Who has used the skills learnt on a RS tour to travel independently and were they successful Trips? Also after doing it independently would you go back to using tours?
I am perfectly capable of navigating my way through Europe as I have been traveling there 47 years. It is even easier to plan travel with availability of the internet and modern electronics. But when I hit my mid 70's, tours may be warranted.
The other way around - I traveled independently for many years, and have done so recently, but I prefer the RS tours out of convenience, not lack of skills. . The skills were learned along the way, from experience as well as reading. The tours just reinforced good practices.
Are you under the impression that RS tours are mostly first-time inexperienced travelers? I think the opposite is true. I've seen mostly experienced travelers wanting to see a place they haven't been before, without the hassle of planning and logistics, and with knowledgable guides.
I have done 10 independent trips to Europe since 1992. I have found the travel skills is the RS books indespensible. Key among them: packing light, using local public transportation, and how to build an itinerary. But two years ago I took a week-long RS tour of Paris and loved it. The local tour guides they hired for the Louvre, Orangerie, and Montmartre were superb. Although I enjoy the planning phase of my own independent trip, it can be a big relief to let someone else do it, especially when you know they will do a better job.
Yes I thought they mostly catered for people that were not quite sure about doing everything themselves or were on their first European trip. I see the advantages of a tour such as all the logistics are taken care of and tours and stuff which would be a task on its own to arrange. Having read up on other tours aswell as Ricks I feel Ricks are the best as you get time in places instead of stampeding through and been herded around by guides who just want you to shop.
I've gone to Europe independently and with RS tours. There are pros and cons to both means of travel. Doing it independently, you have time to linger at a location and see what you want to see. And you can do it for less money. With a RS tour, you will have experiences that you might not have on your own. Plus you have a nice set of travel companions and all the logistics are taken care of for you. For me, it is often a tough choice of which way to go - independent or with a tour. As I am getting older, if a RS tour hits 90% of what I want to see then I choose the tour. I also add days at either end of the tour to see places on my own. That seems like the best of both worlds.
I've traveled both independently (alone or with family) and have also taken RS tours. I've said this before, and I'll say it again, I think Rick's information on transportation systems and how to navigate by bus, train, taxi, road, you name it, is some of the best info in the business among the various guide books I've used. He cuts to the chase and explains things clearly. I rely on him less for lodging and food recommendations. I find my own hotels through Google mapping and Trip Advisor-type sites. Food is not a priority for me so I read what's in the guidebooks or may look at Yelp or TA in advance but often just make a decision once there by walking around and seeing what's available.
I'd also like to dispel the myth that people who choose to travel on an RS tour are incapable of doing it on their own. The key word is "choose." I grew up traveling and reading maps and am a fearless navigator, but sometimes people don't want to travel alone, may not have anyone to go with in a particular year, and/or not everyone has spouses, travel partners or best friends who are able to go. These people are not helpless or afraid, they just would rather go on a tour!
Thanks for your replies. Its good to hear differing views on tours and independent travel. In RS tours case I suppose it helps that everybody is more or less on the same wavelength and wants the same things and helps weed out the 'Grumps'. Having read peoples reviews bar one or two everybody has got along on the tours and this to me is a big selling point.
Excluding a Bike and Barge trip in the Netherlands, and an art tour in college, I have traveled independently and often through the years. I was never interested in another tour. However, because of the locations in Greece that I wanted to visit and the difficulty of getting to those places on public transportation...or the time involved to do so, I took my first RS tour this spring. I traveled solo and purchased the single supplement. I am an introvert who likes people, as most of us do, but I like to be alone as well. I was extremely worried about taking this tour, particularly being on a bus with people I might not want to be around (think US news). I bought noise cancelling head phones, just in case. However, all my fears were silly. I LOVED this tour. It's been about 40 years since my Art of the Ancient Greeks class so the infinite knowledge of our tour guide and the local guides was amazing and useful. Everyone was pleasant, interested, and considerate and we gelled quickly. You can be alone or join small groups in your free time, totally up to you. The age group was 35 to 87, nicely averaged out, so we blended well also. I thought I'd only take another RS tour if the locations were hard to access, but since my tour, I'd take just about any of them. However, my next tour is solo and independent as I am working on my long bucket list that didn't necessarily have tours on it... I've used the RS books for years for specific directions in stations, transport, etc. However, other than the disappointing Italy book, I'm a fan of the Lonely Planet books as there are often sights Rick doesn't comment on that I indeed do want to see, hotels, etc. Also, it seemed the people on my tour were well traveled, not just traveling via RS. However, there were only a few, including me, who were on their first RS tour. Most had many under their belts as they are extremely well run. Plus, there is nothing that says you need to stay with the group, just make sure you meet the bus on time when it is leaving town! So...it is not an either/or situation when RS tours are involved, IMO. The buses don't hold a bunch of neophytes, but rather well traveled people, in most cases, and the rest soon to be well traveled people. There is no way traveling independently can result in the historical, political and socio-economic information one gains on an RS tour, unless you read for years prior to your trip...and even then I'd question whether it would be practical.
