I’m Beginning to Understand Guided Tours

I love planning future trips to faraway locations. The thrill of discovery as you search for more information – whether you are looking for the authentic local experience, complete with hole-in-the-wall restaurants and hidden local hot spots, or maybe instead you lean toward the best of the best, highlights of the top sights to see in a new city, visiting as many of the historical/cultural icons as possible.

Generally, I like to strike a balance between the two. I don’t want to miss a few of the top tourist attractions (they attract so many people for a reason!). But at the same time, I want to get away from the crowds for a while and find a quiet place to relax, unwind, and enjoy the fact that I’m away on vacation with no pressing responsibilities.

St Kitts 107

Not a soul in sight.

As a result, I like to research the top sights to see, know things like what time they are open or what the entry fee might be. But then I leave things like food and the actual path we take up to chance.

When I went to St. Kitts, I had basically the same approach. I researched the best places to visit in St. Kitts, and made sure I had a plan to visit those. I would either rent a taxi to go around the island, or rent a car and have my friend drive (since they drive on the left side of the road, it would have been terrifying driving myself).

For that trip, I had a few key goals:

I was able to accomplish all those and more, but my schedule was flexible enough to accommodate my friend’s schedule of classes.

I’m trying to achieve this same balance of flexibility and preparation for our mother/daughter trip to Europe. But including so many countries on our itinerary (while great as a teaser-tour-of-Europe), means that a lot of separate prep work is required.

So for now, I’m a little burnt out on the planning. I still have to do all of the planning for our last two days of our trip. I’ve got us landing in Dortmund after the Polish segment of our Journey, but we fly back to the USA out of Dusseldorf. So while the two cities are only an hour’s drive apart, a significant chunk of planning has to be done for lodgings and sights to see for the last two nights of our trip.

Many suggestions from helpful friends and readers have me leaning toward spending that time in Cologne. And while I’m quickly becoming an old pro at airbnb (or at least, a pro at contacting potential hosts), I can’t seem to bring myself to delve into the details and decide on a place to stay.

After so much planning, I can see why it would be helpful to take a guided tour if you are looking for a quick taste of Europe. One of my former coworkers went on a Mediterranean cruise a few years ago and got to see a variety of beautiful places in Greece, Italy, etc. All she had to do was get off at the dock, wander around the area for a day, and get back on the boat at the prescribed time.

I’ve also heard a lot about the Rick Steve’s guided tours. But those tours go for $4100+ per person! At my last look at the finances for our trip, it looks like we will end up just over half of that amount ($2000-2500 estimated) for two people!! The added cost may very well be worth it if you don’t have the time or the energy needed to plan two weeks worth of hopping from city to city.

I’m glad I was able to plan this trip for us – to include our top preferences instead of the pre-decided tour itinerary. But I will be glad when the planning is done and all that is left is the excitement of getting ready for our trip!

Categories: Musings, Planning

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14 replies

  1. Guided tours are convenient – but I figured out they’re not for me. I went on a guided tour in Egypt a few years ago, figuring it would be easier to navigate that way. They tour went way too quickly! I like to see a lot of things on my vacations, but the tour’s pace was insane. I had little time to myself and to explore. I still browse tour website a lot because I like the itineraries. I multiply the number of days on the tour by 1.5 and 2, and that gives me a decent estimate of how long my trip should be (ie, if I see an 10 day tour itinerary, I can tell I could see all the places listed at a pace a like in 15-20 days).

    • I definitely understand your use of itineraries for inspiration. I did look at some well-known tours of Europe (Rick Steves has a lot of options) to get ideas for the initial logistics of planning a two week trip covering many countries and cities.

      But you are right – the length of time spent in each place on one of those tours does seem like it would be insufficient. One of his ‘Best of Europe’ tours shows a day and a half for Paris, and a day and a half for Venice. I definitely feel like either of those cities deserves that 1.5x or 2x multiplier you mentioned. So much to see!

