Bargain tours to Europe?
August 28, 2006 8:02 PM   Subscribe

Can you suggest any tours from U.S.A. to Europe (including plane fare, transportation between European cities, and hotel accommodations in each visited city) that do not involve doing activities with a tour group?

My wife and I would like to visit Europe cheaply and have our transportation and lodgings paid for in advance. We don't want spontaneity in our travel or lodgings; we want it all planned and paid for in advance. While in each city, however, we would like the freedom to do as we like with each other, without a "tour group." (We don't mind flying to Europe and traveling between each city with a tour group, we just want to be independent in each destination city.)

I realize this is what travel agents can set up for us, but I am wondering if you MeFites are aware of any pre-fab, bargain tours that include multiple European cities with travel and accommodations paid for. We'd like the trip to be approximately ten days and encompass at least three of the following cities: London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, Dublin, Edinburgh.
posted by jayder to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
&Brochuret&SearchPagTrafalgar has a "Free & Easy" program of tours. One of them is an 11-day that goes to London, Paris & Rome. These kind of things generally have a few hour orientation tour for each city, but you can blow that off.

It also looks like Globus, another huge tour operator, has a complete sub-brand for this kind of thing, Monograms Travel.

I don't know how well either of these fits into your budget, but it does show there are a few options out there. One thing I'll warn you to be wary of: tour companies often save money by choosing hotels that are in the outskirts of a city. It's not a big problem for them because they can use the bus to drive the tour groups into the city center each morning. It's a problem for you if you're spending an hour traveling each morning. So pay particular attention to the hotels if you choose to book this kind of thing.
posted by smackfu at 8:35 PM on August 28, 2006

I can't offer a lot in terms of accomodation but as far as air fares go, is an amazing website. I don't know how this guy keeps on finding these unadvertised fares but from my experience as a frequent flyer, he's pretty damn impossible to beat.
posted by krautland at 9:13 PM on August 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

I worked at a "coaching hotel" in the UK, and those tours are crap, crap, CRAP.

As a package for crinklies, they're a good bargain. Unfortunately, the're total shit because each night's accomodation is WAY too far past what's a good idea. Take a good look-- the "activities with a tour group" are largely confined to sitting on a coach.

The tour operator doesn't care if you do his old people activities as long as he gets your money. Unfortunately, you need to do his old people activities to make it to your next hotel. If your idea of seeing Europe is through a Wallace Arnold coach window, by all means disregard this.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:25 PM on August 28, 2006

A Eurail pass and your own advance travel planning (there are detailed schedules available online), plus your own resrvation of hotel, will be your best bet.

Even if you want to be independent of your tour group, all your going to/leaving from/travelling time will be with a bunch of crappy strangers. You'll have much more fun just the two of you, and can still have the payment / security you want.

Just one more tip: ten days isn't much, I wouldn't want to do any more than three cities MAXIMUM. Take three close ones like London - Paris - Amsterdam to keep the actual travelling time to a minimum.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:42 AM on August 29, 2006

all your going to/leaving from/travelling time will be with a bunch of crappy strangers.

Like on any standard airplane trip? The only way to travel w/o strangers is to rent a car or a private cabin on a train.
posted by smackfu at 6:36 AM on August 29, 2006

smackfu, with a bunch of random people, you are alone. When you are always with the same group of random strangers, they become crappier.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:58 AM on August 29, 2006

While you say you want all the hotels/transport arranged in advance, are you willing to do this yourself? Because I think that's the answer, and you can do almost all of it online, far in advance, and in English. Some ideas for a cheap(er) vacation below:

Travelocity and Expedia can hook you up with simple quasi-DIY packages. Use the "flight + hotel" setting for your entry/departure city, and then book hotels in the other cities online as well. Print out your confirmation e-mails and show up. Done!

If you'd rather do things independently, without conglomo-website involvement, get yourselves a guidebook and find a hotel in a location near (or not) to what you're interested in seeing. Most hoteliers in smaller local places speak at least some English, so even if there's only an e-mail address or phone number (was there ever a better time for Skype?) to work with, try anyway.

Getting there: if it's cheaper to fly to Dublin from wherever you are in the US, look at ticket prices to get there, and then connect on super-cheap Ryanair or also-cheap Aer Lingus to all the other places you want to go. BMI flies to many of the cities you mention, as does Easyjet.

Maybe it seems like flying would be the most expensive option, but we're talking lower-than-Southwest fares here - I flew Ryanair from Krakow, Poland to Glasgow for something absurd, like a grand total of $30. Also, with so little time, you can expand your horizons: Edinburgh, Paris, Rome? No need for an overnight train.

You can buy point-to-point rail tickets online here - they'll mail you paper tickets that you can take on your trip, but there's a premium they extract on top of the actual price.

Or you can buy online and pick up your tickets at the station or even just print out and show an e-ticket to the conductor (the case in Italy). Here are the English websites for France and Italy's respective train systems. British train tickets here. Europe-wide train details here.

Pack light!
posted by mdonley at 7:31 AM on August 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

We don't want spontaneity in our travel or lodgings...

Then book yourself on an 'if it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium' tour, tell the guide you're going to skip the route-marches (with the promise of a good tip at the end) and get back in time for departure. Like other people, I think the whole concept sucks -- there's nothing worse than having to abandon a place you've taken a shine to, and nothing better than having the freedom to stay another night -- but it's your holiday.
posted by holgate at 10:02 AM on August 29, 2006

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