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My Preferred Method of Travel....

I’m sorry for the length of this, when I started it I was thinking 1 or 2 paragraphs and the next thing I knew, it was an essay, and now I’ve had to break it up, so part of it is in the comments section.

I’m a relative newbie to a lot of you on this site but doing my best to make up for lost time. Now that the kids are grown, we’ve been to Europe 4 times in the past 5 years and a 5th trip planned and booked for next June (Scotland).
I’ve read some passionate opinions on this site about what some posters will call the proper way to travel, travelers vs. tourists, mass tourism and cruisers are evil. My wife and I have cruised twice; once out of Rome that included a weeklong stay in Rome at the end of the trip and the 2nd cruise was from Venice and included 5 days in Venice prior to the cruise. We’ve traveled on our own, spending a week in London and then driving from Bath and through the Cotswolds, and then in June we did the RS Loire Valley to the South of France which included a few days on our own at the beginning and end of the tour. Next June will be on our own again with a week in Edinburgh and then another week driving around the Highlands and making bucket list stops on the isle of Mull as well as an overnight stay at a haunted castle. I wanted to share my adventures and opinions of various travel methods.

Our first European adventure was a cruise out of Rome on a 5000-passenger megaship, and we loved it. The purpose of choosing the cruise was familiarity with that style of traveling combined with a bit of nervousness of going somewhere unfamiliar. For us at the time, it was the right choice. For those of you who complain about mass tourism, honestly, I was oblivious until we got back to Rome for our weeklong stay. We tended to be the first off the ship and wandered on our own, and since we are such planners, we tended to be ahead of the crowd or at spots that other cruisers didn’t visit.
What we liked about the cruise; unpacking once, multiple destinations, paying upfront for almost everything, and the food and entertainment in the evening. On our post cruise stay in Rome though, I did learn a couple things that at the time, I didn’t know I was missing, which was seeing places in the evening and interacting with locals. We stayed in Trastevere and every night we were out with the rest of the neighbourhood in the piazzas just taking in life.
The 1st trip was a success and so we did a 2nd cruise which started with 5 days in Venice before setting sail, and it confirmed that we really enjoyed spending our evenings and early mornings at a location; the changing light adds a new dimension to the scenery. We also threw in a day trip by train to Verona, which I doubt we’d do on a cruise for fear of not getting back in time. We still thoroughly enjoyed the cruise even though we had started to spread our wings a bit further.

3rd adventure was England. We rented an apartment in London, arranged some tours, figured out the Tube, and generally spent about 12 hours a day outside of our apartment. We made a day trip to Brightling Sea to visit family we’ve never met and who were as curious about us as we were about them. Then off to Bath by train for 2 nights and then renting a car and driving through the Cotswolds. While the first day driving was a bit stressful, I got used to it and the freedom to travel when and where we wanted was my favourite thing about doing things on our own. The advantage was the freedom of the trip and the adventure, the disadvantage to some would be all the planning on your own, driving on the other side of the road and getting lost occasionally.

Continued in the comments section...

Posted by
2174 posts

In June we did the RS tour in France ad I can’t stop raving about that trip either-I have posted a 5 part trip report on the Rick Steves Tours tab. The main criticisms I hear about group tours is losing the freedom to take your time when you find something you like. Yes, my time was more limited than I would have liked in some places, but we also had so much free time to explore on our own that I wouldn’t call it a deal breaker. Plus, we visited some places that I probably would have never visited on my own, the one that stands out the most is Oradour-Sur-Glane. Unlike a cruise, we had to repack every 2 or 3 days, but we became pretty good at it that it wasn’t as big an issue as we thought. By the way, before we’d ever been to Europe my wife was a bit of a Princess and insisted on multiple pairs of shoes, lots of makeup supplies, etc which always resulted in overpacking. But by this trip she had become an RS convert to packing and is proud of it. Still a Princess but a more reasonable one 😊.

