Sunday, 7 January 2018

What I've learned from my first escorted tour

Last November, my sister and I went on our first escorted tour to Central Europe. We've travelled together several times before but have always planned the trips ourselves. This time, we decided to book an escorted tour to try something new that does not require too much effort from our end, other than selecting a tour and paying for it.

We both had a fantastic time with lots of new memories and pictures from our tour. It confirmed what I thought about escorted tours, their benefits, and why I would consider another escorted tour for my future travels. At this time, with good health and being fairly active, independent travels are still more appealing to me. However, if an escorted tour comes along that meets my criteria, you may see me on it!

Why should you consider taking an escorted tour?
  • Itinerary and logistics are planned by the tour company
  • Guided tours are led by local guides in your language of choice
  • Travelling in a group is an opportunity to meet other travellers
  • Most expenses are known at time of booking

What should you look for when selecting an escorted tour?
  • Tour company with a solid history and policies that you accept
  • Excellent customer reviews or words of mouth from people you trust
  • The tour group size and targeted audience
  • The tour itinerary, its pace, and comfort level
  • The driving distance per day (i.e. How long are you sitting on a bus?)
  • The tour details, what's included, and what's not

What was my experience on my first escorted tour?
  • We travelled in shoulder season so the group size was less than half of what it would be in prime season. We lucked out with meeting a group of nineteen friendly and considerate fellow travellers, fifteen of them travelled as couples or in small groups, and four were solo travellers. We had plenty of room on our tour bus which can accommodate fifty five people.
  • The tour was well-organized. Our itinerary covered the half-day city tours and left us with free time to explore on our own. The tour manager and local guides spoke excellent English. They were also very helpful with their recommendations for local restaurants or optional activities.
  • The distance from one city to another is not too far (e..g. From Budapest to Vienna was about 2.5 hours by car, and from Vienna to Bratislava was about an hour by car). Being a person who prefers walking, I particularly appreciated that I did not have to sit on a bus all day.
  • The pace was just right for us although people who are not 'morning persons' might struggle with getting ready, breakfast, and out the door by 8:30 a.m. for several days in a row.
  • We paid for most expenses in advance and did not have any unexpected charges. We had sufficient foreign currencies with us for small purchases (euro for Austria and Slovakia, forint for Hungary, and koruna for Czechia). Credit cards were accepted at the restaurants and shops that we visited. Coins were useful where we made stops for public washrooms since they typically had a small charge and an attendant to accept payments. We used up the coins before leaving the countries since we can exchange bills but not coins.
  • The four cities (Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, and Prague) are beautiful with well-established tourism. I highly recommend a visit to each city or all four if you have the opportunity. 

Should you consider taking an escorted tour?

Ultimately, if you prefer someone else to manage the itinerary and logistics, and don't mind travelling with a group on a schedule, then escorted tours may be the right option. 

I'd consider another escorted tour for places where I don't know the local language and English is not widely spoken, and if the tour meets my travel criteria. I'm also on the look out for a Canadian tour company. There are many but if you have one to recommend, please share.

What is your experience with escorted tours?


  1. Hi, Natalie - Thank you for sharing this experience with us. I don't think that I would ever get my husband to agree to a guided tour...but it is nice to have some ammunition like this just is case I find one that I think that would be right for us and I need the extra reference. Unfortunately, I do not have any experience with Canadian tour companies to share.

    1. Hi Donna, I have a similar situation with my husband. The escorted tour with my sister did save me time and effort to plan for a trip. We both gave our trip an excellent rating, and already started talking about another tour for this year.

  2. I've considered escorted tours but one of my favourite things about travel is the planning and organizing. I don't think I would willingly give those up. That said, when I am older and if I am travelling on my own, I can see the advantages in safety and companionship.

    1. I see advantages in both independent trip planning and guided tour approaches, Karen. It's good to have options.

  3. As much as we travel, sometimes I simply need a break from being the self-appointed organizer of our trip details, and guided tours fill that space beautifully for us. One thing we often will do is to extend the trip at one or both ends, so we get our dose of independent time as needed. It’s a nice compromise I think.

    1. Thanks, Tamara, for sharing your experience. I agree with you. One of the reasons I booked this tour is to take a break from planning the details. The extension at one or both ends is nice.

  4. HI Natalie - i think an escorted tour sounds like a great idea for travelers wanted to explore off-the-beaten track locations or to explore unusual aspects of on-the-beaten-track locations. The right operator can have insights that someone planning their own trip would miss. I don't know of any Canadian tour operators but my friend Sue at most definitely would.

    1. You're right, Lisa. The tour manager that we had recommended excellent local restaurants and coffee houses that we would miss. Thank you for stopping by and referring me to Sue. I'll visit her site.

  5. I'm sure it was an interesting experience, especially if you were used to traveling independently. Were the meals (and restaurant choices) included as well, or were those expenses extra and the choices more up to the group members?

    I have only done one escorted tour in my life and that was taking my dad's (who doesn't like traveling) spot to go with my mom to St. Petersburg, Russia for five days, while on a visit to my family in Belgium. Everything was included and I was really looking forward to not having to think, plan, worry. Plus, I don't speak the language. The tour was very interesting, but it didn't take long for me to want to venture on my own and get my freedom back. Since that was impossible, I'll just have to go back one day. :-)

    1. All breakfasts, the first and last dinners including wine or beer, were included in our package. We were on our own for the rest of the meals which worked well for me and my sister. We had our lunches wherever we were. For dinners, we went to where the tour manager recommended and the meals were all very good. This tour gave me a break from all the planning for four cities with different languages spoken. Plus most of the logistics on site were taken care of so we just enjoyed sightseeing, talking, and eating like true vacationers :)