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Touring is not for me

Please hear me out... people need to make decisions about their personal travel styles and preferences. My daughter and I have used Rick's books and travel tips for 20+ years planning our fully independent travels in Europe. This year, well, actually in 2020, I decided to try a tour. It was COVID cancelled so I rebooked and just completed the VFR in 10 days tour a couple of weeks ago. It was a good experience because now I know that a group tour isn't for me, no matter how great the itinerary, director, or the group members were.

What I learned: For all the emphasis on "small group travel" having 29 people trying to navigate congested streets and traffic in Florence or Rome was an exercise in herding cats. We walked so slow it was nearly backwards and the wait to ensure the group all made it across a street was painful. Our group was too large to make it into some sites under COVID protocols so we had to do them on our own. Even an included site, like the Pantheon, did not have an actual "tour" (just an admission ticket) as I assumed so I wasn't prepared with Rick's audio tour. That was a heartbreaking omission.

When it comes to meals I am always going to look or act like a tourist. Eating multi course meals that end after 10:00 at night is not for me. I don't really care if only tourists eat at 7:00. I need time to digest before going to bed (chronic GERD) which I tend to do by 10:00. I am way more an early to bed, early to rise person. Speaking of meals... included breakfasts ran the gamut from adequate to really good, and were typical for Europe. Only one included dinner hit the mark (Florence). Our final going away dinner was horrible (huge and super salty) and another meal that just. wouldn't. end.

Rick's walks through cities and sites would have served me as well as many of the tours and given me the opportunity to stop and focus on my interests rather than be constantly on the move. There was plenty of free time to fill in with my interests but some of the group excursions left me in the wrong place at the wrong time to continue with my plans.

The quality of the guides, both the local guides and the RS tour director were outstanding. The bus was large, clean and comfortable. The early access/skip the lines at sites was seamless. I just think I could have planned it all myself and not spent so much time feeling frustrated by the size of the group and the inherent challenges posed by a large group. I am a compulsive planner by nature. I may, for hoots and giggles, recreate the itinerary filling in with private or small group guides at some sites to see if the the cost would come out in the same neighborhood.

As I said, there wasn't anything "wrong" with this RS tour, I have just determined that group touring isn't for me. Now I know!

Posted by
8512 posts

Thank you for your perspective Christine, good to hear the “other side of the story”, we need more balance on this forum. I’ve been watching Rick’s videos and using his guidebooks for decades, but i already know i would not like being on a tour. They sound wonderful in some ways, and i have lots of friends who’ve taken RS and Road Scholar tours, but group tours are not for me.

There was a thread this past weekend that evolved into people saying much of what you’ve said but unfortunately it got deleted. I thought it was very helpful and had good info, just like yours.

Posted by
1520 posts

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. People are very pro tour on this forum so I hope that your opinion will be respected.

Posted by
5744 posts

Christine, I appreciate the fact that you gave group touring a fair chance and waited to make up your mind if it was a choice for you or not. So many posters on this forum slam a method of travel without ever trying it first........

Posted by
663 posts

YEP! 100% agree. We did that tour pre-COVID and while the guides, tours, education, etc were outstanding -- our hotels and meals were NOT. I would have never learned as much on my own, so it was worth it in that aspect. But, to be in Italy, where the food should be amazing, our group meals were NOT good. We will stick with Tauck from now on. Although, after saying all that - the RS Sicily tour is catching my eye.

Posted by
1873 posts

We have done quite a few tours including RS. The tour members that we were with in Italy this past May for the RS Best of Sicily and Best of Southern Italy all walked really fast. No one was a laggard although I admit getting a larger group across some busy streets in Rome did require a little extra time for obvious safety reasons. My complaint about the tours is mainly that they are too fast paced where I would like to linger in some places longer. The nature of these tours is that they are trying to cram a lot of sites into a day and leave little free time between touring and dinner. They want you to get your money’s worth and show you a lot of places. I do prefer to do my own thing as well but we no longer want to drive and unless there is good public transport to the places we want to see then we are going to do a tour. It’s a bit of a trade off.

Posted by
1342 posts

You have a right to express your thoughts and I think you tried to do it in a fair and balanced way. However, I can tell you that the non R Steves tours I have attempted have had more like 48 folks and the bus was packed. Also many meals were served at the hotels in which we stayed and were more American style than a real taste of the country in which we were traveling. I have been on 7 R Steves' tours and not all of them have been perfect, but everyone of them has had WOW moments and a chance to be with interesting folks. I especially like the freedom to opt out of group activities and go off on my own with the permission of the tour guide when it works ok with the day's schedule. I am sorry you did not enjoy your tour as much as you expected to, but I hope you learned a few things you might not have on your own. After all Rick's mission is to educate folks on how to travel in Europe and to help them be comfortable traveling on their own. Thanks for sharing. You are right group tours are not for everyone.

Posted by
168 posts

I think this is a fair review. I’ve done tour with a max of 16 and enjoyed those, but most meals weren’t included so there was a lot more flexibility.

Not everything can be sunshine and roses all the time. I think it is ok to have reasonable negative feedback, A whole barrage of negative comments like not liking the colour of the walls in the hotel room, the seat given at a table and so on, are not really helpful or constructive.

Touring isn’t for everyone just like cruising isn’t. I like a mixture of short tour and on my own.

Posted by
2233 posts

I have been on two RS tours. I'm glad I did them, but had opposite feelings after each.
After the VFR tour a few years ago, we were exhausted! We are active athletic seniors. However, as the OP said, the hours contributed to our weariness. The dinners were traditional Italian mode - late start, slow- paced, with late conclusions. I also could not sleep after returning from dinner around 10 pm: too much stimulation and too full a tummy for sleep. Then, the morning starts were early, as wisely, the guide wanted to get us into the sights before the crowds. We did have afternoons free of activities, but who wants to sleep when we were in such incredible locations? The RS guide was excellent, and the local guides were equally well-versed. Our last dinner was perfect, with live entertainment, and the other dinners were good. I'm a vegetarian, and the modifications made were great. This was pre- COVID, but a virus went through the group, and each of us had some off days as a result. The hotels were some good, one not so comfortable. I was glad we did this tour, as at that time of my travel life, I could not have put that trip together, and we saw the BIG sights. I learned a lot that has enabled me to plan our own independent trips. We have since returned to Venice; have no desire to see Rome again.

A few years later we did the RS best of Switzerland tour. The pace and hours were much more to our liking. Less museums, more outdoors, dinners probably lasted an hour, started around 7 pm, and the morning starts weren't as early as the VFR tour. We actually had two free days, and one day we didn't group up until 11 am. On the late start day, I assumed the other tour members would be out early exploring Lausanne - nope- I found most of them in the breakfast room 30 minutes before breakfast closed. We also bonded more with the Swiss tour members, and had regular happy hours in the back of the tour bus. The hotels were excellent. The pace was great, and the sights were fantastic. Each day outdid the day before. The weather was with us, except for one incredible all- day downpour. We were in love with the country! We have since been back to Switzerland twice on our own.

I would do a RS tour again. However, I would avoid a country that does the late, slow dinners ( Spain, perhaps?). I would chose a tour to a location that I just couldn't wrap my head around the logistics on my own. I feel the RS tours are high quality, and do deliver on what they promise, and that the company has a heart .

Safe travels to all!

Posted by
26 posts

Thank you for sharing your helpful insights from your experiences between independent travel and participating in a RS tour. For myself I would go with a mix, utilizing the tour approach in the beginning of my international travels to a particular country to learn some of the basics of getting around with the view of switching over later to independent travel with the freedom of not being encumbered with a group. Basically starting out with some training wheels in the beginning (getting used to the train systems, cultural differences, logistics issues etc.) before fully using the bicycle later. I'm retiring in 2023 and the wife will be joining me about 17 months later so its going to be some fun times ahead with not having to worry about travel being limited by a return to work. I like that Road Scholars has trips where you can spend six weeks in Bordeaux, Florence and other places to get a better in-depth immersion opportunity to know the area and learn the language of where you will be staying.

I neglected to mention when I posted originally that I appreciate that RS offers the My Way trip option as an intermediate option between being on a fully escorted/planned tour versus being totally on your own for planning independent travel. RS has relationships with hotel properties that are well-situated and which are regularly vetted to make sure that standards are being maintained, this can be very helpful when setting up in a city or town with which you are not very familiar.

Posted by
2073 posts

I thought this was a clearly expressed opinion only for the OP and her traveling style. She said why a tour was not for her, rather than just saying it was terrible. Normally if someone expresses an opinion, regulars want to know the rationale behind the opinion - and that is what Christine expressed.

All of us know we like different things. I personally am happy to read reports of what wonderful tours people have taken - and we have had a lot of those recently. So why would the flip side of trying one, deciding it is not a good fit for her and telling why (because her reasons obviously will not apply to everyone) be a bad thing?

I also think it is potentially helpful to others to know how tours after Covid are different than tours before Covid. Travel is different and it doesn’t help to pretend it’s not. A clearly expressed line of reasoning ought to be a positive thing, even if it is about a less than positive experience.

