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"The Experiment" trip report. Normandy and coming to a close.

We are staying for our second night in Bayeaux at a lovely hotel, Hotel d'Argouges. It has a convenient location in the heart of the city but you feel like you are in the country with its lovely courtyard and gardens. I would recommend this hotel to anyone.

I have often read people on the forum ask where the tour has stayed thinking it must be really good if the tour stays there. I have learned that you need to remember that tour hotels usually have a central location, but also they are chosen for their ability/willingness to block off 17 rooms for a group to stay. Sometimes it is a lovely hotel such as this one. Sometimes it might not be the place you want to stay as a solo traveler. You might have a few more options.

The D day tour today was excellent and quite moving. It was carefully planned and the details well orchestrated. For example, our guide had taken sandwhich orders a few days ago. When we arrived at the Utah Beach Museum, it was ready and waiting for us in a private area. This left us with the maximum time possible to explore the museum. The local guide could not have been better. We saw several sites and ended at the American Cemetary in time for the flag lowering ceremony and taps.

I was reminded once again of the amazing sacrifices many Americans have made over the years for our country. If you are active duty military or a vet, thank you. Those words really don't seem adequate to express the full level of regard and appreciation I wish I could express to you, yet they are the words I have. Thank you.

Tomorrow night we return to Paris and have our final dinner. The end is coming much faster than I expected, yet each day has been full. The guide has found out the times of our departing flights and is helping to coordinate sharing of transport out to the airport.

There was a slightly awkward moment on the bus today when one couple passed around an envelope "on the sly" asking the other members for a suggested donation to buy the guide and driver gifts. I mentioned that their tips were included in the tour costs. The reply I received was that this was for a gift and not a tip.....

Now, I could never say enough positive things about our guide and our driver. They have been excellent professionals that are also very personable. I've seen significant effort and genuine concern for the well being of every tour member. However, I wasn't planning on buying them gifts. I didn't buy souvenirs or other gifts either. I passed the envelope on to someone else, but I felt uncomfortable being put on the spot.

The experiment is almost done. I've learned a great deal about what it is like to be on a Rick Steves tour. I've learned a little bit more about some of the unique features of group travel. Best of all, I've have a great vacation in France that I really enjoyed. I've added another way to travel to my options and know that traveling with a group can be positive. Taking a step of courage and signing up for a tour has been a good experience.

Posted by
2525 posts

Very modest donations to buy token gifts to acknowledge superior services do not equate to tipping guides and drivers per my experiences on Rick’s tours. Follow your conscience.

Posted by
8674 posts

The passing of an envelope would have made me extremely uncomfortable and I would have responded as you did. Any gift or tip is between me and the guide or driver and would be done privately. I suspect the guide will feel uncomfortable with any gift of value.

Now...having said that...on the Best of England tour several years ago about half of the tour members turned out to be retired educators. At one point after some silliness ( I think the guide threatened us with a pop quiz), the group started singing The wheels on the bus go round and round. The guide had never heard it and much joking was done about banning singing, etc. Later in the trip one of the gals found a children's book of "The wheels on the bus go round and round* and purchased it. She did not ask for donations (I think it was about 10£) but invited all to sign their names in the book and write something. THAT was perfect. I think everyone tried to give her a pound or 2 but she wouldn't take it.

I hope you had Dale Booth for the DDay tour as I had on this tour several years ago. I've had another guide (with another tour company) and they were not nearly as good as Dale. He is awesome and really brought things to life for me even though I ~thought~ I knew a lot about WWII. Do try to watch The Longest Day when you get back home, having a tour makes all the difference in the world!

I'm so happy you've had a great vacation in France and that this has been a good experience for you!

Posted by
556 posts

Hi Carol,

Glad to see your tour went fairly well overall. :) It sounds like you were happy enough overall to do another tour in the future, perhaps?

Regarding the envelope, on every tour I've been on, I have been asked for a contribution towards a guide/driver gift, but it has been no more than 1 -2 Euro total/person, with the idea of giving just a LITTLE something for them (a box of candy for one; a bottle of wine for another; etc.). However, it has always been completely voluntary and you shouldn't feel bad about not contributing, especially as no one had prepared you for this ahead of time. We tour veterans will have to remember to mention this on the forum whenever tour newbies/people ask about tips for going on a RS tour, just as a heads up. No worries!! :)

:) Gretchen

Posted by
941 posts

Sounds like an excellent tour and that overall you had fun. Good!

On our tour no one passed the envelope. Our guide did buy a bottle of wine out of his own pocket as a thank you for the bus driver. We didn't buy any kind of token for our guide.

