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The Experiment, Part 1 (first trip report at end of thread)

I have sat on the edges of Rick Steves Tours for years. I’ve watched shows on TV, I’ve sent for information, watched the tour videos and I’ve attended over 15 travel classes at the Edmonds office. I read and participate in the travel forum all the time. I’ve never gone on a tour.

A few things put me off. First, I knew that I could travel to the same places independently for less money. I wasn’t sure I wanted to give the control of planning major elements of my trip (such as hotels) up to others. I knew that not everything that was included on the tours would be something that I would put on my “must see” list. Finally, what would the social/group interactions be like?

A few more things kept me wondering if I should go on a tour. I know I am a social person and that part of the fun of traveling is sharing the experience with others. A widow, I frequently travel with my sister. I did wonder, however, if a Rick Steves tour would provide another travel choice for when she can’t go. I’ve learned from traveling with my sister, that going to places that weren’t on my “must see” list is usually a very positive and enriching experience and that being taken a little out of my comfort zone is a good thing. We hired a guide for a day on Hadrian’s Wall last year and the value it added to our trip was exceptional. Perhaps the value of the guides would be worth the extra cost?

I finally decided to conduct what is termed in my mind, “the experiment.” I leave tomorrow for my Rick Steves Tour (Paris and the Heart of France). I know before I go that I am going to have a wonderful time on this tour. It will be interesting, challenging, and probably occasionally a little difficult to participate in this new way of travel. I am up for the adventure! At the end, I think I will probably have a much better idea of how group travel will work for me and if I want to keep including this type of travel in my plans.

I am writing this because I suspect that there are others out there who wonder if group travel is an option for them or not. I plan on sharing my experiences honestly and at the end will give the final report on the outcome of the experiment.

Today, I am savoring my first day of summer vacation (I am a high school math teacher) while attending to the many details of getting ready to go a trip no matter how one is traveling. Checklists abound as I make sure that I leave everything in order at home and pack. The same “butterflies” that I experience before I leave on any long trip are present. Time to finish those preparations.

Posted by
6721 posts

I think it's great that you're trying something new. Without experimenting and testing new hypotheses, you just never know what surprises may await - there's only one way to find out. I hope it turns out to be a great experience for you; but even if it doesn't, that's still ok too. Without a doubt, it will be a good learning experience because you can fine-tune your travels in the future. Having expanded options is always a good thing.

Posted by
4606 posts

Carol,

This sounds like a very interesting experiment and I look forward to reading the results!

Wishing you a wonderful trip! 😊

Posted by
1790 posts

We have wondered these same things! Giving up control is the hardest part. I love to plan our trips. But, not doing the driving and logistics might be nice.
So glad you are taking the plunge. So are we! Next year, will be our first RS tour. Although we are a couple, my husband is a very quiet introvert. I think for me it will be nice to have others to converse with.
I can’t wait to read your honest trip report.

Have a great adventure and good for you for stepping out of your comfort zone!

Posted by
263 posts

I really think you are going to love your tour. While it won’t be perfect, it will amaze you at times and a smile will be on your face most all day/every day. RS is pretty masterful at putting together places and activities and tour guides to give such a grand experience. Have you been to France before? Enjoy every minute!

Posted by
6627 posts

Good for you! I am similar to you in my travel experiences, self planned independent travel. The time is coming when a tour may be the best option for me so I look forward to hearing whether you enjoyed this different way of traveling.

Posted by
5981 posts

Carol, good luck and have fun. We loved that tour. I have been to a few places on an RS tour after previous independent visits, and I must say the tour made for a much enhanced visit. Its hard to quantify quality things (like less stress from travel partners) when comparing costs of tour vs independent.

Looking forward to your report on your return.

Posted by
8265 posts

What a wonderful pick for your first tour!

There are some neat things on this one that are slightly more difficult to do on your own. Guedelon is a prime example. I wondered if this might be more for kids but I found it fascinating. I also loved the wine tasting and stories at Selles sur Cher by the owner, especially related to WWII. Very moving. Also loved the local guide, Dale Booth, that we had for the Normandy landings.

If you have a small fold up shopping bag (like one of the Chico bags) pop that in your purse or daypack. There are several opportunities to pick up lunch at a weekly market along the way. Take a spork too if you have one. Maybe a few ziplock bags.