Posted by
7 posts

Totally valid and this is why I would never bring my husband on any tour- even a great one. I'm going on my first tour with my parents in three weeks and chose RS tours specifically because for them (and me with them) I think it will be a less stressful way to travel.

My husband and I did Portgal in 2019 using ricks' book and with me planning the whole thing out in advance and it was great. I even booked us two experiences, a bike ride through the streets of Porto with one guide and a small group toru of off the beaten track food destinations in Lisbon.

I'm also a little worried now that my group will be eating at 10 p.m.! hopefully dinner is a little earlier in Germany than it is in Florence.

Posted by
2233 posts

Sara,
We were recently in Germany. When we were taking the Night Watchman's Tour in Rothenburg, he complained that the German restaurants closed so early. He had to go to an Italian establishment for a late dinner. Good luck!

Posted by
137 posts

We totally agree with you and it's why we have done the RS "My Way" tours instead of the organized group tours. The "My Way" groups are about 20-25 people and RS reserves the hotels which provide breakfast as well as transportation between locations with a guide. But after that you are on your own, including museum visits and guides, and lunch and dinner. The tour guide is available at breakfast if people need more hand holding or ideas of where to hike or explore. I've been to the Vatican so when we were in Rome after yet another visit to an over crowded museum we found ourselves instead in a dog park practicing our limited Italian. (Il suo cane è bella).

We also rented vintage Fiats 500 and went on a drive with an instructor who teaches people how to use a stick shift. He lives in the hills above Florence. The small towns we drove through probably are not in most guide books. Neither activity was planned for us by RS. During the bus rides the tour leader talks about the cities, and towns we will be visiting, their history and what we might want to see when we are there. When we stayed in Florence at the locally owned "Hotel California" our room windows opened up to a view of the Duomo. The balcony above was open at night for drinks, pizza, salads, and socializing with other guests and another view of the city. I probably would never have found that hotel by myself and probably would have not bothered anyway because of the name. LOL! We did manage to finally check out though. I appreciate the work that RS and company do in vetting these family run accommodations beforehand. They visit them yearly to make sure they are still up to their standards.

Posted by
2524 posts

Christine, I appreciate the fact that you gave group touring a fair
chance and waited to make up your mind if it was a choice for you or
not. So many posters on this forum slam a method of travel without
ever trying it first........

Well said. We've toured, cruised, and done it on our own. I can't say I have a favourite but the OP has some valid points that I agreed with such as the long, late meals. That was by far the most unenjoyable part of our tour. The people were fine, but I want to move and explore, not sit and talk.

Posted by
87 posts

I am also not a tour person. My 1st trip to Europe I did 2 tours (not RS) with a few days on my own in the middle. It was a blur, but we saw a bunch (5 countries, endless cities). Since then I have travelled on my own, with friends, family or solo. I enjoy doing the research and planning, using this forum and RS books. I love the freedom of being able to take as much time as I want to 'soak in' a place or leave if I find it's not that interesting.

That being said, recently CWsocial posted "3 weeks to fall in love with Turkey" under trip reports. After reading the very detailed and informative report I am considering taking those tours. With the language barrier, transportation issues and cultural differences, I feel that would be a better option for me.

Both tours or independent travel have pros and cons. I agree with you that it is a very personal choice. We all have our own preference of which style suits us. Glad you got to experience both and make the choice best suited for you!

Posted by
873 posts

Thanks Christine for providing your insights. We are generally plan it yourselfers also. The only times we did group tours (alas, none were RS) was when we were both working 60+ hours/week and were literally too busy to plan. The only thing I wanted to have to think about was what I would eat. I do see the value in the RS tours and I was looking into My Way tours when Covid hit. Due to various family reasons international travel is not in the cards this year. But maybe next year.

Posted by
1064 posts

Thanks for your story.

See, I'm of an age, and I have acquired an extensive experience set, where the thought of researching and organizing all that touring stuff just makes me nauseous. I like the philosophy RS employs. I use a travel agent. I pay my money, get on the bus, and let it all just wash over me.

Posted by
5744 posts

A little surprised at some of the negative feedback focused on this poster. I personally appreciate her sharing her perspective. RS tours and group tours aren’t for everyone. Rick Steves Tours doesn’t need anybody to “defend” them.

Travel is a wonderful activity and no one method of travel is necessarily better than another. I applaud the OP for stepping out and trying a different way to travel. She discovered that it won’t be her first choice in the future. Good for her because she at least stepped out and tried something new.

Posted by
3745 posts

Thanks for your story but I cannot help thinking you could have figured this out without actually participating.

I am reluctant to take a tour but many of the reasons why I could only guess at. Slow street crossers would not have come to mind, or late dinners.

Long dinners can be special, but more often are an unpleasantry not a treat. We often stop at markets and cook dinners ourselves partly to avoid the 2 hour meal ordeal.

On the other hand, am considering an African safari and that practically requires a tour.

thought of researching and organizing all that touring stuff just makes me nauseous

The planning isn’t for everyone, but for me it is as educational as the actual site visit ends up being, and leads to a richer visit. Just showing up and listening to a talking head all day would go in one ear out the other.

Posted by
8316 posts

I haven’t taken a Rick Steves Tour or any tours similar to his. I use his guide books for the city , town walks and museum guides. I have gone on tours of less than twenty to third world countries and twenty-nine travelers on a tour would be too many for me. But basically I am an independent traveler. Whatever style of travel is preferred, as long as you get the chance to see the world and grow from the experience.

Posted by
232 posts

Christine - thank you for your post. While I didn’t necessarily need your information, it did provide some confirmation that we should continue to travel in our current manner. We need downtime, more freedom of choice with our schedule, etc. and as long as we can go in our desired mode, we will. Your information has likely been very helpful for many forum members.

Posted by
84 posts

I just completed my 1st tour , it was with G adventures in Jordan
There was no way i would consider a tour with more then 20
G limits there tours to 12-16
Our dinners were between 7-8 and lasted an 1-2hrs

After this I am going to organize a 2 private tours with them in 2023 - feb in Tanzania and sept in morocco

Posted by
5357 posts

I appreciated Christine's observations, which I thought were valid and well-considered. I've traveled both ways, and as I age I tend to appreciate well-designed tours like RS more. But the balance will fall differently with different people, and a different stages of life. Chacun a son gout. (That's French, folks.)

Posted by
1847 posts

Thanks for taking the time to do this. By being so specific with the reasons behind why this method is not for you, it will allow like-minded travelers to recognize things that won’t work to their advantage. They won’t have to spend their money to find out that included dinners might be served late or that large groups can feel claustrophobic. It looks like you are a veteran traveler and know your style, so happy travels in the future. However, as a previous poster mentioned, the My Way Tours give you more flexibility in terms of meals, activities, etc… should that ever be of interest to you. We have discovered that suits us better than anticipated.

Posted by
139 posts

Thanks, Christine, for the excellent expression of your viewpoint on why traveling on an organized tour isn't for you. I too am in the "group tours aren't for me" camp, but for different reasons. I travel, often alone, because I'm the type of person who finds being alone very restorative. I research heavily the location before I go, and build in a day or two of free time for unexpected treasures. The thing I really enjoy most and feel I get the most benefit from is meeting locals and having long discussions about our cultures, similarities and differences. It's possible there's time built into an organized tour to do that, but traveling on my own is working well for me, so I'm not looking to change it right now. In the future, maybe I'll change the way I travel and let someone else figure it out for me, but I'm not there yet.

Posted by
1999 posts

This is a truly valuable discussion thread.

As Dick wrote, chacun à son goût, and hand-in-hand with that : de gustibus non disputandum est.
As was also mentioned, there are always tradeoffs when choosing your travels,
and it is always important to match your interests and temperament to the situation --
many of these grumbles are more about someone's body clock not matching the region's practices.

I have my own -- for years I thought that sitting down to breakfast was a waste of time,
which is a mirror-image of those here who were unhappy with long, late dinners.
I'm big on the eating part of the trip, but even I bridled under the relatively strict French lunch-taking hours -- I'm still on my morning sprint when it's time to sit down to table in France, so I either have to adjust, or give up on those luncheons.
In Spain, I can't help but have a good time usually, because long late lunches and very late dinners are like falling off a log for me.
In Northern Europe it can sometimes work out like running around the backhand and using a forehand instead -- those early dinners become my late lunch.

The herding cats / group slowness tradeoff changes as I get older -- when I was younger there was no way I would put up with waiting for everyone to catch up, but now as I get creakier the benefit of having to get up and going because the bus is scheduled is an external motivator that I appreciate, and if it means I get more done than I would on my own, then maybe I'm less put off by having to wait for stragglers as things go along.

Posted by
445 posts

Christine, thank you for your honest feedback. We have enjoyed most of our RS tours, but prefer to travel on our own. We like to control our sleeping/ eating/ sightseeing/ activity schedule. However, we are sure we learn more and experience locations more comprehensively on a RS tour. There are benefits to being with an engaged group, who share a common love of travel. There is a timely importance in supporting business models like RS which model generosity, ethics, and personal/ global responsibility.
For us, the weakest link in the RS model are the hotels. For us, the My Way model would never be a good fit. You are paying a lot of money to stay in some pretty crummy hotels, and it is harder to budget when none of your excursions or meals are included.

