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Strategies for extra days before and after trips

We've been on two RS tours so far: Best of Italy and Best of Sicily. For the first tour we arrived in Milan just one day early but didn't really get to see anything; we didn't stay in Rome any extra days - and I felt like we missed some things on both ends of the trip.

So this year we planned to visit Milan for 3 days prior to the Sicily trip, and we arrived in Palermo a day early to see the city. I was glad we did that, but we didn't stay in the final city (Catania) any extra days, and I was regretting that we had not planned that.

Now we are looking at another tour and I will probably book one or two extra days on each end of the tour. (We are retired so we have no time constraints). But I'm wondering how other people deal with this: do you plan extra days at starting and ending cities? Do you regret NOT having done that? Any thoughts?

Posted by
144 posts

Yes, I've learned through experience that it's important to add days at the beginning AND end of the trip, if possible. The days added at the beginning are typically a cushion in case of flight delays, plus getting accustomed to the time change. Anything I get to see/do in the arrival city is a bonus--unless adding three or more days at the beginning. As for adding days at the end, it seems that tours and cruises spend little time in the final city--it's just a quick overview (if that) and is chosen for its proximity to an airport. At the end of the trip one typically feels more comfortable/confident with navigating transportation, language, etc. so it's a time when independent travel can be very enjoyable.

Regarding regrets--yes! That's why Amsterdam is still on my travel radar. I'd like to spend time in the city (and surrounding area) rather than just seeing city lights from a bus in the dark of early morning or the inside of Schipol airport (mind you, it's a pleasant airport--but not where I want to spend my time!). You are retired, so take full advantage of that gift of time. Happy travels!

Posted by
19904 posts

We always add at least three days, sometimes more, to the beginning of the trip. Have done as much as a week. We like to do the jet lag on our own and it is a buffer should there be a delay with our flight. Over the years have been on a couple of cancelled flights where there was a lot of panic about meeting starting times of tours and cruises. And sometime may tack on another week or two afterwards but that is very dependent on what else we are doing. But we always add a couple of days just to relax and not to have a rush to find the flight back to the us. We are retired so time is not as critical as someone with work commitments.

Posted by
12 posts

Adding extra days is the way to go. We are taking the RS 21 day Europe tour in September, and have added 3 extra nights in Haarlem, and 2 more in Paris at the end. We are looking forward to the extra time before the tour officially begins to settle in and explore on our own, as well as more free time in the city of lights before saying Au revoir!

Posted by
514 posts

I sincerely appreciate the "what is not covered in this tour" component in the RS pre-tour information. Even with a city tour, there are always worthwhile adventures to be had in those locations not included - an excellent way to put one's early arrival planning into practice.

Posted by
4401 posts

We've done 4 RS tours and looking at #5. I would not do any without having at least one day early. Two or three is better, especially helpful with the jet lag. Yes I always regret not taking extra days after the trip, if nothing more, than to relax in the ending city. At the end of the tour, you feel more comfortable with the country you're in, and can enjoy the extra free time more. However the time constraint is an issue.

Posted by
6805 posts

You’ve spent a lot of money on those international airline tix so why not take advantage of that by arriving early and staying afterwards?? Of course that’s the right decision especially if you have no time constraints.

Posted by
3012 posts

We always added three days before the RS tours and purposely stayed in a different town to expand the itinerary. For instance, when we took the RS Best of Italy tour, we flew into Milan and took the train to Verona for our first three days ( which is an easy tourist-friendly town to begin). We haven’t added days to the end, but during those trips, we weren’t retired.

Posted by
1297 posts

Agree, if you don't have time constraints, beneficial to add 2-3 days or more before, as well as after. As previously mentioned up thread- visiting sights not covered on your tour, adjusting to time change prior to tour, and "taking a vacation from your vacation." We've added time on to every guided tour. No regrets.

Posted by
3207 posts

We've done 14 RS tours, and have booked #15 for next year.

We always add days both before and after. There's never enough time to see what we want, though. Even though we, too, are retired, we do have time constraints (family, mostly, but we also seemed to have ended up running some of the organizations for which we volunteer. Sigh.)