I've traveled with friends quite a bit, some on my own and on over 15 various tours. All have pluses and minuses. To me, a tour has nothing to do with skills. I've actually never met anyone who took a tour because they didn't know how to travel (although I suppose there are people like that, I just never met one in person.) The other interesting thing to me is the (mis?) perception that people taking a tour aren't also traveling on their own. When I take tours I (so far always) have either spent time before, between or after tours seeing/doing activities on my own. Taking a tour is not an "either/or" phenomenon. For example, I am taking the Sicily followed by the Belgium/Holland tour in the near future. I arrive in Sicily early and leave Amsterdam late. In between, I am spending 4 days on Malta and 4 in Brussels on my own. Most of the people I meet taking tours are the same way and have added extra time to the trip. I don't see how that equates with lack of skills but I suppose everyone has their own definitions.
We took 2 fantastic RS tours together 10-15 years ago, and I took one by myself 4 years ago the year my husband couldn't travel. For the last 6 years we've traveled each year to Europe for vacation; I've planned 5 of those independently, and we would definitely call all of those successful, wonderful trips.
Some of the skills we learned by traveling with the RS tours: the importance of packing really light; the location of hotels in the center of the historic portion of town is top priority in hotel selection; to look for experiences over shopping, etc.; take opportunities to interact with locals; learn about the history & art in the country; to purchase the RS books for every place we travel.
The skills we've learned on our own: to travel by train (& occasional bus) and aim for no more than 3 hours between locations, we stay in slightly nicer hotels than RS but the priority is always the hotel is in the center of the historic portion of town; to learn our personal styles - we both really enjoy lingering over breakfast & talking with fellow travelers and staff; to embrace being individuals - I really enjoy classical music, ballets, etc. & cooking and my husband loves to go to the top of the highest building or mountain. We both don't always need to do something that one of us loves and the other doesn't, i.e. I went to a French croissant class while my hubby went to the top of the Eiffel Tower (we went to the 2nd level together on a previous trip), and my hubby has benefitted since I make yummy croissants often now; to pick at least one non-American tourist location & return to one location we visited previously - very fun to be taking a bus to small villages on Italian trips & enjoying a village local street music event knowing you are truly away from the tourist route.
To be able to travel independently takes a significant amount of planning time. I love doing it and would call it a major hobby because there are months of weekends & evenings where I am sitting in front of my computer. Time does equal lots of money saved, but it is a huge time commitment to enable wonderful, successful trips. On the positive, I love stepping off the train of a small town and feel that link of virtual being reality because of all of the internet searching of history, events, virtual walking down streets, etc.
Would we go back to traveling with a tour? It would be a difficult decision mainly because we like to stay in locations longer than 2 days. But, we would know that a RS trip would give us a fantastic experience, which is why I have recommended them to many people.
"...after doing it independently would you go back to using tours?" Yes. We both lived in Europe (before we met) in different places and at different times. So we traveled independently before we ever took our first tour. Since the first tour we've returned to travel independently. But we still take RS tours simply because we can leave most of the logistical planning to someone else. Each way has it's pros and cons and there are times when one is "better" than the other. Regardless, one always picks up something new in the way of travel skills and knowledge.
