I am beginning to plan a vacation to Italy visiting Venice, Rome, and Florence. Has anyone booked or researched comparable hotels, meals, transportation etc.? How much more does a fully planned tour cost? I am assuming that a tour group would get better room rates and discounts for transportation, tours and meals. I am trying to decide if paying for a guided trip is worth it. Thank you for your help!
If you're really talking about comparable hotels, meals, and site visits, including private guides, then I think it might cost about the same or not much difference, and maybe even more to do it yourself.
But when I priced the difference between a RS tour and my independent travel to the same location with a similar itinerary, the tour was about twice what my trip was. But I didn't stay in comparable hotels and I didn't eat the same type of meals nor did I hire private guides.
So, I'd say for a truly comparable trip, the tour would be worth it.
It's not just the fact that the transportation is included in the price. It's the fact that the transportation is totally taken care of and can be accomplished much more efficiently than a person on their own could do (unless you already know the city in question, and, if instead you are traveling between places, even more so). That is a huge concern totally taken off your shoulders. You don't have to think about it in planning, and you don't have to think about it during your trip. I don't know how one would put a value on it, but it is significant.
Efficiency is a huge factor. I cannot accomplish in the same day what an organized tour can do with bus/walking stops synchronized to multiple tour activities.
I typically allow 1.5 - 2 times as many nights to accomplish a similar agenda to an organized tour.
Then I weigh whether I want to travel at tour pace or my own for a destination. Or a mix, as in the case of my current visit in Bulgaria.
I think the RS tours are fabilious for those that want the travel together experience and for some tours with complicated travel connections the tour can be great.
A few years back, on paper, I replicated the 8 Day Prague and Budapest Tour to compare prices. Using the same class of hotel, using private guides, using the train from Prague to Budapest; I came up at nearly half the price self planning the same tour.
But you have to do a lot of research, and a lot of planning and that can take 100's of hours to do it correctly, so maybe RS's additional $2,000 or $3,000 for 8 days is worth it for that and the companionship.
I think if you don't like planning or need hand holding, tours are great. And yes, tours I look at cost double what I pay doing it myself. I like planning, I know the websites to use and how to get the best values. My parents on the other hand are older and get confused planning everything and it takes them longer. Going on tours helps take the uncertainty out of travel.
The way I look at tours can be summed up in the old Greyhound jingle-"Leave the driving to us." Tours will plan everything, meals, transport excursions and hotels. You just have to pay and show up.
I'm pretty independent so having to wait for people and stay as a group in attractions would drive me nutty. YVMV
My experiences agree with Heather in that the cost is about half, or less, if you DIY.
That's why nowadays I sometimes split the middle with independent travel mixed with guided tours, often day and walking tours.
The fact is not everyone can afford vastly more expensive multi-day guided tours. Also, for some of us, half of the fun is doing the planning yourself and following your own schedule.
When thinking about a trip, there are so many factors that need to be weighed. I have found that based solely on cost, a tour is more expensive than independent travel. IMO the main advantage of a tour is that you spend no time planning, just pay and go with the flow. If you do not have the time, or enjoy the hours of research and planning that independent travel takes, then a tour may be the way to go. After all, time is money! Some disadvantages are: 1) Tours lock you in to things you may not be particularly interested in seeing or doing. If the tour is scheduled to visit an outdoor site and the weather is bad that day, you are stuck seeing that in the rain, fog, etc. Independent travel allows you to pivot and see that at a later time, or perhaps the next day. 2) Tours do not allow you time to linger at something you find fascinating. When it's time to get back on the bus, you have to leave. 3) Your fellow travelers may be wonderful, pleasant people. But what happens when you are stuck with one or more people who are loud, obnoxious? (that would absolutely ruin a vacation for me)
We prefer independent travel because of the flexibility that it offers. I can choose my own hotels, sites, activities etc. Oftentimes I will book a local, private guide for something, and that still comes out less expensive than a tour, because I have made adjustments to money spent on hotels, meals, transportation etc. With independent travel, you have to be willing to deal with any glitches or problems that may occur, since you don't have the tour director to do that for you. You may be someone who is willing to pay for the peace of mind that a tour offers. Lots to consider. I will say that when planning a trip, this forum is a very useful tool. Fellow travelers have been extremely helpful with their suggestions/comments.
I really think the standard of hotel you want/need/expect is a major factor. I'm very low-maintenance in that regard, so my lodging costs in most countries are much, much lower than what I assume RSE pays for the standard of hotel it uses, even though it gets a block-booking discount.
For the RS 8 day Prague/Budapest tour.
7 nights in a comparable hotel, not more than $1500.
An equal number of tours, mixed free group walking tours and private guides, not more than $1000.
Train tickets and transfers not more than $150
Total $2650 per couple; but kick it up a notch and call it $3000. RS tour just shy of $6000 per couple.
