Travelers till date find it difficult to decide whether to travel across Europe through a group tour package offered by tour operators or to go on their own. Having experienced both of them, we can now tell you the answer.
When on a group tour, there is a lot of excitement & anxiety regarding the trip, the tour guide & your co-travelers. But before you get to Europe, there a lot of formalities you need to finish. Just signing off on those cheques is not enough. We recommend travelers to plan at least five months in advance & book at least 3 months before your expected date of departure. Please do your due diligence before booking the tour. Some tour operators offer three meals a day as part of the package, whereas some offer just 1 or 2 meals a day, leaving travelers to make their own food arrangements on the tour. Being non-vegetarians we thoroughly enjoyed eating out. But vegetarians would be better off with at least two meals arranged by the tour operator. Food in some parts of Europe will be more expensive than the rest. Please do not make the mistake of opting for the package which covers the most number of countries in the minimum time frame. That will not only make you bored towards the end of the trip, but will end with you spending barely any time at every major attraction. Having spent your hard earned money, you do want the trip to be memorable don’t you?
As much as the tour operators will follow up with you for the booking amount, they will get very laid back post getting hands on your money. We had a tough time getting the receipts of the payments for tax purposes. In spite of booking the tour three months in advance, we got our visas just 10 days before our date of departure! Does the visa process take so long? No. It was all thanks to the sub standard management of our tour operator who delayed sending our visa forms till the last minute. Please remember to follow up with them to send your visa forms. Do not expect them to remind you. A few people who traveled with us had to re-book their tour due to visa not getting approved on time. Do not expect a well trained back end staff. Almost all the people who have ever booked a group tour told us about the harrowing experience they had dealing with back end staff. Based on the tour operators pull with the consulates, you may or may not have to go to your local centre for visa formalities.
Although your pre-tour experience is most likely to be horrible, very few people are likely to complain about the on-tour experience. Most travel companies are cognizant of the importance of the tour experience & employ a well trained staff on the tour. The best part of group tour is your guide. He is likely to be wel acquainted with the history & other aspects of the place. He will literally be your guardian on the tour. You are less likely to miss home food, thanks to daily halts at Indian restaurants. Although your breakfast at your hotel is likely to be lacklustre. Places which you may want to visit may not be a part of the tour itinerary or you not satisfied with the time allotted to explore it. You are most likely to be put up at business hotels with bare essentials. Expect your hotel to be far away from the city. Most tour operators have a 6-7-8 routine ie wake up @6AM, breakfast @7AM & leave the hotel @8AM. Expect angry stares from your co-travelers if you are the reason for the delay. Even a delay of 10-15 mins, might upset the itinerary for the day.The best thing about a group tour apart from not worrying about your food is that group tours are less taxing. You barely have to walk thanks to the tour bus accompanying you everywhere. The tour bus will even take you across countries. You do not spend a penny on cabs or rail or any other mode of transport. Once you have paid for the tour & kept money aside for food if required, the only money you need to carry is for the optional parts of the tour, using the loo – which is generally 1 euro per use & shopping! Most tour operators get to your hotel room by 7.30PM, as the drivers are paid by the hour. So the longer you are on the road, the lesser is the operator’s profit. You can choose you explore the city/town on your own & pay for the cab to your hotel. You may choose to not opt for the optional trips on the itinerary & choose to explore other attractions as well. You are likely to stay friends with people you traveled with…well at least till the time all your pics which were taken on their phones/cameras have been sent to you!
Points To Remember
1) Push the tour operator to send your visa application ASAP.
2) Hotels will be far off from the city.
3) You will have a 6-7-8 routine.
4) Major tourist attractions or places which might interest you might not be covered.
4) Opting for a package with too many countries might end up spoiling your overall tour experience.
5) If food has been paid for, you need to carry money only for shopping & using the loo.
Self Planned Tours
Self planned tours are recommended for millennials, who love the research that goes into planning a trip. We personally love going to travel portals & comparing flight rates, hotel rates, read up on things to do etc. You can always employ the services of your local tour operator for visa formalities. Do get your visa formalities done three months in advance for your peace of mind. Self planned tours let you choose everything as per your liking, be it the flight (flight timing, Air India/ Emirates/ Lufthansa etc , your stay (hotel or dorm), places you visit etc. You cannot put a price on freedom. As they say people opting for group tours are tourists & not travelers. You can get the feel of the place, soak in its culture, experience its night life to the fullest only on a self planned tour. If you want to spend the entire day at Louvre museum admiring the world renowned paintings, which includes the Mona Lisa, you can! You may choose to not to go Buckingham Palace if you don’t feel like!
We loved going to local joints & tasting the local cuisines. Staying in a dorm is a totally different experience altogether. We chose to stay in hotels close to the city in London, Rome, paris – this helped in saving travel costs. With hop on, hop off buses now in almost every major city, you will not miss out on any information regarding the tourist attraction & reduce your intra city costs. It also let you reach & leave the place when you wish to…unless the place is closed for the day!Duh!
The problem people face is carrying luggage from destination to another & transport. Although it fun traveling via Euro rail, the metro in London, the tram in Belgium etc it does get exhausting after a point. Hence it is better to cover only 1 or 2 countries at a time while opting for a self planned tour. Although people will tell you that things have improved vegetarians in Europe, we did feel that vegetarian options are limited in several parts of Europe. Carry sufficient money for tips, intra city travel,entry fees at several tourist attractions using the loo, local tour guides & shopping. You may have to rely on the locals to guide you with places, pay extra for guides to tell you about the history. But on comparing the amount we spent vis-a-vis the cost of a group tour package, we were shocked to find that self planned trip turned out to be way less expensive!
Points to Remember:
1) Carry money for all expenses.
2) Opt for a hop on, hop off bus tour wherever available
3) Do not opt for more than 2 countries or 2-3 destinations within a country in one trip.
4) Experience living in a dorm.
5) Self planned tours are likely to be less expensive than group tours.
Unless you are above 50 or are plain lazy, go on a self planned tour. You may end up covering only 1 or 2 countries per trip, but we are not dying anytime soon are we?