  2. I have to start by admitting I’m not one for tours. I enjoyed the one we took in St Petersburg, where you *have* to be accompanied, but I am not sure we’ve ever voluntarily signed up (and we’ve probably missed a lot of good things in the process). Starting with Cologne sounds like a great idea.

    Perhaps you’re just a bit overloaded with preparation and need to give it a rest for a couple of days? I’d liet my head mull it through a bit and then decide if you want to do one thing in detail, or a broad brush approach to more sights.

    I know you’ll be having a great time, whatever you decide.

  3. The only time I book a guide for my trips is when I visit a botanical garden, otherwise I’m only looking at trees.
    I don’t like to travel in packs or enjoy guided tours, I like to see things in my own pace, which can be too fast for some.
    You’ll enjoy the trip, I’m sure.

    • That’s actually surprising to me – botanical gardens are one time I specifically do NOT want a tour guide! I love to wander around, read the little informational plaques, observe individual flowers and find little lizards or butterflies hiding among the leaves. I could spend hours in a botanical garden and still wish I had more time there. I definitely like tour guides for things like historical homes (Paul Revere’s house in Boston, for example). It’s interesting to learn about what life was like back in the days of chamber pots and formal sitting rooms, and I can’t really get that without a guide.

  4. The only places we’ve used travel guided tours is for Vietnam to visit Halong Bay and Sapa. It was easier and convenient to do it that way and we made a lot of friends! =) Mostly though, we just kind of do things ourselves. It’s very efficient to go at the pace we do and see things on our own.

    • True – I think tours might be helpful for a small segment of a trip, especially if it is out of the way. For example when we went to Cancun, we took a day trip tour to Chitchen Itza and Cenote Ixil. It was far enough that we would not have ventured out there without taking the bus tour, because we didn’t rent a car and it was at least an hour away. But the tour had time built in for us to wander around on our own after the initial historical information session, so we saw everything we wanted to see.

  5. I think that pretty much, most travelers fall into two camps, tours-yes or tours-no way. We’ve scheduled a couple of tours, and ultimately, at the end said, “What were we thinking?” I’m not critical of tours, they just aren’t for us. The goal is to travel, and anyone out there traveling gets my respect. However, the key is to know your preferences, be realistic about how much energy you want to put into planning the trip, and how much independence and flexibility your need. ~James

  6. Do you always plan each day ahead of time or do you intersperse planning with non-planning? We will typically book our first few nights in a country ahead of time, but thereafter plan on a day-by-day basis, which allows us the ultimate flexibility for the trip!

    • Sorry for the slow response – it’s been a crazy weekend 🙂 To answer your question, we intersperse planning with non-planning.

      I like to fully plan the things that could make for a stressful trip if something goes wrong, like lodgings for each night. I also like to plan things that I can get much more cheaply if I do a little research ahead of time, like major transportation (flights/rental cars).

      For things that are option/flexible, like museum visits or iconic landmarks, I like to do preliminary research (location, hours, costs), take that information with me, and then fit it in whenever we have time.

      How do you handle the not knowing where you’ll be staying for the next several nights? Once you decide the next stop on your trip, do you spend an hour or however long researching/booking places online or on the phone? I’ve never traveled that way so I don’t really understand the logistics of doing it that way!

      • In the US, lodging is not a problem as there are inexpensive motor courts all over the place. In Oz, NZ and Ireland, we arrive in the early afternoon at our final destination and start knocking on hostel (Oz/NZ) or B&B (Ireland) doors. We’re almost always able to find a place within the first 1-2 we visit. Once, this did create some anxiety in Ireland, as we were there over Christmas break and a lot of places were closed, but it worked out well in the end and always seems to for us! We also tend to travel during the off season, so rarely are hostels/over-pub hotels booked up during that time. Once we find lodging, we dump our stuff and can wander around and check out the town. Thanks for the reply!

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