Friday, 15 July 2011

To tour or not to tour

As many of you will be aware, and if you have been reading my blogs you certainly will be, that we did an organised tour of Europe rather than going it alone. This was not an easy decision to make by any means, so I thought I would pen a blog on organised tours. Are they a good thing or a bad thing?

First timers
If your a first time traveller to a foreign country then an organised tour would definitely be the way to go, especially if it is to non english speaking countries. A tour takes the stress out of travel and is a great way to see a lot of things in a short amount of time. Often when you are first going to a new place such as Europe you will only have a vague idea of what you want to see and do, the Eiffel tower in paris, the Colosseum in Rome. A lot of tours will only spend a couple of days in each city so you don't get a lot of time to explore but it gives you a taste of things, and will give you a better idea of what you would like to come back to see next time. Our tour director said at the beginning of the tour, write down the places that you booked the tour to see, often at the end of the tour you will find that those places were not the ones you enjoyed the most.

Free time
A particular grumble with organised tours a lot of people have, and are why a lot of people are so anti tours, is because of the lack of free time to explore. Like I mentioned before, most tours will only spend a couple of days at most in each city, and a lot of that time could be taken up by doing walking tours or optional activities. The key thing to remember with tours is that nothing is compulsory, you don't actually have to do the included tours. This still does not often give you a lot of time to explore, but a full day in most cities is enough to get a feel for it. There will certainly be times though that you wish you had more time and you feel like you are being herded like cattle from one tourist attraction to another and not given enough time to soak up the atmosphere of the area. Alternatively there will be times when you are glad you are leaving the next day.
Its comes down to choice though, do you want to see more places and do less, or see less places and do more?

Tour mates
There are many many tour companies out there and they cover just about every age and price range available. There are the younger booze cruises of Top Deck and Contiki, or the older wealthier retired persons jaunt of Trafalgar or Insight. Who you pick will depend on you budget and you personal choice of bus mates. Your tour mates can either be fantastic people who you get on well with or a bunch of whining old biddies or drunken teenage louts. What ever tour you choose to do, this will always be a risk you will have to take. The other risk you are taking is the length of the tour. If your stuck with horrid people for a month you might want to throw yourself out of the bus, on the other hand, the people can make your trip that much more enjoyable. A two week tour you are just starting to get to know the people you travel with, after a month and they are the people that you sing Tom Jones with on the bus back from dinner and free wine.
Being on a tour is certainly a less lonely experience than traveling by yourself or as a couple but it is always a gamble as to who you will be with.

The cost of doing a tour can seem excessive, but it really depends on who you choose.
For example a 4 week tour of Europe will cost you the following:
Cosmos: $4800
Globus: $6900
Contiki: $5300
Topdeck: $6750
Trafalgar: $7800
The cost will of course depend on the type of accommodation that the tour uses, the cheaper tours will tend to use 3-4 star accommodation outside the city centre, the more expensive will use 5 star accommodation in the city centre. When you look at the per day cost of a tour versus doing it yourself, you really cant compare. You will get decent accommodation for a lot less than if you did it yourself because these companies all have contracts with hotels they use regularly.

Experienced tour directors are a major advantage of organised tours, especially if your a first time traveller. They tell you what to look out for, how to ask for the toilets in the local language and explain how local customs work. Would you know if someone came up to you with a map and asked if you speak English that they are most likely to be a pickpocket? What about buying a handbag off a guy with a rug on the ground could get you arrested for buying fraudulent goods? If someone offers you a rose on the Spanish steps, say no, even if they say its free because they will soon be chasing you down the road for money.

At the end of the day to tour or not tour is still a hard question, personally, if its your first time travelling and you have a limited time and want to see a lot, you really cant go past organised tours. However if you have traveled before (and I'm not talking to Australia) , and know what you want to do, then tours probably aren't the best thing for you. However there are still some countries in the world such as Egypt where going with a tour group is still a good idea.

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