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Tour company vs DIY

we are traveling to many locations and trying to decide whether to pay steep prices for tours or DIY. I know for Last supper we need to get tickets ahead of time. As for Rome, florence, venice, pompeii, capri is where I am stuck. As for Rome we want to do the evening underground and looking at darkrome company. any thoughts/suggestions. Is it possible to hear other group tours nearby or do they all wear headsets? My boyfriend is interested in learning, I do not care tour vs self. either way is good for me (but have to say i like cheaper tickets). Also, is it hard to purchase tickets upon arrival for skip the line self tours in each city?

Posted by
31815 posts

The easiest way to travel to those locations would be via a RS tour, and you will absolutely learn a lot more that way than by travelling on your own. However, to reach all of those locations you'll have to sign up for at least two tours.

You can also certainly use self-guided travel, which will be cheaper but a lot more work to arrange. In order to learn as much as possible at various historic sites, you can pay for local walking tours when you get there.

You could also use a "combination approach", by signing up for one tour (ie: RS Venice / Florence / Rome) and then visiting the other sites on your own.

It would help to have a bit more information on your circumstances, when you'll be travelling, where you're flying from, etc.

Posted by
14752 posts

There are all sorts of ways to DIY without steep prices but whether to go that route or a tour depends on how interested you are in the subject to begin with, the depth of 'learning' desired, and time you have. It would help to know how much time you have in each of the locations you list, and what is on the wish list for each?

For instance, I have a friend who spent an entire week in Florence exploring Renaissance art with a guided tour.
For others with no real interest in art, 5 minutes of that would be too long. You can spend an entire day on just Roman ruins famous and not-so, or may choose just to rent headsets at a few of the biggies.

So, how many days, and what's on your to-do list? And what month/year is your trip?

Many of the larger tours are required to be narrated through headsets to keep the noise level down but even if you run into a small, private tour where the guide is within earshot, it's considered bad form to eavesdrop on a service their clients may have paid a great deal for.

You do not need a tour for Capri - a guidebook will do - but Colosseum Underground tours book up quickly during high season as do available time slots for the Borghese. Uffizi and Accademia tickets (Florence) are also best ordered in advance, and we bought guide books in the museum bookshops for those: they've been used many times since that trip. We did Pompei on our own with a book as well but the site is HUGE and confusing so you may prefer a tour for that one.

Posted by
887 posts

Is it possible to hear other group tours nearby or do they all wear headsets?

Expect the paying customers of guided tours in places like Rome or Pompeii to be quite upset with you for trying to mooch off the tour they paid for, and to directly make their displeasure known to you

Posted by
4389 posts

If your boyfriend is interested in learning there, take a tour. If he's interested in learning here, travel independently.

Posted by
439 posts

I enjoy reading, planning for the trip. My husband has no interest. I booked many tours in Italy. I think he gained a lot more insight into the art, cities with the tours. After a museum tour with a very good tour guide, he actually remarked "She made art fun!". Coming from my husband this is a pretty big compliment.

Posted by
23 posts

Our first time in Europe was on our own and we found a lot of time was spent figuring out where to go and how to get there. With an RS Tour, you will always get a walking orientation tour of every city, information on how to use the Metro, trams, etc. during your free time. With an RS tour, no time is spent waiting in line for tickets. Your tour guide will help you in planning your free time, if needed. RS tours are great for very informed tour guides - we even had a university professor for one of ours! In many locales there are local tour guides in addition to your RS tour guide. If you do go on your own - invest in plenty of pre-planning time, get hotels that are very centralized in the cities you are going to, hire local tour guides (lots of good suggestions on who to call in the Rick Steves books). We have found the Rick Steves Tours to be good values. Lots of "bang for your buck".