For our upcoming tour next year, we're planning on arriving 3 full days before the tour starts, then staying on another week to 10 days after the tour. This year we did two tours back to back, with three days before and two days after. It didn't give us enough time to do what we wanted, and we were gone from home too long. So we're back to just one tour next year, and will be gone between three and four weeks.

Posted by
6845 posts

Laughing...I'll be no one says no!

I agree with everyone else. I love to arrive early. I've also found that often the beginning city is very interesting and needs extra time. I did not do that with Village Italy - arrived early but stayed in Venice and regretted not giving Padua a few extra days. I learned from that and added extra days in Trier for the GAS tour which was an excellent decision. Also have added extra days in Bath, Canterbury, Ghent and .... others!

I like to add time at the end as well, particularly in a big city. I added an extra night at Orta San Giulio after Village Italy and this is the only time I kind of regretted it. There was not enough to do there for a whole extra day. Half a day would have been fine. I should have added time in Milan, though.

Have you considered doing back-to-backs? I love that as well but have decided I enjoy it more if I have 2 different cultures. I did Best of Southern England and Best of Scotland last year and I didn't like that combo as well as Best of England and Paris and the Heart of France, for instance.

I've also done back-to-backs with Rick Steves and Road Scholar tours.

With time not being a factor - go for it! What tour are you looking at?

Posted by
4 posts

seems unanimous! Thanks to all for your thoughts. And maybe I'll see you on a tour - there's about 8 different tours that sound interesting to us...

Posted by
3207 posts

atjsfo, let us know what you decide. We'd love to run into you on a tour. And as you have no doubt noticed, we're not shy about sharing our experiences and opinions!

Posted by
871 posts

We have been on six RS tours, and have always added time before and after. It is nice to have part of the trip done as independent travel. Our experience has been that before the tour works better than after the tour, the idea being that post-tour travel seems anticlimactic. We always arrive at the first tour stop at least a day beforehand, as it is nice to get the lay of the land. We often meet other tour members this way, especially if we are staying at the tour hotel. On our last tour - Village Italy - we met and connected well with a couple before the tour. We became so close that we are planning on going on the RS Best of England tour with them in 2020.

Posted by
1988 posts

We’ve met people who barely make the initial group meeting and leave before the last breakfast, but they are the exception. We have had good experiences tacking on days before and after our tours. As another poster mentioned, when we’ve done back to back tours, not so much. We always try to get there two days prior (day 1, we land, day 2 we play, day 3 we meet the group and the tour starts). On our back to back tours we were ready to go home afterward; we sensed that would be the case and planed accordingly. But, ordinarily, we stay on a few days up to a week after a tour and we have had great times. As we age, and as we’ve been to most countries in Europe, we find a lot of our post tour time is at leisure-cafe’s, parks, more cafe’s, shops, strolls. The tours are paced pretty well and at some point if during our post tour time we somehow miss the altar piece by Bagolini in the Cathedral of the Seventh Perseveration, so be it. Time to chill. Our optimum total time is three weeks. We have grandchildren growing quickly and we don’t want too much time to pass without us.

Posted by
280 posts

Since our first commercial tour to Europe several years ago, we always add at least one day. Part of that is a perk (one free night) provided by our tour company but also for all the reasons others have mentioned like jetlag, flight delays and the realization that if you're going to spend the money on airfare then get the most out of it. We've also added days at the end. The total number depend on which country, how much more is there to see and what the hotel rates are.

We ended a river cruise in Amsterdam in June and added 3 days. Someone on our cruise said they never do that as it felt strange after to organized tour was done. It is a bit anticlimactic but usually I'm so ready to be cut loose from being "guided" that I'm ready to chill a bit and just enjoy being where I am. It's all too easy to get into the "must see everything" mode that I don't think we do enough just sitting and absorbing.