But you miss a lot of the subjective experience of a RS tour and you have to plan and execute each step alone and that has value.
I did a few AMEX tours in another distant life time and glad I did.
I think the other thing a guided tour does is eliminate most “mishaps”. We have neighbors who travel probably three times a year on bus tours. They love just having to show up. When we tell them our stories of let’s say the GPS taking us down the middle of an olive tree orchard in Crete, they always reply “that is why we take bus tours”.
So now when things are going wrong while traveling, my husband always asks “do you wish you were in a bus tour yet?”
We have taken one RS tour, and are scheduled for our second this summer. After our first, (14 Day Best of Europe), we did an informal coat comparison. We concluded that it wasn’t the hotels (RS Tours don’t generally use high end) or the attraction fees that are the biggest cost. Rather, it was likely the transportation cost between cities (long distances with BOE Tour) and the cost to have a full time dedicated guide. Remember that RS guides are professionals who don’t rely on tips, or kickbacks from tourist shopping spots. And our guide was excellent. The local guides in each city were also first rate. I don’t think we would have found guides for day tours like this on our own.
Certainly we could have “done” the BOE tour ourselves but it would have taken MUCH longer, possibly over the course of two or more trips to Europe. And I’m sure we wouldn’t have learned as much. So these are intangibles, and it depends on what you personally value.
For a RS tour, many people do a fair amount of research to decide what to do in free time. For us, it’s not about “hand holding” but traveling efficiently and learning a lot as we go. I think RS Tours offer less “hand holding” than some of the Big Bus tours. We also enjoy independent travel, and will be spending a week independently in two different cities before starting our RS Tour this summer.
I think it depends on location and how difficult to get from place to place. I have gone independent and every other kind of arrangement including using a travel agent in Istanbul to arrange my trip to turkey and the same way in Peru, Egypt, and Spain. I’ve gone on cruises and always plan for before and after additional travel.
If I were going to Venice, Rome, and Florence I would certainly plan my own agenda because of the ease and fun of planning. I am able to choose my own hotels and length of time I want to spend in each city and take my own side trips. I took the Adriatic RS Tour because to me it would be difficult to me to make my own planning and arranging for such a far flung trip. It was well worth it - especially because our guide was Tina.
After 8 Rick Steves tours and a couple non R Steves tours, I know there are differences depending on which tour group you choose. I'm sure if I worked hard I could travel solo vs a tour for less money. However, I travel with Rick for the sharing of experiences with like minded travelers and to cut down on the stress of finding the just right hotel, etc. R Steves' tours work for me because I do love to travel plan, but for a 3 or 4 week trip it becomes just too much. So I choose a tour and then travel before and after on my own. I study the places the tour will go to as well as when I am solo so I know what interests me for free time. Finally, I choose R Steves' tour because of the quality of the guides. I have taken the Venice, Florence & Rome tour and I felt it was well worth the expense of the tour. I got value for my money and that's what is important to me. One additional perk of tours is if this is a country you have never before visited and you don't speak the language or truly know the culture, then after your tour if you are staying on for more time in the country it will really make you more comfortable and help ensure you have wonderful memories.
We've been independent travelers since we started doing this over 40 years ago, and that's very much become our preferred way to go. That's not to disparage those who love the full guided tour or cruise ship experience, but rather to make the point that it's just not our thing. Researching all aspects of one of our trips is half the fun for me, and the freedom of movement of setting our own pace and schedule is something that we've come to treasure.
The few times when I've bothered to compare the cost of one our trips to that of an organized tour I've generally found that we can do the same trip at about half the cost. That said, there is a 3rd option if you're open to it, which is to research and book your trip independently and then selectively rely on day trips and tours once you arrive at a destination where it makes sense to do so for whatever reason. We've found that works particularly well for popular tourist destinations like Venice, Rome and Florence.
And lastly, I would point out that cost isn't the only driver to be considered - comfort, convenience, and personal preference must go into the mix as well. Everyone's travel style is uniquely their own. You just need to decide what yours is and go from there.
If you have the time and resources to put together your own tour, and if lower cost is your primary goal, then yes, design your own tour. I would suggest using the RS Venice-Florence-Rome tour as an outline, to get an idea of what places and activities you might want to see and do in those cities.
There are, however other factors. The guided tours will offer experiences that might be hard for you to find or arrange on your own:cooking classes, visits to organic farms, mosaic or stained glass workshops... (These are just a few experiences we've had on RS tours; we've never taken the one you're considering.)
