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Other tour company recommendations - just in case RS doesn't run summer tours

Hello. My neighbors are wanting to go on a European vacation this summer so I recommended RS. They are in their late 40s and have 2 children in their late teens who will be joining them. They are worried the RS tours won't run. They asked me if I know of any other tour companies. I don't b/c I've only used RS. I saw on a different thread someone recommended https://odysseys-unlimited.com/ and someone else said GAS (no website address though). Can anyone make any other recommendations for other tour companies? Thanks kindly. (These neighbors have been so incredibly helpful to me over the past year. Not to mention, I can't wait to take care of their 3 adorable cats while they are gone. )

Posted by
6742 posts

Odysseys Unlimited is an excellent company offering high quality tours with top guides, good hotels. However, your neighbors are much younger than the average Odysseys’ traveler. I am not sure whether they even allow children.
Your neighbors are young; why don’t they travel independently?

Posted by
14 posts

Suki, thanks for the reply. They are on the younger side but very busy in their careers. I think they just don't want to do the planning involved in make a good trip. In the past they just go to a resort and stay there. They want to do something more adventurous now that the kids are technically adults (18 year old twins.)

Posted by
4872 posts

Chances are, if RS tours aren’t running, others won’t be either.

Europe is way behind in the vaccination programme. We don’t think our independent June trip to France will be possible, despite the U.K. being ahead on the vaccination programme. France is behind.

Independent travel is likely to resume months before any tours are allowed. The prospect of lots of people travelling for days in the confines of a coach where social distancing isn’t possible seems unlikely at present, but who knows? Quarantine and needing several negative Covid tests each could add significantly to the cost and time required.

Posted by
26033 posts

Carolyn, are they operating or taking money for trips now?

Posted by
1967 posts

There's so many companies out there. But here's a couple I like: Gate 1 - especially their small group tours. On my summer tour with them two years ago there were plenty of late teens - 5 in a group of 24. Gate 1 has cancelled all tours through June 30th. You might want to call in and see what they're thinking for July and August.

Smartours also has plenty of younger people on their tours - I didn't have any teens on my tour with them but there were plenty of travelers in their 40s. Smartours has cancelled all tours through May 31st for now.

For a group of 4, depending on the country, a private tour might be just as inexpensive or less expensive. I understand the need/desire to not do all the planning - many private tour companies have ready-made itineraries that you can just purchase and go with. What countries are they interested in? I have a great one for Greece, one for Puglia in Italy, one for Croatia and more.

Posted by
2080 posts

You are very gracious to offer assistance to your neighbors, but I must say if my parents had offered to take me on a tour at age 18, I would have just preferred to stay home. I love old people--and I am now an old person, but at age 18, I was not interested in touring Europe with one. Maybe I am not aware of tour groups that cater to a more diverse age group.

Posted by
624 posts

I would tell your neighbors to be very cautious about booking anything. There are plenty of opinions on the forum about the possibility of European travel. I would certainly listen to the locals on the ground. My sister who lives in the UK thinks it is highly doubtful I can make an independent July/August trip. There may well be travel companies willing to take deposits but refunds might not be as forthcoming as they were in 2020.

Posted by
3523 posts

I think that Rick Steves has said several times that he anticipates that independent travel will start up before group travel. One thing we know after this last year, is that things are always changing! However, I do not hold out a great deal of hope for group travel this summer. I am hoping for independent travel by September, but willing to accept I may need to cancel.

I think it is pretty important to for your neighbors to determine what sort of tour experience they are hoping for. Small groups, expensive, less expensive, shopping, no shopping? Each tour company has just a bit of a different take on things.

Posted by
114 posts

Nigel - For every country listed on the website, they provide specifics, and yes, for some trips they are indeed taking deposits.

https://www.gadventures.com

The OP only mentioned "European vacation" and not a specific country so I provided a link to the website. One example of a "European vacation" for which they are accepting deposits is an 8 day sailing tour of Croatia - limited to 8 people - departing in either late May or June of 2021. For this this trip, and many others, there is also the option of making it a private tour with a private guide "and all the benefits of a G Adventures group tour - for any group, big or small (even just one traveller)."

