To tour or not to tour? It’s the question we find ourselves asking more and more often as we travel. Maybe it’s because we have officially retired and are a bit more selective as to how we spend our money, or maybe it’s because we’ve seen a few too many museums and castles. Whatever the reason, we are more discriminating these days.
While in Porto, Portugal we bought two 2-day on/off bus passes for a total of 24 euros. We rode the bus the entire loop, which took a couple of hours and then hopped on/off throughout the day. The bus took us all the way out to the coast, somewhere we would not have walked to. It was well-worth every penny even though we didn’t use the second day.
In Barcelona, the same concept of two 2-day on/off bus passes would have cost us nearly 60 euros. As much as we would have enjoyed getting the overview of the city, we couldn’t justify the cost. It seemed so ridiculously over the top expensive. The #1 reason we went to Barcelona was to tour La Sagrada Familia and at 48 euros for the two of us, it was pricey. But for a once-in-a-lifetime must see experience, we had to do it and it was all kinds of fabulous!
We took a day trip to Arles in the south of France and while there we decided 16 euros was worthy of the opportunity to visit a nearly 2,000 year-old roman-built coliseum. How often do we get the chance?
A Big Splurge
It may sound contradictory to say we splurged big time to take a small-group guided tour of Avignon, Orange, Pont du Gard and Chateauneuf du Pape at 110 euros per person, but here’s why we did it. We very much wanted to visit all four places, but could not reasonably coordinate bus/train travel to get to each of them in the allotted time we had.
Being with two guides and only five other people was a great way to experience the region. On our own, we would not have had the same experience nor would we have found the ruins of the Pope’s castle or an active archaeological site. For an 8-hour day, with a driver in an air-conditioned van and a knowledgeable local guide, it was a wonderful way to experience the region on our tight schedule. It was expensive, but it was worth it. Oh, and it included wine tasting in one of the Pope’s caves!
The Walking Tour
Walking tours are a growing commodity in the travel industry. Some tours are free, asking only for a donation for the guide and some are paid, whether group or private. There are lots of options and walking tours are among our favorite ways in which to get up close and personal with the soul of a city.
While in Munich we had just 2 1/2 days to see as much of the city as possible and we had no idea where to start so we thought, walking tour. Based on TripAdvisor reviews we chose InMunich Tours, which offered a guided paid (20 euros/person) walking tour of Dachau and a free walking tour of the city, which we took on day two. Visiting a concentration camp is difficult at best. Having a knowledgeable guide was well-worth the cost in order to take away as much as possible from the experience.
Traveling from Germany to France, we spent 2 nights in Paris to catch our breath before we headed to Spain to walk the Camino. Having been to Paris before we were looking for something different to do. As luck would have it, we were invited by Discover Walks to join a night walking tour of Paris and we gladly accepted the invitation. We love Paris and seeing it with a guide – at night – was the best. Cities with rivers always seem to be extra pretty, but crossing the Seine river at night was really something as was seeing the glass pyramid and fountains at the Louvre.
Although it was dark and I wasn’t able to get a good shot of the building, one of my favorite stops on the tour was the building used in the film, Julie & Julia. It wasn’t Julia’s actual home, but it was fun to see a bit of movie trivia. And who knew if you walked into a parking garage you’d find a section of an historic wall built by Philippe Augustus!
Throw Out the Outliers
Usually, it’s nearly impossible to see everything a city has to offer so making choices is inevitable. When we’re on the fence about something, we’ll look at reviews on TripAdvisor and get a feel for the overall impressions. We know the reviews can be manipulated, but it’s pretty simple to throw out the outliers and find the common ground. Or, to simplify it, if we have to think about it too long and hard then it’s probably not what we want to do.
I remember standing in front of the castle in Prague, trying to decide if we wanted to pay to go in while shaking my head and thinking, meh, let’s go stroll the gardens and take cheesy pictures with the guards.
When it comes right down to it, it’s all about making the best use of your time and finding the best bang for your buck.
I know this dilemma so well! We usually try to visit sights and travel independently because it’s often cheaper and we can tailor it to our interests. Sometimes it’s just easier and cheaper to take tours; we also rely on Tripadvisor more and more these days to pick out what we want to do.
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We look at TripAdvisor often. We tend to throw out the outlier reviews and go with the mid line majority to get a good balance. Plus, it’s just a great site for finding sites/places as well.
Very true on all points. We’ve also seen so many museums and unless one is a ‘must see’ we don’t bother. We’re full time travellers now and if we paid to enter museums everyday we’d go broke fast.
We did the same thing at Prague castle 🙂 Saw the complicated options and high prices and just said ‘screw it’. Tons to see in the castle district that you don’t have to pay for.
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That’s a great point, when you travel for a length of time or long-term, you could definitely run through the $$ quickly if you didn’t prioritize!
I have very rarely paid for tours but have contacted locals through CouchSurfers to act as my guide then taken them to lunch, which might cost as much as a tour sometimes.
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That’s a clever system, a great way to get to know someone local to the area and a nice way to give back.
I was pretty anti-tour in the beginning because I wanted to do everything on my own, but eventually I came around to realize that some tours are worth paying for!
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Some tours definitely are, but it’s always fun to wander off on your own. Congratulations on the book!
I do like doing things independently and use local buses, but sometimes to have a guide explaining about the local history, local cuisine etc can really be so worth it. Although doing the research about a place can help, some times there is just no substitute for local knowledge. Sounds like you did get some good value tours for your Euro, I liked the idea of the night tour in Paris, it must have been so atmospheric and magic. Thanks for a lovely post Patti.
The night tour in Paris was very nice, something about the glow of lights on a river is very special!
In principle, we avoid taking paid guided tours, for that matter, even free guided ones. But sometimes it would be the only way we’ll be able to see the site we came to see. So, we have to bend the rule.
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Yep, sometimes you just gotta bend the rules because paying, or taking a guided tour, may be the only way you’re going to get in.
Another great blog Patti and I totally understand the balance of splurge and save
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It’s a balancing act, isn’t it?!
The best tour we have been on lately was the food tour we did in Marrakesh. Not being a fan of street food usually, this was a chance to try some new things and be fairly sure we wouldn’t come home with Medina revenge. Loved the street pizza (yes, it has a Moroccan name ) Loved the tagine. Even loved the sheep cheeks. Took a pass on Sardine sandwiches, but everyone else raved about them. Snails. Nope. Not so much. The pastries were great.
Food tours are usually a really great way to experience the city while eating as you go. What could be better?! I think I may have passed on the sheep cheeks though. 😉