I have travelled independly since 1980's , but in 2007 I took a RS tour with my child , it was the Europe in 14 days Family tour . ( we also tacked on 12 days before and after tour that we did on our own) . I did the tour so my daughter ( who was then 11) could seem many countries ( just getting a taste ) quickly and so she would also have other kids around .
We loved the tour . On our tour there definately was some newbies to travel , but also a few like me who had travelled independly before .
Would I take another RS tour ? Yes , absolutely , but not yet , hubby and I are still quite happy to make our own plans . Did I learn travel skills on the tour , well , really not many as i had been to many of the places before and we do a big (4-5 weeks) trip to Europe every other year so we kind of have all the basics down . What I did like was I did learn more about all the places we visited than I would have ( or had in some cases ) because of the very good guide we had , and all the private guides for each special location . I have been to the Louvre at least 15 times before the tour , I still learned more on that visit with the special guide we had !
My doaghter did her first trip to Europe without me last year , at age 19 she and her friends backpacked around Europe for just over two months ! I think the tour she took at 11 gave her some advantages , I had taken her to Paris independly year before last , so it was her third time going last year, but the seeds of good travel skills were planted on the RS tour !
I have been to Europe 14 times in the last 30 years. 6 were Rick Steves tours, 1 was a river cruise, 1 was an organized dance tour, and 6 were independent either solo or with friends.
Most of the tours included some independent travel before or after.
My last trip was 7 weeks, 2 on the Best of the Adriatic and the rest traveling independently.
I have picked my tours based on how easy or difficult the destinations would be to do alone.
My first 2 times to Europe were actually before any of my tours, but I did learn the skills from Rick's books and early videos.
I have made my share of travel mistakes, corrected and learned from them, and remember each of my trips with great fondness. All were successes!
I came for the travel skills and stayed for the fun!
I did start taking Rick's tours partially because I wanted to learn travel skills. It was a very attractive selling point to me to be taught transportation and independent travel skills for Europe. I've never lived where there was public transportation and it was intimidating to me to try and figure it out. My first RS tour was Heart of Italy and the guide started on the first night as we went to dinner as a group teaching us bus travel on the way to the restaurant and metro on the way back. She gave us pickpocket alerts, showed us how she held her purse in crowds (and yes, I watched and she did it every time the whole trip), taught us how to order coffee in an Italian bar and other things I have used every trip.
Now, after 8 RS tours (and 4 international Road Scholar tours) I feel comfortable traveling independently. I continue to sign up for tours because I love the lessons on history, culture, art, customs, politics, geography etc. There are always some surprises and some places or events that are not on the itinerary that I would not have been able to do on my own. I learn so much and enjoy the guides, the other tour members and the bus drivers! I generally do independent time before and after the tour.
I've done both.
I went on my first Rick Steve tour a few months after my father died. Dad's health had been failing for years and I was spending huge chunks of time commuting cross country to take care of him.
I was exhausted emotionally and just wanted to show up for a vacation. The RS trips were perfect because they were physically active, small, and still had scheduled private time. All I had to do was buy the plane ticket and then take the train to the meeting location. The people were wonderful.
This is a great thread -- thanks to everyone who has posted comments.
I use the RS guidebooks as the primary text for trips to Europe, and I like taking guided walks when they are available, and I'm a big fan of using museum guides and the like when I can afford them, but I lean away from being on an organized tour --
maybe I'm a grump?
I took a small organized tour of Yosemite once, that filled just a van and a handful of rooms--one family, three couples, me, and the driver/guide. I really just didn't want to do the driving or sit on a Greyhound. And my prejudices were borne out--most of the people in the van, especially the ladies, were interested in a small social vacation that happened to take place in the woods, but was focussed on the socializing part. Not what I was after -- I wanted to experience Yosemite, not gab and cavort with a natural backdrop. The insistence on taking meals together got on my nerves quickly. In the end I did find one couple that was a bit simpatico b/c they were pretty active so we could push each other on the trails, and they cared about dining quality so we would take a table at the better restaurant choices when we could get away from the rest of the group.