Posted by
1958 posts

Lovely trip report, Carol. I appreciated all the effort you put into making it so readable and enjoyable, as well as educational regarding the Rick Steves tour experience you had personally. As to the passed envelope, I have only seen that done on a couple of tours and I did contribute a € or two each time. It was made clear this was strictly voluntary and the "gifts" purchased were: a lovely, thoughtful card we all signed to go along with a pretty scarf our guide had admired and the other time a book that we knew was special to our guide, also signed by the tour members. The majority of my tours have not done anything extra. Most of the time, it was the other way around-the guide providing us with a special trip remembrance. Once a keychain, once a small packet of spice from Spain, another time some loose tea in a hand crocheted bag. I am glad you enjoyed your trip so much. On behalf of my dad and my husband who were both career Air Force officers, I thank you for your sentiments.

Posted by
401 posts

You're lucky you had a good guide for Normandy. We took the tour you were on a several years ago -- a few years before we moved to France -- and the guide for Normandy was terrible. His narrative was superficial, full of clichés and platitudes, and was almost insulting to anyone who had done their homework about the history of the time. I don't recall his name. He was a younger (early- to mid-40s British fellow). I assume he's been dropped since then, or at least I hope so.

I've only been on two Rick Steves tours, and neither involved passing an envelope. How odd. That seems directly opposed to the stated "no tipping" policy. I'm surprised to read that happened.

You've written a very good summary of your impressions over these few postings. Thank you for putting in the time and effort.

Posted by
3002 posts

As your tour comes to a close we applaud you for your courage and honesty for sharing your feelings. It's reports like yours that encourages others to live outside their comfort zone. Every adventure is unique and a learning experience. Glad you enjoyed France!

Posted by
2158 posts

I've been enjoying your reports enormously, Carol. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your candid and honest feedback. You are a wonderful writer. It will be very helpful if I ever decide to do a Rick Steves tour, either by myself or with my husband. I'm glad you had a good trip overall, and I wish you many more years of happy traveling.

Posted by
1022 posts

Just popping in to say I will miss you travelogue. As a singleton who's not keen on tours, it was a great way to see inside a tour. Thanks and glad you enjoyed yourself.

Posted by
4743 posts

Thanks, Carol, for your observations. As you see, we are enjoying your trip reports very much.

I've been on two or three RS tours where a collection was taken up for a gift for the guide; usually the suggested donation was one or 2 €. Once we bought a scarf, another time a journal. On two trips, money was collect to give directly to the guide, and we declined both times. Usually someone in the group buys a card for the driver, and one for the guide; everyone signs and maybe adds a personal note. That's enough. Several people on our last tour came to me to ask about tipping, and I reiterated the RS no-tipping policy. Some people collected cash anyway.

Posted by
2778 posts

I, too, would not have felt comfortable with being requested to donate to the 'envelope' and would have declined. On my Greece tour, no such request was made so I didn't have deal with this.

Posted by
2525 posts

For a round of drinks with my friends, I spend more on the tip than the fully optional amount to purchase a very modest token gift of appreciation if superior efforts evident for a tour which is costing how much? [above edited]

Posted by
3940 posts

Carol, I have enjoyed reading your updates each evening on your RS “experiment” trip! I appreciate your candor to share the positives & negatives from your perspective. I’m trying my own experiment this year, only as the reverse situation. My husband and I have always traveled together to Europe on vacations. This year he wanted to wait until the following year, so I’m seizing the opportunity to travel to Italy and go see what specifically interests me. Maybe I’ll share some thoughts from the perspective of solo vs. traveling with others - the positives, the humorous incidents, and what I learned through the process.

Hope you’ll continue to share on the forum!

Posted by
4569 posts

I have been on a number of RS tours where the group has gotten together and bought a token gift for the guide. It has always been been something modest like a bottle of wine, a scarf, something that the group knew the guide enjoyed, etc. The suggested contribution has usually 1 or 2 EUR.

Posted by
11275 posts

Thanks for all the time and effort you've put into these reports - much appreciated!

Posted by
703 posts

I enjoyed your trip report as hubby and I have narrowed down our next tour berween this one and another.

We have taken 4 RS tours and never once has an envelope been passed around. I believe it is up to the individual to decide whether or not a small token gift should be extended to driver or guide, and I wholeheartedly agree that should be done in private.
Now twice our guides have passed a card around for all to sign for our driver and I believe THEY may have included a cash gift for him/her but WE were never asked to contribute. Half of our guides have given us, as tour members, a small token gift.