Posted by
3878 posts

No, why would you add extra days to what's already the perfect experience? Much better to arrive jetlagged, go with the flow on the tour, and rush off to the airport after wolfing down the last breakfast! Why spend more money and time than necessary to see the "best of" wherever?

JUST KIDDING! If you're really constrained for time and/or money, you may be unable or unwilling to add days before or after. But for all the reasons people gave here, you should if you can. My first RS tour was last year, in Italy, and I added three nights in Venice before and four in Rome after. Plus airport hotels on arrival night and before departure morning. My next will be this fall, in Spain, and I'm adding three nights in Barcelona before and six in Seville, Cordoba, and Madrid after, taking three weeks for a two-week tour. As a retiree I can take the time for this, but as an old guy three weeks is about as long as I can keep traveling without wearing myself out. The "vacation from your vacation" idea, great in theory, hasn't worked for me in practice.

Posted by
11 posts

On our first RS tour (Best of Italy) we arrived the day before as suggested and really enjoyed exploring (Florence) on our own. Then we stayed after in Rome for a few nights, and really enjoyed that, including resting up a bit before heading home. On this particular trip we arrived early and stayed after in the towns the tour began & ended. On tour #2, we got a little braver and visited a few days before and after in towns not included on the tour (Village Italy). Thoroughly glad we did that two, as that meant we experienced Venice and Milan, which we wouldn't have otherwise. In September, we're going on our 3rd tour - Best of Europe 14 days - and are extending in the beginning and ending tour cities. If possible, we'd highly recommend at least a few days on your own on both ends of your tour. Totally worth it!

Posted by
13180 posts

Like you, I'm retired so my only time restraint is personal preference. I have learned that the ideal trip length for me is 2.5 to 3.5 weeks. Less than 2.5 isn't worth the hassles of flying (and I don't have long-haul flights or jetlag issues). More that 3.5 weeks is tiring, especially if I'm changing locations frequently - with or without a tour.

Posted by
52 posts

On our first tour we timed it so that we would arrive the night before the tour. That was a mistake because there was a weather delay and we almost missed the start of our tour. We arrived the next day just in time. After that my wife and I have added 3-4 days prior to the tour and we have loved every minute of the extra time. We typically stay in a city that we want to explore in debt. Last year we stayed in Paris for 4 days prior to the Loire Valley tour which started in Chartres. On other tours we have spent extra time in places such as Stressa, It, Prague, Cz, Ljubljana, Slovenia, Dublin, Ireland, etc. Sometimes we are having so much fun on our own we almost don't want to go on the tour but each time the tour a different but fantastic change up. We haven't stayed extra days on the back end yet because we are typically anxious to get home for work and other things but I'm sure that will change when we retire some day.

Posted by
214 posts

We always add a few days prior to a tour and some afterwards as well, as that seems to strike the right balance to overall trip. While linking two tours together sounds wonderful -- advocated by some on this thread -- for us it's better to arrive ahead and acclimate to time zone, shake off jet lag, and see some venues not included on tour (at our own pace). Sort of a 'running start' to a given tour's more event-filled schedule; then likewise 'wind down' after it concludes, either seeing more of that final city or taking train to a nearby region before flying home. Between the efficiency of RS Tours and some carefree days on our own, we return home tired and broke, but smiling.

Posted by
6845 posts

"we somehow miss the altar piece by Bagolini in the Cathedral of the Seventh Perseveration, so be it."

Oh my word Alan. I missed this the other day and just now read it. Fortunately I did not spew liquids or solids onto my laptop screen! This must be in the "Way off the Grid guide to touring Eh-urope" (because you know it starts with an E, hahahah!).

Posted by
3017 posts

I hate being rushed. The only time I can tolerate it is on a Rick Steves tour. So far I've done 5 of them and I've arrived early and stayed late for all, not necessarily only at the tour beginning and end locations.

There are lots of ways to add time before and after RS tours. These are 3 different ways I've done that:

The least time I've traveled in Europe was about 3 weeks in 2018 when I did the RS Best of Scandinavia tour. I spent 2 nights in Stockholm before the tour started and 1 night in Bergen after it ended. That was sandwiched between 3 nights in my European arrival city of Amsterdam and 2 nights there before flying back to the US.