I've been under the impression that this is what tour buses end up turning into, but this thread reminds me that I'm being too narrow about what motivates people on organized tours and what ends up going on. I've been thinking, for example, that the kind of people who show up for the Sierra Club local group hikes are likely to be people more interested in meeting like-minded Sierrans to socialize with than getting out on the trail, so I tend to imagine that the RS tour bus peloton might be a barrier or hindrance to connecting with the locals rather than an aid. I spend enough time with people like myself already; why go to Europe and do the same?
This thread has me wondering if I've got that all wrong.
I don't get how you learn travel skills from taking a RS tour. I've mostly traveled independently, but have taken 1 RS tour. Before my first big trip I bought Europe through the back door, and watched RS videos on travel skills. That helped more than anything. I agree with other posters in that I don't think most people take RS tours because they lack the travel skills, but for ease of travel.
"I don't get how you learn travel skills from taking a RS tour."
-The guide stands in front of the Metro map and picks out 2 spots. Group members give suggestions on the quickest way. He analyzes them and tells you what works and doesn't work. He explains how the system is organized by end of line stops for which direction and shows them on the map so it makes sense to those of us who have never had to figure out subways. He shows us how to figure out the signs in the Metro. Then the guide says Pam will lead because she doesn't look like she is getting this and I want her to understand how to do this.
--->Yes, I needed that hands on demo.
-The guide stands in front of the bus stop sign and shows you how to figure out the stops/lines/routes.
--->Yes, I needed that hands on demo
-The guide has on a whisper system in the Paris Metro. She shows us how to insert the tickets, retrieve them, not get in the locals way, how to hold the barrier door for the next person. We are lining up on the platform and she points out where to stand, how to be polite about getting on (calling our attention quietly to others who are demonstrating rude behavior so we would know what not to do)
--->Yes, I needed that hands on demo
-The guide shows us how she holds her purse, hands over the zippers and strap when she is moving thru a crowd.
---> Yes, I needed that hands on demo and the time I didn't hold my purse like that? Got pickpocketed on the Metro altho they only got my bag of OTC meds.
I have taken other tours. Rick Steves guides are the only ones who are specific about teaching transportation and other skills. I'm surprised yours didn't as well, but maybe they don't all do that. Others may not need this but I certainly did when I started. I am not sure I could have translated the skill by watching youtube altho I know that works for many. My learning style is that I do better with a hands on demo. I have walked googlemaps from point to point such as train station to hotel and that was somewhat helpful.
I continue to sign up for tours because I love the lessons on history, culture, art, customs, politics, geography etc
Pam, you've got it. We've lived in Europe, and we've traveled on our own. But we learn so much on our RS tours that we keep coming back.
I .... just wanted to show up for a vacation.
The RS trips were perfect because they were physically active, small, and still had scheduled private time.
And Cindy H, this is part of it as well. Sometimes we just need a vacation.
I traveled a lot even before the first RS tour I took. Mostly for work where it was someone else buying my plane ticket, someone picked me up at the airport, someone else made the hotel reservations, and so on. All I learned on those trips was to look for the sign with my name on it.
I did lot of independent travel for vacations, but once again that was one destination point where I ended up unconscious on a beach. Not much involved in that other than being at the right airport at the right time coming and going and being able to communicate with the taxi driver to get to the hotel I had reserved.
While nothing wrong with either of those types of travel, but you don't really learn to travel.
RS tours have taught me how to find my way around on my own on public transit. I grew up where there was no subway and only a barely functional bus system. My first trip to Europe, I refused to ride the subway or even the buses there until we spent the entire trip depending on public transit and I discovered that it really works elsewhere and there is no reason to avoid it.
There have ben many other things I learned about travel on RS tours. Too much to list out here other than to say I have no issues with not having that guy with the sign waiting for me at the airport. And I continue to take RS and other group tours because they are fun, educational, and less stressful than planning a trip on your own in a part of the world where you have never been and don't speak the language.
I'm the tour planner in our household. I have learned loads from reading the RS books and watching the RS television shows. In fact, I'd say watching them inspired us to brave our first overseas trip.
I know how to make reservations, research destinations and make sure everything is arranged. But sometimes it's just so NICE to let somebody else worry about how to get from point A to point B on time for an activity. It's nice to just sit back and not have to shuffle through maps and reservations.