And the planning and organizing overall can be overwhelming. I'm currently in the weeds trying to lay out 4 weeks of independent travel, mostly in France and the Netherlands, for this coming fall, before, between, and after 2 RS tours. This involves hotels in London, Lisbon, Porto, Bordeaux, Bayonne, Bilbao, Lyon, Paris, and Leiden. And transportation from one place to another. Play tickets, museum passes, and the occasional restaurant reservation have to be arranged. I need to study each destination to learn what we might want to do and see there. I have to figure out the best way to communicate with each hotel or B & B - some are very personal, others have internet access only. And it goes on and on. Oh, and now I have to go back, double check all the bookings, verify the reservations, keep checking my calendar to see where we're going to be when... Oh, and the train tickets we need to get from Paris to Leiden aren't available yet...
This all takes an incredible amount of time and energy. I am older, yes, but am comfortable using the computer and internet (phone, not so much. Yet.) I don't need my hand held (well, every once in a while maybe) but I do appreciate sliding into a tour, knowing that the most important details have been taken care of. I can sit back and enjoy the experience!
And on RS tours there's plenty of free time for you to plan your own adventures, follow up on something you saw on the morning walk that intrigued you...
I don't want to talk you out of planning your own tour, especially if money is the main factor for you. (It was for us for many years.) But do know that there is more to designing a tour than you might think. Allow plenty of time for planning, keep an open mind about accommodations and transportation, and above all, keep your eye on the prize. And it doesn't hurt to have someone hold your hand once in a while.
And whichever you choose, feel free to come back here for ideas and advice. And hand-holding.
Wow ............ Great thread. Although we travel independently, we do enjoy the resources of RS books & this travel forum.
We've traveled to Europe 13 times over the past 20 years and love independent travel. The planning is the favorite part & then seeing those plans come to fruition is the best. Some of the mishaps/surprises along the way have become our most treasured memories.
It appears that a RS Tour averages approx. $800/day for a couple. It's virtually impossible for us to spend that much traveling independently......including spending many nights in "Karen Brown" type manor houses. Most recently spending 6 weeks (May/June 2022) in Scotland & a month in Switzerland & Austria (Sept 2022}.
I agree with those who estimate a 50% cost savings traveling independently. But we do understand that many like the structure of everything planned out & set in place. Just show up so to speak. It's just not our style.
But either way ...... Isn't traveling great?
Rick's style and recommendations have changed since he started. I am a budget traveler with Canadian $. For my budget, I can't afford most of his hotel recommendations as a solo traveler. But I have learned some places do better with a tour for the logistics. Like India and Peru 14 years ago. Some countries have complicated infrastructure for tourists and that is when I am more likely to utilize hotels with a helpful front desk and multi day tours. I don't use them for Europe.
I have more time on my hands as a retired person, so the efficient intra-city travel of a tour is less important. I prefer more time in each city, and am okay without guides for everything. That being said, the guides give a lot of value to the experience of a tour and that is also cost reflected.
To be honest, for 3 major cities, I would do it myself and maybe hire a day guide here or there. Rick has some good audio guides for these locations. But for something like Italian villages, or Romania where so much of the fun is more rural, then a tour may be worth it.
To echo some of the folks above, there can be more to consider than budget. Personal travel style is a pretty big factor too. Some enjoy having most of the details taken care of, and others of us prefer DYI trips so we can see what we wish to, when we wish to, and at our own speed. I won't knock the escorted tours as they are absolutely the right decision for many; we just know from experience that we are personally happier traveling on an indy plan.
Style aside, my DH and I do find that we can stay longer on our own dime than we can for the price of the better escorted tours. "Better" is a subjective word here but speaking strictly for us, we would be miserable on one of the budget large-group, big-bus varieties of different-hotel-every-night schedules, some, if not all, of those hotels located far from self walkable areas of interest, and breakneck sightseeing itineraries.
That does not describe what I read about RS tours from the forum posters here who have taken them, BTW. "Better" can apply to those. :O). Oh, and Rome, Florence and Venice are really not difficult to do independently but I understand first-timers feeling a bit more secure with some extra help and the company of others.
You have gotten great information and food for thought. But here is a bit of my input
I am assuming that a tour group would get better room rates and discounts for transportation, tours and meals
This is not necessarily true. Yes, a group may get a better price on certain meals, but a tour also has to figure on a wide variety of tastes and appetites - so what they do may not necessarily be what kind of or how much food (and therefore how many dollars) you want.
In addition, the particular museums or sites YOU are interested in may or may not be included. And if some are included that you don’t particularly care about (or are too tired to visit), then you have paid for something you would not have on your own. And while bus travel is convenient, it is rarely cheaper than a train would be. (Yes, I have priced things.)
But as many others have mentioned, an organized tour brings with it other benefits that are worthwhile. Probably not strictly financially but in other ways that are meaningful. Everyone is different and there are different stages of travel readiness and experience and desire.
