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"The Experiment" trip report, Chateaus and More

I am writing this segment of my trip report gazing out the open window of my hotel room on Mont St. Michel. The sun is rising, casting the landscape into a glorious contrast of shades of silver and gray tinged with orange. The tide is moving in to cover the mudflats. Gulls wheel circles in the sky calling to each other. The air is fresh with scent of saltwater. A peaceful start to a new day.

I think it is here on Mont St Michel that some of the advantages of group travel are clearly shown. Our arrival was timed for late afternoon. I can't begin to describe how many people were trying to navigate down the one small street. We stepped into our hotel lobby, were served refreshing ice cold water, and had a little time to refresh ourselves in our rooms. I then went out for an exploration. I could see the crowds thinning already.

We met on the ramparts where our guide provided cider and then went on to the restaurant for a group dinner exploring the tastes of Normandy. Another evening of good food and good company. The challenge of being able to sit with any of the couples continues. I fully understand why they want to sit with their spouses, but I sometimes feel like I am sent to the children's table. After dinner I walked around the Mont on the mudflats and came back into the hotel. The street that was almost impassable earlier, was empty. It was if we had the entire Mont to ourselves.

These logistics of timing our arrival so carefully, cool water on arrival, the meal arranged and a truly unique lodging experience show some of the hidden value in group travel. I could have arranged a great deal of this myself with careful study and research, but it felt good to be able to rely on the experience of the Rick Steves tour planners to take care of this. I'm pretty sure it might not have flowed quite so seamlessly and with such little anxiety about logistics if I had done it on my own and I am a good planner.

Today we will tour the Abbey and then depart around 11 am as the crowds start building up again.

I enjoyed the portion of the tour in the Loire Valley. It was walking through history almost everywhere I turned. The two chateaus were an interesting contrast and I really enjoyed seeing Clos Luce, Leonardo DaVincI's home in Amboise.

Some thoughts specific to what I am learning about group travel.

  1. Don't forget to "opt out" if an activity doesn't match your interest or activity level. I had been anticipating visiting Clos Luce for quite awhile. Our guide made herself available to the group during the afternoon free time to walk with anyone to Clos Luce. Almost the entire group showed up. She told us in advance that she would be walking slowly and pointing out restaurants and point of interest on the way. I found myself getting frustrated at the pace of the group. I didn't want to hear one more menu read aloud! Then I realized that I was the problem. I was trying to do something with the group (walk) that I wasn't interested in doing. I needed to "opt out" and go to Clos Luce on my own. I did so and had a great time. Lesson learned- remember to opt out as needed.

  2. You don't want to be "that person" that is always lagging behind or showing up just a little bit late. There are just some occasions where the group can't go on without every member present. One of the responsibilities of group travel is to respect the time of other members of the group.

  3. Your cup can be half empty or half full. It is interesting to see how different people can react to the exact same experiences on tour. Choose to be positive!

Posted by
5258 posts

Carol,

Thanks for sharing your tour “experiment” with us. It sounds like you’re enjoying the tour, for the most part.

I have a couple of questions for you.

  1. Did you pay for the single supplement, or are you sharing your hotel rooms with another tour member?

  2. Are you happy with the limited number of night stays, or do you wish you could have stayed longer at any of the destinations you’ve visited thus far?

Would you please share what you’d have done differently if you’d taken this trip on your own?

Thanks again for taking the time to write about your experiences!

Enjoy the rest of the tour!

Posted by
8496 posts

Priscilla,
I would like to have spent more time in every place we have been. I think that this is how I feel whenever I travel (with the exception of Loch Lomond last year) whether I am by myself or with this group. Travel is really a balancing act for most people with limited time and resources. You want to spend time and yet you want to see more. Always a dilemma! I always remind myself that I don't have to see everything in one trip. I can come back.

