Near 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?
3 Responses to “Europe – Packaged Tour Groups Pros/Cons”
Leave a Reply