My first trip to Europe was a whirlwind tour on a bus. It was pre-internet so we went to a travel agent, looked at the brochures and picked one we liked. Now, with a huge amount of information to peruse online, it’s easier to assess the many tour options. For someone who doesn’t enjoy trip planning or feels more comfortable travelling with a guide, a tour may be the right choice. If you feel like a tour best suits your travel needs, there are certainly many to choose from beyond the large well-known companies. Here’s a rundown of some of the different types of tours available.
Two such companies you’ve probably heard of are Globus and Trafalgar. You will share a coach bus with a large group of fellow travellers. Of course, there are pros and cons to being with a large group. On the upside, there’s a greater chance you will meet some people you get along really well with which can add a very nice dimension to your trip. On the downside, there’s a greater chance you’ll have some people with punctuality issues. (We waited in Munich a long time for a missing passenger. When we finally arrived in Innsbruck later, there she was – she had hopped a train instead of checking to see if the bus had waited for her.)
There is a perception that these tours mainly appeal to seniors and that if you join the tour as a younger person you will feel outnumbered or out of place. Though I’ve only done one of these tours, that was not my experience. My tour had a wide range of people from age 13 to 80+. I also think it’s not necessary for your fellow travellers to be in your age bracket to enjoy travelling with them. I recall the only people on our tour who were not thrilled was the honeymooning couple. A group tour was the wrong choice for them.
The most important thing to consider when choosing one of these tours is the itinerary. Many of them are quite fast paced, presumably because people want to “see as much as possible”. I was one of these people and we picked a tour that covered a lot of ground. Although we enjoyed our trip, if we had it to do over we would not have chosen that tour. Way too much time was spent on the bus going to places instead of actually visiting places. The name of the tour should have tipped us off: Continental Introduction. I still have the brochure. I’d suggest avoiding tours with names that include words like “sampler” or “highlights” if this is a concern for you as well.
Always take note of what’s included and what’s not in terms of food and sightseeing. On many tours there will be a list of optional activities that cost extra.
If you’re travelling solo, booking a tour can be more expensive because prices are typically based on double occupancy so a single supplement will be required. Rick Steves Tours is one where you can opt to share accommodation with another solo traveller, forgoing the single supplement.
Small Group Tours
The transportation for these tours would typically be either a mini-bus or public transport. A smaller group is usually easier to manage and opens up more variety in the range of accommodation possible. Two companies of this type are G Adventures and Intrepid. I did a tour of Scandinavia with Intrepid and we were four solo travellers plus the guide. We travelled via train, bus and ferry.
In addition to the companies that offer tours in locations worldwide, there are also small operators with tours within one country or region. For example, there are companies that offer multi-day trips in addition to day trips. We did a Rabbies day tour in Scotland and were very pleased. It offers multi-day trips in Britain and Ireland.
If you’ve got a special interest in history, food, music, photography, farming or whatever, you might enjoy a tour planned around that topic. These can take a bit of searching to find and dates are often limited. Here are two examples: Anna McGoldrick Musical Tour and English Country Gardens tour through Maritime Travel. It’s also worth scouring the web to find small tour companies based abroad to see what’s available in your area of interest.
These are for people who’d like a bit of structure or support, but don’t want to travel with a group. These aren’t really tours in the traditional sense, but can be the right option for those who don’t wish to travel completely independently. You will have transfers from the airport provided and assistance getting acquainted with the location. These include Untours and Rick Steves My Way tours.
If cost is the primary consideration, there are a few options to keep costs low. Some of the tour companies mentioned have budget alternatives such as a Globus brand called Cosmos. Companies like G Adventures and Intrepid have budget categories of tours called Basic and Basix respectively.
Many tour companies will have periodic sales or last minute discounts so be sure to sign up for e-mail alerts or check the sites regularly.
The world of escorted tours is a vast one. There are tours aimed at younger people like Contiki and upscale tours like Tauck. The point of this post is just that a lot of variety exists in the realm of escorted tours. A bit of research is required to explore all the possibilities and make an informed decision.