Do I have a preferred travel method? No. It depends on where we’re going, what we want to do and what we want to see. Cruising; unpack once, put your wallet away, multi destinations, lowest price of the 3. Downside for us, not enough time in each destination and no evenings in port on the trips we were on. On our own; advantage is seeing what you want, how you want and for as long as you want. Disadvantage, planning is all up to you, everything is an out of wallet expense, day trips or renting a car may be intimidating if not used to it. Group Tours; I can’t compare all tour companies but on an RS tour there is a good mix of scheduled sites and on your own time, see places I probably wouldn’t see on my own, and outstanding cultural experiences I wouldn’t get on my own. Disadvantages, it’s the priciest-especially as a Canadian, once you convert an RS tour from $American to $Canadian (x 1.35 at the moment) it can get really pricey (but worth it), limited time in some spots.
I apologize again for the length, but I just started writing and my love for travel came pouring out of me. At this point, I don’t have a preferred method of travel and I doubt I ever will. Every trip we’ll continue to review all options to figure out what method works best for us.

Posted by
21644 posts

Glad you are flexible. For us that is a key feature on any trip ---- Go with the flow. I have never heard or read about a "proper" way to travel. Everyone ultimately has their own travel style that works best for them.

Posted by
2065 posts

Totally agree with you on all fronts! We have also done all three methods of travel and are, in fact, on our first RS tour in Greece. I would dispute however, that some of us love trip planning and don’t see it as a negative.
We also will continue to do all three methods of travel based on our needs and wants at the time.

Posted by
684 posts

Thanks Allan for the post. It did a great job of comparing and contrasting the options and gave me something to think about when planning my next trip.

Sandy

Posted by
6835 posts

I did a guided trip to Europe--back in 1970.
We used to fly into major European cities, rent a car and hit as many major cities as our time would allow. And our trips were often somewhat of a big blur. But we saw a lot.
Now we try to travel in a straight line, to cities that compliment each other--and spending 4 days minimum in any one place. We're trying to stay in apartments that have laundry facilities so we can travel with lighter bags. We also prefer to do some cooking.
Sometimes we'll drive rental cars on our trips. And we're good on trains up until 4 hours. Otherwise we fly inexpensive European airlines from city to city.
My wife's hobby is finding cheap travel. And often cruises are the most thrifty way to see a region--especially like the Scandinavian countries where the cost of living's out of sight.
After all, mixing up different modes of travel keeps things interesting.

Posted by
4936 posts

Thanks for your thoughtful post, Allan. We're going to enjoy having you on the Forum.

Posted by
7416 posts

I echo what Jane and all the others have said. Thank you for this thoughtful, interesting post, Allan. I am so glad you and your wife are enjoying your travels!

Posted by
1512 posts

Allan, I love your thoughtful and inviting posts. Keep them coming! There is so much to learn from everyone in the forum about so many things. Thanks!
Kathy

Posted by
519 posts

Great comparisons, Allan. I’ve never taken a cruise, mainly because for me, to get the true culture of a place, I want to wake up and go to sleep there. I’ve done a few guided tours and many solo tours. I enjoy coming and going on my own time, but I have to admit it is nice to have everything planned out and not to have to really think about anything! One of the greatest joys of travel for me is visiting local markets and grocery stores and cooking, which means I often choose to travel independently so I can rent an apartment, rather than going on a group tour. I’m hoping to travel to Greece on my next trip and I will definitely take a group tour, as I think I will get the best experience and it will be much less complicated than doing it on my own. I may even do a short cruise, just to be able to see different islands.

Posted by
2654 posts

I always plan all our trips, that’s part of the fun. I know a lot of people enjoy going on tours. For what I would have to pay for a two week tour with RS plus air fare, I could go to the UK six weeks. Hope you have wonderful time in Scotland.

