We've done one RS Tour and loved it, but did NOT love the food for the group meals at all. So for our trip to Spain in 2018, we were looking at the My Way Spain - which is advertised as 11day, but it's truly only 9days, as the 1st & last days are not full days at all. For me and my husband to do this with the RS My Way Spain, it will cost us $550/day as a couple. That is no meals, no tours, no tickets - it is a hotel, breakfast, and transportation to each city. I'm thinking we can do it A LOT cheaper on our own and just buy RS Spain book. We have traveled in Europe on our own a few times - always before/after a RS or Tauck tour for a week or more - we are comfortable with trains and AAA has always been VERY helpful with hotels in Europe for us. This site has always been so helpful, that I'd love to get opinions here on your thoughts as to a My Way tour or going on our own to save money. $550 per day for just breakfast & a hotel seems like a lot. I do understand there is a RS guide for suggestions/etc. Thanks!!
I actually looked at this tour a few days ago and did some quick math. DH and I are thinking about going to Spain in April with a very similar itinerary. The dates on the RS My Way tour don't quite line up with what we were planning, and I was trying to figure out if it was worth changing our dates to May in order to join the tour or not. I can share my notes.
To get an estimate for the DIY, I first looked at Rome2Rio and picked the most expensive train fare between each pair of cities, which comes to $335 per person for transportation. I didn't put dates in this search engine, so I might be a bit off on the total, but this is just a rough estimate. For the Ronda to Sevilla leg I did have to put in a backtrack to Granada, which might not be the most efficient route.
Then I looked at hotels.com for each city, and picked the preferred hotel at or near the top of the search results with a refundable room rate and breakfast. (That's likely to be much more expensive than the hotels we'll actually stay in.) I did put dates for an early April trip when I did those searches. Hotels came to $2499, which obviously includes both of us staying in the same room.
So, the total is $335*2 + $2499 = $3169 for two (or $1584.50 per person). I can't justify spending at least $1800 more to take buses instead of trains and have a tour manager along, so we won't be doing this tour.
CathyA ---- Yes! THANKS!! We can actually take the RS full tour of Sicily (which is high on our list) for $400 cheaper than the My Way Spain. This My Way Spain seems expensive, esp with the fact that we can full tour Sicily with meals, tours, etc for less....
I do that kind of tour "math" all the time. It explains why I usually end up traveling on my own. I save a ton and my hotel/apartment choices are stellar across the board. I have done a few tours - one RS, one Perillo, two Smartours, one Caravan. I have never been on a tour that did not include at least one hotel that I really did not like. And the tour food doesn't have a lot of value for me. I'm vegetarian, I have a food allergy and I'm picky so I'm really happiest in a supermarket or a pizza place.
I just finished pricing out my next trip. 4 nights Krakow, 4 nights Budapest, 5 nights Taormina, 1 night Frankfurt...all top-rated apartments with balconies and nice locations. With all my site entry fees, internal flights/buses, premium economy tickets out of Seattle, my per person cost is $3000.
My air from Seattle is $1400 of that. So it's a 14 night trip for $1600 per person. Thus why I don't tend to take tours in Europe.
I do a lot of our leg work but I like it. Do we sometimes miss having a guide? Not generally but there's certain sites that are better with a guide. I'll hire one for places like that. For the itinerary above, there's built-in cost for a guided tour of Auschwitz and two days of guided tours out of Taormina.
Thanks Valerie and I totally agree. Tours in many places in Europe are absolutely needed - we would have never wanted to do the Vatican, Uffizi and even some cathedrals on our own - as there is so much history (even with a RS book in hand). We see we can do Spain cheaper on our own. We are considering the tour of Sicily though - we can get $200 off each person which makes going Jan. thru March very reasonable. Your trip sounds amazing!!
Of course you can do your tours cheaper than using a travel agency or tour company. Anytime one uses a service to help them out it will cost extra for that service. For examples, if you can repair your own car instead of having it done by a shop, it will cost less. If can pick you own investments instead of using a financial advisor, it will cost less.
I alway travel solely by myself now, because then I can pick only the sites and locations that interest me. I can stay in a location as long as I like or skip it if it doesn't interest me.