Posted by
117 posts

I will add my thanks for your thoughtful trip report, Carol. Not only is your writing interesting, but insightful as well. I have appreciated your honesty about your experiences throughout your journey. My husband and I travel together and we’ve been on 2 RS tours, Best of London and Best of Paris. Next spring we will be going on the 14 day Ireland tour with RS. On our previous tours there were a few people traveling solo and we always appreciated visiting with them. As to the dining alone issue, your comments have made us more aware and we will try to be more attune to fellow travelers who might want to join us for dinner. In fact, my husband said, “I would love to dine with others, part of the fun of group travel is meeting others”. Reading trip reports add to my planning excitement of future travel and I thank you for taking the time to share on the forum. I wish you wonderful, safe travels ahead!

Posted by
393 posts

Carol, thanks for sharing your experiences in such a thoughtful and engaging way. It has provided us much food for thought as a traveling couple. We primarily do independent travel, but on a RS tour finding dinner mates can be daunting. Even as a couple, we never know how assertive to be about asking others to join us, or asking if we can join others. The composition of the tour (especially family groups) has a big impact on this as well.
It has been interesting to read the comments regarding "gifts". One key reason we use RS for tours instead of other tour companies is because of the No Tipping policy. We think that paying your people well is a better business model, so they don't have to rely on tips. I think a small personal note is more meaningful for a tour leader gift. They don't need a souvenir from the places you visited as they are there several times a year. Buying or bringing them things they have to add to their "light" packing is not helpful. I sure wouldn't want to add 20-28 extra "goodies" into my bag at the end of a trip. I am not trying to hijack your post, but here is a recap of what happened regarding gifts on our 6 RS tours:
1. Tour leader used a large scarf to "herd us". One tour member found a lovely scarf and card. Only the card was passed. She didn't expect/ refused reimbursement. Tour leader gave each of us a lovely journal to write down notes to each other, share small memories etc
2. Just a card for the tour leader. Tour leader gave each of us a small bag of paprika and a copy of the group photo.
3. Just a card for the tour leader. Tour leader gave each of us a card with a personal message and a copy of the group photo.
4. Card for the tour leader. Tour leader gave us nothing.
5. Card for the tour leader. Every single day the tour leader gave us some special treat: drink break, local candies and cookies, hosted happy hour. At the end of the tour the leader gave each of us a small personalized note and delivered each with a meaningful hug and personal wishes. After the tour the leader emailed each of us copies of several group photos she had taken,
6. Card for the tour leader. Passed around at final dinner. Lady sitting next to me said she didn't even sign it because the tour had been so bad for her. Tour leader gave us nothing. No group photo was taken.

Posted by
439 posts

On our Madrid/Barcelona trip, one of the other members suggested "we" write a song for the guide. She and one other member did most of the writing, had it printed. Volunteers sang the a verse of the song and a bunch of us sang the chorus. One of the other members wrote his on song and he sang that. It was a fun night and I think the tour guide really appreciated it far more than if we purchased something for him. Unless you really know the person, the token gift usually winds up as clutter, unless it is food. I think I would have just passed the envelope (and wouldn't sign the card or participate in the gift) if that ever happened on a tour.

Posted by
2509 posts

We’ve been on 7 RS tours. A collection was strarted on one or two for a small token for the guide and we threw in our 1-2 Euro’s. But I would not initiate this and I would not blame anyone who did not want to contribute. As for dinning with group members- we did this twice and may not again. Once in Greece we dined with 10-12 group members. When the check came it turned into one of those scenes: “I had the half salad and you ordered extra anchovies, I didn’t have more than a glass of wine I’m not paying that much for the bottle, etc”. Then, in France we asked a couple to dinner as he had recently retired and I was thinking of doing the same. Well, he invites 10 other people and we never got to ask them what we wanted to. My wife and daughter took the BOE tour and invited a solo woman to dinner. She had multiple food allergies/aversions and had not prepared how to communicate that in any way. Her way of telling the confused server was to just speak slower and louder each time.

Posted by
524 posts

Thank you for the well writing tour report. I found it to be very informative. I have been asked about tipping the guide, in fact on the last one taken. I replied that no tipping is required and is specified in the tour information. As for gifts, I have bought cards and passed around for all who wished to sign. I have given the guide a bottle of wine, but in private away from the group. I have even contributed to small gifts. Some guides will use discretionary funds to buy little goodies or pay for wine during a meal. On an Italy tour the guide gave each person a travel packet of tissue to use when the toilet had no TP. Group photos and email listings are tricky, the guides are not supposed to suggest them.

Posted by
937 posts

Laura or other RSE rep or webmaster:
Is that true? Guides are not supposed to take group photos????

Posted by
1996 posts

I'm curious about the itinerary for the D-Day tour. As a Canadian, I'm very interested in visiting Juno Beach and the Canadian Memorial, but since the vast majority of RS travelers appear to be American, I suspect the American involvement is highlighted. Can anyone advise if Juno Beach was included on the tour?