Posted by
5659 posts

Some travel styles and methods don’t work for everybody, and it’s great that alternative options exist. While we’ve hired guides for the day several times in Europe, trips to Europe have been on our own, not on a tour (yet). But for more “exotic” destinations - Morocco, South Africa/Botswana/Zimbabwe safari, we wouldn’t have done it any other way than by tour. Well, Morocco was a private tour, not group. Fewer people seems to work better for us.

And other destinations that have been considered on some level: Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam? Tour. Antarctica? Tour, except wow, would that be expensive!

Posted by
5822 posts

In the U.K., the only people I know that go on organised bus tours are people a generation older than me who don’t feel confident driving themselves or trying to get around without speaking the language.

Posted by
15243 posts

Hi Christine. I would have had much the same feelings as you on a tour like that, though I have taken and enjoyed 3 RS tours and several others with an Israeli company who's tours are very similar. Like you, I have traveled independently to many places over many years. The difference is that I chose tours that covered areas I would not have gone on my own for logistic reasons. Of the RS tours, one was a MyWay tour through the Alps so there were no "herd" activities, the other two were Greece and Turkey, with almost no big city time and the hours with the guides gave me a much better understanding of the daily lives, history, culture and politics of those two countries. Not all tours are for all people.

Posted by
126 posts

I feel the same about big groups. I don't even like large family vacations. My brother has been trying to get the extended family together to go to WDW for a week and it sounds like a nightmare to me. But it's all a tradeoff. We're doing a My Way Alpine tour this year because I wanted someone else to figure out the transportation and be there if any Covid issues arrive, and we're willing to pay for it. And while we drove during our last trip to Europe in 2019, we're done with renting cars.

At least the Steves tours don't do a lot of shopping. I did an organized tour of Egypt many years ago and it seemed like we stopped to shop every 5 minutes. I am not a shopper. I still had a great time, though.

Posted by
37 posts

I’ve taken four RS Tours and loved them. I’m currently scheduled for one of the “My Way” tours. After visiting pretty much every major museum between France, Italy and Greece and other major sites. I needed an easier tour. I don’t drive so it was out of the question as to renting a car. I believe this My Way tour would be a good fit for me … just get me there and I’ll do my own thing. I will not be visiting any museums because I’ve been to all of them. I’m looking forward to this tour format. I do understand your observation about tours. I’m glad you were honest and I will say the RS Guide books are the best and with Google Maps, you can see the area you will be staying in and other sites through street view. I can’t wait to do it my way …. Just get me there :)

Posted by
46 posts

I have usually travelled solo but my last trip was a guided group. It was enjoyable, but not as much as my earlier trips alone. We had 16 people & even that seems like too many people for me. There were 2 or 3 I never really got the chance to speak to. I can't imagine dealing with a larger group. And I felt like I was trying to cram too much into my free time away from the group, that I was missing out on things I really wanted to see & do.

Posted by
96 posts

I appreciate your post, Christine. I have been to Europe many times traveling with my husband and/or friends back in the 80’s and 90’s. When I retired in 2017 I decided I wanted to travel again. Problem was hubby was no longer interested in going and I don’t have any friends to travel with, so if I wanted to go somewhere I was going to have to go solo. I decided to try a tour so I booked the RS Best of Ireland in October 2019 as a birthday gift to myself. I was thrilled to finally see Ireland and I was lucky to have a wonderful group of travelers who included me in their free time if I was so inclined which was nice. I made friends on that tour that I am still in touch with to this day. All in all, I am glad I did it if only to prove to myself that I could travel solo. However, I am researching some different types of tours now for some of the reasons that you brought up. I think maybe the whole bus thing is not for me either. A staycation type of tour to one city that I have never been to for more of an immersion type of experience has peeked my interest. Small group women only tours are also on the table. I think I’m going to try a little bit more of a hybrid approach to my next trip in that I will go early and stay after to do some things on my own, but have the companionship of some fellow travelers in between. I think it comes down to trying to find your style and what you would most enjoy. I would like to add that the VFR tour is one of RS’s most active tours. As much as I would love to see those cities I would definitely not enjoy that fast paced type of tour. To be honest, probably the Eastern France or Scandinavia tour would be more my speed (literally)!

Posted by
852 posts

Travel is such a privilege, and it really is such a personal experience in so many ways. Christine, you have articulated your experience and perspective pretty well, and although I have never been on a tour, some of what you have noted are my perceived reasons why. I know it sounds odd to travel to a major city in Europe "to get away from it all," but I do travel to get respite, and having to be on a tour and surrounded by strangers as travel mates is not for me and my family who are perfectly content, for example, sitting on a train enjoying the scenery without having to worry about social niceties. We also love finding our own places to eat, and I know some meals are on your own on a tour, but being able to eat where we want is important (we like to be "adventurous" with our meals).

Posted by
852 posts

Hmm, I was just reading the RS tour release posting, and some folks have mentioned here as well, but I wonder if a city tour where the pace of a city would interfere more with the tour makeup is the issue. Perhaps an RS tour in a more "country setting", like Switzerland, South of England, etc., would work better for those who aren't self-described fans of tours.

Posted by
1232 posts

Back in the mid-80s, a cousin went on one of those early classic European tours, something like 20 cities in 7 nights - she felt like she had seen the world, and she never travelled to Europe again.

Posted by
320 posts

I have never gone on any tours other than half or full day tours in a van with a max of 7 people, and even on those I chafed a bit at being in a "group". So I am more or less sympathetic to the Christine's take on being with a larger group, particularly for the meals.

I once encountered an RS tour on the streets of Paris, and I observed how strung out the group got as they walked along, with some walkers who kept pace with the guide, and others who lagged fairly far behind, and it occurred to me that could be a problem for crossing busy streets and as a fast walker myself the laggards might annoy me.

To each his own, though. I like independent travel, it is all I have ever done, but I do not rule out a tour in the future.

Posted by
97 posts

Knowledge is a powerful thing. That being said I appreciate your post Christine. We are scheduled to take our first ever trip to Italy for the Best of VFR tour in September, our first ever tour as well. We will go with the information you provided knowing in advance to download all of the audio tours that we might miss due to post Covid, group size, whatever. We will join in the group meals knowing to pace ourselves, (not eat too much ) in order to get a good nights rest. I personally found this post very helpful as I find most all of the info on this forum invaluable for one reason or another. Looking forward to our trip armed with even more info on how to make it awesome!

Posted by
6961 posts

So, what's the solution to the street-crossing problem? On our first tour (VFR) the tour leader took off on a fast pace and never looked back. He expected any stragglers to catch up at our destination, at which we often had appointments with guides and museum entry. In conversation, he said that we were all adults, and he expected people to pay attention and to know how to get across a street promptly (dont stop) without being herded. It quickly sorted itself out.

I too appreciate Christine's comments. Yeah its not for everyone.

@Linda, make sure you take the guidebook with you. They want you to use that to help plan your free time.

Posted by
8660 posts

I like the honest, well-balanced assessment.

I've never been on a RS tour, but I have taken two tours with a French organization, Anatolia and Sicily. These tours are very small, 8-12 people, non-stop, three meals a day but no free downtime. I liked the knowledge the guide shared, the logistics being handled and the quality of the hotels and restaurants. However, in retrospect these two tours left less of an impression of the country, less imprinted into my memory and photos don't bring out the same emotional response. My memories are fuzzier than for solo travel where we struggle to achieve the goal. Could it also be a result of traveling in my second language?

However, this problem didn't pop up with a two-week Road Scholar trip across Cuba in English, nor with a privately-guided trip for 9 family and friends across Georgia and Armenia in French.

I thought it was worth mentioning that my takeaways are different depending on the tour company. and circumstances.

Posted by
2501 posts

When we were in Bayeux in 2019, an RS tour group was also staying in our hotel - the d'Argouges. We chatted with a couple on the tour - the conversation started because I could remember the French word for "corkscrew". They had never heard of this forum, I had to ask, of course.

The guy said that they had been on multiple RS tours, but that this would be their last. How come? He said that over the years, the size of the "small group" had increased to 22-28, and that was too big of a group for them.

Posted by
271 posts

I value my solo travel immensely. The freedom traveling solo is bliss for me. I can eat,sleep, walk, when I want. I can arrange my own accommodations to my needs and budget. If someone or something is not pleasurable, I walk away. I can change my itinerary without notifying anyone,except my husband, who trusts my travel skills and experience.
There's also the cost of tours which is not insignificant. I can do all the planning and reservations myself and the researcher is not a chore but a way to add to my knowledge base of the location.
I do value the information on this forum as it adds to my knowledge.

Posted by
1266 posts

I really appreciated reading your insights, Christine. Thank you for sharing.

Posted by
1124 posts

I found the OP's post informative and balanced.