My best friend has been on two G Adventure tours (India & sailing Greek islands). She loved both and highly recommended them for their transparency. The company was started 28 years ago by Bruce Pon Tip, and is committed "to making travel a force for good". They specialize in small group travel, strive to directly benefit the people & places they visit, and employ locally based guides. They have trips that are endorsed by Dr. Jane Goodall and some that partner with National Geographic Expeditions. I appreciate how they're challenging people to rethink & reevaluate how they travel so that in the future, fewer animals will be harmed, fewer children will be exploited and more tourist money will flow directly to local communities. I encourage you to check out the "Retravel" highlights of their Instagram account. Here's a link:

https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/17872240930909995/

They explain how money spent at an all-inclusive resort doesn't actually benefit the surrounding communities since most people never actually leave the resort, and since most of these resorts are owned by multinational corporations, the money flows out of the country. I love how they're encouraging people to think about how their actions impact local communities and wildlife, and exposing how the way much of world chooses to travel causes harm.

Bruce was inducted into the British Travel & Hospitality Hall of Fame in 2018, and in 2012, he was inducted into the Social Venture Network Hall of Fame, joining celebrated entrepreneurs such as Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream). Bruce was also awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, recognizing significant contributions to society.

Posted by
4769 posts

I went to Cuba with Go Ahead Tours a few years ago and it was a great tour. They have tours in Europe and elsewhere, but I don't know about availability this summer. I've also done tours with Discover Europe, a small company that uses excellent guides, but again I don't know about this summer.

I agree with the other posters about the low probability of any tours this summer, and I'm getting less optimistic about fall as well. Independent travel seems more likely to start sooner, but I still wouldn't think this summer is a good bet.

Posted by
12594 posts

...and someone else said GAS (no website address though)

ALpine, my guess is that the "somebody" was referencing Rick's Best of Germany, Austria +Switzerland tour, often shortened to just GAS on the forums. It's this one:

https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/germany/germany-austria-switzerland-tour

While certainly not all tour groups are made up of "old people" (and we've known folks of more mature ages who were a lot more interesting, active and fun than some of lesser years!) I'm with the others who think that if Rick isn't going this summer, other companies won't be going either. I'll also agree that they should determine what it is they want to get out of a European tour? Where do they want to go? What do they want to see when they get there? How much free time would they prefer for exploring on their own? How big a group? How fast (or not) the pace? How will those teens do with early morning start times? You get the idea...

Why not introduce all 4 of them (yes, the teens too!) to this forum so they can learn how to use one of the better tools available for prepping for a trip abroad? They'll get lots of help! :O)

Posted by
350 posts

Three thoughts....

First - While some companies may be offering tours, what will the experience be like? From what I have read EU countries are behind the USA and Canada in getting their populations vaccinated and things back to normal. Not that we are doing a great job. It's just that others are mostly worse with the exception of Israel. Keep in mind what others have said about the difficulty in getting refunds from various tour companies. RS stands out in this area as an example of doing it right. Others, including some well known and well thought of companies, did not do so well.

Second - I strongly recommend that before signing up with any tour company people first check out what the UK government has to say. When it comes to Europe they really have their finger on the pulse of that continent. And they speak a form of English most of us can understand. Don't get gobsmacked by some dodgy outfit that offers a bunch of codswallop.

https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Third - I disagree that if RS doesn't run tours the others also won't. I can see some unethical outfits charging full price for a tour and then cutting out tour experiences with the excuse that Covid has forced them to modify the tour. Every tour company has a line in their contract that allows them to change the itinerary if something serious and unexpected happens. Be careful.

Posted by
8397 posts

I'll just add this about tours and the caveat upthread to be very cautious about booking for this summer. I agree that if Rick's tours aren't running, none of the others will go no matter what they are showing on their websites.

I have noted that one of the tour companies I have used in the past, Road Scholar, IS taking bookings for this summer although now the only international ones I can find are end of August. My personal opinion is that they are needing money for operating capital and are booking things they know will be cancelled (or they are using the term "suspended" which irks me). Road Scholar is not appropriate for your neighbors as it's focused on the senior demographic but I thought I'd mention what I am seeing.

I'd encourage your neighbors to be very cautious about booking any tour company. Do a LOT of research on how they have handled cancellations and refunds during the pandemic. Rick has been stellar with refunds. Road Scholar, terrible at first and then they stepped up to the plate. Gate 1 mentioned up thread has been very nasty to deal with on some travelers' refunds as evidenced by complaints on the Trip Advisor Senior Forum. A friend who I met on a Rick Steves tour posted on FB in June that Gate 1 had cancelled their tour and were refusing to refund their money. I suggested she contact the PA Attorney General's office which she did and Gate 1 quickly reversed their position and refunded her money. She should not have had to contact the Attorney General's office. Odyssey International has been good with refunds based on posts on that forum. There are other companies that have been poor with refunds but they probably are not the market your neighbors are looking for. They need to ask specifically what the refund policy is for a trip that is cancelled by the company.