That said, I took two RS tours on my first venture to Europe. I feel he does an excellent job with his tours and give you everything he promises.
More than once I have "done the math," as they say, and it has come out the same. DIY is significantly cheaper than going on a tour. I think that, for the most part, we stay in accommodations a cut above those used by the RS tours; and almost all provide breakfast. We don't stint on meals. I enjoy the process of ferreting out places to see and things to do on our trips.
There are times when it seems good to have professional guidance for a specific town or site; and we've had no trouble finding a suitable person or day tour. In your case, as an example, I think it would be a really good idea to book a guided tour of the Alhambra. Hotels are often helpful with that, or just look on TripAdvisor, or post a question here.
Wow, perhaps someone (who complains about RS food or hotels) can tell me how they always pick restaurants and hotels which meet or exceed their expectations when doing your own trip. I have done both: tours and planned my own trips. However, when I plan my own trips I have on occasion picked poor hotels and eaten bad meals. Of course, I probably don't have the research skills of some people who simply always hit a "home run." I generally read/study 2 travel guides (Rick Steves, DK and Insight are my favorites) and check websites. Additionally, I may check with locals to see what they recommend. While I have done well, I've also been disappointed. So how do those who love every meal and hotel do it? I have found that generally, meals on Rick Steves tours are at least decent. That isn't as true for other companies (generally not in Europe) but I understand their constraints. Myself, as I generally stay at "safer" (insert hotel chains etc) when staying in larger cities, I appreciate the RS philosophy of using smaller "one off" hotels. As far as tours are concerned, I like the fact that for a few weeks of my trip I don't have to do any planning (although [DUH] for the pre-trip and post-trip extensions I add on [when I go to Europe] I obviously do.) Also, I have, to date, always seen and done more on a tour than I did when visiting an area on my own. Finally, I appreciate the camaraderie on a tour and have always enjoyed having some people I can talk with or share with while I am traveling. I would also add that I have not seen a tour company which does not include the activities on day one and the final day, after breakfast, as part of the tour day count. Most actually include the travel day from the US as well. As far as I know you do incur costs while in travel status. All in all, you can driver a VW or a Tesla. They are both cars. I will (I hope) continue to plan some trips, take some "pure tours" (when I am uncomfortable on my own in an area) and add time to some tours. All methods have advantages and disadvantages. I suppose if cost is your only objective tours don't make sense.
If all you are evaluating a trip on is cost, then I am sure you can do it cheaper as a DIY. However, when I look at tours, I look at what the tour provides, not just what it costs. For me is it hassle free transportation, not having to worry about trains or picking hotels. That being said I am also not a person who enjoys the research and planning. On the my way tours there is a tour escort as well who can provide lots of good advice, assistance and education about where you are going and what you might expect.
The RS tour leaves me free to concentrate on what I want to see in each city. It also provides, as one poster has said, a group of like minded people to enjoy the trip with. I find that always adds to the enjoyment.
Many posters on this site are adamant that the only way to travel in Europe is on your own, with only a carry on bag and if you take a tour you are somehow not a traveler and that you are somehow wrong. That attitude gets a little old and is off putting. Before you make a decision, look at the costs and the benefits of a tour. Then decide what best fits your method of travel.
There is no one best way to travel to Europe or elsewhere. How do we travel? Well, especially in Europe, much lighter (carry-on) and faster than the norm...and generally incorporating a weeklong self-guided bicycle trip (OMG...one night stays x 7!!!). So what? We've also taken a number of Rick's tours. and may take more in the future. I do notice that instead of staying in B&Bs almost exclusively way back when, we're now generally booking hotels. Another trend for us, is to book local tours if it makes sense. Fashion decisions that are best for you and simply ignore critics of your travel style.
There's advantages to full RS tours, My Way tours and traveling independently. To enjoy your independent trip to the fullest, be ready to spend a lot of upfront planning time checking multiple websites and thoroughly reading the RS Spain book. We're going to Spain for the first time this year - lots of history, etc. to research, and RS Forum has been very helpful for questions.
In regards to picking hotels and how I do better than my own vs. on a tour: I spend an enormous amount of time picking my lodging. Good lodging really shapes a trip for me. And I have specific hotel values that are specific to me: large room, balcony/terrace, right exactly in the middle of the old town.