My trips are usually 4-6 weeks long.

In 2017 I sandwiched Village Italy between 6 nights in my arrival city of Rome, 2 nights in Ravenna and 5 nights in Venice before it started, and 3 nights in Milan, my departure city, after it ended. I spent the time in Ravenna because the VI tour only included a brief, enroute-to-somewhere-else, visit and my last time there was in 1977. The extra time in Rome and Venice, staying in apartments in both, was to see and experience things I hadn't done before in those cities. The extra time in Milan was because I'd never been there before.

This summer I was gone about 5 weeks. I did my first back-to-back RS tours, Heart of Portugal and Best of Spain. Based on advice from others on the Forum, I did Portugal first so as to have a few days between the 2 tours. I also used Amsterdam as my first European arrival city and my departure city. I actually stayed in Haarlem 3 nights before flying to Lisbon 2 days before the start of the tour, staying in the tour hotel.

I wanted to stay an extra night in Porto at the end, but they had no rooms available, so I flew to Barcelona the evening of the last day of the Portugal tour. I spent 3 nights there, in the tour hotel, before the start of the Best of Spain tour. I spent 1 night in the Sevilla tour hotel before flying back to Amsterdam where I spent 1 night in a hotel close to the airport before flying back home.

Posted by
1264 posts

We are doing our first RS tour this October, Athens & The Heart of Greece. Alas, we arrive the day before and depart the day the tour ends. Can’t be helped, it is all the time we have and I already regret that we will not have more time in Athens. Someday when DH retires, we can add days before and after. Sigh.

Posted by
15 posts

Hi All
Been on 15+ tours and I’d say I’m batting 500 on extra days up front or after. Some dependencies in the decision include the airfare (and arrival time in the first location), the cost of the room, and the balance of requesting an additional PTO day from work or taking that day for another break later in the year.
Usually, I look at the itinerary to see what is covered in the days leading up to final dinner. If it’s just two nights and one day to see the last location and my research indicates that’s not enough time to see the secondary or one star attractions, I’m more inclined to add a day. Works for a day up front as well. Example: Tallinn was celebrating it’s 800 birthday a day before my tour started this year. I wanted to be a part of that celebration so got into town early. Glad I did!

Posted by
2 posts

My wife and I have been on 3 Rick Steves tours and enjoyed each one of them. We're going on the "Best of Turkey" tour this fall. Our usual strategy is to arrive at the beginning town 3 days before the tour begins. We stay at a nice hotel and relax. Upon completion of the tour 2 weeks later, we pick another nice hotel in the ending city. We stay there 3 nights and unwind from the busy tour. This works for us. Do what works for you.

Posted by
13 posts

My husband and I have been on 3 RS... soon to be 4. On the prior tours we always added days (at least on the front end) and have been glad we did. This year however, because of work constraints, we won't be adding days on the front end... just the back. We are flying in to NYC a day early and will tour there... be really tired on the flight across the pond so that hopefully we sleep! We'll stay 3 nights after the tour in a different location. Crossing my fingers that we aren't too jet-lagged to enjoy the first couple of days!

Posted by
1 posts

We have taken two Rick Steves’ tours and added days on both ends of the tour to do more on our own. We have travelled to various European destinations on our own, of course using Rick’s tour guides to plan hotels, destinations, and pointers. We took the Best of Ireland last year and arrived in Dublin three days before the tour started to get the lay of the land, get acclimated to the time zone, and see sights not on the tour. When we found out which hotel the tour used, we made reservations there. Fortunately for us, the hotel (Buswells) was across the street from a number of Irish museums and we hit those every day, as well as checking out other local sites and restaurants on our own. At the end of the tour we took a bus from Belfast to Dublin airport and picked up a car for a week’s road trip. We went to destinations that were not on our tour, staying at Clontarf Castle and B&Bs in Trim and Kilkenny recommended in Rick’s tour guides. We got to see megalithic sites (Newgrange, Knowth, and the Hill of Tara) that were not on the tour as well as sites near Kilkenny where we researched family genealogy. A couple of years ago we took the Venice, Florence, and Rome RS tour, arriving in Venice three days early and staying at the same hotel the tour was using. At the end of the tour in Rome we stayed an extra day in Rome, then took the train south to Sorrento, as home base. We used the Circumvesuviana train for one full day in Pompeii and another full day to Naples. We took a mini-van tour (MondoGuide recommended by Rick) for a full day on the Amalfi Coast. We returned to Rome for the flight home. The extra days are perfect for adding sites that are of interest to us and to go at our own pace.

