To Tour Or Not To Tour
This blog post is written by Rebecca Kochenderfer, co-founder of Homeschool.com
There comes a time in every traveler’s life – the monumental event of all monumental events. You take the plunge, throw off your independence and sign up for a group tour. Old Me had a disdain for what I thought of as “those weak-minded sheep who can only travel if they have a Travel Yoda and a Luggage Sherpa.” New Me (a kinder, gentler, more open-minded Me) was lured in by the ridiculously low prices. And to be honest, I was tired and too lazy to plan out my own darn trip. So I took the leap and signed up for a Christmas Markets Tour through Gate1 Travel.
Since I was drawn in by the prices, let’s run the numbers and see if you really do get more for your money when you take a group tour.
– Airfare first. Gate1 charges $700-$800 for a round-trip ticket from Sacramento to Munich. CheapOAir.com (no kidding, that’s their real name) charges $1,200.
– Gate1 charges $720 for six hotel stays. Booking.com charges $1,000 for those same hotels.
So far, tour travel is looking pretty good. I paid Gate1 $2,000 for airfare, six nights in a hotel, two day-tours, two dinners, bus transportation, and a guide (his name was Mykel, not Yoda, and he was awesome). If I had paid for all of that “a la carte”, I would have paid $2,300, not including the cost for the bus and the guide.
But would you do all that, a la carte? Traveling on your own, would you cram four cities, two day tours, and a partridge-in-a-pear-tree all into just six days? Plus there’s the group in group travel. I don’t have any illusions about myself. Sure, I’m a nice person. Smart. Caring. A fine friend. But I’m not a high-end extrovert. I feel a little self-conscious in groups and let’s face it, I’m not that cheery after 6:30 AM wake up calls day after day. Still, I am all about personal growth (and getting a lot for my money) so I went on the Christmas Markets Tour… and loved it.
The tour guide was wonderful and the people on the tour were nice. Best of all, I learned A LOT (Gate 1 guides are great at teaching you about the country you are in).
But I’m not sure I would tour it again. If life had a rewind button, I think I would do it differently. More is not always better when it comes to travel. Sometimes it’s better to slow down and smell the snowflakes.
If you’ve always wanted to see the Christmas Markets of Europe (and they are worth the crowds and the cold), this is what I would recommend:
1) No need to race from Munich to Nürnberg to Salzburg to Vienna (after a while the markets and the crowds all start to look the same). My advice is to make Vienna your home base and visit Salzburg from there (save Munich and Nurnberg for another trip).
2) Instead of staying in a hotel, rent a roomy AirBNB apartment in Vienna’s city center. I found some beautiful places for $170 a night (the Vienna hotel room on our tour was so tiny we had to step over our luggage in order to get to the bed).
3) From Vienna, take a day tour to Salzburg one day and to Bratislava another day. You’ll find some excellent tours on Viator.com. I also recommend taking a walking tour of Vienna and going to the Mozart and Hayden concert (even if you are not normally a classical music aficionado, this concert is a winner. Everyone on the tour loved it).
I think a la carte travel gives you the best of both worlds. You can enjoy the convenience of the short tours without the grueling “forced march” feel of a full-on tour. And it only costs $400 more ($1,200 for the airfare, $1,000 for six nights in an apartment, and $200 for the tours and concert through Viator.com. For a total of $2,400.) Best of all, no 6:30 AM wake up calls and you get to explore and play at your own pace.
Which brings us back to the big question – to tour or not to tour? If you want to visit as many places as possible in a short time (or if you’re going to a country that is harder to do a la carte — like India or China), then a group tour might be just the thing. But if you want to relax on your vacation (and not return home totally exhausted) then I encourage you to give a la carte travel a try. This way, instead of rushing your way through a vacation, you can relax and build a custom vacation that works for you.