You’ve finally saved enough to go on a 2-week trip to Europe — yay!!!
You don’t want to go on one of those big bus tours where you’re herded around like cattle with 40-60 other tourists.
You could get a travel agency to put together a trip for you but you know it will cost you a pretty penny.
What you really want is to DIY your trip: customize your itinerary to make sure it suits your tastes AND at the same time covers all the must-sees.
But You Just. Don’t. Have. The Time.
Well, you’re in luck. 🙂
In this article, we’re going to teach you the basics of putting together an 11-day European itinerary that will give you the best bang for your buck. We also share tips and other things we learned — sometimes the hard way — on our previous trips to Europe.
And if you want to skip all that and just get a really detailed itinerary — one that you can actually submit to the Embassy when you apply for a Schengen visa — we can give you that too. We’ve put together an 11-day itinerary (14 days in all, including transit) that has flight times, train times, daily schedules, tips, and links to where you can book everything you need to book. If that’s what you want, click HERE.
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.
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. *
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 *
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 😀 *
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 *
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 *
* Now back to the topic. 🙂
How to dissect a tour
Below are the basic questions that will help you decide whether a tour is good value or not:
What does the tour include? What doesn’t it include? *
How much does the tour really cost when you add the “hidden” charges? *
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? *
What are the tour’s advantages and disadvantages? *
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?
Deep waters, deep thoughts. The island of Burano, its vibrant colors given a romantic coating by the winter fog, was the perfect setting for a spot of contemplation. But whatever the season or weather, Burano is a great place to visit for anyone traveling to Venice.
Location was our foremost consideration when we looked for accommodations in Venice. We were only going to be there for two days, leaving very early from Venezia Santa Lucia on the second morning, so we wanted to stay in a hotel near the train station. However, we also wanted to make sure that the hotel was clean, well-reviewed, and well within our budget.
The Hotel Il Mercante di Venezia fit that bill. It’s located only two blocks away from Venezia Santa Lucia, which also means that it’s just very near a vaporetto stop. However it’s in a small alley, on the opposite side of the street from the water, so the noise of passersby never disturbed us. Our room even had a small balcony that overlooked a foggy patch of wood, and like the rooms in many other hotels in Venice, it was richly and beautifully decorated.
The receptionist who checked us in was friendly and gave us great recommendations on where to eat dinner. Breakfast at the hotel was filling if not exactly overflowing. The only problem I can remember was that the WiFi wasn’t very strong in our room and I sometimes had to stand by the door to catch a signal. On the other hand, it was free, which isn’t always the case in Venice. For the price we paid, the Hotel Il Mercante di Venezia provided good value and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to stay in a decent hotel near the train station.