My first trip to Europe was solo and I chose a group tour. I loved it, but wanted a different approach. Since then I have taken 2 RS tours by myself (Scandinavia and Best of Itay) and one with my son (Best of Turkey). I loved them. I call myself a socially pleasant introvert. The managed my interaction with tour mates to suit myself. I love the value of the RS guides.

My son and I took our first independent trip one month ago. It turned out great. Partly because of what I learned on my RS tours. We hired 5 day guides during our 15 days. That worked perfectly. I find a lot of value in both forms of travel and will continue to travel using both methods.

The reason that OP's post is valuable is that she explains the why it didn't work for her. We can learn from her experiences which is what this forum is all about.

Posted by
97 posts

Thanks Stan. Will do. I’m so glad that RS is sending me a new guide book, many pages blew into our pool while I was outside carefully (not careful enough :)) planning, lol. I’d be completely lost without a tour group this time around, (obviously) but hey I’m already having fun.

Posted by
529 posts

My partner and I have discovered that we enjoy watching the landscape passing by on the tour buses or even just having time to relax, read, nap, chat etc. The time could also be used to document the photos taken on the tour. I'd rather spend my time that way than concentrating on driving,

We've spent our entire professional lives driving in metro Detroit so it's not a lack of confidence....it's rather a better use of our expensive overseas time. Driving is simply a chore to be endured now. We've spent many hours navigating our vehicles during vacation travel in the US and it's really unfair to the driver who doesn't really get a relaxed view of the surroundings. I've done the vacation driving and found myself frazzled and physically worn out upon arrival while my partner is raving and ready for activity. I don't miss the "watch outs!", "slow down!", "speed up!", "do you see that person?"...or the pushing of the imaginary brakes! My partner would rather do all the driving if possible but I think that's rather unfair.

Posted by
8512 posts

You can travel independently and not drive a car. Trains in Europe and the UK are amazing and really fun for us.

Posted by
1085 posts

We enjoy both independent travel and Rick Steve’s tours. The social aspect of RS tours can be very enjoyable especially since we retired..

Retirement often brings a reduction in regular social contacts and more time with the family; the tours are a nice change of pace. It is fun being around like-minded travelers.

Posted by
2524 posts

My partner and I have discovered that we enjoy watching the landscape
passing by on the tour buses or even just having time to relax, read,
nap, chat etc.

Just back from Scotland and my one regret is that I was so focused on driving that I missed a lot of scenery. But at the same time, the experience of driving in different situations such as single track roads was memorable and seems to be what I talk to friends about the most.

I just like to go places and I've experienced the +'s and -'s of all styles. The OP should be commended for this post, it's the type of review that I find helpful when I'm trying to make a decision.

Posted by
2524 posts

We enjoy both independent travel and Rick Steve’s tours. The social
aspect of RS tours can be very enjoyable especially since we retired..

My wife is a social butterfly and I'm not. One advantage I discovered from a tour is that she'd make friends and I was able to ditch her if there was something I wanted to do that she didn't. This was valuable during the long, dull meals where I could sneak out and leave her to visit with her new best friends.

Posted by
4762 posts

Christine, you had me nodding a big “yes” with your first statement that I know I’ve said to other travelers: “ ..people need to make decisions about their personal travel styles and preferences.” I’m really glad you were open to trying a tour to know even more what you do & don’t like about each option as your travel style & why. Our local RS travel group meets together monthly, and I appreciate that we all travel differently and learn so much from each other.

I’m coming home tomorrow from 23 days of traveling in Italy (independently & solo) and staying in 13 different hotels. Some people are sure to say I was nuts when they read my travel report, but I loved it! I’m also really ready to be home with my hubby!

Any future ideas on the horizon for 2023?

Posted by
271 posts

Not having to drive is part of the appeal in Europe. I have never found the need for rental car. Always been able to go anywhere I wanted to. Occasionally I have taken a taxi to somewhere, but a taxi is generally less expensive than a daily rental cost, plus no worries about parking, tickets, stress of driving etc.
I also have had incredible experiences with people that I would never had as part of a group. (Safety tip for any other sola travelers. Never interact with people who approach you,it's hardly ever to your advantage) But I still meet up with a friend from England that I met in a Lisbon hostel, and the kitchen parties in my Stockholm Airbnb, a fabulous woman in my Gothenburg Airbnb who I drank wine and went sailing with, too many more experiences to mention here.
Having raved about my positive sola travel ,I have girlfriends who are only going on tours, because they are fearful, don't want to plan and like the positives to tours for them. However, the girlfriends are all out of shape and overweight,so could not travel the way I do even if they wanted to.

Posted by
529 posts

You can travel independently and not drive a car. Trains in Europe and the UK are amazing and really fun for us.

Exactly. We routinely travel independently before and after tours. I was simply responding to the claim that people like tours because they aren't confident enough to drive themselves. We grew quite proficient on our own using trains, the subways, taxis, buses/coaches, etc. We enjoy what independent travel offers as well as tours.

Posted by
3744 posts

Here's another person appreciating Christine's candor. And agreeing with her and others that 28+ people is not a small group.

Reading her post and the responses of others prompted me to do something I've never done before: add up the number of self-planned weeks in Europe vs. those on RS tours.

Starting in 1977, but not counting the traveling I did when I lived in Nürnberg (1982-85), I've done my own thing, mostly solo, for about 52 weeks. I've been on RS tours for about 9 weeks.

Well, now that's enlightening. 😉 Those 52 weeks are dominated by long, self-planned trips, but also include time before, after and between RS tours.

So far I've been on 5 RS tours (Istanbul, Village Italy, Scandinavia, Portugal and Spain) and will be on my 6th, Ireland, this summer. I'll spend 3 nights on my own in Dublin before the tour starts, 1 night in Belfast (maybe) after it ends and about 2.5 self-planned weeks in Wales before flying home.

I think there are distinct advantages to being on a tour and to not being on one. It's been my experience that every RS tour I've been on included doing and seeing things I would not have even thought of for my own planning. That's a big ➕ for me.

All have included interesting people that I enjoyed meeting. Unlike some, I like the long dinners and do my best to sit with someone different at every breakfast or other group meal.

For me, the major advantage to not being on a tour was well described this way, "I can eat, sleep, walk, when I want." This is also why I prefer renting an apartment for stays of 4 or more nights.

I hate being rushed, but I like moving at a reasonable pace. You know, the "talk and walk" kind of pace. I don't know if this is true for other tours, but my observation has been that the local guides on RS tours do move at a "talk and walk" pace, giving people time to absorb what they're seeing and doing, ask questions and take pictures.

However, the tour leaders seem to have a tendency to set a very fast pace and then stop to wait for the full group to catch up. That means that the absorbers and picture-takers have to rush. Those who have kept up with the tour leader have time to rest and ask questions. We (yeah, I'm in this group) slower ones never get to rest or have the benefit of the information exchange because as soon as the last one of us arrives, the tour leaders are on the move again. This is particularly problematic when the distance to be covered is a half-mile or longer.

Assuming a normal distribution, that means that about 68% of the group would walk at pace we could call "normal" or I might call "talk and walk." About 16% will walk faster and about 16% will walk slower. If the tour leader is in the faster group, rather than the normal group, it's great for the faster walkers, but a challenge for the normal group and almost impossible for the slower group to ever have the full benefit of the tour.

Posted by
193 posts

We took our first RS tour this past March after years of independent travel. There were advantages to the tour: access to places that would be difficult to get to on our own, excellent guides, and peace of mind navigating the problems of travel during a pandemic. We struggled, however, with the daily schedule and living out of a suitcase. Additionally, travel with strangers was challenging even though we all became friendly. There were only 11 of us on the tour; perhaps if the group had been full size there would have been better group dynamics. We have traveled with our best friends several times and the years that we have known them have made it possible to tailor our trips to each person's interest. We have lately taken cruises as a means of using our DVC points and have found that they provide a third option for travel. We can unpack once, be as social as we like, and either explore ports on our own or take planned excursions. I don't think we would ever limit ourselves to one style of travel, but we can choose the style that suits us for the destination.

Posted by
88 posts

Thank you Christine-and i so agree with you--these BIG RS tours are not for me anymore either. I have done 4 RS tours--3 city tours (which I loved and another tour --where we moved every 2 nights). OK its the constant moving--packing & unpacking--well sorta as i use packing cubes (psuedo drawers) so not too difficult--but i so prefer staying in one place and really seeing the city. And way too many folks---28 is NOT a small group--it is "smaller" than 40 but much larger than 12.
I had planned another RS tour this year--first in late April--then moved it to June then moved it again to late August and now I just cancelled it. I did this after re-reading my old trip journal for my last RS tour, I guess i had forgotten how much i did NOT like it at all--OK loved the fellow tourists and guides but hated the constant moving. And we had some bad weather. Too many visits to places i had no interest in and not enough time for the ones I would have liked to spend more time at. My favorite time was during my post trip where I had lots more time to see the sites I was interested in. I too am a very early riser and early to bed. I usually am up way before sunrise and always go out for a 1 hour walk on my own to see the morning sites before the crowds. I hate very late dinners too but hey it's Europe so I'll do it--unless on my own then I am first to arrive at "tourist hours". I always take a RS book with me on my many solo travels and that works quite well for me. I have been to Europe over 70 times--some on tours, mostly solo. Most of my tours are smaller groups--< 12 in the group which is so much better. No need to "herd cats" and most folks could keep the pace with the group. So my next European tour will be a small group (8 max) and part of the SLOW TRAVEL movement (based on SLOW FOOD model). And I will do solo travel afterwards as well. But RS tours are needed and are great for many folks and they are very well designed--they are just not for me UNLESS they offer more city tours and smaller groups.
But I will keep traveling. Thanks again for your honesty.

