Europe – Packaged Tour Groups Pros/Cons

categories: europe travel

veniceNear Venice’s St Mark’s square I once overheard an American tourist complain that everywhere they went in Europe there were crowds. This same tourist was wearing a Globus tour company name tag and had arrived with a group of at least 50 people. I had to laugh. He was the crowd.

Some people choose to tour Europe in the comfort of an air-conditioned tour bus and others would never be caught dead in that situation. So what kind of person are you? What kind of European vacation is right for you?

Let’s look first at why someone would take a packaged tour:

  • Tours are easy – I may not have the time or want to take the time to plan a vacation. Independent travel requires more planning than following a tour guide. If you make hundreds of decisions every day then you may relish the opportunity to let someone else decide where you are going and what you are seeing on your vacation.
  • Tours can be inexpensive – Depending on what kind of tour you do and what sort of hotels you stay at you might find that a tour is a less expensive way to have that vacation (staying at that class of lodging). Tour companies often make their money on the economics of putting a number of people on a bus.
  • Tours can be efficient – If you want to do a 10 country tour of Europe without killing yourself, it might be easier to do that on a tour where someone else is worrying about getting you from Antwerp to Zurich. You can sleep on the bus if need be.
  • Tours provide companions – If you go on a tour you are not alone. Many people crave companionship and you get that on a tour. You might meet your new best friend in the person across the aisle. My mother met a lifelong friend on a Greyhound bus.
  • Tours seem safe – A big, often unspoken reason, why many people see Europe on a tour is out of fear: fear of being robbed, fear of becoming lost, fear of the unknown, or fear of not being able to communicate.

All of those are good reasons to take a bus tour although I am saddened when people chose a tour out of fear. But why would you choose to travel independently?

  • Independent travel is an adventure – Traveling by yourself or in a small group you may discover places you would not discover from a tour bus. When we were in France a number of years ago we followed a road sign to a ruined castle. Four of us had the entire place to ourselves. This is not even the sort of place that makes the guidebooks.
  • Independent travelers can connect to locals – When you are traveling with 50 people in a bus (often from the same country) you have a little bubble of your own culture around you that is more difficult to pierce. On our recent trip to Crete, we met a woman on the ferry who ran a bed and breakfast in Chania. She invited us to join her family on a drive into the mountains and dinner at a restaurant the tourists don’t know about.
  • Independent travelers have flexibility – On our first trip to Europe, we had no hotels booked at all and no itinerary. Sometimes we stayed in places that were a disaster (like over a German beer hall during Pentecost) but other times we stumbled across beautiful little towns like Fritzlar with its half-timbered houses lining a picturesque square.
  • Independent travelers can get away from the crowds – I have stood at St Mark’s square in Venice and been the only person there as the sun rose. Even crowded tourist-filled towns like Rothenberg ob der Tauber in Germany are peaceful at night after the tour buses pull out of the parking lots.
  • Independent travelers can spend less time in gift shops – Tour guides can make much of their income by stopping at particular places to shop. If you are traveling independently, you can spend as much or as little time as you like in the Vatican gift shop. You can skip shopping all together if you like (my choice) or spend the entire day shopping (my wife and daughter’s choice).

So what kind of traveler are you?

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

3 Responses to “Europe – Packaged Tour Groups Pros/Cons”



I choose package tours for a couple of reasons, but mostly efficiency and “most bang for the buck.”

I do not drive therefore I can’t just rent a car and do a self-tour. Nor do I want to spend most of my time worrying about how I’m going to get from point A to point B and what hotel I’m going to find when I get there. On one hand it’s nice to have someone else worry about the coach, the hotels, and the meals, but on the other hand I don’t always like where I end up at the end of the day. Nor do I like it when the coach stops at an obvious tourist trap because the tour company is getting a kick back, but these are some of the things we put up with in order to get the most “vacationing” done within the short time I have for being on vacation.

I would never be able to book myself a room at the Mariott in Glasgow, not at £120 a night, but I stayed there for 2 nights on my package tour. Part of traveling with a tour company is also the buying power of that company…



I’ve taken several packaged tours (bus tours) – the most extensive being a 30-day Europe tour where “If it’s Tuesday It must be Belgium” type. Besides the cost benefits of the tour, I wouldn’t even consider driving myself in a foreign country. How else would I have ended up in San Marino, Vatican City, Rome, Greece, Spain, and a dozen other European countries on my own in 30-days. No way. I’ve also done Germany in 11 days ten years ago and am doing it again this year. With the current dollar being what it is, it would be impossible to do it myself.

I’m also one of those people that if I had to do it myself, I would likely stay securely in my hotel room and see nothing. While the bus tours tend to move quickly and one might ask about the speed and not connecting, it turns out that with a little bit of work you can actually find the local market and get a bit of local exposure. But certainly, not much.

I do rent cars and move around in certain US Cities, recently in NW Missouri. There I had a mission – genealogy – and it wouldn’t have been useful at all to do bus tours, even if they were available. In that case, which I’ve done three times in the past five years, I do indeed enjoy the locals and move around at will. But I prefer the smaller towns (10,000 – 50,000 people) as opposed to the bigger places.



One of the best ways to travel on an organized tour is to find one that meets your specific interests, i.e., gardens or Harry Potter, where you travel with like-minded fans. It’s even better is the group size is small. The most obvious advantages of small group tours are the peace of mind that comes from knowing your tour director is taking care of the myriad last-minute details of touring, and the companionship of a group of fellow travelers. It’s the opportunity to join a group of travelers, with whom each new experience can be shared, and often lasting friendships forged. Most tours had independent time, too, so you can explore on your own, if you like, or find someone int he group to explore with.

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