Posted by
333 posts

There's pros and cons in either direction. I "DIY'd" Europe partially on my own last time. I had an organized tour through Russia, but did England, Amsterdam and a day trip to Paris on my own, with some assistance from a day tours company (Viator). I think when it's your first time to a new country, especially is there is a significant language barrier, a tour is a great way to be introduced. The hassels of travel are placed on somebody else, as is the stress if something goes wrong (like a subway turnstyle eating your 3 day travel pass). Somebody else takes the heat while you sit back and relax. You also get the benefits of like minded travelers to socialize with as you like and experienced guides to show you all the great things you should know. If you DIY, then YOU are the one having to worry and organize and schedule and deal with mishaps. Tours are great for introducing you to a new place- so you're probably not going to see much in depth. You're going to see the great tourist destinations and be given a great overview and history. The key is to take all of that in and then go back on your free time, or on another trip, and see all of those places that intrigued you that first time. If you can't afford a big organized tour, then I suggest doing the DIY, but taking advantage of day tour companies like viator. You get the benefits of planning your trip, but somebody else takes the hassel for the stuff you don't want to deal with. You can pay a bit more for skip the line tours (which are usually worth the extra cost) and they can deal with transportation and whatever you don't want to hassel with.

Paris was a disaster for my daughter and me when we DIY'd it- because of the language barrier. We had no way to communicate our problems (a turnstyle did eat our metro day pass), so we ended up missing a highly anticipated tour because we had to way to let the tour company know and it took forever to find somebody at the metro who spoke enough English to understand our problem. That domino falling then turned into lots of toppling dominos and a lousy experience. So I was more than glad to let Rick Steves take me to Europe this time (though I'll have a few DIY and day tour days before and after).

Whatever you decide- have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
21 posts

Thanks everyone.
I totally agree with you that booking tours via RS , etc will save a lot of hassle and planning. However, we were late with getting notice of time off work for vacation therefore all tour companies were full at this point. So hence, more the DIY trip. We are looking at doing tours in the cities (milan, venice, florence, rome, etc). Yes a TON of time has been wasted trying to figure out buses/trains etc but unfortunately its what I have to do to take this trip. we will be arriving in Milan end of May and flying back home from rome june 6. so trying to hit as much as we can on our own and tours in the city. thanks again

ps the only reason i asked about "hearing" other tours was not to follow the whole tour but perhaps the boyfriend can catch a quick glimpse of what they were discussing. I am terrible with remembering what people tell me...perhaps its the A.D.D in me or I'm just not huge on history vs the awe factor of looking at an incredible piece of artwork.

Posted by
21 posts

Kathy sorry meant to respond to yours as well. we have 14 days NOT including days flying in/out. we are going to Milan, sirmione(1) , verona, venice (2) and then to florence (1-2) and rome (2-3). In between florence and rome we are still figuring out. we would like to hit pisa, maybe cinque terre, maybe siena, then sorrento region: capri, pompeii, sorento, naples, and amalfi coast. yes its a lot. but its one of those things for me if I NEVER get back. I usually need a vacation from my vacations :)

we usually going backpacking and have to plan our own trips but doent cost much to stay in the middle of the woods and adding water to our dehydrated meals :) This is a totally different experience for us.


Posted by
14752 posts

yes its a lot.

Kindly, rsucci, it's just much too much. If you try to do all this in 14 days what you'll 'see' are a lot of trains and buses and not much else. A couple of things to remember:

• Every time you change a location, you eat up at least 1/2 a day. Packing up, checking out, getting to the station and to that next location, finding hotel, checking in to drop bags, etc. all takes TIME.

• It also takes time to get your bearings in a new location

• If budget is an issue, the fewer moves you make the less you'll be spending on transport

• Things don't always go according to plan; very, very tight itineraries are usually a recipe for exhaustion and disappointment. For instance, we lost most of a day in the CT to a regional train strike but it wasn't as big a deal as it would have been if that had been the ONLY day.

I can't tell you what to cut as again, it's up to your interests - I've spent a total of nearly two weeks in Rome over three trips and still haven't 'covered' that one - but IMHO your list is way too ambitious for the amount of nights (many of us like to plan itineraries around # of nights versus days) you have.