There are good Bus Tours and there are really bad ones. To understand why, you have to understand the bottom line and that's what the bus tour companies are most concerned with; rightly so, because they have to make a profit or close their doors. But this doesn't mean their tours should "take you for a ride" if you'll forgive the pun.The kinds of tours we're talking about here are the typical, impossibly cheap 49-persons-on-a-49-seat bus that are heavily advertised and sold by travel agents for a commission. These can be good value, but you have to know what to avoid.
Some savvy travelers take the escorted coach tours every year only for the hotels, meals and transportation provided. Every day they do their own sightseeing after the bus stops for the day. You can take a tour and to a limited degree, still go your own way. This works particularly well on the tours that stop in five cities in six days, or similar tours depending on their duration.Typical big bus tours will have a professional multilingual European guide and 40-49 people aboard.
The tour company is probably very big, booking rooms by the thousands, often in their own company-owned hotels. The buses are usually very good; a luxurious new or fairly new 49 seater, with a high quiet ride, comfortable seats, air conditioning and a toilet on board. Go with the flow on one of these big economical tours and you'll see a lot of Europe, but you won't experience much of Europe.The hotels will fit American and Canadian standards. This means large, not too personal and offering comfort, good plumbing and double rooms.
Be sure to check the brochures carefully for this phrase: "we'll overnight near Rome". Near might mean halfway to Naples in the middle of nowhere. If most meals are included on one of these tours, don't expect gourmet meals. The tour companies drive the prices down to the point where the hotels and restaurants can barely break even and most of the meals will be buffet style with little evidence of local cuisine.
Europe will be spoon-fed to you by your guide on these big company tours. The sights you see will be those chosen for their convenience to the tour company, not for their cultural or historical significance. This is getting to be more common all the time, because with the burgeoning populations and increasing tourism, the museums and historically significant sights are resorting to reservations, which put a crimp into the bus tour schedules. The "historically significant" site the bus will take you to will often be the one with easy parking and in a town or city where there is a company owned hotel.Stop and think, you cannot take 49 people into a "cozy" pub and be cozy. A good stop for a guide is a place with easy access to and from the freeway, easy bus parking and where the guides and drivers are supplied with free coffee, sandwiches and cakes.
The staff should speak sufficient English and accept bank cards and above all, 49 people can all go to the bathroom at one and the same time!.Being a tour guide is not the fun job it might seem at first glance. There's lots of responsibility, paperwork and miserable hours; a good guide is the first up in the morning and the last to bed at night.
Most guides - if they can - will keep their distance from their group socially, this is a job to them, not a seven, fourteen, or twenty-one day party on wheels. Each tourist has his or her own problems and personal demands and a group of 49 can often become an amalgamated pain in the butt to the guide.Ever wonder how they get paid? They usually make a daily salary between 50 and 100 dollars, a percentage of the optional excursions, kickbacks from the museums, attractions, etc. that the guide brings their tour to and finally the end-of-the-trip tips. Some professional guides with a lot of experience on a particular tour, will pay the tour company a flat fee for the privilege of guiding the tour and keep all the money from the excursions, kickbacks and tips.
A top notch professional guide can make 500+ a day on a good tour.Here's some final tips for you to employ to help ensure a good trip.First and above all else, stay on the good side of your guide. Wait for a quiet moment to ask for advice instead of insisting on individual attention. If the bus is making a quick pit stop and there's a coffee kiosk close, ask if you can bring back coffees for the driver and guide. Go along with the small things, without letting him/her take advantage of you.
Be wary of the sightseeing options and especially the "night activities" or "local color" options. A couple hundred Aussies, Kiwis, Japanese, Koreans, Americans and Crazy Canucks drinking sangria and whirling their noisemakers is not local color! Instead visit a local café or bar of some kind and strike up a conversation with the locals. You'll have a good time and probably feel better the next morning, especially if you take it easy with the local firewater. Some of it is very strange and very powerful.
Decide before you leave home whether you're going on a tour to see and experience Europe, or to shop. If it's to shop, the guide will be happy to steer you to all their "best buys". Rolexes are pushed in Switzerland, leather goods in Florence and glass objets d'art in Venice.
And that "professor" or "scholar" that meets your cruise ship, or at the hotel first thing in the morning on a free day? He is actually a carpet salesman who will take you to the obligatory ancient site, then take you to his carpet store and then take you to the cleaners if you fall for his line. Any time a guide, storekeeper or salesperson tells you that it's a special price for the tour, but you must buy now, run -don't walk- to the nearest exit. You can probably get it for half the price down the street, but only if you can break away for the tour group and a sharp guide will make that almost impossible.
Always be on the lookout for opportunities to talk to the local population. This is easier if you came not to shop but to learn and experience. Most people are very proud of their city, canton, or country and love to tell you about it.
So lean back, have another sip of wine, listen and enjoy! Happy touring!..Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Tourism.
By: Michael Russell