Posted by
2297 posts

Thank you Christine for your report. I was all ready to sign up for the same tour, but changed and booked a different one. I am surprised your meals were not good. This is an important part of travel for me and you were in Italy. Also, we stayed 2 weeks in Paris because we were not able to do our scheduled Paris & HOF tour because of Covid. While I enjoyed Paris, I was wishing for more variety the tour would have provided. I like the packing and moving part of the tour, to me, I love to go somewhere I have never been before.
My recent city tour of Paris had 18 people, and I did not feel like you did, so I think it is unfortunate that your tour group was so big, especially since those 3 cities do tend to be crowded. I wish RS had the option of certain dates for a micro group like Road Scholar does. I for one, would pay more for a smaller group. I agree that 28 people, is not a small group.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you for this perspective Christine. Often the posts here seem very pro-tour or very anti-tour so it is nice to read your assessment. I enjoyed the one RS tour (Best of Scotland) I have been on, and I think I would enjoy most of them, but my husband is skeptical. I hadn't thought about late meals and slow street crossings with a "small" group. The My Way tours may be more to my husband's liking than the guided tours, but I question the value of them when I could just plan it on my own. I certainly will consider all forms of travel in the future, but your post does give me new things to think about.

Posted by
71 posts

To all responders.... I have really enjoyed reading the replies, and I don't feel any were overtly negative; everyone has their own styles and preferences, and I think part of the point is that they also evolve as our circumstances change. 20 years ago I was a committed "through the back door" traveler but I may be evolving into a "where's the doorman and the porter?"

I am an avid planner and recently started working as a travel advisor for a select group of friends and family. I felt I needed to round out my experiences before advising anyone. As I said, this was a good experience, certainly data, that I can use in the future.

In the last several years my preferred travel has been river cruises in Europe which has been a great blend of small, guided excursions and independent travel. I use Rick's books to plan extensive pre and post travels using trains to zip around before boarding a river boat. The cruise is a wonderful reprieve of unpacking and exemplary service as we visit Europe via the river, then I spend another week or so expanding my reach into the surrounding area. I did a similar thing on this most recent trip.... 6 days in Switzerland and Venice before joining the tour, a 10 day tour, then another week with extra days in Rome before heading to Sorrento. It was a really nice balance but my days in Switzerland and then Sorrento were my favorite.

I do agree with many posters that a tour is a great option in a "very" foreign culture or where the language barrier might seem insurmountable. The My Way tours are certainly worth considering. A friend did a Monograms tour which is similar in design. They loved having a "friend" make the major decisions and make sure they had a place to stay and a ticket on a train or seat on the bus, but the rest of their time was their own, yet with guidance from their "friend". They felt supported without being guided. I think there's value in giving that a try!

Posted by
1507 posts

Have RS tours always been as large as this? Or has the maximum size increased?

Posted by
6961 posts

Always been 24-28. One of the constraints they have is that they have to stay within a reasonable number of rooms for the small central hotels they prefer.

Posted by
19 posts

We just booked the Loire to the South of France for Sept. 2023, our first RS tour. Although I completely planned our trip to Ireland in 2019, (RS guidebooks were a tremendous help), this itinerary in France was very close to what we were thinking about anyway so we thought we would give it a try. We feel this will be a good introduction to travel in non-English speaking Europe so we can get used to things, some train travel etc. (Paris to Chartres) before we consider embarking on our own in the future. Knowing in advance that provided dinners may be later than we are used to, along with the other pointers/concerns have been very helpful as I prepare over the coming months for our trip. We will be more prepared and will of course "pack our patience". Thanks to EVERYONE for their thoughts on the pros and cons, very helpful and thought provoking.

We had friends who just returned from Israel with a group (Not a RS tour) which PAID a medical facility to give them all negative Covid test reports so they could return to the USA on schedule. YIKES! When you hear that sort of thing you do get a bit apprehensive. Certainly hope that is not the norm.

Posted by
14 posts

My 2010 catalog states "we limit our groups to just 28 travelers, sometimes fewer." It elsewhere states 24-28 people. That's pretty consistent with the current advertised group size. I wouldn't think RS tours would be able to keep the same price point if the group size was much smaller, so this is the trade-off I've chosen to accept.

Posted by
435 posts

I really appreciate this post and all the comments so far. I'm on the other side, in that I like being on a tour. I will be taking my 14th one this September. And it's important that people know what they're in for when traveling with a group. There is a certain formula to a Rick Steves tour and it isn't for everyone. And I think that's why the RS website has the Tour Experience videos posted and then posts like this to give people a taste of what they're getting into. I really appreciate how much is packed into a tour - both the educational parts and the experiential parts. It's true that the early starts are sometimes a bit hard, but to get to sites without the crowds makes up for it tenfold, for me. And when in a different country, it's interesting to become a temporary local and eat late if that's the culture. Boy, in Spain that was a definite deal!! Most of the meals I've had have been good to exceptional. Sometimes they do miss the mark - but that's what good wine is for! It's good for this info to be out so if the RS way doesn't work for you, you can alter your plans. Happy travels to everyone and enjoy your way of traveling!

Posted by
1520 posts

RS just posed a video "Test drive a RS tour" to see if the RS style of touring is right for you.

https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/tour-news/june-2022/test-drive

Even he recognizes that this type of traveling is not for everyone.

I just returned from my first solo trip (Switzerland) and i quickly learned that i was a born solo traveler. I love all the preplanning, being on my own schedule, having control over all my decisions, eating my dinner at 4pm. 😊

That being said, i'm certainly not anti-tour as i think it's a great option for many. Who know, i may even be on a RS tour someday. 😊

The important thing is to get out there and see the world.

Posted by
8512 posts

I like Christine’s post because all i’ve ever read on this forum for the 15+ yrs i’ve been here is how great RS Tours are and it’s actually helpful to read what the negatives are so each person can decide for themselves. .

Posted by
3745 posts

I wonder if anyone has calculated the cost of doing it on your own, I mean subtracting out the transportation, lodging, meals, and admissions provided by the tour to see what a person is paying for the guides, planning and logistics expertise, special experiences, and company overhead and profit. I'd guess it's about 50% but I have never broken it out.

The only time I did I true side by side tour cost comparison was when my wife and I were going to shadow a school tour, I was I able to get reservations for us ( 2 people) for $2800 when the tour was charging $3400 for one student in a shared bed with another student. Long time posters may remember that covid canceled the tour and my story of taking the tour operator to small claims court to get a refund (success!). It was super irritating to have to do it knowing the true out of pocket cost of the tour, and how much profit they were going to make, about 3 times higher profit not having to give the tour than the profit they would have made by actually having to give the tour. I wish I worked in a business were I could make a $45,000 profit off a school group by providing none of the contracted services. I guess reflecting on this experience I would have enormous reservations about ever doing another tour, even though I know RS refunded 100%.

Posted by
5744 posts

@Tom. I think it is a bit of fallacy to think “what is the cost if I do it myself?”, because you can’t. Yes, you could go to the same cities, stay in the same hotels, visit the same museums. However, you wouldn’t replicate all the experiences. I think of a late afternoon charter boat ride to a lakeshore restaurant in Lugano where we had a risotto lesson/contest and a meal on the terrace. A private tour of the library of ancient illuminated manuscripts in the library at Engelberg Monastery. (This area is rarely open to the public). A farmer proudly giving a tour of his farm high on the alp, making cheese, and his wife giving an impromptu concert on the alpenhorn. These types of experiences are not likely to be replicated by a solo traveler.

I like Rick Steves Tours and independent travel. I do both and both are great experiences for me, but they are different types of experiences and a direct cost comparison really isn’t valid.

The value related to any particular travel situation isn’t always about cost. For example, Some people pay more for a business class seat and arrive at their destination at the exact same time as those in coach. They feel the value/quality of their experience made the cost worth it. Someone in coach might think, “I’m using that money for a nicer hotel or a special meal” because that is where they find value in their travels.

Each person needs to find ways to travel that fits his/her needs and ideas about what adds value to the experience. For some, that may be independent travel or a tour or a cruise or any combination of these.

Posted by
3745 posts

Carol: I added special experiences to the list of things a tour provides.

I'm not passing judgement on the value of a tour (other than pointing out the risk taken by handing over 100% of the funds in advance). But I'm looking for a tabulation of what one is paying for so the value of it can be effectively evaluated. I learned from my school tour experience some (most?) people actually think that the bulk discounts travel agents can access means tours are cheaper than independent travel.

