How Did You Plan Your European Vacation?

Updated on September 14, 2010
A.P. asks from Sanford, FL
12 answers

My husband and I are planning a trip to Europe (definitely France, considering adding Rome and/or London) in May 2011. I am looking for all-inclusive packages with free days that have an option to purchase excursions.

Did you use a travel agent, purchased hotel/airfare/transportation/activities separately, use a tour company, etc?

I am trying to find the most economical but yet appealing vacation. Since we've never been to Europe, I'm thinking I would feel more comfortable with a tour company. However, am I paying more for a tour company?

Any and all advice on planning/purchasing the vacation needed!

Thanks moms!

1 mom found this helpful

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E.J.

answers from Dallas on

Our favorite resources for planning a European vacation: Rick Steves podcasts on iTunes (pick the ones that interest you; I highly recommend this for any vacation), TripAdvisor.com, Lonely Planet guidebooks, RickSteves.com (he has a tour company too), homeaway.com (where you can book homes rather than hotels). The Rick Steves podcasts are invaluable. Good luck, and have fun!

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E.H.

answers from Dallas on

I HAVE THE BEST travel agent -- call Christen Marsh at Canyon Creek Travel --- she did our London trip and our Australie trip and custom made it to whatever we wanted!! HIGHLY recommend her~!###-###-#### or email [email protected]____.com

E. herman
Cornerstone Chem-Dry

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S.M.

answers from Dallas on

Been to Europe several times and planned it all using guidebooks (Frommes and Rick Stevens are good choices). Some tours are good but prefer doing my own tour on my own time. If you have any military connections, try booking your tours through the USO.

Have fun!

1 mom found this helpful

R.B.

answers from Dallas on

Been to Europe several times- used Globus. GREAT company. Loved all our trips with them.
Have fun. Hoping to make it to Scotland soon and will be using Globus.
R. :)

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C.T.

answers from Dallas on

Well, do you want to do lots and lots of sightseeing, or do you want to relax? My inlaws always go with tour groups, and they like it, but personally, I wouldn't want to be with a group so much of the time. I also think you can do it cheaper if you go on your own. For our honeymoon, my husband and I went to Paris and Provence (Isle Sur de la Sourge). I researched and made all the arrangements myself ... it was a little nerve-wracking before the trip (it was the first time I had planned anything like that), but I felt like I got good deals and we had a wonderful time when we went. My husband and I really enjoyed being on our own schedule, relaxing when we wanted and sightseeing when we wanted. We went back to Europe another time on a cruise ship. That was also fun, and you have the option to go on planned tours or not. You are much more scheduled, though, and its harder to immerse yourself in culture when you are in each location for a day.

If you don't go with a tour group, I highly recommend getting a personal tour guide once or twice. You can ask at the hotel, and usually they can recommend some student who will take you around the sights for a small price ... we've found these to be the best tours, because it will automatically focus on your interests and schedule. In general, if you aren't with a group, I recommend relying on your hotel concierge for guidance on restaurants, sight-seeing, etc. We've found really great authentic cuisine this way.

Hope you have a good time!

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D.B.

answers from Tampa on

You are definitely paying more for a tour company; that being said, since it's your first time, it may be the way to go. I've traveled to Europe several times, both with groups and without, and I definitely preferred arranging things myself. Tours can be great, but sometimes they try to fit too many "touristy" things in their package, and you miss the true sense of the countries because you are spending so much of your time on the tour's schedule. They show you the main sites of the city, then drop you at a central location or send you on an optional tour and you end up having so little time to do your own thing.

This isn't to say that it wouldn't be a great trip for you. It just depends on your preferred style of travel. I like down time and having those days where we sleep a little later and just relax. I planned our trip to Italy 5 years ago, and it was great... we spent a few days in each location, took the trains between cities, and planned much of the trip as we went, with an idea of the major must sees... the Vatican, several museums, the statue of David, etc.

If you decide you want to plan your own trip, Rick Steves has a series of guidebooks that I have found very helpful in planning. He updates them every year, and he tells you all the tips to save money (buy train tickets in advance, for example), ways to avoid the long lines, the things you should make a priority to see, etc.

Either way, you are sure to have a memorable trip. Enjoy!