I choose a location within a city and then spend a ton of time reading reviews, looking at pictures and Google walking myself around to make sure I'm happy with the location. On tours, some of my hotel bummers have been as follows:
- RS Scotland: Inverness hotel was right by a beef processing plant and not right near the charming river walk area. The smell for the processing plant was unbelievable!
-Smartours Turkey: Istanbul hotel was over on a busy street near Taksim Square when we really should have been in the Old Town. Room did not even have a window for my single!
-Smartours China - Beijing Hotel was a fine business class hotel but it was just in the middle of the chaos that is Beijing. Went to visit my friend's hotel and she had booked her own. Was in the middle of the "hutong" alley area of old Beijing. Was a converted monastery place with charming rooms and a courtyard that opened up onto the hutongs, which thronged with stores, restaurants and people. Our hotel, on the other hand, overlooked a construction site.
I can't comment on food. I just eat and put no real effort into restaurant choice.
I think the operative word in this discussion is value: what do you value when traveling and are you getting the value you expect when you travel? The OP did not like the food on her one RS tour. The last poster values her hotel but eats out of necessity. We've taken 7 RS tours and traveled independently as well. Can you do it cheaper on your own? Probably. But we highly value the skills of the guide and local guides and the logistics. And by that I don't just mean having hotels and transportation handled. I mean the actual touring. We find we see so much more on a RS tour and in a way we value-learning, savoring. Our most recent tour was Best of London, our guide was Tom Hooper. We'd been to London three times, but our daughter had never been. So, we signed up for her, but we loved it. Returned to many places we've seen before but saw them through fresh eyes and learned so much more. Our meals on this tour and Portugal (we did back to back) were very good, and that has been a problem in the past RS tours for us. So, maybe it's tour specific or maybe RS Tours, listening to feedback, is making an effort to improve these? Probably a little of both. As for booking hotels on our own-we too have had hit and miss despite very nice pictures. Most RS tour hotels are adequate. But we had a couple in Portugal that were much more than that, and one in the Douro valley that was at the luxury level. But, back to my original point-hard to place a monetary value on experiences unless you factor in all the variables, not just the basic costs but the value of having a guide, seeing and learning, not having to do all the planning (although I enjoy planning ahead for restaurants on our off nights, extensions to our RS tors, etc.). I think the RS tours overall are of great value. The My Way tours don't add up for me as the value of the guide, and RS has great ones, is key for us.
We have taken tours with 3 other companies (2 were in 1990and 1985) but never with RS. We mostly prefer to travel on our own with heavy use of Rick's guidebooks, so we can arrange the itinerary to suit our priorities. That being said, on the tours we did take, I really enjoyed going to places I would never have chosen on my own. It is a lot cheaper for us to travel on our own since we are heavy users of hotel points. On the last tour we took(to Lisbon and Spain this past June), we did not take any of the optional tours which left most of our afternoons free to do our own thing. The tour we took was about half what Rick's would cost but of course a lot of the sightseeing was optional, although most of the biggies(Alhambra, Prado) were included.
Thanks for all the replies. It is a personal question, as 'value' is different for us all. We did the RS Venice, Florence, Rome tour and found it fantastic (except for the preset group meals with no choice or options at all). We learned so much and wouldn't have wanted to do most of that on our own because of the history we learned - The David, The Uffizzi, The Coloseum and The Forum, The Vatican. We are actually planning the RS Sicily Tour for 2019, so we aren't against tours and do appreciate the 'value' of them. BUT, we have decided instead of My Way Spain, we are changing our mind to My Way Alpine. We will do Spain on our own one day. Thanks for all the responses . . .
For future reference . . . as far as group meals, I've only been on 2 tours and I stick to vegetarian with a little fish. In Turkey, there were several buffet meals, I really don't remember if there were choices for the others. On the Greece tour, there were always 3 choices for the main course plus a vegetarian option, and several times there were choices for first course, dessert and side dishes as well.
Some variation in tour group meals is certainly due to changes over time, and some to individual guides, but I think mostly due to the region of travel. In much of Italy, restaurants really prefer to serve a single menu for group meals, with some concession for a vegetarian option, but are also often willing to include wine at a reasonable price, which isn't done in most countries. Your guide might add variety by specifying a mixed antipasti course or a bis or tris of different styles of pasta.