Now in all honesty, I have yet to take my first RS tour. We're doing one later this year. I have also traveled in the past with other tour companies. From what I have observed, this type of tour would attract a more adventurous type of traveler, whether it's their first trip to Europe or their 50th. The truly faint of traveling heart often gravitate toward those tours where your luggage is collected for you, where accommodations are advertised as plush, and where there are frequent mentions of how little you, the traveler, will have to do. Anyone who comes onto a RS tour knows that this is going to be not just a trip - it holds the possibility of being an adventure. ;-)
My impression is that the vast majority of people on RS tours are not first-time travelers so they have the travel skills already. I've only taken tours to places I didn't feel I could do independently because of logistics (e.g. Ireland) or that I felt I would get a great deal more from with guides (e.g. Armenia/Georgia). Most of the RS tours don't appeal to me because they are places I want to see on my own, going at my own pace and staying longer than the tours do.
I have traveled for 30+ years, first with my husband, and then alone. I've taken only one RS tour. I really liked the itinerary and the accommodations. It was in Scotland and took me to places that would have been difficult to get to on my own. That said, I found the forced camaraderie, games, competitions, irritating.
We used RS's books almost exclusively and found them very informative and helpful over the years as we honed our travel skills.
I would not sign up for another tour, unless it was a "My Way" tour.
I've taken 4 RS tours and thought the teaching was minimal. Here's a partial list of what you need to do to travel independently
- pick towns to visit and decide how much time to spend in each one
- figure out how to get from town to town
- in town figure out how to order your visit and get from place to place
- understand local customs
- develop resiliency for when things don't go right -- S-bahn to airport isn't running the day you plan to leave, you miss a train connection, the non-English-speaking person at your hotel can't find your reservation, you get on the wrong train (all things that have happened to me)
If you are completely overwhelmed by the thought of traveling overseas then an introduction where most is arranged for you is a great way to get a sense that it isn't impossible to do, any more than a trip in your state or region. But to think that you take a RS trip and after that know everything you need to know to book trips entirely on your own seems to be overstating it by a bit.
I have taken (and continue) to take RS trips for the convenience and the expertise of the guides (both from RS and the local ones they hire). However I would not tell anyone it is a travel school, one trip and you're good to go on your own.
Kateja , we didn't have games and competitions on our tour , maybe you just had a weird guide . Wait , we did one name game when we first got together , but that was only game in two weeks
Thanks again for replies. It is great reading your posts and seeing varying opinions on the use of tours and independent travel.
Games & competitions, oh yes. It was announced at the beginning of the tour that there would be a trivia competition between competing teams at the end of the tour. This led several tour members to take copious notes in order to "win" the competition.
We were also made aware that 3 days after the start of the tour there would be another game. We all had travel partners. All that were solos, including myself, were assigned partners. The game consisted of a round robin of announcing 3 facts about your partner, 2 that were made up and 1 that was true. The group had to guess which was true. Unfortunately, our guide chose a time right before dinner to play the game. We were all starving (talk about Hunger Games) as we were already late and this game delayed us by about an hour.
As I said, I liked the tour. Scotland is wonderful. The guide was knowledgeable. Perhaps she was trying too hard.
When I travel to another country, I want to just "be", and try to absorb as much as I can, and to think about the history and the people that live there now. I don't need to be entertained.
Thanks for explaining the competition. I'm surprised clan warfare didn't break out! Sounds like an "ugh" moment rather than one of Rick's "wow" moments.
The travel skills I learned are not connected to any group tour, ie, all independent travel. I take city tours from time to time. I have traveled mostly solo on 23 trips ranging from 10 days to 12 weeks in 46 years, ie, since the first in 1971. Skills picked up/acquired come from those trips, solo and with family members using various means of transport, intra-Europe flights, night trains, ferries, buses, and staying in small hotels, Pensionen, hostels, B&Bs, apt (once in Warsaw), university dorms, 3 and 4 star hotels. AirB&B is not an option. Obviously, I am a much more experienced traveler now than was the case in my youth as a solo traveler in the 1970s .
Would I do a tour? Only in Japan and China. That's beyond my imagination in Europe...doing a tour.
