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Guided tours or finding your own way: Which is best?

Do you prefer to follow the umbrella or just follow your nose?

Let us know what you prefer and why by leaving your comments below >>

21 thoughts on "Guided tours or finding your own way: Which is best?"

  • Alan Brugler says:

    We prefer tour groups, although we can also relate to the 6 hour onshore visits from a cruise boat and that is definitely not enough time. Going by your self means you tend to see much less. You don’t get up as early, take longer lunches, etc. If that is the only time in your life you will be in that country, groups are more efficient about getting you into the sites, and ferrying you about with minimal hassle/rip off taxis/etc. Tour groups go to the front of the Vatican lines, while individuals have to wait in line, etc. It is true that you can’t stop and pursue something interesting while on a tour, but you also don’t have the hassle of luggage handling, endless tipping requests, faulty hotel reservations, etc.

  • Carlanne Herzog says:

    Dependent on the country we’re visiting determines whether we go “on our own” or use a guide. In Europe, we feel confident enough to go it alone, thereby being able to explore at leisure whatever we find interesting to us. In out-of-the-way places, like Cambodia or Myanmar, both of which we’ve visited in the past two years, we prefer to have our own car and driver plus private guide. This still allows us to determine, within reason, when we leave the hotel and how much we’ll see in one day.
    In countries where there is a lot of bureaucratic red tape, often tours are the only way to go. I would categorize Egypt and Jordan as examples. A Nile cruise is a wonderful to experience the wonders of that country and not spend hours on end trying to get from place to place, and then trying to prove your have a hotel reservation when the hotel says you don’t.
    Research is essential for all trips. It helps a lot to talk with other experienced travelers to see what their thoughts might be regarding a country they’ve visited and which you are considering.

  • Carol Shaw says:

    If asking about day tours, and the answer there is, it depends, as others have pointed out. Once you have done a tour with a private guide, you never want to go back to a group tour, but often, it is more relaxing on your own (although you might miss a lot you would have like to have seen).
    Now, on group vacations versus driving on your own, I have a different opinion. While traveling on a bus with a lot of your new best friends (hopefully no more than 30) may leave something to be desired, spending 2 weeks or so with no one but your spouse, having to do the driving, and arguing over directions is probably a lot worse. Plus, again, you probably miss a lot of things a guide would have shown you. On the other hand, you need to have a lot of stamina to put up with those all day stints on bus tours.
    We do a lot of cruising, because we have the social life, and we still get to go somewhere new every day or so. Granted, the exposure is limited, but as we are over 60, it is the best of both worlds. We have not done river cruises, but are considering them, as they seem to be a floating bus.

  • Evan Jackson says:

    We always start off on our own, making our own travel arrangements, and, sometimes, our accomodations. We may take a tour at a destination, depending on local recommandations. Getting a day pass on the local bus line with jump on, jump off priviliges speeds up a day’s sightseeing. You listen to the spiel for the complete round trip and then stay on the bus to first stop you want to visit. We can spend an extra day somewhere if we want that way. We can pick and choose where we want to eat, again based on locals recommendations. My wife ducks into a beauty salon or gift shop and finds out where the workers eat on their time off.

    I went on several tours while stationed in the US Navy and that was the cheapest way to go and insured that I dinn’t miss movement of the ship. But I never enjoyed the herding off and on the bus and some of the eating establishments were rather dubious. Maybe they belonged to the tour operator’s relatives. One thing I can say about those tours is, knock on wood, I never contracted any of the local maladys going the tour route.

    We would definitely take a tour to the more exotioc places like Russia, China or a country where English was not readily spoken, and/or we could not read the signs.

  • Ray Schwartz says:

    I have traveled to almost 50 countries as International Buyer and retiree for the past 30+ years, over 3 million air miles. I no longer go on tours. I do not like to travel with Americans ( complain too much !) I stopped going on city tours, museums, factories, show rooms, etc. Been there, done that. I tried Globus’ Monograms a few times and that is OK. But now I book the flights and hotels and play it by ear after that. It works great for me and allows me to find more exotic, less traveled places. For example, I have visited the Great Wall 6 times at various locations, the most recent where I was the ONLY visitor there ! Great ! I have my favorite air routes,airlines, hotels, etc. For instance, when I go to Rome, being Catholic, I stay at a hotel on St Peters Square at the Vatican.

  • Luis R says:

    I went to Italy in 2008 for a business trip but to Bologna but was able to spend a few more extra days with my girlfriend there. We visited Rome and Florence and found tours in both cities that take you through a pre-determined route and you choose to get off the bus at every stop and spend what ever time you wish and then take the bus when it comes back at the scheduled time to continue the tour. You had 24 hours to complete the tour for just 22 euros. You could also leisurely enjoy the entire tour without getting off the bus in about 2 hours or so. I found this concept very good. Both tours appeared to be operated by the same company. So this was a mix of a tour and getting our own way because we combined the bus route with getting around on foot to see specific attractions in both cities.