I did pay for the single supplement as did the other single traveler on the trip. I like having a place that is my own. I decided that with the significant investment I had made in the trip, paying the single supplement only made sense. I had chatted with the guide and she said that most people do get the single supplement. However, she said she had two ladies on her last tour who met when they started rooming together and were fast friends by the end of the trip. There have been numerous discussions on this forum whether solo travelers get "smaller" or "worse" rooms. That certainly has not been my experience. My rooms have been comparable to everyone else's.

Posted by
8496 posts

Priscilla, your question about how would I have planned my trip differently if I had done it independently is a challenging question to answer. I will give it a try.
1. Paris. I would have picked a hotel I had stayed in previously and liked. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the hotel the tour was in and now have two "favorites" in Paris. I would not have gone on any organized walking tours. This would have been my loss. I'm going to add these to my experiences going forward.
2. I don't think I would have gone to all of the same places. I travel by public transportation and that can take a little more time and effort. Some of the places we went would have been just a little too much work to get to on my own. I would have spent at least two nights in each location.

3. I would be more likely to eat simple picnics rather French dining experiences. I've enjoyed the group meals, but I am ready for some simpler eating for awhile.

You are right, I am enjoying the tour and am really glad I came. I will still travel indepently (trip to Ireland in August), but now I know that group travel can be a very positive travel option for me going forward.

I like having options and opportunities for all types of travel. If you are wondering if it is an option for you, I think you should consider doing your own "experiment"

Posted by
2485 posts

Carol,
I hear you about eating group meals and the challenge of feeling like a fifth wheel. I travel solo and have no problem of eating in a restaurant on my own but on the tours, it’s different. If I sit at a table first, then I break up the symmetry of the group unless I’m lucky enough that another single joins me. Breakfast is not a problem so much because often one spouse or partner is still getting ready for the day.

Posted by
3290 posts

"Four to a table" does make it awkward for a single who really doesn't want to break up a couple. Couldn't the guide ask the restaurant to set up at least one communal table?

Just curious.

Posted by
6358 posts

My thoughts are the same as trayla's. I don't remember any tour where all the tables were for four. And if they were, there were often three people there - a couple and a single.

It's funny the way people view couples, and the way they view themselves. Several times on our last trip Stan and I did not sit next to each other, and it appeared to make some people uneasy. I'd invite someone to sit by me, and the person would say "Oh, no, you want to sit by Stan." Well, often, yes, but we enjoy getting to know other people on the tours, and mingling at meals or on the bus is a good way.

I concur; ask the guide to shuffle up the seating arrangements a bit. She'll understand, and it will probably improve group dynamics.

Our last tour had a lot of singles, and it was fun getting to know them all.

Posted by
6358 posts

By the way, I'm loving your thoughtful report.

Posted by
8585 posts

After this discussion, I recognize the need to be more open to any of the single travelers on future tours. I have usually assumed they wanted to socialize mostly with the other singles, or felt uncomfortable sitting with couples. Thanks for making this clearer.

. . . my biggest gripe was with the Rick Steves Tour veterans. They formed a sub group, took over the back of the bus and threw themselves into all the activities with such abandon, that they were a little embarrassing . . . .

Thats a great comment and observation. I actually think it illustrates one of the advantages of not having to deal with the logistics: more freedom to enjoy yourself (if you want to).

Posted by
2528 posts

Carol's experiences of being a single, immediately brought back memories of my initial time after joining a service organization. All the other members seemingly had been friends for decades upon decades and asked each other about the running condition of an elderly Datsun or whether training for the upcoming skijoring season was on schedule. Feeling like a dunce in the corner of a room and thinking this is not much fun, I switched up and initiated conversations with all. Asking sincerely about family, profession, sports, etc. often elicited animated responses and further conversations including my interests So, I could sit back and wait for relationships to develop or take positive measures and become part of the group.

Posted by
5258 posts

Hi Carol,

I appreciate your insightful and helpful answers to my questions, thank you so very much! 😊

Which two hotels are your favorites in Paris now?