I've only done one RS tour, in 2015. But as a fairly young guy with a time-consuming career, it was a great feeling to have all of the logistics done. And I would highlight that just because you take an RS tour does not mean you don't have opportunities to plan - there is plenty of free time. Also, people often add a day or two to the tour independently.
As to travel skills, I bought into the RS philosophy by reading and researching before my tour, and found it useful for that tour. But on trips thereafter, such as to New York city or Las Vegas and the western USA, the skills were great. Particularly in New York, I found myself writing an itinerary on a spreadsheet, planning public transit, and finding restaurants and bars off the beaten path.
"AirB&B is not an option."
Hi Fred...would you mind expanding a little on your comment? I'm sure others may be curious, as well. I've stayed in many Airbnb apartments over the past several years with no problems....domestically and internationally. Do you stay away from them because of issues that you may have experienced, issues that others experienced, or just not interested?
@ amerills...Basically, not interested in AirBnB, that's why it is not an option, never tried it either. Aside from the hostel option, (occasional), I patronize local hotels (2 and 3 star) and Pensionen in Germany and Austria, likewise in Paris and France, 2 star hotels. In England I stay in B&Bs.
We've been to Europe 3 times - twice on our own & once with a RS tour. For the Venice, Florence, Rome RS tour, we are so glad that we chose a tour for that trip because there is so much to see and so much history in those cities - we would have never learned so much on our own - the guides were amazing!! Can't imagine doing the Vatican, Coloseum/Forum, etc on our own (even w/a RS guide book in hand). We did fly into Venice early and did 3 days on our own before the tour began, and stayed another 10days after the tour ended to see Sorrento, Amalfi, Herculaneum, and Tuscany. We are doing a MY WAY ALPINE TOUR next year because that area seems easier to navigate w/a bus taking us between countries and we don't want to rent a car and try to find our own hotels - but we look forward to the 'MY WAY' part of that trip. Again, we are flying in a few days early to do Munich on our own, and then staying another week to do more of France on our own. We are also considering a RS Sicily Tour, again - because we LOVE the RS itinerary for that area. But . . . we also will go to Europe a lot more on our own with no RS Tours but with a RS Guide Book in hand. At this point for us - it really just depends on the area, the RS itinerary, and how much 'learning' we want. We love going in December on our own, and just visiting the Christmas Markets. When we do go on our own, we use the RS books and AAA - they both have GREAT day trip ideas and guides.
I don't think that you learn many skills to travel independently on RS tours. Everything is taken care of. If you want to learn to travel independently he has classes and TV programs. And then you learn while doing it. I lived in Europe for 36 years and go there often. In most countries I travel independently because it's cheaper. But I took 3 RS tours (so far) and either I don't speak their language and English is not widely spoken there or public transportation is not very good and drivers are too wild. With RS I took Turkey, Paris & Heart of France, Adriatic tours. I intend to take Spain and Portugal tours in future. I think I can do all others relatively easily on my own.
I use his basic recommendations for all my travel, domestic or foreign, business or personal. It really just common sence recommendations provided for us from someone who's been through it all before.
Our first trip to Europe was the 14 day Best of England. We learned a lot of travel skills that we've used ever since. We also learned what we like and don't like. We changed our entire "want to travel to" list after that trip. We now know we'd be bored to death on a safari or in a place that is visited for landscape. We want castles, museums, cathedrals, quarries, historical monuments, historical cities, etc. We go to Europe for at least a month a year on a mix of independent travel and tours (Rick's and others) and learn something new every year that makes the next trip easier and better.
Our experience on 8 Rick's trips are that at least half of the group or more have traveled on multiple Rick's trips, with other tour companies, or independently. There is usually one or two couples that are on their first tour or European trip. We also found that on each tour most people either add on days before or after to travel elsewhere.