Posted by
339 posts

We have only done RS tours, 6 of them now. At first we were nervous to do Europe on our own so his tours were (and still are due to the experiences we get to have) perfect. We still do the tours but now book pre- and post- days to stay a minimum of 3 weeks in Europe as it’s too long of a way to go (and costly) to scurry home afterwards. We love getting the flavor of a town with early morning and evening walkabouts. I doubt we’ll ever take a cruise because of this reason. One of these days we’ll plan and take a trip on our own but for now, the RSteves tours are just right for us. Do I wish they were less expensive? Heck yes! but we feel we get great value from them.

Posted by
275 posts

Great insight, and yes we have also experienced each of these travel methods and came to the same conclusions. There is no right or wrong way to approach travel. As long as it suits your needs at the time and that you enjoy yourself as you experience the world we live in.

Posted by
4726 posts

Thanks for your enthusiastic and refreshing post. There is room for everyone and their preferred travel styles on this forum. There are pros and cons for each. I think it so important to be out there traveling, no matter how you do it, than sitting at home wishing you were doing it.

Posted by
26 posts

Fully agree with your assessment for each type, and they all can be utilized in some way. It's the flexibility to be able to adapt to all the types that can make each travel experience worthwhile.

My Baltic Sea cruise allowed me to see a lot of different places without transportation headaches. And so little time packing/unpacking was nice.

I am generally a DIY planner, I know what I want to see and I think I'm pretty good about connecting the dots ... so long as it's not deep into the developing world or where my language skills would be lacking.

And I've also taken a group trip to Machu Picchu, and it was more than worth it to save me the headache of what could've been a planning nightmare.

But the types can also be person-specific. My mom is a cruiser and loves it. For her, that is the "proper" way to travel. I may have been a travel agent in a previous life. It seems like my fiancee's family has taken every Costco Travel or AAA Travel tour I can think of, but they have the finances that allow for this. And my dad's idea of travel is that anything beyond 20 miles from home probably isn't worth his time or effort.

Posted by
2174 posts

An update on this post. My wife jokingly (I think??) suggested that one of the unintended benefits of a group tour was that she was able to take a vacation from her vacation with me. She's a social butterfly and loved the companionship and friendship of a group. I'm more of an introvert and am perfectly happy with my own company. It benefited both of us as I didn't have to feel guilty if I wanted to continue exploring while she sat and visited with her new friends. Win win.

Posted by
7416 posts

Allan, that is a really interesting point and I can totally see it. I am the introvert in my family and it’s true, sometimes I need a break when others are happy to continue doing something together.

Posted by
96 posts

I enjoyed the post and all the replies. I love diy travel, although I also enjoyed 2 cruises that I have taken. I lived overseas for over a year, which was quite an experience too. Next year we are taking our first RS tour with 5 people, so the whole trip is not up to me to plan for everyone. I have enjoyed all methods, although my least favorite, not-to-be-repeated was an all-inclusive trip to Los Cabos. What I have learned in my many years of travel is I love slow travel, staying in airbnbs at least several days in each place. Loved staying in Siena, Italy for 3 weeks in one apartment. I am saving more cruises for later, when I will be looking for a way to travel that is less physically demanding.

Posted by
24 posts

Allen, I love your trave enthusiasm, and it looks like I am not the only one. Thank you for sharing!

Posted by
897 posts

Good post. We all have our opinions about the “best” way to travel but in reality it boils down to each person‘s personal travel style and making it work for them. We have done a mix of cruising an independent European travels and like and dislike things about both of them. I think as long as you go into your trip having researched it well and knowing what the pros and cons of what you’re doing, then you are going to have a better time than people who have random expectations not based on research who are then “disappointed“ when the reality doesn’t match their expectations.

There is a definite bias on these boards toward independent travel, but that is to be expected because that is Rick Steves’ philosophy. But even he enjoyed a cruise every now and then. ;)

Posted by
2174 posts

There is a definite bias on these boards toward independent travel,
but that is to be expected because that is Rick Steves’ philosophy.

