I wrote this at the Leonardo da Vinci airport in Rome waiting to for my flight back to the “The States,” as I now say after one international trip.
Last week was nothing short of spectacular. My mom and I traveled to Italy with a tour group.
This was not only my first trip to Europe but my first guided tour vacation. When I travel “in the states” I manage all my own excursions, book my hotels, arrange transportation, etc., etc., etc. However, traveling abroad I thought it best to have a little guidance.
I don’t regret my decision in the least bit, but as with anything there’s always pros and cons to consider. Here’s my initial thoughts.
See Highlights of Multiple Cities
This was one of the reasons I choose the tour I did. Traveling to Italy for a week I wanted to experience more than one location. Our tour included Rome, Venice and Florence plus shorts stops in Pisa and Siena. That’s a whole lot of Italy to see in a week, especially if you’ve never been and aren’t even sure what to go see!
Skip Lines at Attractions
This was a surprise bonus of the tour. At more than a few stops that required tickets our Tour Director already had them purchased and we were able to bypass the typical lines and enter through an entrance specifically for groups. We also had our own special expert guides at the larger attractions.
I’m an infamous light packer but traveling for a week to a cold weather destination (it’s winter in Italy) I caved and brought a larger suitcase. I pack light because I don’t want to have to lug around extra baggage. Thankfully, on the guided tour all your bags are handled for you. The Tour Director arranges to have them taken from the bus to your room when you arrive. When departing a hotel, you leave your bag outside your room and it’s placed on the bus for you. The only time I had to handle my own bag was at the airport. Once the tour started, my baggage just appeared right when I needed it.
Local Expert/Guide/Translator at Your Service
I’m not sure if this is the case on all tours but our Tour Director was amazing. He was friendly, warm, helpful, attentive, flexible and knowledgeable. I really appreciated our conversations and on more than a few occasions he made great recommendations and answered all my annoying inquisitive questions about local language and customs. He made me feel welcomed in Italy and I appreciated that more than anything.
Some Meals Included
I appreciated the included meals as it relieved some of the stress about finding food in a foreign place. Every day breakfast was included and our Tour Director would arrange for it to be available in the hotels early enough specifically for our group. In addition there was a welcome reception that included multiple courses, a fabulous lunch in Florence, a couple of other lunches and a wonderful 3 course farewell dinner. All included wine, of course. In addition there were a few optional meals which were also wonderful!
Tight Schedule/Early Mornings
And when I say tight, I mean tight! On some days I literally couldn’t comprehend how much I did and saw. With 6:30 AM wakeup calls and travel to destination normally beginning between 7-8:30 you better be able to get up in the morning and be ready to seize the day! Depending on how many optional excursions you choose you can easily be out and about for 12 plus hours.
Trip is Dependent on Group
I feel very lucky. Our group bonded immediately and everyone was friendly and polite. However, I can see how a few bad apples would really be able to take the fun out of the tour. On some occasions we were late or needed to wait for a few folks who lost track of time. Thankfully, our Tour Director created a tolerant culture while still emphasizing the importance of keeping our schedule for the rest of the group.
Optional Excursions Cost More
Don’t get me a wrong a lot of things were included in the base tour but the options offered ended up becoming an additional expense I didn’t anticipate. In a way this is a pro and a con, as the excursions were amazing. However, just keep in mind the price and your budget and decide up front if you want to take advantage so you know what to expect. I enjoyed each and every optional on this trip. Next time I will be more aware and include in my overall cost estimates.
Travel Time Between Stops
I knew by looking at the map this was going to be an issue. Traveling from Rome to Venice is quite a hike! There were some beautifully scenery, plenty of stops and a bathroom on the bus for emergencies but traveling for 5-6 hours mid-day in the middle of our Italian vacation was not my favorite part. Of course, this may not apply to all tours.
Too Much Too Fast
I can’t stress how much I LOVED this trip but from day to day I was overwhelmed. Looking back at my photos I can’t believe how much I did and saw. Sometimes there wasn’t enough time to digest the experience and before I knew it we were on our way to our next amazing destination. Again, this could be seen as a pro and a con but I can see it being very overwhelming for some. Just something to keep in mind if you are more interested in relaxing vacations.
Overall I enjoyed the tour and am looking forward to taking another one one day. My only fear: this one may have spoiled me.
Have you every vacationed with a tour? Please share your thoughts!