Never forget the importance of speaking the local language and if you can't, it's tough. I began my overseas travels (not including Canada and Mexico) in 1982, as a teen, to Israel and England with family. As a history buff back then, I loved seeing and learning about different cultures. I spent a semester in Florence (heaven), backpacked twice solo in W. Europe and was sort able to recreate some of this once I hit my 40s. I found it exhausting, even though I was familiar and a repeat visitor to various areas. So yes, I consider myself a seasoned and well-traveled solo traveler. A few years ago, I took my first "organized" tour with a not-for-profit organization into Eastern Europe (this was my dream trip). 15 of us visited numerous WWII historical sites, focusing on Jewish-related sites, camps, and cleaning cemeteries that had been neglected. I realized that, in my late 40s, it was really nice to have someone else plan where we were going, drive me there, have similar interests travel companions, and we definitely HAD to follow the group leader's plans. As a solo traveler, this was a tad claustrophobic. So, the following year, I had to make peace with Auschwitz and the only tour I could find, that sounded like me, was RS's Best of E. Europe.
Like many, I was leery about another group tour and watched the RS Travel CD, to see if RS travelers traveled like me. They are and watching the CD sealed the deal for me. Even if I tried to duplicate the tour on my own (to keep costs down), I quickly realized that I'd miss out on the "back door" towns, villages, and the opportunities to meet with locals. For all of my tours, I take either time before or after the tour to extend my travels, but prefer to get to E. Europe prior to the start of the tour in order to rid myself of jet lag, and because by the end of a RS tour, I'm pretty much exhausted - more mentally than physically.
So what travel skills have I learned? How to hold my backpack in crowds. The importance of truly speaking a few words of the local language. I now view the world in a more holistic way, having talked with locals, visiting schools, and local/folk entertainment. Best of all, besides having someone local who speaks the languages, are my fellow travelers. For the most part, ALL are fantastic, courteous, and cheerful companions. The RS guides are beyond exceptional. Truly. And never, ever forsake spending a bit more to sleep a "in the heart of the city" lodging in order to save a few $$$. Sleep is crucial as is my time at a locale. ALL excursions are optional on a RS tour (and I've ended a few museum visits early), except when it's time to meet the group/be ready for the bus. Something else I find refreshing is Rick's warnings re: A/C, complaining, and it's all about location, location, location. EVERYTHING that is tour related is paid for. No surprise fees and no "oh, we need to collect a tip for A and B and C." It's all included. Yes, I'm still communicating with previous tours' friends. My final comment? I learn something new on each RS tour for my independent travels.
Yes and yes. We took our then 12 year old daughter on a RS Ireland tour, she gained enough confidence in her abilities to travel that she chose to attend uni in the UK. We traveled back to England with her every year for 3 years and used our new found travel skills every day. Next year we're planning on the Best of Europe tour. After being in charge of logistics and problem solving it's nice to let someone else be responsible so we can just enjoy our new friends and experiences.
Out of college, I learned about RS and used his advice to backpack around Europe for 2 1/2 months. Great stuff!
I have never taken a tour and don't have any plans to do so. The idea of being in a group of Americans for two weeks while traveling seems to defeat the purpose of traveling. When I travel I enjoy staying with friends and family. If i don't have a friend or family member in a place I love couchsurfing, Hostels or AirBnB. You stay with a local, take them out to dinner and have a tour of the area in return. I also have no money. So this is the only way I can afford to travel, but I don't think I'd have it any other way! The idea of staying in hotels and visiting museums sounds horribly boring. I also have this fear that on a RS tour I would be bombarded with too much information, history and facts. I travel to be with people from other countries and to interact with them. I love attempting to speak another language and learn about their culture. One of my favorite trips, my daughter and I flew into Frankfurt, we spend a couple of days with my son who is stationed there in the Army, we took the train to Basel where we spent a couple of days with my sister. Taking the tram is France for the day was great fun and we also love to float down the Rhine river. On to Bad Mergentheim, where my grandmother immigrated from. We stayed with two new Couchsurfer.com friends. We took each out for dinner, was given a tour of the area and went for a bike ride along the Tauber River and took a horse-back ride. Next we meet up with an old friend(a HS German exchange student) and went to a 'Hippie' wedding in a meadow, slept in a tent. My son & his German friend met up with us there and then drove us to my friend's goat farm in the Czech Republic and then on to Prague. My daughter and I then took the train to Lintz, Austria to stay with a couchsurfer then a train back to Frankfurt. Yes, this trip was very inexpensive but best of all we had a great time! I think everyone has different priorities: Some travelers are there mostly to learn and some to interact with people. I will splurge on horse back riding because that's important to me. And when I can't travel, the adventure continues at home when I host international guests through AirBnB and Couchsurfer.