Hope you’ve got a waterproof jacket as you can never tell.

I do recommend you do some kind of journaling daily. You’ll never remember it all even though you think you will!! I now just do lists or jot down a few words to trigger memories.

Do come back with a Trip Report. There are always highs and lows on a trip and reporting on both ends of the spectrum is good.

Travel well!!

Posted by
2466 posts

You’ll have a great time. You will soon see that although it appears you can travel to the same places for less money you will do more, see more, and have the services of a great guide and local guides. Yes, you could buy some of that on your own but, and I’ve penciled this out, you more than get your moneys worth on a RS tour. We usually combine some independent travel with our tour. We enjoy both. I enjoy planning for the independent part but look forward to having someone else do that when we are on tour. I do plan ahead for restaurants on the nights we are not with the group. But, often we get a recommendation from the guide and go with that.

Posted by
3465 posts

I'm sure the tour will be fine. It was one of my top favorite RS tours I took.

Many people mention they don't do tours because they can do it on their own for a lower cost. While that is true, the tour option removes a lot of worries along the way. What happens if your train breaks down and you will be late to your hotel for the night? On your own, you might end up sleeping in the train statin, on tour they handle it and your room is still there when you do arrive. What happens if your hotel calls last minute and says your rooms are not available? The tour company takes care of that. What happens if your planned activities for the day get cancelled? Your tour company has alternatives already researched. Many many things that you would have to worry about traveling on your own become non issues when you are on a tour. That is why I like the tours I go on -- no stressing about the day to day. And of course, many tours include things that would be impossible for many reasons to do on your own.

Posted by
3893 posts

Can't wait to see your trip report! I have use RS guidebooks and tv show for years for trip planning though I've yet to take a RS tour. We did a Rhine cruise a year ago with Viking, which was enjoyable and had many benefits, but its not something we'd do often. It's more expensive and you give up so much control, and we've become very comfortable traveling on our own. I have been giving a lot of thought to a RS tour to a place where a guide is particularly helpful in terms of providing a lot of information, a place, I think, like Rome. I also think a RS guide would be wonderful for a single traveler looking for a more social experience. Have fun!

Posted by
2122 posts

My husband and I took our first ever tour in March - to southern Africa with Reid Coen, one of Rick’s tour guides. I was surprised how much I liked the tour experience. It was so relaxing not having to make any decisions and figure out hiw to get places. And I enjoyed having other people to share the experience with and compare notes. (And I am an introvert.)

We have our second tour scheduled for next March (New Zealand), but we plan to continue traveling independently too.

I’ll be anxious to read your report. I hope you have a blast.

Posted by
308 posts

My first RS tour was Paris and the Heart of France, too! My husband and I reluctantly decided to take our first tour in 2013 after traveling independently for years. I admit that we may have looked down our noses on tours even! Well, we were going to be taking my in-laws to France and didn't want to be "in charge" the whole time so I booked us on a RS tour. We ALL had an amazing time!! There is a really nice mix of churches, castles, and history. More than anything, we enjoyed our fellow tour members. There is a decent amount of free time, too. I hope you have a great time like I did.

Posted by
596 posts

Good for you! How could anything in France and Paris be anything but wonderful! I am a retired math teacher so I can feel your excitement as you close up the classroom and take off. Consider that there are pros and cons to every trip whether it is a tour or not and embrace the positives of each.
Cannot wait for your trip report!

Posted by
3775 posts

Carol, I know already that you are going to have a fantastic trip! Why? Because you said you’re going to have a wonderful time, and attitude easily makes the difference. Savor each moment, enjoy those delicious croissants and pastries, and say “yes” to your new RS travel friends’ offers to join them during free time. Looking forward to your trip report,

Posted by
102 posts

Carol:

Have a great time!

I'm also dipping my toe into the RS world with a 7-day Paris trip in October. I'm usually an independent traveler as well, but have thought about taking a RS tour for a long time. So, I opted for the Paris trip.

Looking forward to your report.

Posted by
7489 posts

Have been on a couple of RS tours and I think you would have to put a lot of deliberate effort into NOT having a good time on the tour.

