Package Tour or Plan Your Own? Pros and Cons

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Tour guides know where to stand to take the good photo

Tour guides know where to stand to take the good photo

Unsure whether to pay for a packaged group tour to the country or countries of your choice, or arrange your own?

Packaged tour offered by an Established Company:
Pros:

  1. The hotels are nicer for the buck than individuals can negotiate.
  2. The hotel knows what side its bread is buttered on, so hotel hassles are infrequent.
  3. If you are a busy person and want a vacation that expands your experience, want to see the sights everyone talks about but don’t have the time to research and book every single day ahead of time, plus can schedule the vacation days to fit the tour, then the packaged tour is made for you. Everyone will be like you except the retirees.
  4. The trouble-shooting has been done. The routes and times have been worked out. Underestimating travel times, wait times or not understanding the entry requirements won’t happen.
  5. No standing in long lines for entry to the attractions or waiting for transportation.
  6. Less stress.
  7. Sleeping on the bus is possible and often done.
  8. Baggage-handling may be included, meaning very little heave-ho for you.
  9. Between hotels, bags are kept safe on the bus or boat.
  10. Tour guide speaks the language and is highly motivated to iron out any misunderstandings you cause.
  11. Tour guide can warn you or make suggestions based on experiences with a thousand previous travelers.
  12. Events and side tours are chosen because they are wonderful experiences.
  13. You can make friends with other travelers in your group that develop casually and might last a lifetime.
  14. You don’t need to study the customs, the story behind the landmarks or even the route ahead of time; all will be told to you as the moment arises.
  15. There will be less strangeness; the tour arranges to sidestep disconcerting things to American eyes. Those things aren’t what you came to see anyway.
  16. There are tours aimed at special groups or interests, such as grandparent-grandchild tours, medieval focus tours or relaxing rural tours that are better than any one individual, with one shot to do it right, could manage.
  17. Breakfast will be more like you’re used to in the States and fairly consistent day-to-day regardless of country; with the swirl of new experiences on this trip, starting each day with decisions regarding breakfast isn’t appealing
  18. You’re going through it with other English-speaking travelers, which could include New Zealanders, Australians, South Africans, British or Canadians, adding additional depth to the experience.

Cons:

  1. The pressure to buy their pricey trip insurance using scare tactics framed as ‘happening often’ can be outrageous. Their insistence that they will treat you disgracefully and shabby if you don’t buy the insurance can leave a bad taste in the mouth about giving them your business.
  2. The tour can require use of an airline that is inconvenient for you, adding hours to the trip or leaving from a farther away airport.
    The tour will eagerly book you on a tour days or a few weeks from now, but that could mean only undesirable flight times and seats on the plane, not to mention unexpected additional flight costs which could be hundreds of dollars.
  3. It’s easy for the travel agent to have confidently told you dead wrong information, because what she said may be true of another tour, not this one. Keeping the fine points of 90 tour offerings straight in her head, when they are nowhere written, is a lot to ask.
  4. You travel as a herd everywhere. Including bathroom stops.
  5. Early morning starts every day require being packed up with breakfast done by 8 AM, which can mean a 5:30 AM alarm time for the first one to use the bathroom.
  6. Baggage weight and amount limits that may not match the airline’s.
  7. Hotel breakfast buffets are lacking in local foods; a good opportunity for tasting local cuisine is wasted.
  8. Two or three to a room is a good deal financially but for a solo person the cost is almost doubled.
  9. There are very few chances to go off to see something not on the tour.
  10. Hotels are mostly on the fringe of the city, not in the heart. This is a very mild con, though, because you get to see two kinds of local living, big city and small town living, plus it will feel safer and the room can be more spacious.
  11. If someone in the group rubs you the wrong way or the guide is hard to understand, you’re stuck.
  12. Brochures are deliberately misleading or vague, making assessing what is an extra side trip or upgrade and what is included difficult.
  13. Shopping time is often brief.
  14. The tour guide may make most of his money from side trips and workshop visits (glass-blowing, diamond-cutting, wooden shoe-making, and so on) where he gets a percentage of the purchases from the business owner. They are often a good show, but the expectation to buy something at the end can be uncomfortable.
  15. You’re on your own for the flight to and from your first and last destination, which can be in different countries. Getting boarding passes, meeting baggage requirements and making your transfers is all on you, and you are responsible for meeting the airlines checked bag and carry-on bag rules, navigating the airport, along with leaving enough time for standing in lines, having proper ID, customs, baggage scans, long hallways, and choosing ground transportation to and from the hotel.

Self-arranged tour:
Pros:

  1. Economical to travel as a solo person; European hotels have low-cost single-bed rooms for you.
  2. Can eat when, where and what you want.
  3. Can choose how long to stay in each city depending on your interests and the amount of things you want to see.
  4. Can visit a collection of sites and places that no packaged tour encompasses
  5. Delightful anticipation in web-searching to pick hotels, tours, tickets, and sights to see weeks ahead.
  6. You can pick the airline, airport and flight times you prefer.
  7. You can schedule sleep-in days, where you don’t get up until 8 AM or later, if your idea of a vacation is no alarm clock.
  8. Flight can be booked very early, before any other costs are incurred, when seat choice is excellent.
  9. Cost can be spread out over several months.
  10. You never have to bear museums or tours or even cities you don’t care to see
  11. You can time the trip to exactly catch an event or ceremony in a certain city that makes it hugely meaningful to you, such as Tour de France in France, the Pope conducting Mass in Rome, or Halloween in Honolulu.
  12. It can include everything you want and nothing that you don’t want

Cons:

  1. You’re on your own for the flight to and from your destination, but you had no expectation of help with that.
  2. Most hotels will hold your bags securely after you check out (check that this is a bullet point feature on the hotel’s website) but it means you have to hike back to the hotel before going to the train, bus station or airport.
  3. You’ll need to learn a couple of phrases in their language ahead of time and use them often.
  4. When you run into trouble or confusion, approaching strangers with “Scusi, parla inglese?” or the equivalent in the local language will be necessary.
  5. Money can’t buy help schlepping your bags around; unless you bring your own servant for this, count on carrying them up and down steps many times.
  6. Lots of hours spent reading reviews, considering Top 10 lists and studying street maps picking out hotels, tours, tickets and sights to see.
  7. It’s up to you to ferret out whether events, holidays or ceremonies will block streets, change schedules or affect transportation, and bend your plans around them.
  8. Museums in a city often stagger their closed days; don’t schedule one for Tuesday without really checking if it’s open.
  9. Only a compulsive attention to dates and times, triple-checking and more, will suffice when buying train tickets, guided tours, reserving hotels and the like. Choosing the wrong date because the on-line calendar starts with Monday, not Sunday, or forgetting 06-07-14 is July 6, not June 7, outside of the US is a common reason for snafus.
  10. If you don’t buy tickets on-line a few weeks ahead, hours of your trip may be spent in boring lines.
  11. No tour guide to help you handle any trouble you might get into.
  12. It’s difficult to develop a reasonable schedule for a place you haven’t been.
  13. Transportation choices in foreign countries boil down to choosing driving, which entails high cost, high stress and risk, but is convenient, or choosing to do all public transportation, which can be lower cost, medium stress and low risk but less convenient.
  14. Your experience is confined to choices made before you leave home; it’s hard to tell what will feel most worthwhile.
  15. You will be more aware of what you missed seeing than the packaged tour folks, who may leave a country after six days honestly thinking they saw all the good stuff.

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