I have had successful trips both independently and with tours. For me it depends on the destination whether I would do it on my own or with a tour. I have done one RS tour and am planning on doing at least one next year. However, in between that I will have done 2 solo trips using skills I learned both from reading Rick's books and from my previous tour guide. While I greatly enjoy the planning part of a trip, sometimes it is nice to have it done for you. This is especially true for me since I travel solo and all of the planning and reserving rests on my shoulders. One thing I like about the RS tours is they provide plenty of unscheduled time, which allows me to do a bit of planning and researching too. Also, like many others I add days either at the beginning or end of the tour, giving me a chance to make my own plans.
I have traveled independently on my first 5 trips to a Europe including a month traveling by myself. I am very comfortable traveling on my own in Europe. In 2015, I signed up for RS 17 Day Best of Italy Tour and had the best travel experience of all my trips to Europe. It is definitely not cheaper to use his tours, but I really felt that I accomplished so much more in the 19 days I was in Italy than I could have done on my own. I had been to Italy before and I think it is probably one of the more challenging countries to do own your own. Parts of Italy are better served by having a car and other parts by train. Being on a tour maximized my time. Trains don't always leave when we want them to. A car is a liability in the larger cities. When I was first in Italy, reservations were not required or even possible for the major sites. Now they are mandatory if you don't want to wait in lines. Being on a tour, everything was taken care of. That said, I feel other countries, like a Germany, Switzerland, France, and Austria are very easy to do independently.
It all comes down to money and time. If you are on a real tight budget, a tour might not be for you. If you have a limited amount of time and want to see as much as you can, a tour might be a good option. Rick Steves My Way Tours might be a good fit for someone in between, especially if you are not comfortable with making all the arrangements. Just keep in mind, you will still need reservations for the major sites in Italy.
I think of myself as a "fiercely independent" traveler and have traveled extensively in Europe and Mexico that way. The idea of being on a big bus shuffling across Europe in 10 days or whatever gives me the hives. That said, I would consider taking RS tours specifically in a few situations:
-When transit independently is difficult. For example I do not want to try to drive on the "wrong" side of the road, and reaching villages in the UK and Ireland can be very difficult via public transit. My only tour to date was 2 nights in the Cotswolds on a small bus tour. I still chafed at having the set schedule but it was the only way for I and my travel companions (elderly mother and grandmother) to see this area.
Similarly from what I've heard I don't want to drive in Southern Italy, particularly getting in and out of cities, so I would consider a tour like RS' Italian villages tour.
-When travel would just be a little too daunting on your own...I'm thinking Russia, places like that. I've traveled independently in Romania and the former Yugoslav countries and that was fine (mostly...looking at you, Romania!) but I would certainly understand how that would be daunting even to experienced travelers. If I knew then what I know now, I would recommend a smallish, boutique tour in say, Romania, to all but the most adventurous travelers than attempting to do it on your own.
1 skill learned--Pack light, pack light, pack light. No one cares what you are wearing even if it gets worn everyday!
Edgefield is 100% right. Nobody even notices what you're wearing. In fact, the only people who draw attention are those who are better dressed than the average, with new outfits every single day. On our last tour, there was one beautifully groomed and dressed woman who seemed to have a different pair of eyeglasses every day - to match her mood or her outfit.
I have always traveled independently. I lived in Nigeria and Ethiopia for 3 years and worked in Thailand, India and Ghana. I've been to several countries on holiday in Europe and for the first time in my 30 years of traveling I took a tour (Rick Steves) with my mom out of convenience and because she had always wanted to do a Rick Steve's tour. It was a great experience. The one "skill" I have operationalized/adopted from that trip is "Go when you can.....not when you have to". I did it before (esp. in Africa) but I'm now a bit more conscientious of it. :)
Pack light i definitely agree with. I learnt the hard way years ago, its no fun trying to haul a big suitcase around stopping every few minutes because the wheels have caught on something or trying to hoist up a very steep curb which they seem to love on the Continent