For me, the trick is letting myself spend on a guide for a specific day trip or museum that enhances my solo travel. Just because I CAN do it lots cheaper doesn’t mean I ought to always do it as cheaply as possible.
TexasTravelMom aren't there professional travel planners that can do some of the planning work?
Based on numbers from my travels in Italy, but Spain Portugal, and recently the UK.
In Italy, my wife and I can travel comfortably for $300 USD a day. That includes everything, all money spent except airfare to get there and back (like a tour). That breaks down roughly to $100 for lodging, $100 for food, and $100 for transportation, admissions, and shopping. Of those numbers, lodging is probably on the low side, but over several weeks, with some apartments mixed in, that number holds pretty good; if you wanted, bump it up to $150. especially if you want hotels only. Comparable hotels is debatable, the places we stay are plenty nice, usually found through Booking.com. $100 for food is eating well, coffee and pastries in the morning, a decent lunch, and a great evening meal (or a big meal for lunch instead).
Differences from a tour? You will still have costs with a tour, meals on your own, shopping, optional sites, drinks, maybe $50/day for two of you. The tour though does include guides for sites, my numbers generally do not, and there are more activities in tours than I do (more of a slow traveler).
Tour cost through rick steves, for a couple, are running about $660/Day (Figure for a 10 day tour, you really get 9 days of lodging, and only 8 days of activities, so for VFR at $3000 each, 9 days of travel)
Spain for me was about the same, Portugal a bit less, the UK could have been quite a bit more, but we pulled back on food a bit and had fewer daily expenses.
For just major city tours (one city or several) you can do it significantly cheaper on your own. Tours IMO provide more value when they provide transportation and guides that would be harder to arrange on your own. An example would be the RS Village Italy tour. Without a car it would be time consuming to visit all the stops on the tour. Even with a car you probably wouldn't find guides in most of them, nor would you easily be able to do things such as lunch on a farm or a tour of an olive-oil producer. Another example is the RS Best of England tour where even though public transit connects all the locations the tour bus leaves at times that makes the tour run efficiently (say bus to a morning stop, few hours there, then bus to the final stop) but that you just couldn't do with public transit timetables.
Venice, Rome, and Florence are connected by frequent & fast trains and there are public walking tours you can take both around town and in museums. Public transit gets you easily around town. Even if you splurge and hire a private guide for a few hours in each of these cities you'll still come significantly under the price of a guided tour. You'd probably want to spend an extra day or two in each city compared to a guided tour since they have advantages such as reserved entrance times for tours that not all museums offer individual travelers but even with that you'll still spend significantly less on your own.
I like doing the RS tours to locations that aren’t efficient or handy to reach by train. I’m on trip #14 and three of those have been RS, one trip with a different group and ten done independently.
Your three locations - Venice, Florence & Rome are very easy to reach by train. It’s best to fly into Venice because timing for flights leaving Venice if you are headed to the US can be inconvenient times. I really like Italy and have been there seven times. A good starting point would be to purchase the RS Italy book and seriously read it for ideas and also to answer questions such as when to validate a train ticket.
Also, add activities that will make your trip memorable. We’ve done cooking classes, city bike tours, and I took some private sketch & watercolor classes last June in Bergamo. The “Activity” category is one to not skimp.
For hotels or B&B’s, I search on Booking.com for an 8+ rating located in the historical center of the city.
As others mentioned, I can travel independently for about half the cost of a tour and have some great meals, splurge on a few hotels and eat a lot of gelato!
NOTE: on the other hand, if you decide you really would like to experience Italy, I highly recommend Rick Steve’s 17-day Best of Italy trip!
Here’s an example of a recent independent trip that did go to all three you’re considering. It might help you see total cost & what you do or don’t get traveling independently.
Total up the price of your potential RS tour + anticipated cost of lunches + anticipated cost of half of your dinners.
@Heather. You simply have missed the mark on describing the typical RS tour traveler. Sure there are some who feel more secure in a group or dislike planning, but many are some of the most seasoned travelers you will ever meet. They find value in a RS tour because of the itineraries and guides.
It is very difficult to compare cost/value between a “plan it myself” trip and a tour because they are two very different experiences. Both can be great experiences!
Kathy, we usually travel independently so we can use free hotel nights my husband has as result of much work travel. However, there have been a few times when I really enjoyed the efficiency and relatively inexpensive nature of big-bus tours that often go places and do things I would never have done on my own or would have found it more difficult to do by public transportation-like visiting a bull farm in Spain or going to Tirana, Albania.
tadgonzales, you didnt mention if you had been to Europe or Italy before, and have some experience in travel planning and logistics. If not, it can be pretty intimidating, and put a lot of stress on you that may impair your experience. There's a level of knowledge and skill in planning an executing an independent trip, that you might not want to take the time to learn before going. A tour relieves you of that pressure, and helps set you up for future independent travel or more tours.
