How to Tell If A Tour is Good Value or Not


We break down an $850 11-day tour of France, Switzerland, and Italy — its real costs, pros and cons — and discuss the questions you have to ask before signing up for any tour.

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Yesterday, a friend asked me to take a look at a tour he was considering going on later this year. I’m hardly a tour expert but, from experience, I think there are basic questions we need to ask before we decide to take a tour or not.

First, a few points:

  • On the road, I’ve met people who proudly say they “never do tours” and I think that’s a shame. There are good tours and bad tours, and even good tours have their pros and cons. The trick is to figure out whether a tour’s pros outweigh its cons far enough to make its price worth it.
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  • I usually go DIY because I have to stick to a certain budget and because when it comes to itineraries, I’m often fiercely independent to a fault. That said, I have loved many of the tours I’ve joined; there is a lot to be gained by listening to a local or an expert. A few favorites come to mind:
    • The tour with an archaeologist at the Colosseum in Rome — fascinating, plus signing up for a tour gets you through the mile-long lines much more quickly
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    • The Louvre tour with an art historian a/k/a how the French feel when people go to their museum only to see an Italian work of art 😀
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    • The tips-basis walking tour we joined in Munich, learning about the Beer Hall Putsch and the Kristallnacht and standing in a square where Hitler had marshalled his army
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    • Our Highlands tour with Andrew MacDonald which brought up a lot of surprising parallels between Scotland and the Philippines and touched on a lot of the things that I personally value very much, like freedom and loyalty and family
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Now back to the topic. 🙂

How to dissect a tour

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Below are the basic questions that will help you decide whether a tour is good value or not:

  1. What does the tour include? What doesn’t it include?
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  2. How much does the tour really cost when you add the “hidden” charges?
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  3. What are the tour’s stops? How much time do you spend in each stop? Is the time per stop consistent with your goals for the trip?
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  4. What are the tour’s advantages and disadvantages?
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  5. Given all of the above, is the tour worth it for you? If you don’t take the tour, do you have the time or resources to come up with an alternative itinerary?

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The Moment

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There is that moment while traveling when you look upon a scene and suddenly comprehend why it’s been described as breathtaking, because literally you’ve sucked in a sharp breath and forgotten to exhale, transfixed by what you see.

One of those moments for me occurred in Nice. My sister and I had planned to spend at least half a day in the city, coming as we did from Paris via the Lunea night train and booked to spend the night at a hotel in Marseille. However, the queue to buy our Nice-Marseille train tickets took us longer than expected; after having breakfast, my sister opted to just stay in the cafe and get some work done.

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I decided to take a stroll down the Avenue Jean Medecin, not expecting much, figuring I will just have a look around and go back to my sister when it was nearly time for our onward journey. I dropped by the Cours Saleya and browsed through the shops and stalls of flowers, spices, and dried fruits. It was clearly a bit touristy, but I was a tourist, a first-timer in the South of France, and I was charmed by all the colors, scents, and tastes — the latter presumed, as I bought nothing.

Finally, I emerged through a few buildings into the Promenade des Anglais…and experienced that Moment.

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My first glimpse of the Côte d’Azur. I’ve seen the sea countless times before, been to better beaches, but this was just different. Surreal. The impossibly blue sea, the light-colored buildings that lined the coast, the blue-and-white umbrellas dotting the beach, even the pensioners taking a hearty walk in the sun — it all made me feel like I’d been dropped quite suddenly into the middle of a postcard.

I’ve been to Nice one more time since then, and I’ve been to many other beautiful places as well, but that one fleeting moment always stands out in my mind as the moment that literally took my breath away.

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The Moment” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

France

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Mars_3Marseille

Nice_Promenade des AnglaisNice

  • Coming soon!

fr_07And Other Things French

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© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains

7 countries in 18 days: A sample European itinerary

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What do you do if you’ve got 18 days in Europe and want to see a little bit of everything?

See a little bit of everything!

7 countries, 9 cities in 18 days. (Well, it’s actually 5 countries, 1 city-state, and 1 principality, but the latter two are technically countries, and “7 countries” somehow makes it a bit easier to justify the price of the plane ticket.)

Specifically, this itinerary will take you to France (Paris and Nice), Italy (Rome and Venice), Germany (Munich), the Netherlands (Amsterdam), and Belgium (Brussels, but only for a few hours), plus the Vatican City and Monaco (also only a couple of hours). It definitely won’t let you live like a local — for that, you should spend all 18 days in only 1 or 2 places. Instead, this itinerary is more like taking the tourist bus on your first day in a new place: it lets you get a glimpse of each place of interest, and from those initial glimpses, you can decide where you would like to spend more time next time.

Here’s the 18-day itinerary I followed back in 2014:

© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains

© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains

Favorite moments from the trip:

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If you’ve only got 10 days in Europe, try this itinerary instead.

Happy travels!

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7 countries in 18 days: A sample European itinerary
Created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 



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“Southern Living”

Nice, France, 2011

Nice, France, 2011

I thought I had stepped into a postcard when I emerged from a small alley in Nice into the Promenade des Anglais and was greeted by this incredible view.

That song by Ingrid Michaelson immediately came to mind: “Oh, let’s get rich and buy our parents homes in the south of France.” If only I could! Nice would certainly be a beautiful place to retire in…except the rice is so expensive! Haha! I’ll settle for bringing my parents here for a visit someday, and the rest of the family too.

“Southern Living”

 

Southern Living” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.