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Thoughts on my first My Way tour in comparison to a fully guided RS tour - Part 1

Notes on My Way Tours

Before comparing a regular tour with a My Way (MW) tour I should probably tell you why I am doing my first MY tour. The reason is simple, I wanted to take my oldest daughter to Europe for the first time, and I believed the MW Europe in 14 days tour would give her a great sampling of the different cities, geography and cultural one finds on this continent. In the course of two weeks she had a taste of two big and different cities (Paris and Rome), a small French town (Beaune), the Swiss alps (Lautenbrunnen), a mid sized German town (Munich), one of the most unique cities in the world (Venice), and the Italian Riviera (Cinque terre). Of course, we also sampled many great foods, a subject of particular interest to her since as a millennial she and her friends on the the forefront of returning to real food, prepared well, right here in America.

As you read below please keep in mind that I am comparing a MW tour that is an "Introduction to Europe" for those who have little or no European travel experience. And that I am comparing it to my personal experiences of fully guided tours (FG) that I have taken. The more specific FG tours seem, IMHO, to have more experienced travelers who have made multiple trips to Europe. The 14 day MW tour was mostly newbies to RS tours and Europe in general.

So what are my thoughts on the My Way tour versus a regular fully guided tour?

  1. The MW gives you more choice since where and how you spend your time. Not a big surprise here, that's what it's main purpose is. For example, we visited the cat shelter while in Rome. I doubt the FG tour would have used valuable time to do such a thing. OTOH, #2 below, to see how we sort of made up our own tour groups as we grew to know each other better.

  2. A bit more time was needed for the group to mature and became cohesive than in a FG tour. I estimate that at about the 3rd day we started doing many things and eating many meals with other tour members. So it became more of a small group tour in many cases. Because the first few days were in Paris with no bus stops, but many separate meals, it took a few extra days to get to know each other well, but once we got on the bus and stopped for meals together, the bonding took place very quickly.

  3. While the trip facilitator has office hours in the morning, she was not easily available most of the day to answer questions, and help with other things. After all you aren't walking about a city with the guide all the time. This is NOT A COMPLAINT as this is the package we were buying into . But, compared to FG tours you will not have as much access to a guide who can give advice. OTOH, our facilitator, did organize a few completely voluntary get togethers that were greatly appreciated by the group. Overall, I think she did a fine job.

  4. If you intend to visit all or most of the places visited on a FG tour, then I think the FG tours may be better cost wise. I was shocked at how much I spent on meals, admission fees, transportation and other things included in the regular tours. Normally, on a RS tour, I spend very little extra money except for souvenirs, and minor items I forgot. On the days they feed us lunch or dinner, I usually only need a light 3rd meal since I know that RS loves to stuff his customers with good food. :-) But, on this tour I was constantly reaching into my wallet to buy meals, passes, bus rides, city tours, etc. On some RS tours you get a museum pass or transportation pass, that you can also use on your free time to help hold down costs. Not so on the MW tours. Overall, I think the FG tours are a better value as long as you like the itinerary and don’t have problems being told when and where.

(See part 2)

Posted by
341 posts

Here's part 2 as a reply to this thread. Thanks for the suggestion.

Part 2

(5) The MW tour was about 1/3 millennials, a younger demographic overall than the guided tours I have been on. I expected this and was glad that my expectations were right. My daughter was able to do some things with the ‘younger’ crowd while he Dad went to bed early. For example, the trip to the Ice Bar in Rome.

(6) Having an easy way to communicate with others is important because you aren’t all at the same place at the same time as is often the case on the FG tours. We solved this problem by buying SIM cards for our phones that gave us 5 Gigs of data. The cost was 60 Euros total - see what I mean about expenses? But, that allowed us to communicate with our traveling companions easily. Interestingly most people used FaceBook messenger to send and receive messages. I ended up downloading it so I could be in the loop. On the FG tours electronic communications is less necessary since you spend so much more time together as a group.

(7) You can turn a FG tour into a mini MW tour by simply telling the guide that today you will skip museum X and instead visit historical site Y. You can't turn a MW tour into a FG tour for a day that easily. Though you are certainly free to join another group tour or hire your own guide for a day.

Just my 2 cents, you can take what you wish and leave the rest. If anything new pops into my head I will update this post.