I think what you've been hearing here, is that you can't just compare costs, unless that is the primary decision factor. I've been a few of the same places on my own and on an RS tour, and there's no question for me that the tour is a better value.
The Rick Steves travel philosophy is to help educate you to become an independent traveler. There really is no hand-holding. Many times, after a walking tour of the historic part of town, the guide will give general directions to various spots and to the metro or bus to let you use your free time any way you choose. It says in the tour documents that you are expected to navigate the town on your own. That’s definitely not hand-holding. I’m not saying the guide won’t help you but the expectation is you, the traveler, are interested in becoming independent. A friend of mine who had been on many Tauck tours went with me on a RS tour and she hated it because RS doesn’t coddle its customers. She was such a grump on the tour, I was embarrassed. I told her beforehand but she didn’t listen to me. It was terrible for me hearing her complain every morning at breakfast about one thing after another. Believe me I will never travel with her again!
Independent travel: go where you want, when you want. See/do what you want, and not what you don't. Eat what you want, and not what you don't.
Tour: Do you want to go/see/do most of what's on the itinerary, or open to places/sites/activities you wouldn't have picked yourself? RS tour hotels are very conveniently located (and won't be cancelled last minute by flaky AirBnB owner.) If trains/metro on strike, tour manager and bus driver's job to figure out plan B. 1/2 dinners already planned (you don't have to find and make reservations.) Site entries already included (you don't have to jump online to make timed reservations hoping for availability for the days you're going to be in town.)
I absolutely agree independent travel costs less, but there is a time/effort cost in making your own hotel reservations, checking for closest public transportation, figuring out transit routes/fares/payment options, ditto trains, checking updated admission days/hours and fares for sites, etc. I think for the near future with uncertainty with labor (such as day tour guides who flake out and cancel at last minute) and transport, there is an added value to all inclusive tours, above the obvious benefits.
I'm an overplanner and risk averse. I could prepare plan Bs, but don't want to put in the time and stress for now (says someone who had 3 independent tours planned to the detail for 2020...but hasn't done them yet...)
I think city stays are ideal to do independently! Just realize there is more to the cost than just the numbers on your credit card bill.
Would love to hear a trip report, especially if you do it on your own!
I see that someone had commented the the RSE tours are running about $800 per person. We are booked on the BOE 21 day tour this summer and it works out to about $295 per person per day. Seems like a bargain to me for all we are getting. Once we get our first trip under our belt we may feel impowered to do our next trip independently. For now, I love the mix of structure and free time and what I feel is the most efficient use of my meager 3 weeks off of work.
Count me in the group that compares 'value' and not 'cost'. If it is primarily a money saving factor then you're better off on your own. For me the value wasn't the planning done by someone else but the value of the guide. I've only been on one RS tour so far and I wrote in my review that the Wow moment was the quality of the guide (Virginie More in our case) and how she brought France and it's people to life for us during the bus rides. It was an insight and an understanding of a country that we wouldn't have gotten on our own.
Allan, good guide tip. https://virginiemoretravel.wordpress.com/
I see that someone had commented the the RSE tours are running about $800 per person. We are booked on the BOE 21 day tour this summer and it works out to about $295 per person per day.
To be fair, that comment regarding the price of $800/Day was for two, though I agree that is a bit high for and average of the tours. Keep in mind, while BOE is advertised as 21 days, you really only meet for a walking tour and dinner day 1, and really nothing on Day 21, with 20 days of lodging...I would call that a 20 day trip. All RS tours are like that, you just need to drop a day when figuring daily cost. Most are running into the $300's per day per person, not including any single supplement.
I've done both, and there are pros and cons to each, but it's more expensive to go on a guided tour. To me, the biggest benefit of a Rick Steves is that you don't have to worry about all the planning and logistics...you pretty much just show up! I've also been able to do and learn so much more on the RS tours versus traveling on my own.
As others here have pointed out, I think comparing prices is like comparing apples to oranges. Most people here (imo) who take the tours do so because they value all the extras you get, value the companionship of traveling with other people, and the luxury of just enjoying the trip knowing that everything is taken care of.
I have never been on a tour, but have been a member here for a very long time. During these years, I have read many of the trip reports and scrapbook entries from people on the tours, and I'm getting closer to wanting to try one for myself. I see the value of everything pointed out above, but I also see a monetary value. Maybe others are good at really restricting their spending, but I have a hard time sticking to a budget when I travel. I want to enjoy myself and spend accordingly.
But sometimes I do stress about how much I am spending, so I can truly see the luxury of knowing the cost (and paying for it) in advance, with my only costs being the occasional meal and occasional purchases.
Allan, good guide tip. https://virginiemoretravel.wordpress.com/
If you follow her on Facebook, she's in Carcassonne today updating the RS guidebook.