Suffice it to say....they need to do due diligence and probably should book for 2022.

Posted by
1608 posts

I’m going to address another piece of this post. Having done both RS tours and 1 Odysseys Unlimited, I would question the suitability of Odysseys for your neighbors. In my experience late-teens enjoy their independence, and while RS tours foster independence, that’s not necessarily a feature of OU. Hotels are not always centrally located, our guide, while very pleasant, didn’t really engage with tour members, and the dinners were more traditional. Age doesn’t determine how fun people are to be with, but our OU tour attracted a less mobile and independent crowd. One of our RS tours had an 84 yr. old couple who were the life of the tour.

Posted by
7692 posts

Tours for North Americans probably aren't happening. Heck, I'm a French citizen and even I'm not allowed back into France for now. The government has tightened borders due the health disaster the variant is causing in England.
Second, as many have said, this past year has shown who refunds and who gives unusable vouchers. I wouldn't want to pass along the name of a company and then later have my neighbors on the hook for 10-20K.
Finally, as stated above, they have to put in the time and planning to jump through airline and national hoops. I took overseas flights twice; each time passengers were denied boarding for not having PCR tests, written proof need to fly, ....
However, I just saw that Ténérife is open to European tourists right now. Maybe the Canaries will be open to North Americans by summer. If they can find an open country, they can find a local guide.

Posted by
540 posts

Ditto what everyone says above. International travel won't happen this summer, probably not this year. AAA, USA Travel magazines, EU Travel magazines all say so. We love Rick Steves, but if money isn't an issue, Tauck is the BEST - Tauck Bridges for families. But, no group travel will happen any time soon.

Posted by
10020 posts

Tell your friends to start researching which companies and tours they find of interest. Have them get in touch with the tour companies to get up to date information on those tours and when they might be running. No one at this time can tell what will happen later this year but by next month they should know if tours will be running this summer.

While I would normally think by this time of year tour bookings should be made for the summer, this year is different. Waiting a while would be prudent. International travel for individuals will open up before group travel. It's only February and too early to call what will happen this summer or later in the year. Nor does anyone know what the requirements might be regarding vaccinations and testing.

They can add Insight Tours (https://www.insightvacations.com/us/destinations/europe) to the list of possible tour companies. If they don't care about small groups and just want to tour Europe, then both Trafalgar (https://www.trafalgar.com/en-us) and Globus (https://www.globusjourneys.com/) could be looked into and take families.

I have taken three RS tours and three Odysses tours. While I haven't had any teens on my Odysses tours, there were people in their 40's and up. Plenty of free time and the groups were mixed on those that needed their hand held and those who knew what they wanted to accomplish on their free time.

Odysses is a very reputable company. They truly care about their customers. They readily refunded money last year for tours that were cancelled. On one tour I took, there was a problem with one of the hotels and the itinerary had to be slightly changed. (It was not the fault of the tour company, the hotel screwed up). We didn't miss anything, the schedule was just changed. Even though it was not Odysses fault they added an extra dinner to the included meals as a way to say they were sorry and refunded everyone on the tour $250 for goodwill measures.

Posted by
759 posts

Be very very careful with Insight tours. I have several close friends still trying to get their money back ($6800) from cancelled tours (Sept 2020 US Fall Colors). The company keeps stating ‘future tour credit, future tour credit....’. It appears they may be using new deposits from 2021 tours to stay afloat. Handing ANY money to an organized tour company for the summer of 2021 is beyond risky in my opinion (note that RS is not yet taking deposits for any tour in 2021). . Let YOUR wallet be your guide.

Posted by
686 posts

Echoing all the previous posts on likelihood of any tour company operating this summer in Europe.

To answer the question about tour company alternatives, I'd recommend Tauck after taking 4 river cruises and 2 land tours. Ninety plus year family operated co that includes land tours all over the globe, European river cruises and Small ships cruises. Excellent customer service. High end hotels centrally located. For families they offer a particular line of tours called Bridges designed for families. Not cheap but you don't have to schlep your luggage, most meals are included and transfers at the beginning and end of the tour.

Posted by
2834 posts

I suspect that the teens would be more interested in the trip if they did the planning-subject to parental veto of course. Parents could specify a budget and a certain number of museums, etc. and the teens could use Rick's books to choose those. If the teens aren't interested in planning, maybe the trip itself is not a good idea(my 18 yr old would have jumped at the chance!) It would probably result in teens who are more agreeable to getting up earlier in the day. Discussing the plans as a family would greatly increase the bonding experience. They could also pay a travel agent to help with things like booking flights.

