Okay, I wanted to write two separate posts on my recent Euro trip experience. One would be about the places I saw over there, and my experiences, and the second would be about the Pros and Cons of choosing a Tour Operator (Since I went with one).
So in my first post, I shall be telling you about the advantages and disadvantages of booking a Group Tour through a Travel agency.
The popular travel agencies in India include SOTC-Kuoni, Thomas Cook, Cox & Kings, etc, which are all associated with the respective international brands. You can get customized packages, or you can go along with the Fixed itineraries which they provide. Usually booking in advance, can get you certain amounts of discount. The popular packages include Europe, US, China, etc.
The reasons for me opting for a tour operator were the convenience factor, especially considering the fact that I had never gone out of India before. The tour operator will do all the dirty work, ie the formalities involved for you to step out. This includes, processing of VISA, booking the flight tickets, the hotels, and the internal travel. All you have to do, is to provide your documents, passport, and do your luggage packing. They will take care of the rest(Once you pay of course). Hence, it is much more easy, especially if you are going out for the first time.
However, once you are aware of the entire process, you can definitely plan all of this on your own. It is not that difficult, and many of my friends do it. Do remember that booking in advance, can help you save lot of money. Nevertheless, that is not something I have done yet, hence am not the right person to advice for the same.
The above were the major Pros of going with a tour operator. You will also be assigned a Tour Manager, who will be there with you throughout the course of the journey. He will guide you with all the locations, and will also manage your time for the same. Ideally, he is supposed to have decent knowledge about the locations as well.
Nevertheless, in spite of all the above advantages, and convenience in booking the tour, there were lot of things which I did not like. However, I should mention that I had anticipated some of the same in advance, before I did the booking.
1. You may or may not like the other people in the group. But you will be stuck with them throughout. Obviously, Indians are known to cause huge amount of ruckus and chaos wherever they go, so if you put 50 strangers together, there is bound to be friction and differences arising, and you may not like that. However, there is still the possibility of you making a few new friends.
2. Check the package for the food options. Most Indian tour operators give you Indian food, and take you only to Indian restaurants, for Group tours. You may or may not like the option. In case you want to try the local cuisine, you will have to shell out extra money from your pocket, and you may not even have the time to go to a local restaurant.
3. Your entire time and duration, ie itinerary is fixed. You cannot just go wherever you like, or stay at a particular duration for how long you like. You have to move depending on what the Tour Manager tells you. And you will have to move with the rest of the group, whether you like it or not. This definitely turns out to be a dampener, as there are many locations which are just touch and go. So you can hardly say that you even saw the place properly.
4. In our package, the entire travel was done by Coach (bus), and needless to say we travelled long distances, which becomes tiring and uncomfortable. There were days, where we were travelling 9 to 10 hours continuously in the bus. The journey can be made much more easier, by travelling in train(Europe has some of the best train services), however most Tour Operators will only look at reducing their cost, and will opt for buses. Personally, I hate long bus journeys, and this was certainly the most irritating part of the trip for me.
5. Most of the hotels which are booked are budget hotels(of course depending on your package), located at the outskirts of the city. The rooms will be small and uncomfortable. Of course, it might be staying just one night, but if the day has been tiring, you would prefer to sleep properly at night. In one hotel, the air conditioner was not working, and they refused to even acknowledge it.
6. You miss out on the opportunity to interact with the local people or with travellers from different countries. This is something which you can only do if you are travelling on your own. You just wont get enough time to do this in a Group Tour.
So overall, though the places visited were good, but the cons outweighed the pros. Next time, I definitely will not be travelling with any tour operator. The best thing is to make a small group of 3-4 people and plan on your own. Fix your budget, decide which locations you want to go to, and make your plans. Its good to spend at least 2-3 days in one Country, in order to take your time and explore. Otherwise you will be in a rush just travelling from one destination to another.
This is me, signing off, soon to be back with my experiences in another post.