Organised tours are a popular option for many people, as many people believe that it is their only option. But there is contention about the type of travel promoted by tour companies. You will find evangelists (and some aggressive ones at that) on either side of this discussion – those indie travellers who think all organised tours are useless money making schemes designed to part 18 year olds from their daddy’s money, and those who think that the whole ‘independent travel thing’ is too hard, too scary, or simply overwhelming. But ignore those guys, this is about what YOU want from YOUR holiday.
Bus Tours et al.
Are you under 30(ish)?
Are you looking to get as much as possible in to the time you have?
Do you like busses?
- Organisation, you don’t have to worry about anything. I mean anything. These bus tours take you to your hotel/hostel/campsite and tell you when dinner is, where the bar is, and what time you have to be up in the morning.
- You get a lot in. Seriously, a lot. If you just want to say you’ve seen Europe, this is the tour option for you. It would be difficult, and expensive, to see everything that you see on one of these bus tours while doing it yourself.
- You are guaranteed to meet people, usually from your own country. The companies that are easily accessible to westerners are aimed directly at westerners – you’ll get Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, Americans, and Canadians. Occasionally you will find a European or other nationality in there somewhere – we had a Swedish couple, and a girl from South Africa.
- Lack of independence. I’m an adult, don’t tell me when to eat breakfast. I don’t want to go to THIS monument I want to go to THAT monument. Naturally, you can always separate from the tour and do your own thing. But not having organised anything yourself, you aren’t versed in the ways of the Italian train system, or maybe Berlin seems a bit daunting alone (especially when you’ve spent two weeks being told when to eat breakfast).
- My tour counted a night in Vienna. We were there for maybe 15 hours. Overnight. We got in after sunset, did a bus tour in the dark, had dinner, slept, and had hostel breakfast. Then we got on the bus. I do not count myself as having gone to Vienna. With so much to see in a very short time, it can feel very rushed.
- Because you are in a big group of westerners, you tend to stick with them. This can wind up with you sitting in a bar in Poland with nobody but your group in it. I don’t know about you but if I’m going to be flying all the way to Europe – I’d like to spend at least some of my time with Europeans.
- The price. These tours are showing you these places through AT BEST one middle man, sometimes two middle men. Three groups of people need to make money off of you – the service (hotel, museum, etc), your guide/driver/porter, and the tour company. This means there are three profit margins to take into account instead of just the service. Tours are usually around $150/$200 a day. Sometimes you find a tour for $90-$100 a day and those are few and far between. Independently, Europe can generally be done for as little as $75 a day (in my experience, and other people I know have spent much less). Remember – you’re not paying for the places, you’re paying for the convenience.
My Experience: I came into my bus tour by accident – my plans in Turkey had fallen through and, as a first time solo traveller, I didn’t know how to get from Athens to Amsterdam over the two weeks left before my flight home. This tour was perfectly timed, and only required a short hop to Italy to start. I came off of ten days independent travel in Greece and from the get go I was not a fan of the heavily organised structure. I don’t like being told what to do at the best of times, let alone when I’m being told to get on a coach for an 8 hour drive, when actually I would rather have liked to have stayed in Venice, instead of going to Austria just then. I feel like I haven’t actually been to a lot of places my tour visited, read above comment on Vienna. On my tour there were 52 people including myself, I will admit now that I cannot remember all of their names, and I’m reasonably sure there were a few that I didn’t say in single word to in 18 days.
Bus tours are ok, if you are a confident young person who is looking for the group experience – you are guaranteed to meet people, you see Europe, and you have some awesome stories to tell back home, (This one time, in the Czech Republic…).
But the idea that Europe is too hard to navigate, or that it’s scary, or that it’s unsafe – is at most flat out wrong, and at least contentious. Western Europe is very accommodating to tourism, almost everything has an English translation, there are several tourist points in big cities, and people in tourist spots are used to helping befuddled foreigners. Central Europe I would say in much the same, especially in the north. Eastern Europe you may begin to run into a few problems, language barriers, and transport systems not optimised for previously mentioned befuddled foreigners.
As for safety (I’ll be talking more about this in a post soon), you know what? The world is dangerous. THE WHOLE WORLD. Which essentially means you’re no safer out in the world than you are at home. Conversely, you’re no more at risk out there in the world than you are at home. I have felt safer walking around in developing countries, as a female, alone, at night, than I have walking around alone in the day in some parts of my home city. The same rules apply for all big cities – use your head.
The most important thing is that you choose the option that’s right for you. If you are as independent as I am, an organised tour may induce high blood pressure and rage spasms. But if you are looking for the quintessential twenty-something European holiday experience then go for your life, sign up to a Contiki, Busabout, TopDeck, etcetera etcetera! You’ll have a great time, but remember – it is not your only option. There are enough resources on line for you to jump into Europe feet first, have a whale of a time, and get to brag about how you did it all yourself
In this post I have spoken purely about tours in Europe. While these points do apply to most group tours, I will be writing a separate post on tours in developing countries, countries with more challenges, and why a tour might be the answer to your third world problems.
So, What are your opinions on group tours in Europe?