Rick counts it a 21 day BOE tour because most every other company calls it that way too. The other ones I’ve looked at all seem to start in the late afternoon on the first day and there is nothing but breakfast on the last day. Isn’t that the way cruises operate too? (I’ve never been on one)
Regarding my recent posting of RS tour cost of $800 per day ......... Simple math. For the RS 13 day Scotland tour .... cost of $4,795 per person. Double that for a couple = $9,590. Divide that by 12 (actual days) = $799/day.
I fully understand some tours are less per day. I use Scotland as that was one of our independent trips last year.
Extrapolate that out for our recent 6 weeks in Scotland (42 actual full days) ...... $799 x 42 = $33,558. Now that's crazy money.
We'll continue to travel independently, but respect those who choose to travel by group tours. It's not about the cost, it's the enjoyment of travel.
I am the travel planner in the family and we have always done independent travel. The last big trip I put together for 7 family members went well but consumed so much time and energy that I was exhausted. ( Maybe being in my late 60’s contributed to that.) One of the daughters encouraged me to look into RS tours for the next trip so someone else could do most of the planning/logistics. Our first RS trip was to Sicily. After putting pencil to paper, weighing the costs for car/extra insurance/gas, calculating hotel and meals etc. I estimated the RS trip would run maybe an extra $200pp. An added plus was neither my husband nor I had to drive so we both could enjoy the scenery. Of course our guide was an invaluable source of history of the places we went. And we had experiences we otherwise would have missed…like a puppet show! Can’t wait for our 3rd RS tour in November!
I totally planned all the 5 trips my husband and I did 2009-2014. They were long, from 4 weeks to 8 weeks each. Overall they included Iceland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland . Mostly we used public transportation, but of the total 26 weeks, 8 included rental cars.
Many years ago I think it was Rick Steves who said that not counting airfare, a good guess at average daily costs for a moderately priced (not cheap, not expensive) European trip was roughly $150-$200 per person, or $300-$400 per couple. Now it's probably more, but that's exactly what it cost us. That included local transportation, food, lodging, local tours, admissions, etc.
I can't tell if you're planning for only yourself or for you and another person, but my experience is that the per person daily cost for a solo traveler is more than half the cost for a couple. That's if you get the single supplement on an RS tour or if you travel on your own. The big expense is for accommodations because whether you rent an apartment or a hotel room (if they have no rooms for single travelers), the price will be typically be as high for 1 as for 2. Sometimes B&Bs are cheaper.
After my Boeing retiree husband opted out of European travel in 2014 due to his hatred for flying, I was on my own. That particular trip included self-planned time in Italy and Greece, but was built around the Rick Steves week in Istanbul tour. I decided to do that because I felt totally out of my depth to plan it.
My next trip was a 2016 6-week self-planned one to England and Scotland for me alone. But all the ones I've done since then have been planned around a Rick Steves tour of some kind and have been 3-5 weeks total each.
Many of the responders to your question have used the term, "big bus tour." RS tours do involve big buses, but the number of participants usually is about 26, so even counting the guide and driver, they are about half full.
My trip most relevant to your question was built around the Village Italy tour I was on in 2017. I self-planned 6 nights in Rome, 2 nights in Ravenna and 5 nights in Venice before the tour started and 4 nights in Milan after it ended. I had very specific things I wanted to see and do with that self-planned time.
I've never been on any long time tours except for RS ones. For me, the major advantage of them is getting to do and see things I'd never even think of or be able to easily arrange on my own. I've now been on 6 RS tours and they always have some experiences that fit that description. For example, on the Village Italy tour we helped cook and then ate a meal at an agriturismo, visited a Carrara marble quarry, saw a truffle dog in action, saw pottery being made and painted and visited a co-op olive oil press to name a few.
Other advantages have already been listed, but the knowledge and experience of both the RS guides and the local tour guides is priceless to me. I especially like it when they share themselves with us. Examples of that for me are the RS guide for the Scandinavia tour who took us to the apartment where she grew up (and where her parents still live) in Stockholm and the RS Ireland tour guide who told us about growing up in Belfast during the troubles.
I think the Rick Steves tours are a good value for the money for all the reasons others have listed. I also like planning and doing parts of my trips on my own. Neither approach is cheap. What helps me keep the costs down is that I don’t drink alcohol and I'm neither a foodie nor a shopper. 😉
Most of what I would say has been said, though I would offer that your own expectations play a huge part in whether it is "worth it" to you, specifically. I've taken non-RS tours that had frankly not great guides, but I knew exactly what I wanted from the tour (transportation, flights, hotel) and so I put a lot of effort in to my own time activities that amplified the experience. Cost out a tour versus on your own based on what is important to you and how much time you have to devote to planning and executing a trip on your own. As a currently working person I have been very happy to delegate a good chunk of planning to someone else - but as a soon to be retiree, I will have more time to focus on details if I choose.