Sicily has its own quirks and I'm sure you'll enjoy that tour. You'll definitely get a lot included for the price. As you may have seen on Rick's early-May blog posts, the itinerary includes a couple of buffet style "picnic" lunches (http://blog.ricksteves.com/blog/sicily-picnic/ and http://blog.ricksteves.com/blog/chef-maria-grammatico/). And at the pizza demo dinner, your guide can easily order a wide range of pizzas. I hope the other dinners will end up being nice surprises!
FYI, even though the My Way Spain tour is realistically 9 sightseeing days with city-city transport, it includes 10 hotel nights, so by that measure, I would divide it out to $500/day/couple.
Am going on the Sicily tour soon. Looking forward to eating my way through the RS ordered menu!!!!!
Ray, you asked how someone always has good luck with hotel selections. So far our hotels have been excellent. Maybe my expectations are too low? Ha! Anyway, my priorities are Safe & Central and relatively quiet. If we have some nice conversations with the staff, a good cup of coffee at breakfast, and the hotel photos and reality matches, I consider it a good experience. I begin reserving hotels 6-9 months before the trip while there's still a good selection, reading reviews and photos on Booking or Expedia and checking the narrowed list on TripAdvisor. Sometimes I'll do a Google Maps virtual walk of the street, too. Negative review comments of a "small room" aren't considered a negative to me. I budget an average of about $130/night as a couple across our trip, purposely selecting which locations I want a nicer vs cheaper hotel or apartment. The higher priced ones might go for a view where it really counts, or a small town 2-night splurge where a little more money goes much further, etc.
Good points. I too do a fairly conscience assessment of hotels including tour guides (usually Rick Steves and DK or Insight) as well as checking out online references and reviews. However, I have had a few really bomb. For example, I do insist on a private bathroom (sorry, I'm too old to share.) The hotel I reserved said in an e-mail "all our rooms have private bathrooms" and I confirmed the reservation and that fact 10 days before the trip. Well, they were private if that means sharing between 3 rooms. So after 1 night, I fled. I've also gotten a few bad meals after reading reviews or getting concierge recommendations (which usually means I'm too tired to go to the place I already picked out.) So I find it "interesting" that some people could categorically state their hotels are better than tour hotels or they always eat better than tours (which of course doesn't take into account personal tastes.) I've had great/good/fair and a few bad hotels/meals on tours and on my own. Just part of the process. I am still amazed, that people always hit home runs. As I said, I usually do okay, and sometimes am too tired to care, but even with my best efforts I have gotten some bombs. Thanks for taking the time to reply.
"I am still amazed, that people always hit home runs." How true methinks. I do all sorts of research in identifying suitable hotels, restaurants, etc., I still get disappointed , as I did earlier this year, when arriving at a great hotel and being placed in a crappy room until a much better one was available the next day.
Ray, Bruce and others,
I have done a few trips on my own and have had good, bad and indifferent results with choosing hotels but I take it as a learning experience and part of the adventure. If all else fails, it becomes a funny story! I'm like you, Ray, sometimes I'm too tired to locate the desired restaurant and will take the advice of the concierge or stop in the closest place without a wait. Sometimes I will have a great meal, sometimes not. I take it as part of the experience and don't expect a home run all the time. I apply the same attitude to the RS tours: most of the hotels are very good and the meals, too. Half of your dinners are group affairs so you have the opportunity to choose fabulous restaurants in your free time. I marvel at the RS organization and their staff's ability to design and lead tours that please 20,000 people a year in Europe!
I do all sorts of research in identifying suitable hotels, restaurants, etc., I still get disappointed
I have done a few trips on my own and have had good, bad and indifferent results with choosing hotels but I take it as a learning experience and part of the adventure.
Sounds very much like my travel experiences. It is kind of like taking a tour vs doing your own thing. I've done things on tours I would not have even considered doing on my own; sometimes love it, sometimes hate it (sometimes in-between!) I've done things on my own and had the same experience....not everything I think I would like is "amazing" after I do it. I see it all as part of "a learning experience and part of the adventure!"