If the tour is doing some activity in which you have no interest, you are not compelled to go. Just let the guide know and set up where you will rejoin them.

Have fun.

Posted by
3426 posts

Thank you all for your kind and encouraging replies. I haven't even made it out the door yet, but I already feel like I am traveling with friends.

Posted by
11263 posts

I join everyone in wishing you a great trip, and having great interest in how this "experiment" turns out!

I've never taken an escorted tour, from RS or anyone else. But something that strikes me is how many people take (and like) RS tours who have traveled independently on other trips. So, they're definitely not just for those who "need a tour," which had been my stereotype.

Posted by
1167 posts

Carol,

Have a great time! My husband and I have traveled independently and with small group tours. We enjoy both ways of traveling. With a small group tour, you will have special experiences that you will not have traveling on your own. You will also enjoy the camaraderie of the group. You will also have free time during the tour.

Posted by
919 posts

Carol, I’m adding my good wishes for a marvelous tour experience. I’ve taken that tour and loved it, even though I also enjoy independent travel. I would say that the times I’ve taken group RS tours (and those are the only types of group tours I’ve taken), I’ve learned about my surroundings to a much greater depth than I would have if I’d traveled on my own. Like you, not everything covered on the tour is something I would have chosen to do on my own, but I’ve always enjoyed everything. My favorite experiences on this tour were Guedelon and Normandy. Looking forward to reading about your trip in a trip report.

Posted by
215 posts

Carol, I'm another who has done a lot of independent travel and was hesitant to try any group--except for an opera tour to St. Petersburg, where the logistics would have been impossible to deal with. But the Best of Spain tour seemed interesting, and I wanted to see all the places without figuring out everything on my own. It was lovely, and worked out so well that I'm taking my third RS tour this fall. And it's in Italy, where I'm very comfortable on my own. I'm sure it will be wonderful. Bon voyage!

Posted by
2819 posts

Similar stories like others. Many years of independent travel, now mixed with group tours. We enjoy the benefits of both styles of travel. Good for you that you are "taking the plunge." With your great attitude and willingness to be open to something new your experiment will certainly have a positive outcome! Enjoy every moment.

Posted by
817 posts

Carol- oh I hope you have a fabulous first time . Your tour is one that I am going to do in May of 2019. It is a hard decision to travel I dependently or with a group. I have done both and RS tours fit my needs. I have been on five and I have been pleased with all. I do have my three favorites tho!

I first started my travels with my sister to Europe before I retired . Now husband had retired and I talked him in going to Europe first time for him on a RS tour in 2016. I was worried that group travel would not be for him but he thoroughly enjoyed it. I asked him the other day if he wanted to continue with RS tours or go independently. He replied go with RS tours. I think I have him hooked now. He had been on four and I have been on five.

Please report back on your trip. Want to hear what to expect for my trip next year.

Have a great time and happy travels

Posted by
996 posts

Carol -

Just another voice chiming in to congratulate you on your decision. I've never been to Paris, and I'd love to hear about your experiences with this tour.

I remember my own feelings of trepidation, booking our first tour with a tour group. And now? OMG, sure we can travel on our own, but there is nothing like having somebody else take care of all the details. Since I'm the planner in our household, this was like the ultimate vacation for me. I didn't have to worry about where to stay, how to get there, what happens if we're late for ...?

I hope you have a fabulous time, and I can't wait to hear about your experiences!

Posted by
166 posts

I was like you, traveled for years using the RS guidebooks and travel forum for help, then 3 years ago took the plunge and took the Venice, Florence & Rome tour, we are now getting ready to leave for our 5th RS tour (Scotland) in 2 weeks. Learn the other people's names in your tour group as soon as possible, not sure why, but this one thing always makes the tour more fun from the start.

Posted by
938 posts

Carol, you might be on your way now, or busy with last moment tasks, but wishes are coming your way for smooth and safe travels and a FABULOUS time on your tour! Our first venture to Europe was on a RS tour. We've gone back twice more on our own. Yes, while it is a little cheaper at onset to travel on one's own, SOMEONE (me) has to do the planning, the research for what will be seen, all of the ticket buying, reservations, etc. I will never regret the RS tour, not only for the ease of travel but for the excellent guiding and info imparted to us during the tour. The guiding and all of the special info. makes the tour. Have a wonderful time!