For RS tours, I agree with comments above that the quality of the guide, logistics, and experiences are valuable, whether or not you're a seasoned traveler. As Lo mentioned, there are often unexpected gifts along the way. My guide for the RS Eastern Europe tour, Peter Polczman, shared many stories and memorabilia from his childhood growing up in communist era Poland. He passed around his youth passport and shared a story about waiting in line for his first American hamburger at McDonalds that made you feel like you were waiting in line with him. That was truly priceless, especially as he took us by that very McDonalds! On my Spain/Morocco tour, at the top of a hill filled with Don Quixote-style windmills, our guide Helen whipped out a bottle of local acorn spirits and had everyone toast to tilting windmills. In Ireland, early in the tour, our guide Patrick knew we were a bit hesitant to venture out, so he voluntarily took a bunch to a very local pub to hear traditional music, making sure we were comfortable ordering/sitting/viewing so we could do so on our own later. These are memories that have stuck with me many, many years later - not so much the hotels we stayed in or where we ate (though some of those were also memorable). I'm sure you can have those experiences not on a tour, but I am pretty sure I wouldn't have otherwise.
Best of luck to you!
What an interesting thread! My husband ( 72) and I (67) travel independently to Europe at least once a year on trips I research, plan and book. Typically we spend about two weeks split among three places — Venice, Bologna, Lucca, for instance) plus travel days on either end and use public transportation. I enjoy a lot of that, but it does require time and energy and lots of decisions and discussions about what to do where, etc. We’re going to Scandinavia late this month and I’m still working on our plans for each city!
On the other hand, I’ve done two RS tours as a solo traveler in Italy and have a third booked to Ireland in August. In my experience, the tours’ added value comes down to convenience and context. Convenience in that you don’t have to plan an itinerary, book local transportation, figure out museum timing and admission, book hotels, figure out half the dinners. I especially enjoy just getting a key and room number at each hotel.
Context is even more valuable, in my opinion. The tour guides have been terrific, offering bits of history, language, culture, travel advice, and the local guides have ranged from extraordinary to good but long winded. The special experiences such as dinner al fresco at a truffle farm or a house concert by local musicians would be difficult to discover and book on one’s own.
There are lots of ways to travel this big world of ours, and isn’t it fun to discuss them with nice people on the forum.
Convenience and context. You nailed it, Felicia.
Out of curiousity, I broke down costs for my upcoming My Way Alpine tour. :)
For 2 people, if I booked on my own, would be $2525 for the hotels, and $2500 for the transportation between locations (Salzburg, Bolzano, Fussen, Lauterbrunnen, Chamonix), for a total of $5028. We paid $5790. So, we're paying $762 for the luxury of having someone else do the plannning, plus having a tour advisor on hand for assistance. Not bad at all. I am very anal when it comes to planning, I probably would have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours trying to come up with the perfect itinerary. IMO, time is money, so it probably saved me a couple thousand dollars by booking the RS tour.
There is no right/wrong answer.
Similar to an oil change for your car. Go to a service facility and have it done, or go to the auto parts store buy the oil and filter and do it yourself..
It is a trade off of time vs. cash
I’ve done both.
My main reason for taking an RS tour are the guides.
Have taken 2. Istanbul and Florence.
Being able to see David before the Museum opened. Still a favorite travel take my breathe away moment.
Considering a Bulgaria tour next year if it’s available.
And, honestly, when working I set 3 pay checks aside ( in the Spring) for my Fall Europe sojourns.
Now I’m retired and can freely chose when and where.
I have been on several Rick Steves tours with my mother. She didn’t like to plan and I wanted to enjoy the trip with her and not be the de facto tour guide the entire time. We both had a great time on those trips. We liked the balance of structured and free time and appreciated the context that the guides provided.
One trip, I decided to save some money, cashed in some hotel points, and planned 10 days in Dublin and London. My mother said that she enjoyed the trip and appreciated my efforts but she really missed having a guide. Oh well. Our next trip was a Rick Steves tour.
I was curious on our Rick Steve's tour last year to Berlin, Prague & Vienna. We also did one night in Dresden and one night in Cesky Krumlov and then, 3 nights each in Berlin, Prague & Vienna. So, one advantage to RS tours was that a bus can get you to some of the harder places. I had to add on extra nights to the DIY price because we stopped in several places that would not be possible to do on a train or bus schedule in the same day. When we left Cesky Krumlov we went to Melk Abbey and then, after that did a short cruise on the Danube River for about 2 hours or so. So, for that part of the trip I added an additional night because it would be impossible to do all of that with train travel in one day. Also, your luggage was safely stowed under the bus. So, if you did independent travel you'd have to think about your luggage. Then, for our overnight in Dresden I figured it would be easier to do Terezin Tour from Prague instead of trying to get there via train. The DiY cost 4,600 whereas our Rick Steve's tour cost us $6,390. I added to the DIY price all the included items like subway passes, snacks, gift at the end, included meals outside of breakfast, etc... I did think our trip did less moving around versus some of the other itineraries I saw. I think, some of the guides would be harder to obtain. We had a speaker in Berlin come to our lunch one afternoon and talk about her life in Berlin. I think those type of guides is harder to hire. I thought for the difference it was worth it.