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C.B.

answers from Dallas on

Both ways have advantages. It depends on what you are comfortable with. Having said that, we lived in Belguim for 2 years and I planned all our vacations (with a 5-6 year old in tow) myself. Getting around in Europe is easy. Just walk into a train station and ask for a ticket from x to y. Most of the train stations have personnel who speak some English. Most train tickets are set up so you can leave on any of the trains (at any time) going from x to y. The only exceptions are the high speed trains. For those you need a reservation and seats and departure times are set. What we found when our families came and visited us was that we could purchase the train tickets much cheaper in Europe than they could through a travel agent. When we compared prices my nephew was given to what we could purchase the ticket for - we found the American price was about 3 times as much! So just be aware and maybe do some research on the internet.

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L.P.

answers from Dallas on

I would plan it on your own, not use a tour company. We lived in London for several years and did lots of travel throughout Europe while we were there. The only time we booked with a tour company was 2 ski trips and then of course one cruise. If you are looking for maybe a few tours to do while there then look at Viator. They have many tours in lots of European cities, you can pick and choose a few to do while there and then spend the rest of the time at your own pace. My mom did Venice and Florence on her own and booked several day trips through Viator. If you are taking young kids then sometimes groupo tours are not the way to go (speaking from experience). The best tour we ever took was a private tour through the Vatican, our kids were 4 and 1 at the time, we went at our pace but had a knowledgeable American as our guide.

And I would say London is a MUST SEE. If I could move back I would in a heartbeat. Also, Rome is incredible as is Paris. There are several day trips you can do outside paris too (and a few that take longer) such as the beaches of Normandy and Mont St Michele. And Versailles is gorgeous as well.

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J.M.

answers from Dallas on

When I went to Oxford, London and Rome with my sisters and Paris with my husband, I went the cheap route and checked travel books from the library, especially Rick Steves. Some books give you walking tours and history. However, I wish I had splurged for the paid tours because I like knowing more about the places we went. Usually main tourist places, like museums, palaces, etc. Have audiophones you can rent to listen to through the place. For Paris I bought the Tavel book and later cut out pages to put in a scrapbook. Also, don't rely just on debit/credit--have cash. We didn't get to go inside the coliseum in Rome because we thought we could pay with cc and there wasn't an ATM machine for miles. Good luck!

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J.C.

answers from Sacramento on

We just took an awesome trip to Italy and Switzerland this summer thru Disney Adventures tours and it was over the top. They have pkgs to a number of destinations in Europe if you look on line. We actually set it up and got the pkg through Costco, yes the big box superstore whse. It was the best trip ever and had a daily itinerary that was great, very unique and fun. You could opt not to do the event planned for the day or do it. The guides we had were very nice, young, enthusiastic and quite knowledgable of the 2 countries. THey were bi-lingual and lots of fun to be around and helped with any ?'s. The tour included 2 meals a day at good places and stays at 4-5 star hotels. We took our young teen daughter and it was not a real "Dinsey themed" trip which was what we wanted, Too much Disney to us is not a good thing. THey have adult only pkgs to Europe through Disney Adventures, look at their web-site on line and see what destinations they offer for next yr. as they change annually. Disney always seems to do things right. We saw lots of other tour groups from many other co's in Europe. Do be sure you consider your age and find a pkg with similar age of the travelers you will be going with. I know many colleges/universities offer travlel pkgs through their Alumni clubs too and you dont have to be a member of the Alumni club. We saw a number of people on these types of tours there. We had never been to Europe either b4 and it was the very best trip we've ever taken. There is something breathtaking about traveling to Europe I found, the incredible old architecture and the beauty of the surroundings, not to mention the culture and people, trying lots of new foods and adventures too. Hope u have a great time .

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L.T.

answers from Abilene on

For our 25th anniversary, we used Cosmos tours for a "coach" (bus) tour through several countries. It was fabulous! They had so many choices of tours, offered optional excursions and best of all sold a "money pack" that included enough of each country's currency for the amount of time we'd be in that country -- not such an issue with the Euro! And our tour guide was a fantastic lady who spoke 7 languages fluently.

Five years later we used Cosmos again for a tour of Scotland, which was just great.

Cosmos is a lower-cost option of the Globus tour company. We felt more comfortable with a tour company since those were our first trips to "the Continent"! It was nice not having to figure out hotels and most places to eat.

Later we went back to Germany on our own and missed some parts of the tour experience!

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L.L.

answers from Dallas on

I think for your first time a tour company might be the way to go. However, travel in Europe is very easy, the roads are great and well marked. If you just attempt a few words of the language people are really nice, even in France which I think gets a bad rap. My favorite guide books are the Eye Witness ones - lots of pictures & good information. If you are renting a car (there are great back roads - stay away fromt he highways as much as possible) get the Michelin Road Maps.
Have fun.

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