Posted by
681 posts

I read this and had to smile. I am an independent traveler (I love the planning and the freedom). I have done 2 tours in my life. One was to Machu Pichu with OATS and enjoyed the hassle free aspects especially the transportation. I just finished a Road Scholar trip to Greece. This trip was all about my sister's dream and I let her select the tour. It was 14 days with the majority of the time spent island hopping using the ferry system. We saw a lot, did a lot but it will be the last tour I will do for a long time. I missed going at my pace (I know we would have see less independently but I wonder if the quality would have been better). The group had 24 in it and I missed the mixture of people (not just over 60).

I love at RS tours and think maybe I could do one of these. My question for those of you that have used a variety of tour companies...why RS tours? What qualities of his tours made up your mind to use him instead of others?

Posted by
6 posts

If you can Carol, please let us know how it goes during the trip. My wife and I are considering this tour next year. Have fun!

Posted by
3426 posts

I'm here in Paris and our first tour meeting is due to start in one hour. My travels were long and tiring but there is something about Paris that helps revitalize people! I bought my Navigo Decouvtre pass at the airport since I arrived on a Monday and it would give me good value. I learned about it from the great people on this forum. I then took the RER train into the city and transferred to the Metro to get to the hotel. The directions sent out by the tour office were wonderful and clear about how to find the hotel from the subway which I really appreciated. They also had direction options for taxis and buses as well. The subway only works for going to the hotel if you can manage luggage up and down the stairs easily. I've had practice managing my luggage and stairs during independent travel so this was not a problem for me. I also always give myself permission in advance to take a taxi if I am tired or think it would be a good choice.

I mentioned earlier that one of my biggest mental challenges in trying a tour was giving up control of choosing the hotel. This first hotel had been one I was slightly nervous about. I would never have picked it or its location. It is great! My room is nice, although small. The bathroom is on par with the size in a RV, but this is quite typical to Paris and it works fine. The staff have been helpful. When I mentioned I was going to take the subway to the Eiffel Tower yesterday, they suggested the bus instead so I could see more. It was a scenic ride and we even went around in the traffic circle at the Arc de Triomphe twice. Subway connections have been a breeze from this hotel.

This morning at breakfast I quietly checked out the others wondering if any of them were my tour mates. Shrewdly, I ruled out the couple speaking in rapid and fluid French. Finally I spoke to another couple and was delighted to discover they were indeed tour mates. A woman and her son quickly joined in as well. We had all been "checking each other out." I now know 4 names going into tonight's tour meeting.

I went to several places today and found I was sort of annoyed by big groups of people in tours. They blocked sidewalks, turnstiles, you name it. They seemed incapable of moving on their own and had little situational awareness. A new fear seized my heart. Would I become one of these drones? I am confident that our tour guide will take steps to prevent the types of things I saw today. I wonder how we will do at this?

I have the same level of the excitement and anxiety that I usually have on the first day of school. I really enjoyed coming a day early and am glad that I did. It reminded me that I am a confident and capable independent traveler, and I learned this over time through experience. I can learn to be a good group traveler as well the same way.

Posted by
908 posts

Carol,
Here's to having a wonderful time! I've done the Paris in 7 days tour, and it was excellent. I hope your experience with this one goes just as well! Enjoy!

Posted by
996 posts

I love at RS tours and think maybe I could do one of these. My question for those of you that have used a variety of tour companies...why RS tours? What qualities of his tours made up your mind to use him instead of others?

Nancy - I don't want to hijack this thread to discuss why I select a specific company for a specific tour, but short answer - I look at where the tour goes compared to what I want/need to see. Then I compare prices. If you care to PM me, I can give you a longer answer.

Carol - So glad that you made it safely! Sounds like a success so far. I can't wait to hear what happens next!!!!

Posted by
1956 posts

Good for you, Carol, to try something new!

This was my first RS tour and it holds a special place in my heart. I’m just visualizing the exciting experiences that lie ahead for you! In October I am going on the RS Turkey tour, my 6th. I still travel independently but love the RS philosophy. I think you will find your guide will teach your group how to navigate Paris so you won’t be one of those dreaded tour groupies who cling to their guides holding the umbrellas.