I agree that there is a bias leaning that way on this Forum but I do find it surprising that people talk about that being Rick's way even though he's selling tours to 30,000 people/year. To me his philosophy is being misinterpreted. I interpret it as being more broad based and to just travel, any how any way.

Posted by
6500 posts

Rick did a whole special program on cruising the mediterranean cruising and a guidebook on cruise ports, so apparently its OK with him.

Posted by
2174 posts

I have wondered why he doesn't have a cruise tab on this forum. As well as the books and the TV shows he has stated in a couple of his blogs that he enjoyed cruising. So he's not keeping it a secret.

Posted by
21644 posts

...... definite bias on these boards toward independent travel....... I think a lot depends on your definition of independent travel. We are very supportive of Rick's approach and have followed it fairly close over the past 20+ years but that has not prevented us from taking 12 ocean cruises around Europe and two river cruises. We are very supportive of his idea of taking a vacation from your vacation and cruises often serve that purpose for our travel. When the boys were sub-teens and teens a cruise solved a lot of problems and it was a cheap way to see a lot of Europe conveniently. We are just back from nearly a month trek between Amsterdam and Budapest that included a river cruise. And travel pattern is slowly changing as we now prefer to stay longer in fewer places. Our energy level today is not same as it was in '72.

Posted by
747 posts

Our typical method of travel is to pick a destination city and use that as a base with a few day trips. Last trip was different in France. We stayed in Tours for 3 days, then Lyon for 5 days and then Aix for 4 days. We did two trips out of Tours seeing chateaux, and two trips out of Aix seeing Nimes and Avignon. I have mixed feelings on how enjoyable this form of travel was. There was a lot of travel time. And there was a great deal of sorting out each new location, packing and unpacking and figuring out travel logistics. It seemed like we had to leave a place, just as we were getting to understand that place. We experienced a great deal, in these three very different locations. But I felt trapped and restricted by our own itinerary. Next trip we will be returning back to our old method of one destination city with a few day trips.

Posted by
68 posts

Everyone has their preferences and things they thing are the "correct" way to travel. I have mine and they might not be the same as yours! That's okay, they're just preferences. One I've noticed for me and my husband - we like to rent a car. I like the freedom it gives. you aren't bound by schedules and there's no waiting in train stations, etc. I have heard the passionate advocates for public transport in Europe. I get it - but it's not for me. I like the freedom to stop the car and take a picture or go to some little town we had no plans to see and had never even heard of. It's okay to have differences of opinions on these things. Cruises are not for me. But I'm glad for those who love them!

Posted by
111 posts

Enjoyed your post. The most interesting to me was the way you and your wife managed the group tours. My husband is the extrovert, and I know he would like the group setting. I on the other hand have always felt overwhelmed by the thought of it. I still might not be ready to jump right in, but it was interesting that you used the "free" time to explore alone. So maybe at some point!

Posted by
4936 posts

Ricki, we felt the same way. But we too found there is plenty of time to spend by ourselves, together or separately. We were surprised by how much we enjoyed that first RS tour in 2009; we just signed up for our 15th!

Posted by
2004 posts

What an excellent and very welcome post, Allan. Your points are well thought out and concisely presented. I think some people on this forum (i.e., me re cruising) might get a different perspective on each one of your three methods of travel. As you have pointed out, there really isn't a right or correct way to travel, but a preferred one. Thank you for taking time to post this well-written report!

Posted by
2174 posts

My husband is the extrovert, and I know he would like the group
setting. I on the other hand have always felt overwhelmed by the
thought of it.

Rikki; my wife and I have always been perfectly happy when our chosen method of travel has been to do it ourselves, but even though we've been married for 30 years I don't think I'd realized until this trip how much she enjoys having the company of others around as well and because of that I'll have to factor that into the consideration for future plans. As an introvert, the only part of the tour that really bothered me was during the group dinners which, in my mind, seem to go on forever, even though I know in reality they didn't. The rest of the trip; including bus time, there was plenty of opportunity to have my 'alone time'.