Posted by
58 posts

Everyone has a right to their own opinion. Whatever you enjoy is right for you. My wife and I have taken many tours with RS, other tour companies and adventure travel companies. We have had good and bad experiences (all of our RS tours have been very good). All of our tour guides were outstanding but a few of our tours were populated with people that had a hard time keeping up with the group. We have not had this problem with RS tours. I think it's because RS emphasizes that his tours are active. What we have been doing a lot lately is combining a week of our own time with a tour. Last fall we spent a week in Lagos/Lisbon Portugal on our own, which I planned, and then joined an adventure company to do hikes from Lisbon to Porto. We've done the same thing for RS trips, for example, three years ago we spent a week in Istanbul on our own and then joined the RS tour for the rest of our time in Turkey. Every time we do this, we really enjoy the time we spent on our own and feel a little reluctant to join the group tour. However, once we get on the tour, we really enjoy it. Being on our own we enjoy the freedom to explore where we want to go on our own time. The tour is different but equally as enjoyable. We really enjoy meeting other travelers. We feel we learn more details about a destination with excellent guides. I especially enjoy the long 2-hour European dinners, eating, drinking and laughing with my fellow travelers. Over the years, we have evolved to looking at our destination and deciding how to approach it. Typically, we will do a hybrid (on our own/tour) but sometimes depending on the destination we will do the entire trip on our own too. That is our experience but like I said in the beginning of this post I think it's a personal decision and people should do what makes them happy without judging others' method of travel.

Posted by
2183 posts

I am a fan of RS tours and I haven’t used any other tour company. I’ve just completed my 8th tour, Scandinavia.

I don’t like the fact this tour only spent 2 nights in delightful Copenhagen and only 2 nights in Oslo; I really enjoyed my time there and felt I needed more time to really soak up and experience more in each place.

However, flip the coin and we spent 2 nights on amazing Ærø Island and 1 night in a rustic B&B in the Jotenheimen Mountains before we went to Flåm for the Sognefjord cruise. These are 2 places I probably wouldn’t have seen if I had planned my own itinerary. Sometimes I think I won’t like something on the tour and it turns out to be the best experience!

Plus I trust Rick Steves, his name is on the door and the tours reflect his personality and the buck stops with him. Things like handle your own luggage, walk a few blocks with your luggage or maybe climb some stairs in the hotels are part of his philosophy. He tries to teach independence to travelers. He uses Mom and Pop hotels that also have their name on the door. The B&B in the mountains has been in existence since 1858 and has been operated by the same family. His business does not appeal to people who want to be indulged or have their hands held.

This is a travel forum on Rick’s website so that could account for why more posters like his tours.

Christine,
Your post is appreciated because you expressed your opinion well and rationally for being a non-touring person. Thanks!

I do also travel independently.

Posted by
169 posts

Apples and oranges. Both are delicious. So is touring and independent travel in my opinion.

Posted by
1630 posts

When traveling with girlfriends we have done independent travel, group travel and the destination decides our mode of travel.
My wonderful hubby has no interest in travel planning except for country and city choices. As far as what to visit at our destination, that is left for me to research. I’m tired of being the researcher and tour guide! So, when traveling together, it’s a tour. We’ve used several tour companies with RS working the best for us.

Posted by
34 posts

My husband and I always traveled independently, using RS books, audio tours, etc. My husband loved the planning part probably almost as much as he loved the actual travel. I was the “show up at the airport and tell me where I’m going” part of the couple. We also rented cars and he did all the driving. Getting lost and getting screamed at by an Italian traffic cop for going the wrong way on a one-way street completely stressed me out but to him it was part of the adventure! Unfortunately my husband passed away in January. I still want to travel but at least for this first solo trip (and probably forever) I just couldn’t imagine doing anything except a group tour or a high-end small ship cruise. I CERTAINLY don’t want to drive in a foreign land. I don’t even like driving in new places in this country and here know the language! So I’d have to agree with the OP that independent travel can be so rewarding, but I think I’ll enjoy the RS Tour and in any event this is my “new normal”

Posted by
1630 posts

I’m so sorry, Jessica. I’m sure you will enjoy a RS tour.

Posted by
5744 posts

Jessica, good for you for venturing out. I soon learned after I became a widow that I either needed to learn new skills or find ways to work around the lack of skills that I had. You are demonstrating this. You don’t want to learn the skill of driving in Europe at this time? No problem, you have found the work around of taking a tour. Later on, you may want to try other approaches, or maybe not. Either way you are moving forward, coping and having positive experiences.

Don’t be surprised if there are some sudden moments of grief on your trip, even if you are enjoying the tour. Totally normal. Grief is such a sneaky creature……..

Posted by
11732 posts

What this thread has proven is that there is no one right way to travel. What is right is what is right for you. Whether it's group tour vs independent travel, rental car vs public transportation, wheeled case or backpack, large bag vs small, or a combination of the above, what matters is what makes you happy. You don't have to please any anonymous person on a travel forum.

However, what we see is a great deal is people being offended because someone is doing something different from them. They take it personally, and act as if they are being put down if you travel differently than them.

If someone wants to travel differently than you, so what. If they are not traveling with you, does it really matter? Or do you think you are going to convert millions of travelers if you scream about your way from the highest mountain?

Posted by
3745 posts

However, in retrospect these two tours left less of an impression of the country, less imprinted into my memory and photos don't bring out the same emotional response. My memories are fuzzier than for solo travel where we struggle to achieve the goal.

I missed this excellent insight by Bets earlier, I suspect it would be the same for me.

I don’t have the attention span for tour guide monologues and don’t get much out of them. I always want to break away from the guides for private interaction with the art/space/architecture because that is what I remember and has staying power over the years. I want the private space and time to make my own memories. That the woman in the painting has Aunt Josephine’s nose I remember, not that it is the Medici nose.

Mostly thinking through the tour trade-offs for the time when a tour is the logical choice for me.

Posted by
2524 posts

I don’t have the attention span for tour guide monologues and don’t
get much out of them. I always want to break away from the guides for
private interaction with the art/space/architecture because that is
what I remember and has staying power over the years.

One of my favourite things about this forum is comment's like Tom's which is the opposite of my opinion. In my trip report about Scotland earlier this week I mentioned I was disappointed by the Royal Mile in Edinburgh until I took a tour and the guide was able to explain the significance of what I was seeing. But it's valuable to understand that we all have our own way to enjoy the same thing.

Posted by
3745 posts

the guide was able to explain the significance of what I was seeing

I use a printed guide or audio guide that I can leaf through or turn on when I am ready for the information, and turn off when I am overloaded with information and need to digest or sit. I am sounding ADHD.

Posted by
1232 posts

"But it's valuable to understand that we all have our own way to enjoy the same thing"

For the most part, I couldn't care less about explanations, I'm there for the architectural façades. If I'm curious about a building or elements of the day, I'll do a little search work in the evenings with a split screen on my iPad with the photos.

Posted by
128 posts

As everyone mentioned, pros and cons to each method of travel, and no right way to travel.

I like to take tours to places that are more remote and that would be difficult to travel to independently. I don't think I would ever take one of the RS city tours, and I'm more drawn to the tours RS used to call his "Cultural Connection " tours. Tours certainly allow you to cover much more territory much more efficiently. Of course, you can't stop and smell the roses...Every time I completed a RS tour, I felt that I needed a vacation from the vacation, and I actually looked forward to the bus travel time as it meant that perhaps I could take a nap! If left to my own devices, I would putz the morning away. Of course, that would mean I could have a nice leisurely breakfast without worrying out being late for the bus. But, then again, I probably would not get out the door before noon! Again, pros and cons....

As someone mentioned, I think it would be difficult to replicate some of the experiences RS tours provides, especially on those "Cultural Connection" tours. I can certainly replicate a museum tour, but perhaps not a visit to a cork farm with a home cooked meal with the family afterwards. I haven't always enjoyed every excursion he provided, but, on the whole, most were pretty wonderful and memorable.

During our independent travel, my husband would complain that I would drag him around and starve him. The structure of a tour meant structured meal time (No hangry husband), and no complaints about getting lost and wandering in circles (Isn't that part of the fun of being in a new city?).

Looking forward to our RS tour this year followed by some independent travel time pre and post tour - best of both worlds!

Happy travels!

Posted by
11732 posts

I"ve read a few posts that claim you can't get certain experiences without taking a tour. Maybe yes, maybe no.

When I plan my travels, I look at the daily itineraries of a few tour companies operating tours in that area. If there is something the tour does that I might want to do, I look to see if I can arrange it myself, or if a local tour company offers it as a one day trip. But it gives me ideas of things I hadn't thought of or been aware of.

It also allows me to say, "Wow, I have no interest in that whatsoever."