I think if you could rent a car, it would be easier to get to a lot of these smaller towns.
This is the first time I've ever done an organized trip. I'm doing a trip this summer going to Amsterdam, Paris and London and It is overwhelming. I do realize that these are probably the most expensive cities in Europe.
I do prefer planning trips myself and can do it both cheaper and as good if not better. That being said, it is VERY time consuming and for me, something I need a travel partner for. As an example, I just returned from a two week trip to Spain. I stayed in three of Ricks favorite hotels in Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid (actually saw tour members at breakfast in Barcelona and Seville). I booked our train tickets well in advance and also booked 12.... yes 12 tours ahead of time. Some were free tours, others were expensive experiences like the Prado and Botin Restaurant in Madrid, Hiking the Carminito del Rey Trail, and Tapas and Flamingo in Seville, and Paella, Class, Game of Thrones tour, and Espadrille making class in Barcelona. We paid around $3,000 for hotels, for all the tours around $1,300, about $400 for all the transportation we used. So total under $5,000 for two. Last year I took the Heart of Portugal tour by myself, and had a wonderful time. To me the benefit of planning myself is I love planning and researching where to go, and splurge on special experiences, and things that interest me and my travel partner most. That being said I would not want to travel solo, because I like sharing the experience with other people, so for that reason group tours serve a great purpose. They both have a place, it doesn't have to be one or the other.
I think for a single traveller that the Rick Steves tours compare very favorably with what you would pay on your own and don't mind sharing a room with someone you don't know (though many times you won't share) as it's not like solo travelers pay 1/2 what a couple would for the same room. I also like having people to travel with so I'm not always dining alone. Also in these covid days knowing I'm on a half-full bus with people who are vaccinated and likely more serious about it than random strangers is also a plus.
I agree with several of our friends above. Based on one RS tour, my comments:
The RS tours have higher value when a number of places will be visited and transportation is a challenge. Without a car, it is hard to get to some places that the RS tours visit. Examples would be the eastern France, village Italy, Greece and eastern Europe tours.
For solo travelers, the value of RS tours stands out. A solo traveler booking a cruise will pay 85 percent of what a couple pays but booking an RS tour with an individual room perhaps only 25 percent more.
Especially on the tours that focus on regions and again that involve substantial transportation, those taking RS tours are well traveled and good natured. Based on my one experience, those taking the RS tours stand out and make the tours what they are.
There are two drawbacks to consider. One is that the tours invariably feature sites and visits that some traveling independently would not visit for lack of interest--sometimes, looking at an itinerary, I think only Rick Steves, whose preferences can on occasion be odd, would have included this stop or activity. But in cities, you can skip certain events. The other is that there may be places visited where you would want to spend more time if you were traveling independently, but you can certainly travel on your own before and after the tour.
In summary, I think that even for experienced travelers who usually shun tours, there is a place for an RS tour. And the pricing for solo travelers is amazingly reasonable.
I sent you a private message
I suspect for some tours because of logistics the RS tours have a more value; maybe some tours that are in one or two large cities, less. I know that those looking for a certain type of tour experience that the value of a RS tour can be incalculable.
I just picked one fairly easy RS tour to calculate, the 8 Day Best of Prague and Budapesy tour.
RS is great in that he publishes everyting included in the tour. So I looked up the costs of all of it and did some math. In lieu of his bus, I used train tickets plus transfers to and from the train station. Otherwise everything is the same. Hotels are very good 3 star or cheaper 4 star which is in keeping (used his actual hotels in Budapest). And rounded all the numbers up a bit.
Total Cost Single = $2070.00 vs RS at $3670.00
Total Cost for 2 in Double Occupancy = $2710.00 vs RS at $5,990.00
So in Raw Numbers this RS tour is almost twice what you can do on your own, but its impossible to put a value on the intangiable value of a RS Tour.
If it is a country or city I do not know, I would opt for a tour. I like planning to a point, but then I get really tired of looking at flights and lodging prices and car rentals and don't feel like planning any more. The fun kind of runs out of the process. I don't know how many trips I would do if I didn't sign up with a tour or an outfitter of some kind. It also saves time just to look at tours, book one, and not have to worry about a list of things to figure out.