Posted by
12545 posts

I have no idea what your neighbors might be interested in. The closest thing to a sure thing this summer is the Balkans. If that interests them, PM me and I can pass along a couple of tour organizers in the region.

Posted by
339 posts

Another vote for G Adventures. I am a travel agent in Canada and they have a very generous cancellation policy if required. Highly recommended.

Posted by
8397 posts

@Kathleen...how did GAdventures do with the pandemic? Did they do refunds on tours they cancelled or did they issue vouchers?

It sounds like I spend all day looking for complaints on Trip Advisor, lol...but there is a 9-year old thread on one forum (with current posts so it never gets closed) with complaints about Costco Travel. Most posters are one-time posters who never return with answers to queries for further information on their situation so it's impossible to tell if the issue was with Costco travel or with people who booked without fully reading/understanding the terms and conditions. Suffice it to say that Costco is a 3rd party booker for travel so that always adds a layer where things can go wrong.

I have booked a rental car with Costco and that worked out fine.

Posted by
3 posts

IMHO I don’t think large group tours (in the 20-35 person range) will be very viable this summer. I think the best bet will be small group tours(4-12 person range). Transportation, lodging & restaurants will be much more doable in these size groups. If you go to the Guides Marketplace on this website you will find many Rick Steves guides who are offering their own small tours. Some like Seymour Tours have set itineraries for 2021. Most are taking provisional reservations with no money down until they know for sure if the tours can go. Others can customize tours for small groups & families.

Posted by
1683 posts

Individual travel to Europe this summer is not nil according to health ministers from the UK and elsewhere. They are still TBD from May onwards.

Posted by
1642 posts

Hi,

All the times I have been to Italy, I have done my own planning. For me, that is part of the fun and anticipation.

I realize your neighbors are busy with their careers. Everyone is different - even people with busy careers find time to plan out a holiday. Even people that have the time don't like the planning stage.

It is really hard to suggest anything without knowing the people themselves. What I like, the next person may not and vice versa.

I prefer not to be time constricted when I'm on vacation. Of course there are benefits to this.

I cannot speak on the tour experience. My suggestion would be that your friends have a family gathering - each with a little notebook - write down what country or two is at the top of their list - and see if they will be welcoming Americans this year - hard to predict.

They could write down the top three to five interests - museums, concerts, a play or ballet, churches (which are pretty much free museums), local bike touring, hiking, touring vineyards, etc... As you know the possibilities are almost endless.

As an example, in Rome there is a church, St. Paul's, who hosts(ed) Opera concerts in the evening. A lot of the time the group, The Three Tenors, perform. Easy to go on the website and purchase ticket(s).

One year I got a surprise. I was at a gift shop at St. Peter's Basilica. The cashier handed me a free invitation to the Mass being celebrated by the Pope on Dec. 12 - honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was a lovely experience I will never forget.

Surprises happen to enrich a holiday.
I like to joke that I am part free spirit and part planner when I travel. I have met a lot of very nice people and some of them are now my friends.

Posted by
22 posts

Another vote for G Adventures as they focus on younger and active adults. G Adventures has their own tours and they are now partnering with National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/trip-types/journeys/. We've not done G Adventures, but we've done several with Nat Geo. They rate their journeys and adventures by levels so you can tell how strenuous it is. We chose Nat Geo over RS for the Cinque Terre because Nat Geo guides hiked between the villages. We went with Nat Geo to Belize and camped on an atoll in the Caribbean so we could kayak and snorkel.

Posted by
8397 posts

Oddly enough, a question about G Adventures popped up on Trip Advisor today that made me realize there had been a complaint thread on them as well. It seems as if they were only offering vouchers for trips they cancelled. I do not know this from my personal experience, but I would still advise the question of refunds vs vouchers be explored with the tour company if someone is going to book with them.

Since no one has traveled with them in a year, previous experiences may not carry over to the way things will work going forward. If someone does book, I'd also book using a credit card vs a debit card so you can go thru the CC company if a tour company is not able to fulfill their contract with you and will not issue a refund.

Posted by
3551 posts

I have taken many tours with Gate One and have been very pleased. They are a little larger in size with no negative effect. The hotels have all been excellent.

Posted by
8397 posts

@JS - Did you happen to have a Gate 1 tour cancelled due to the pandemic? Just asking to see if you had a good or poor experience with refunds during this time frame.

Posted by
577 posts

Maybe they should go old school and use a travel agent. Travel agents can arrange airlines, hotels and ground transportation. They can make itinerary suggestions and in the event things are cancelled, arrange for refunds - or at least advise on whether refunds are likely.