Posted by
9 posts

We took our first RS tour, Village Italy, this past April. It was the first RS post-COVID tour in Italy. We were treated like royalty in every location, and there were only 18 people in our group. It was such a pleasure to be led by a talented guide, with knowledgable and fun local guides with great senses of humor. Being handed a hotel key as we walked in the door every couple of days was far preferable to waiting in line at the desk, and having roomy, modern transportation was a plus and I hadn't even thought of as I was envisioning this experience. We felt there was a good mix of group time and alone time, and we took advantage of setting out on our own. We did our homework ahead of time - researching and reading up on our destinations and planning how our free time might be spent. We also learned to appreciate the freedom that comes with packing lightly! Our intergenerational group bonded quickly, and we loved every minute of this new touring experience. We are waitlisted for a couple possibilities later this year and have already committed to and made a deposit on another tour next spring. While this style of travel may not be everyone's cup of tea, it certainly is ours!

Posted by
5 posts

Very interesting discussion. I have been my own tour guide for most of my adult life, but as I really enjoy Rick's travel style, I am considering trying a tour. Not sure if I'll ever give up the sense of independence that comes with DIY travel, but if I was going to break that guideline for anyone, it would be for a RS tour.

Posted by
27 posts

This is an interesting discussion and has given me much to think about. I'm looking at taking my first RS tour next spring, the Best of Turkey in 13 days. In my other travels, I've done all the planning and research. I enjoy that part as much as the trip itself. Three weeks in France, piece of cake. But with Turkey, as many of you have suggested, the language, distances to travel, train or bus vs driving, makes me consider a tour. But reading this, I know what I'll give up and what I'll gain and what to look for in a tour option.

Comparing RS tours of Turkey to other budget tours (G Adventures and Intrepid Travel), it looks like the extra money is paid for a consistent guide who can provide the context and for all the incidental trips from the hotel to the optional excursions. Based on this thread, I knew to look at travel times, what's included and guess how it would go if I were to plan it myself.

Thanks for the thoughtful discussion.

Posted by
320 posts

I'm looking at taking my first RS tour next spring, the Best of Turkey in 13 days. In my other travels, I've done all the planning and research.

That could have been written by me...my first RS tour was to have been this one in September 2020, but of course that got canceled by the pandemic. Like you, I reasoned the only way I would go to Turkey would be as part of a tour, and I still think I would make that exception from independent travel for such a destination, but I don't have any immediate plans to reschedule this tour or to go on any other group tours until we get further along if not beyond this covid era. I am looking at an independent trip to France for later in the year.

Posted by
1502 posts

Every time I think that I might like to try a tour, I read something like this and rethink it. Not that there's anything wrong with that! ;)

Posted by
12 posts

I wrote a review of our recent Heart of Italy tour on my blog recently and as part of the post I did try to figure out what the trip would have cost had we done it independently. I figured we paid not quite twice what it would have cost to stay in those hotels, travel between cities on public transportation, see those attractions and pay for guides for the guided tours we did and eat the group-provided meals. Of course public transport between cities would not have catered to our schedule and we would have had to spend a lot of time planning to get everything lined up efficiently like RS did. Not to mention that we never got lost with the tour group.

Posted by
5744 posts

@Mardee. I think that it you are at all interested, you should try one and make up your mind based on your own experience. I know I was very hesitant before my first tour. I openly called it, "the experiment." I was pleasantly surprised to find it fun and very positive for me.

I still travel in a variety of other ways, but I am glad that (for me at least) this option is also available.

Posted by
15 posts

Very interesting and informative discussion. I have done solo trips in the past and now I can afford to go on a tour. I have been reading RS tours since a few years when I started to shop on RS online store. I have signed up for a tour spring of 2023 and am looking forward to it. The tour is going to take me to school and college excursions and educational trips where we shared room, bathrooms, etc. All we needed to do was, enjoy the trip and leave everything to the teachers and parents. In my opinion, tours are stress free. I plan to be considerate, patient and have a good time.

Posted by
59 posts

This post has been interesting to read. Aren’t we all lucky to be able to travel! Anytime people are involved there is bound to be some sort of upset to someone.

Before 2017 we traveled on our own or with the university we were attending.

My husband & I are leaving in a few weeks for our first RS tour since Covid – going to Germany & Austria. We have been on two RS tours: Paris 2017 & Venice, Florence & Rome 2019.

On our RS tours the tour sizes were small, the hotels, food, activities were all good - tours were well balanced between group time & time on our own.

Posted by
389 posts

I also dislike tours - the caveat being I haven't actually DONE one as you have. But I know my travel style and this isn't it. My best times traveling in Europe were when I was totally on my own, following my whims, and not having to answer to anyone else. One or two traveling companions is fine, so long as we're on the same page about being flexible and having personal space.

There are different strokes for different folks, and I know the group tour style works for many people which is why it's a thing, of course.

Just from day tours I've been on I know it doesn't click for me. I like to move at my own pace, I hate being either rushed OR having to stop and wait for others. Both those things happen on tours, and I get frustrated either way. The times I've been with other people and found myself totally in the moment at some particular place, I resented being told "Time's up, we've got to go!" Or when I'm ready to go full steam ahead but have to wait for the whole group to catch up, I find that irritating as well. I like the freedom to make spur of the moment decisions - "Never mind, that museum is too crowded, I think I'll skip it," or "If I hurry I can catch the next train to Chartres and get back before it's dark," or "I wonder what's down THIS street? I think I'll go find out..." And as for meals, I wanna go where I wanna go and nine times out of ten that means picking up something from a grocery store and dining alfresco.

Another confession since I'm being honest here: I feel less like a Big Clunky American Tourist if I'm on my own because I can blend in and not draw attention to myself. I'm not ashamed to be American or a tourist, but I don't necessarily need to advertise the fact by being part of a big English speaking crowd of people. I can't count how many times I've been by myself in France or Italy and had the locals come up and ask me for directions - they assumed I was a native, and I was fine with that. In a big group, that never happens. And I don't WANT to travel on a tour bus, I prefer public transportation. I've had many interesting conversations with the natives on a long train trip that I would have missed if I was on a tour bus. Even just sitting and listening to other people's conversations on a public bus or train helps me absorb both the culture and the language.

Although I don't like tours and will likely NEVER do one, I still enjoy Rick's books, podcasts, broadcasts, travel tips, and other resources. That's why I'm here!

Posted by
389 posts

If someone wants to travel differently than you, so what. If they are
not traveling with you, does it really matter? Or do you think you are
going to convert millions of travelers if you scream about your way
from the highest mountain?

I don't see where anyone is trying to "convert" anyone to their style of travel, this is all about sharing different perspectives. There may be folks contemplating a group tour versus a DIY trip, and reading why other people prefer one or the other might help them clarify what is right for them.

Posted by
4 posts

I have been on five RS tours. Some were better than others due to the quality of the guides. IMO the guides make all the difference. The group dinners that just.wouldn't.end. So true. Felt bad for the guides having to figure out how to help so many tm's pay the bill. I do not need my hand held. But, appreciate easy transport and family run hotels and access to certain experiences on an RS tour that I could never acheive on my own. I think his price point now is too high. I really wish he would do many more myway tours. Want to take my 8 and 10 year old on a BOE but the RS BOE for three is too expensive. It seems the wealthy seniors with money to burn is RS target market. RS is long way from his toking backpacking hippie days. Now he is a rich oldster. Still love his books.

Posted by
389 posts

I thought of this thread last night when we were having dinner in Amboise and a tour group came into the restaurant. Don't know if it was a RS group, but very well could have been - a group of about twenty Americans in their 50s-60s with what appeared to be a local guide herding them along.
What struck me is that they looked like a school group on a field trip following the teacher. They were VERY conspicuous - they filled half the small restaurant and chattered loudly in English while the few other patrons were visibly cringing.

If you travel only on a tour bus with your group, and you eat most of your meals with your group, how do you "blend in" and get to know the locals? (Assuming that is what you want to do, maybe you don't.)

Posted by
66 posts

I just came back from my 1st Rick Steve's tour. It was actually my first tour of anything. Most restaurant meals were done in back rooms, wine cellars, or when the restaurant wasn't open to the public. Only our last restaurant meal was done in the regular dining room.

Our guide walked super fast. He preferred to walking over taking public transportation. Nobody was waiting for anyone. It wasn't like a cruise ship tour where you had to be back on the bus by a certain time to go to the next activity. All the tours went to various points in town/city and at the end the tour you had to figure your way back to the hotel. This also gave you a chance to go back and spend more time at that place, museum, you wanted to stay at longer. The group activities were only 4 hours most days except on the days we were transporting between cities.

We hire guides or tours guides all the time on our trips. The guides Rick Steve used were more like private guides that had a lot of history knowledge. It was more personable because the guides talked about their own personal experiences. In Berlin the guide talked about his family living in East Germany when the wall fell. It was more like story telling instead of reading a scrip or listening to an audio guide.

Our tour was super fast paced. I'm not sure that is normal. But we had a lot of free time. We also, did 3 days before in our start city and 3 days after in our end city.

I'm still on the fence on which I prefer: Independent travel or Rick Steve's. I liked both for different reasons.

Posted by
5744 posts

@Disneyfreak. I am glad you had a good time on your tour! I think you are right on when you say that one way of travel doesn’t have to be better than another. It is great to appreciate each travel method for what they can bring to the experience.

Posted by
59 posts

Aren't we all so lucky to have the opportunities of overseas travel - and choices with how we want to go about exploring other countries?!