  • The Grants says:

    We like both. Our first trip to Italy, we did a fully guided bus tour with Insight tours. On several of the days, when there were optional tours, we struck out on our own with the Rick Steve’s guide. We are currently planning a European Land and Cruise vacation. We’ve already made arrangements for some local guides in Milan and Lake Como. Will be on our own in Amsterdam. We’ve arranged for a personal guide and driver in Cork Ireland. Then are doing some of the ship excursions in Vigo, Lisbon, and Barcelona.

    On several of our cruise vacations, we like to find a local car rental and go off on our own. Usually the local car people can make some great recommendations

  • Calvin Lyons says:

    We do both, just came back from 22 days in France, all self-guided with a Renault lease plan car…great!! We also love the Grand Circle riverboat tours..have been on three great ones:The Seine; the Rhine and Moselle; and the Rhone.

  • Masrud says:

    I like a self tour with a good guide book, like Rick Steves. That way, when you find something really interesting, you can hang around and spend more time there before moving on. On the other hand, if I were dealing with a foreign language, I’d probably be happier with a small group and tour guide who speaks the language!

  • juantag says:

    If I’m visiting someplace for the first time, and want an easy overview, I might jump on a tour bus or sign up for a walking tour–but it really depends. If it’s a place I find appealing for reasons beyond the typically touristic, I might be tempted to abandon a guided tour at the first turn, and so I would much prefer to be left to my own devices. I have led several tours in Europe, especially Spain, and enjoy it very much. But these are groups with common interests, not just average tourists. The least common denominator can never be satisfactory.

  • Gail says:

    We do all three- I plan our overall trips, we catch city tours in non-English speaking countries, and then travel about ourselves using guide books, and also hire guides for special areas like ruins, etc. In English-speaking countries we generally travel about ourselves, using guide books and other resources we’ve gathered before the trip.
    We’ve also used small group guided tours for Guatamala, Tibet and Northern Ireland, where we want to do a standard tourist route and not rent a car or where one is forbidden to travel alone.
    We’ve never used the large tour groups, but I have friends who believe the high-end tours with included guides, attraction and museum entrances, meals, accomodations, etc., save them money in the long run. I guess if you are going to travel high-end anyway, this might be the case.

  • D.B.Porter says:

    I prefer going my own way & not following the guided tours. Following guided tours insulates one from actually experiencing the people and culture. Plus, I find that the tour guides often guide you to unsavory gift shops that will sell crap for premium dollars. I do like the hop on, hop off buses that many urban areas offers, to insure that I will see the prime destinations at my own pace.

  • K Miller says:

    So many cruises, too many big tours. Love the cities that offer an open-top bus to familiarize you with the city and gets you to the cites you came to see. Hiring a taxi on your own can be exciting and often less expensive than group tours.

  • Harvey says:

    When younger preferred doing it on our own. As the years accumulate it is easier with a tour but sans umbrella e.g. Tauck…with small groups and all amenities taken care of including top hotels.

  • BL says:

    It largely depends on where you’re going and for how long.

    For easy places (most of Europe), it’s much more enjoyable to go at your own pace; if you’re going somewhere with aggressive touts (such as India), sometimes it’s nice to have a “tour guide” to fend them off for you.

    For short trips, a small group may help you to be more efficient with your time, even if you feel like cattle. That having been said, that would seem to be a great argument against taking short trips!

  • Anne says:

    We like both. If it’s a leisurely trip, we love studying the street maps and going at our own pace. We also study the public transportation available and go for it. However, in a country like Russia where a travel visa is required, it’s easier to go with a small group–the group guide can provide a visa for the entire group and that definitely removes some of the hassle factor.

  • Harriet says:

    We always self-tour and self-cater. I’ve never felt more sorry for people than the cruise folks we met waiting in the Vatican Museum line who had 6 hours to spend in Rome! We take our two kids along on all of our trips, never go for less than two weeks, and since we homeschool, we make the travel planning process as educational as the trip itself.

  • torrey reid says:

    Us too! we like private and small groups the site above we highly suggest for small groups and for private tours, happy travels!

  • Peter Dunkley says:

    It takes more effort – but provides a more enjoyable, flexible and informative travel experience – to hire a guide locally at each city/destination. You can do this through a local travel agency. You’d be surprised how inexpensive it can be. Just prepare your itinerary, list your requirements and send the data off to a short list of three agents for quotation. I’ve done this in many countries over the last few years, including Myanmar, Uzbekistan, China and India. For me, it’s the only way to go. Having a personal guide answer all your questions gives an insight into a country you never get if you travel with a group – even a small one.
    Peter Dunkley

  • Martin says:

    I usually use both when I have the time. The first day I will take a guided tour so that I can get some idea of the layout of the city; then the second day I will use the local rail, tram, or subway system to visit the sights I want to see at my own pace.

  • Linda Thieben says:

    I prefer small group tours….detest large group tours…treated like a bunch of cattle. I have traveled a lot with OAT and their groups are under 16 people. They take care of everything for you including schlepping luggage. The group is small enough that they can be responsive to people’s special needs and requests. They are always taking you on discovery outings and listen to others recommendations. I just returned from a “big tour” of 40 people and will NEVER do this again. Life is to short

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