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Munich, Salzburg and Vienna vs. GAS

Background: my parents have asked me to look into some options for us to do a family trip in 2018. Priorities for us would be hiking/seeing beautiful mountains in Switzerland (the Alps are basically the only reason we're convincing my dad to leave the U.S.) and going to Austria because my mom is obsessed with the Sound of Music. My dad watches RS and has heard of the GAS tour and likes the idea of doing a RS tour. I did the Eastern Europe tour and loved it, but I'm less intimidated by independent travel than my parents are (they've never been to Europe) so I'm trying to figure out what would be the best way for us to get the most that we want to do for our time and money.

What I'm wondering is this; since we're not specifically interested in Germany at this time, I feel like doing the GAS tour might "waste" some of our time because of the first 3 days not being of particular importance to us. It also seems from the itinerary that most of the time in Switzerland is relatively unguided because you choose what hikes/activities you want to do based on your own interests and the weather. I know it's subjective, but I'm curious to hear from anyone who has done GAS if you felt it was "worth" having a guide in Switzerland if all we really want to do there is hike and wander around anyway. We've hiked independently all over the U.S.

For me personally, I feel it might be a better use of our time to fly directly to Switzerland and spend 5 or 6 days there on our own before transferring to Munich to do the Munich, Salzburg and Vienna tour. I think we would get more out of that half of the tour and benefit more from a guide there to help explain history, recommend places to visit, etc. However, I'd love to hear any arguments for/against either option. We're all in good shape and I know it would also be possible to plan a completely independent trip, but we all enjoy the RS shows and like the idea of walking tours and learning from a guide, which is why doing a tour appeals to us.

I realize that no time in Europe is ever a "waste" unless you make it so, but I do want to try to make the best use of our limited vacation time that I can. (Dad still works, so we're limited to 2 weeks) Any opinions or advice would be appreciated. I plan to take whatever advice I get here, print out both tour itineraries and then we can have a family meeting to discuss our options. Thanks!

Posted by
7401 posts

Your idea to do part on your own and do the RS Munich-Salzburg-Vienna tour looks like a good idea.

If your folks are ill at ease with the "do it yourself" , perhaps schedule the RS tour at the start of your trip and then do your independent time in Switzerland/Alps. Let them get acclimated.

Not to say you cannot do the proper planning, but it might less scary for them to start with the tour.

Walk down the steps at the shallow end of the pool rather than jumping in the deep end.

Good luck

Posted by
750 posts

I have done both, independent travel & Rick Steves tours in Europe and from a 66 year old's perspective I think your parents would enjoy the GAS tour most because the comroderie that the tours create gives people a "kindred spirit" when traveling. The RS guides are excellent and make such a difference in how you respond to visiting historic sites. This sounds like the trip of a lifetime, I hope you have a wonderful experience!

Posted by
6565 posts

If you decide to do independent travel prior to the tour, traveling through Tirol and Western Austria is extremely easy out of Munich. You just hop a 2 hour train ride down to Innsbruck and you're in the Alps. It's an area that's very easy to deal with and not so off the beaten path as Switzerland. It's also much less expensive than Switzerland.

Posted by
600 posts

I took the GAS tour and loved every minute. I had the same priorities as you and wasn't sure I would love the first 3 days of the tour as much as the days in Switzerland, but I really did, especially getting to see Beilstein and Burg Eltz, and Baden-Baden was much nicer than i expected. As for guiding in Switzerland, I think it depends on your guide. We had bad weather there, so he helped us arrange activities to go with the weather. He lead a guided walk through the valley and to the Falls. He kept tabs on the conditions on the peaks and when it didn't clear up he made a secondary plan to take us into Interlaken for lunch and a chocolate making demonstration. I don't think you could go wrong with either plan, but for what it is worth, I loved every minute if the GAS tour. I made a scrapbook of our trip, in case you are a visual person like me and looking at photos helps.

Posted by
79 posts

You mentioned that you are less intimidated by European travel and that your parents have never been to Europe. I really think starting your trip with a tour will give your parents a comfort level. When I went on the Europe in 14 days tour last year, I thought Paris would be my favorite but it was Italy. I learned from that experience to have an open mind to what I thought I would like. I was learned that the tours are a wonderful way to see things I could not possibly see on my own.
Have you checked out a "My Way" tour? It may gave your parents a comfort level but at the same time less group structure which you may not need.

Posted by
8203 posts

I did GAS last fall and had a wonderful time.

I had been to Switzerland on the 21BOE tour and really, really, really wanted the 2 full days there. We had better weather than Tamara but the time there was semi-guided if we wanted. An option for anyone who wanted was that the guide took us up the Schilthorn first thing in the AM after he checked the weather, then arranged to meet anyone who wanted at the Almendhubel funicular at 1PM to take us up and get us started on hikes. Many of hte group kind of hiked together. Two other women and I opted to do the easier hike back down to Muerren. I was probably the most experienced hiker of the group and had done research on the trails there. I did appreciate his getting us organized as the TH was not as easy to find as I thought it would be. He took another trail down after he got us started and we had a wonderful hike. He bought the tickets to the Schilthorn (cheaper if you are in a group) and the funicular and we paid him back.

The next day transport down to the valley and back up was covered. We took the cable car down to the bus and were taken to Truemmelbach Falls (entry was included). After that the bus driver took us on in to Lauterbrunnen. Most of us opted to do the Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg hike which was exactly what I wanted to do. (Had done it before and it is gorgeous). We purchased our RT tickets up to Mannlichen and back down from Kleine Scheidegg at the station, then Carlos gave us our return ticket back up the other side to Muerren. We took the train and cable car up together, then got started on the hike together. We spread out but wound up mostly on the train back down together.

