. I also think you may want to consider the Best of Europe in 14 days. Yes, you can do it yourself, but the I know I get overly anxious about the unknown and I know that taking a tour for your first visit would take some of that pressure off. I think you mentioned your budget was around $10000. The Best of Europe will probably go over that for you, but it probably won't get as high as $15. It would probably be closer to $11500-$12000 ($4000x 2 = $8000 plus figure $1500 each for airfare = $11000, then $500-$1000 or so for spending money). If you wait until Sept or Oct, that would give you a little more time to save too. I hope you come back and let us know what you decided.

:)

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you to everyone who replied! My husband and I decided to go on the best of Europe tour in September. After all the suggestions, we decided that doing this the first time and doing diy the next would be the best option. Now I am trying to figure out the small details of what to pack, etc.

Posted by
8063 posts

Great choice! I hope you have a fantastic time!

There are lots of threads on the packing section of the forum so start combing thru them and let us know if you have questions. There will never be a consensus but we will all have an opinion, lol!!

Also take a look at Trip Reports in that forum or on the RS Tour forum as many will put their packing list in their report.

Posted by
556 posts

Glad to hear you made a choice! Now I hope you come back afterwards to the forum and let us know how you liked it! :)