Posted by
671 posts

We like to add on both ends if we can, but what really decides it is how the tour fits into the work week and how much time we have off. For our GAS tour in 2018 we had 2 nights before and 4 after. We are doing Turkey in 2020 and have 4 nights in Istanbul before and are considering 1 additional night after the tour. I generally feel that yes, I would regret not using the extra days if I had them available to me.

Posted by
1 posts

Yes, absolutely add time before and after your tour! We like having a buffer in case there are any flight delays or other problems. In addition having a couple of days to get over the jet lag and get comfortable with the area makes the tour so much richer. One of my friends tries her best to book their flight on the country's airline to start the cultural transition immediately upon departure. Imagine traveling to France on Air France!

On our first couple of Rick Steves tours I very much regretted not arriving earlier and staying later but I was still working and had to carefully manage my vacation. Now that we're both retired we look forward to spending extra time in Europe. We did a RS tour in Sicily this spring and put a five days in Amsterdam and five days in Paris at either end of the trip and it was fantastic. I think what helps is that we are much more savvy travelers and are able to relax and take in the whole experience. I say go for it! It's not that much extra money in the big scheme and you only live once. Those few extra days will make for some great experiences and make the RS tours so much better. Happy travels!!

Posted by
2 posts

I was surprised after reading all of the great virtues listed for arriving early and staying beyond tour dates that no one echoed my starting point for adding days. I retired with enough United Airline miles for the flights to accompany my first RS tour. But I found that the day of the week that I fly makes a big difference in the number of frequent flyer miles needed to get across the Atlantic. I've been lucky enough to accumulate enough miles since for two more trips. My 3 RS tours to date have begun and ended on weekends. When I checked into how many miles are needed, I quickly learned that arriving and departing on weekends requires the greatest number of miles. I just booked mid-week flights for Best of Spain for next spring requiring less than half the number of miles that would have been necessary for just-in-time flights on the weekend. While my experience has been using frequent flyer miles, similar experience can be expected on paid flights. Once I have flights figured out I start searching to find out what's not included in the tour that interests my wife and I. Getting rid of jet lag before the tour begins and freedom from schedule stress are added bonuses. However, I should admit that arriving days ahead doesn't guarantee being on time for the initial meet and greet. On our first tour we ran late reaching Venice and had to catch up to the group with dinner already in progress.

Posted by
11 posts

We’re going on our first RS Tour - My Way Alpine Europe- in May 2020. We arrive two days before the tour starts in Salzburg. At the end of the tour, we’ll head to Geneva, and the next day fly to Rome (and then to Assisi by train) to embark on our next adventure which started this whole trip in the first place ( our son is a high school choral director and we are joining the shadow tour of their choir tour). I suspect I will want a little more time between tours but that’s not how it worked out. At the end of that tour we will have two days in Milan before flying home. We are both self employed and typically don’t take trips longer than two weeks so this four week trip will definitely stretch us! First time to Europe for my husband too!

Posted by
19 posts

It is advisable to add one or two extra nights before the tour, either at the same city/hotel, or nearby. You can get over your jet lag and visit some the lesser but interesting sites that are not part of your official tour, plus learn the streets. Adding nights at the end in the same city is somewhat less thrilling, since you will be coming of the high of your tour, while your fellow travelers will be jetting home or flying to their next tour. At the end perhaps fly or train to a different european city of your choice for two nights, then fly home from there.