So yes, I felt the guide helped. I, too, have hiked a lot, mostly in the West including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and AZ.

I did enjoy Trier (love the Roman ruins there as well as Burg Eltz!) and Baden-Baden which had a very elegant charm to it. I didn't do the baths but enjoyed birding (and people watching) along the Lichtentaler Allee. I really liked the Black Forest Open Air Museum we visited altho I could definitely have spent more time there!

If your Dad is interested in the GAS tour, I would go with that. Yes, you can do it on your own, but as you likely found out, there is a lot of added value with the tour group and you might enjoy the first days in Germany. I do recommend you arrive in Trier at least a night ahead. From Tamara's trip report I used her idea of flying in to Paris and then traveled on the train (via Saarbrucken) to Trier the day before the tour started.

I did find out something about myself on this tour...I really enjoyed the smaller towns (Trier, Baden-Baden, Muerren, Hallstatt) much more than the large cities of Munich and Vienna.

Posted by
107 posts

Another vote for the GAS option for pretty much the reasons cited above, We did this tour in Sept 2015 at ages 73 and 71. Although we have traveled extensively on our own in Europe we find the RS tours takes a lot of hassle and frustration out of travel between cities, cover the basics well at each stop and yet provides ample personal time for activities of your choice. From what you say about your parents I think they would appreciate the more structured experience - at least initially. They might also enjoy the interaction with other tour members as a break from solely family conversations.

Our experiences in Murren were similar to Pam's. We had nice weather with only a bit of rain one afternoon and did some hiking on our own as the group's plan seemed a bit too ambitious for us. We did not find it difficult to navigate; there were lots of signs and good maps available. Nevertheless, it was nice to have our guide's advise and guidance. Note that the group activities incl the gondola to the top and bus in the valley would be difficult and/or more costly to do on your own. The group dinners were a lot of fun, too.

We also greatly enjoyed Trier - that was the real sleeper of this trip but the other activities in Germany were really great.


Posted by
1928 posts

Along with all of the others who are recommending taking the GAS tour, that's exactly what I'dm suggesting, too. I think Pam really covered the hiking in Switzerland options well. Actually, we did this tour with family (grandparents, our kids, teen grandkids, one single son) and had a fantastic time. We added some time in Amsterdam before taking the train to meet the tour in Trier, and added an extra day at the end in Vienna. I think you will all enjoy Trier, Baden Baden, Hallstatt, Salzburg and everything else already mentioned that's offered on the longer tour. Whatever you decide, it will definitely be a memorable trip since you will all be taking it together. Ours was! Have fun!

Posted by
120 posts

Wow! First let me say a huge thank you to all who have offered their opinions. I'm always blown away by the well though out and truly helpful answers I receive whenever I ask questions on this forum. That's exactly why I came here with this question.

You've helped me realize that I'm looking at this from the perspective of a 20 something who isn't afraid to make mistakes and fumble around a little (I've survived the public transport in Tokyo, so I feel like I'm up for anything) when I need to look more at my parent's perspective and that getting around on our own is less comfortable for them. Plus, it was a good reminder that they might get sick of me and want to talk to someone else. Ha!

I'm so glad to hear that others have enjoyed the initial stops on the GAS tour and that it didn't feel like wasted time. Perhaps a slower start to our trip is what my parents would be looking for. I'm definitely not opposed to doing this tour, after all I did love the Eastern Europe one, these countries just seemed "easier" to me now that I've done more travel on my own. (I've been to Japan and New Zealand since I did Eastern Europe.)

Thank you to those who offered specific hiking tips or things that you enjoyed both on and off the tour. I am taking notes and will present all of this to my folks and let them make the final decision. That's how we planned the Alaskan cruise we're taking next month. I do the research, take notes and make up spreadsheet comparisons and then they pick what they want. I love to travel, so I'm up for pretty much anything, but since this will be their first experience in Europe, I want to please them as much as possible. Thanks again for everything!

Posted by
1173 posts

I would like to cast my vote for the GAS tour which I took last year and loved. I would love to take that tour again, it was such an amazing tour and included such wonderful places and sites. I even stayed four extra days in Vienna which I loved. I think your parents would enjoy the GAS tour and it would be a great introduction to seeing Europe. I think that the 8 day Munich, Salzburg and Vienna tour would be great and why not it, it is part of the full GAS tour but going with RS to see Switzerland would make a lot more sense as they really do help you get around Switzerland and effectively see the best of Switzerland in a short amount of time. I also think as a family you will have a much more stress free vacation going the whole time with RS as opposed to you planning the days on your own and your family looking to you to make sure it all goes well. This tour will enable you to see Switerland and understand the hikes and how to get to places so that if your family wants to go back you all will have a better understanding how to do that.

And believe me, even if you and your family are not specifically interested in Germany ( I wasn't either) it really has some great sites and after going on the GAS tour, I would love to go on the Germany tour! Seeing the Burg Eltz Castle was really something and going to Black Forest was beautiful and seeing the lovely town of Trier and the elegant town of Baden-Baden was eye opening. Both towns are just so pretty, relaxing and just a nice setting. You won't be disppointed.

You will be able to really get a good feel for all three countries and then decide if you want to go back on your own.

Have a safe and fun trip.