Have a wonderful tour! 🌼

Posted by
6609 posts

What an eloquent first paragraph! You have a good eye and writing skill, many thanks. Also appreciated the whole discussion as I look forward to my first RS tour this fall, as a single (Italy). I'm learning a lot from everyone.

Posted by
11350 posts

It is upsetting to learn about the “RS tour veteran groupies”. Did they exclude other tour members?

Posted by
559 posts

Loving this! Can't wait for the next installment.

I have taken 6 RS Tours so far; all as a solo. I'm sorry you are having some "trouble" (realizing that's probably too strong a word) finding dinner partners. That can be tricky the first night or so, but I usually manage to find a few people to eat with for the rest of the trip. Hopefully, that will work out for you.

I'm was somewhat surprised by Stan's comment about assuming singles mostly want to interact with other singles. I can attest to the fact, that this is often untrue (of course, for some it is true). As with all of us here on the forum, I am able to travel independently. However, I actually prefer the tours (and bus tours over city ones) because I like meeting new people from all over the world (including tour members from the other side of the country). It doesn't matter to me if you are single or married; I just want to get to know you. :)

Posted by
5634 posts

I fully understand why they want to sit with their spouses, but I sometimes feel like I am sent to the children's table.

I have a friend who always makes sure that she and her husband don’t sit together at group dinners. She says that it gives them more to talk about on the way home as they can bring each other up-to-date on what they talked about with various friends.

Carol, Table size really varies on tours, On the Basque tour, most of the group dinners were at large, long tables. While you don’t feel like odd man out, I find the conversation can be more challenging at a big table. When I took the Eastern France tour, I recall that many of the tables were 4-tops.

Posted by
8496 posts

Suki, it was Kateja that made the comment about a sub group on her tour. I have not experienced anything like that. My fellow tour members have been absolutely wonderful.

Posted by
6358 posts

Kateja, I'm glad you responded. In 12 RS tours, I don't think I've ever noticed the veterans forming a clique and excluding the other tour members. (I have seen some family groups do that, however.)

In fact, in many cases the tour veterans are likely to offer tips and help to the "newbies." That, or they just don't make a big deal of it; we didn't even know that many of our fellow tour mates this last trip had been on RS tours before. (This was the first RS tour I have taken where the guide did not ask, at the orientation meeting, how many folk had taken RS tours before.)

Posted by
14153 posts

Carol, I'm really enjoying your tour! Thanks for taking the time to post. I know it's hard after packed days of sightseeing.

I admire you for recognizing your needs might differ from the group and heading of on your own in free time! That is awesome that you were able to recognize that quickly and adjust.

Posted by
2851 posts

Carol, thank you for sharing your "experiment". I especially like your advise to opt out if you are not interested in an activity and to choose to be positive. I look forward to more of your trip reports.

Posted by
3961 posts

Carol,
Thank you for sharing your amazing "experiment." It brings an interesting dialog and different observations. We are embarking on our 6th tour. Our 4th RS and 2 previous with a similar local company. This is mixed with independent travel.

Our experiences: 1. Table seating- we have experienced table for four as well as communal.

2. Single traveler's- welcomed and included throughout the journey. (We welcome the opportunity to get to know everyone). We have made lifelong friends from our travel's.
3. As a previous contributor mentioned; "Haven't noticed veterans forming a clique & excluding the other tour members." We observed "Newbies" on one tour forming their own "clique." Fortunately there were 20+ others who engaged with the majority. It ended up being one of our favorite tours!

4. One tour we had a solo member opt out of most activities. This independent member experienced most of the tour on her own. The tour guide was completely comfortable with this. Others tried to invite her to join them for dinner, etc. My take: We can't "assume" that the solo is being excluded.

We always learn something new in our travels. Agree, "it is interesting to see how different people can react to the exact same experiences on tour." Our motto, "expect the unexpected, go with the flow, be proactive, and choose to be positive."