Posted by
518 posts

Hi Barnstormer,

Thanks for the review. I have looked into both FG and MW tours before. The only big-bus tour I've ever taken in Europe was with Contiki, which is about as polar opposite of an RS-FG tour as you can get as far as bus tours are concerned. And although the FG tours are very inclusive and comprehensive, they are also quite expensive (plus flight it's pushing $15K for a couple). The MW tours might fit my budget more and take out the often exhausting effort of dealing with logistics, bookings, transportation. I am looking at the Alps Tour, that takes you from Salzburg to Chamonix. My real desire is to see the Swiss alps and specifically Gimmelwald. So really, my other option is just go independently and spend a week in the Alps, which would be significantly cheaper than even the MW tour. Your review of the MW will help me decide. Thanks.

Posted by
341 posts

KC, it all depends on what your needs are. For this trip MW was a much better fit to my needs than a FG tour. Please keep in mind I am comparing one Rick Steves My Way tour to several Rick Steves fully guided tours I have taken. I am not comparing them to any other tour company, or to traveling on one's own. And, of course, it's just one person's opinion.

Posted by
8080 posts

I appreciate your taking the time to post a Trip Report/Comparison! I knew I was not the demographic but your post is an excellent resource for folks who are weighing their options.

Posted by
370 posts

Thanks for posting this Barnstormer. As someone who has one taken FG tours with Rick Steves, I am very interested in how people who have taken both compare them. I keep telling myself that after I have taken all the ones I want to, I will just keep taking the MW Best of Europe every year until I can't travel anymore.

Posted by
889 posts

Thanks for the report! Do you think the whole using phones to make plans was more a matter of personal choice and/or people trying to meet up in the middle of the day? If the facilitator planned a group dinner/lunch/happy hour did she say "meet at x place at 6 o'clock"?
Am just curious because trying to be in touch with people via messages wouldn't be something I'd want to necessarily do on vacation when I'm out and about.

Posted by
3580 posts

I've taken both types of tours with RS. Just calculating cost differences, I conclude that if you did all the same things, MW would not save money. As a senior, somewhat disabled traveler NOW, I would choose 'MW. Because I can't do all the walking and standing of the full tour, but can still get around enough to enjoy a couple of weeks touring. Having basic logistics covered saves time and trouble in the planning stage of travel. That leaves time for planning events within the tour. I love spending time, having meals, with other tour members.

Posted by
556 posts

Barnstormer,

Have you totaled your receipts for your spending for the MW trip? I'm curious if it comes close to the cost of the FG tour?

:)

Posted by
341 posts

@Rachel - I think the use of the phones was both personal choice and meeting up in the middle of the day, especially, when one party or the other was delayed. For example, you might arrange to meet for dinner at 6:00 after your hiking in the Cinque Terre, but due to poor trail conditions, or late trains, you don't get back to town until 7:00. Or your partner on the tour decides to see the art museum, while you decide to see the historical museum. The bus is late, or the museum workers are on strike, so it's nice to be able to tell you partner about these things. You don't need a phone or messaging to follow the tour facilitators plans/instructions. Like other RS tours they post a written plan for the day in the hotel for all to see, including a heads up on when the bus leaves the next day, and the place and time of any optional get-together the facilitator might plan. So, you don't need a phone for 'official' tour business.

@Gretchen - No I haven't added up my receipts but I have looked at my cash withdrawals from ATM's. I paid 90% of my expenses with cold, hard, Euro cash. When I added it up it seemed to eat up about 85% of the 'savings' of a MW tour. Keep in mind that some of these expenses would have occurred even on a FG tour - some meals, gifts for friends, free time activities, etc. So, maybe I spent 70% of the savings overall? It's a seat of the pants guesstimate. But, that's not the point of the tour. I would not do a MW tour to save money unless one wished to do nothing more than lounge around in the hotel lobbies all day. And in that case, I would recommend just staying home. That's even cheaper.

Posted by
889 posts

Barnstormer,
Thanks for the reply. I've thought about the Alpine or Spain MW. Both look like interesting itineraries.

Posted by
518 posts

While I currently can't afford a full blown FG tour and could barely afford the MW tour, I would still suggest it to anyone who asks. Knowing what I know now about how the bus-tour industry is run (thanks to everything that RS has spoke/written about the topic), I just couldn't stomach forking over even a small amount of money to that racket. Staying at a hotel 10 miles out of town? Yikes!