Happy travels everyone!

Posted by
1227 posts

What a great thread and obviously I came late to the party. So many comments to identify with and many I find intriguing. As Dirty Harry once said, "A man has to know his limitations". I prefer solo or independent travel and admittedly have never taken a group tour. I know myself best, so I look at all the things I like and don't like when travelling. I really like meeting people and talking about travel experiences, but herding along with 20+ people every place I go, not so much. I also know I have limited patience and when I have had local guides drone on and on before going into a site, I am ready to explode. I am not sure I could take that every day. I know there is "free time" on a tour, but do I really want to pay for "free time"? Some tours give you a whole day off. Is a day off really for me or for the tour guide?

I like to plan my trips and enjoy choosing my own hotels and restaurants. If a tour turned out not so well, I would be one of those "grumps" not allowed on a RS tour. When I am travelling solo, I can only blame myself.

Many tours have long bus rides, including RS tours. I dislike bus transportation for the most part outside maybe an hour or so. Love the trains throughout Europe. Solo travel is less costly. I have done the math and you will save 40-50% on your own. It is true, tours create special events like someone mentioned a boat cruise and a risotto lesson. However, group tours also walk past very interesting places that solo travelers stop and explore because group tours are on a "schedule".

As mentioned many, many times here, there is no one way to travel. Whatever fits your comfort zone is the right way. I think Christine's first hand report helped many people hear the other side of the coin for tours. Solo has its downside as well and isn't for everybody either. Thanks for the post and all the comments thereafter everyone.

Posted by
377 posts

RS is one smart guy. He has tours for people who like them. He also sells guidebooks and other travel gear to people who don't take his tours.

I've done both traveling on my own and on RS tours. The reason for the tours was simple. I like to share the experience with other people. As a single male I found that getting other guys to travel with me was a tough job. Women seem to do that more naturally. I know of a lot of women who routinely travel with their female friends and relatives. Many are married but their husbands simply are not interested in travel. But, finding a male travel companion is tough. Taking a tour was the best of both worlds. I had my companion(s) and I could do whatever I wanted during the free time.

Anyway, my point is to do what is right for the individual. No need to explain. Just don't complain.

Posted by
2952 posts

RS is one smart guy.

And for this normally solo traveler, after years of building trust in the Rick Steves brand through using the guidebooks, when travel circumstances made a tour attractive, Rick Steves tours were the first on my list to consider.

(And my Mom figures I'm safe if I'm traveling with Rick Steves. Surely she knows he's not personally leading my tours. Right??)

I won't give up my independent travels, but I liked my first 2 RS tours so much that now I have a list of Rick Steves tours to alternate in with my solo trips.

Posted by
2952 posts

Some tours give you a whole day off. Is a day off really for me or for the tour guide?

I don't know about other tours, but our Best of Turkey guide did not have a day off on our "free day."

She arranged and rode along with us on the optional boat ride, admittedly pleasant, but still work for her; walked us across town to a nice lunch spot, pointing out the museum we were headed to and showing us where to catch the streetcar back to town; then left us to escort another group to their Turkish bath. At best she had a few afternoon hours and perhaps dinnertime/evening to herself.

Posted by
377 posts

I read the blog. It sounds like what the writer paid for was to save a lot of time, at home planning, and while vacationing. So, I find I am asking myself "What else is new?" Some things we do ourselves and save money. Other things we hire pros to do for us. It's a choice, and either way I hope people enjoy their travels.

Posted by
11732 posts

Some tours give you a whole day off. Is a day off really for me or for the tour guide?

I had to laugh at this. As a former tour director, you have no idea what goes on behind the scenes and you're not supposed to. Phone calls to make, reservations to confirm, special requests to arrange, reports to write, and more.

More than likely, the day off is for the driver. If you have the same driver on a tour, they can't be worked 14 days straight. They have to get days off. The same for the number of hours on the road. They have a maximum time allowed per day and between breaks. Much of this is due to driving laws for commercial drivers.

Posted by
3322 posts

Threadwear, many people like to have unscheduled time when they are not on the bus and with the tour group. It would not be fun if you're on a once-in-a-lifetime tour and don't have time to see something that was important to you that is not on the tour. My husband hates bus tours but I've found one from another company to Australia and New Zealand that has an entire day free in every city and I think he'll be ok with that one.

Posted by
5011 posts

A belated "Thank you!" to Christine for posting this - I hadn't seen it until now. This is a terrific, fair review of a tour, and I think it confirms for me that a tour might not be for me, either, since I've never taken one.

Posted by
529 posts

My point was a person pays quite handsomely for a guided tour. For example, in the mentioned VFR tour advertised for 10 days at approximately $3,200, there are 6 free afternoons, plus day one starts at 3:00pm and the last day ends at breakfast. So for 5 out of 10 days, you are on your own, expenses and all. This is time you pay for, but you are on your own. Doesn't seem like a good deal to me. That was my point. Why pay so much for free time?

The free afternoon in Florence on the VFR tour worked out great for us. We wanted to visit the Bargello Museum which is not included in the tour's events. We arrived during a period of museum worker strikes which caused plenty of disruption for our plans. The well-connected tour guide was very busy during that "free day" keeping track of the constantly changing strike plans. He was able to get us in line at the right time for a very late opening and limited hours. We would never have been able to obtain the striker's very secretive information and spontaneous actions in that manner. It was very definitely worth our money. I'm sure he kept his ear to the ground and provided the same type of help to the other tour mates. It's definitely time we paid for but we certainly were not on our own.

Posted by
2524 posts

Doesn't seem like a good deal to me. That was my point. Why pay so
much for free time?

Out of curiosity, I've broken down costs before in the past. I posted about it a couple of years ago but can't track it down. I think touring on our own came to about $200 per day/per person, cruise about $250 and our Rick Steves tour was around $550. But it was about value, not cost per hour or overall cost. And a tour can add value, and it's up to each individual to determine how much that value is worth. For us the value was worth it for that particular trip.

Posted by
11732 posts

After spending a few years in the tour business, I found there were certain groups or types of people who preferred tours over independent travel:

1) There were those who were on my tours who had no idea where the tour was going outside the main cities. These were usually called........husbands. Their wives wanted to go somewhere and they were dragged along. Sometimes willingly, sometimes not.

2) People who wanted to travel and see specific areas but preferred leaving all the planning to someone else. They may not enjoy planning or feel comfortable doing all the planning or they just don't have the time. With a tour, almost everything is taken care of. Some companies will even arrange your flights. All you have to do get to the airport. They all like having someone around to tell them not only what they are seeing but to take care of any issues that might arise.

3) Those who are going somewhere out of their comfort zone. The language and especially the alphabet will be different, the customs are completely different, safety may be an issue, etc. These might be more exotic for some.

Tour costs vary depending on the quality of the tour and what is included. Costs like hotels, restaurants, coach and driver, tour director, insurance, and office staff are standard. Some tour companies say "no tipping" but in reality the people who would be tipped are being paid more. It's included in the fee for the tour. Other tour companies fly in their guides to one place every year or produce tv documentaries or send their office staff to help on tours. Those costs are also put into what you pay for the tour.

Prices can also be misleading as they want to offer the lowest price possible. I worked for one company that ran both deluxe tours and budget tours. The itineraries were basically the same. Some of the hotels were different. Many of the visits included on the deluxe tour were optional on the budget tour. However, if you decided to take most of the optionals, it would actually be cheaper to take the deluxe tour. But that initial "budget" price is what hooked people.

Posted by
389 posts

Those who are going somewhere out of their comfort zone. The language
and especially the alphabet will be different, the customs are
completely different, safety may be an issue, etc. These might be more
exotic for some

I'm one who chimed in that I don't like group tours (never actually having done one, but I just know it's not my style.) But I'd probably make an exception here just for the reasons you say.

Greece and Turkey would be considered "exotic" to me and I wouldn't attempt them on my own for a first visit (my Ancestry DNA results showed that I'm 20% Aegean Islands ancestry, so I'm kind of interested in that area.) Even so, I'd probably look into hiring a private guide if possible!

Posted by
11732 posts

Lisalu910........while I can't comment on Turkey, Greece is actually fairly easy to manage. Just about everyone I met, ,and especially those working in any area of hospitality, spoke excellent English. Greece thrives on tourism and the international language of tourism these days is English.

If you're truly not interested in a multi-day trip, you can either book one day tours or a private guide.

Posted by
377 posts

As a former 'husband' i resent your remarks about them. But, there does seem to more married women who have to travel with their friends, sister, cousin, mother, etc. than married men whose wive want to stay home. So, no hard feelings. ;-)

Whether it's travel on my own or on an organized tour I have always found that women seem more adventurous than my male friends. The only exception is when walking about at night in an area that is not well populated with fellow travelers and locals. Rightly or wrongly, the ladies seem to feel safer with a man besides them. Once several 20-somethings on a tour asked me to join them at a bar and pretend I was 'Daddy' in order to keep away some of the rather forward local men. Thankfully, I have never had to fight to defend the honor of any of my fellow female travelers. :-O