Welcome to Life Images by Jill

Welcome to Life Images by Jill.........Stepping into the light and bringing together the images and stories of our world.
Through my blog I am
seeking to preserve images and memories of the beautiful world in which we live and the people in it. And in many ways it is my journal of everyday life. If you click on the Index you can see my posts under various topic headings.
I am a Freelance Journalist and Photographer based in Bunbury, Western Australia. My published work specialises in Western Australian travel articles and stories about inspiring everyday people. My passion is photography, writing, travel, wildflower and food photography.
Most recently I have been enjoying exploring other art genres, including Eco-printing with Australian leaves onto cloth and paper.
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Sunday, 17 June 2018

Is a bus tour for you?

We have just returned home from 4 weeks in Europe visiting Spain, Malta and Italy.

We booked two bus tours with Trafalgar with a few days in between visiting a friend in Malta. 

Spanish Wonders – 9 days and 8 nights – visiting Madrid, Toledo, Seville, Granada, Valencia and Barcelona.

And Grand Italian Experience – 17 days and 16 nights – visiting Rome, Alberobello, Ostuni, Sorrento, the Amalfi coast, Pompeii, Assisi, Venice, Milan, Trento, Lake Maggiore, Santa Margherita, the Cinque Terre, and Florence, finally returning to Rome for one night before we flew home.
Sounds exhausting? Yes it was, BUT we believe we travelled more safely and probably saw a lot more than we would have under our own steam as it was our first visit to this part of Europe, we didn’t know anything about travel in these countries, and don’t speak their languages.
A fellow traveller said she felt like she had been in the "amazing race"! 

An organised tour is not for everyone, but looking back over our holiday I started thinking about the 'fors' and 'againsts' of organised bus tour travel.

But first a few travel tips: Seasoned travellers probably have many more you could add.
    •  I suggest arriving the day before your tour starts to allow time to rest after your flight. We had an approximately 30 hour trip from home in Western Australia to Madrid, had virtually no sleep on the plane, and arrived at the hotel with only an hour to spare before we went to our tour's evening "welcome" dinner.
    • Check the luggage restrictions of the airline you are flying with and your tour bus. Sizes and weights may be different so you need to pack for the smaller size.
    •   Pack lightly. My friend advised – lay out the clothes you would like to take, then take half away. I tried to do this, and still had clothes I didn’t wear.  Try to pack clothes that don’t crease. We found that hotels in Europe didn’t supply irons.
    • Hand wash your essentials every night and other clothes every couple of days. The hotel supplied shampoo and soap are good for this.  We carry a small ‘washing line’ and pegs with us and hoped for a balcony for drying when we had a two night stop over.
    • A great way to wring out extra water from your washing is to wrap the items in a bath towel and hand wring tightly. It is amazing the amount of extra water that comes out.
    • If you are a reader only take one book or take an e-reader. Honestly you won’t have time to read unless you intend reading on the bus or you are a late night reader. 
    • Make sure you take an international power adapter with you so you can charge your devices. A power board for plugging in multiple devices is also a good idea. 
    • The easiest way for photographers to store photos is to take multiple memory cards. 
    Montserrat, Spain
    • We purchased a "travel sim" for our mobile phone which made calls home much cheaper. The mobile phone was a good way to check our emails and update family and friends on Facebook. Our bus had wifi and the facility to charge mobile devices, but make sure you take the necessary cords with you.
    • We loaded a ‘travel card’ with Euro before we left home and used this instead of our Visa card, as well as some cash. The travel card is not connected to any of our bank accounts, can be used to withdraw cash at ATMs, and can be loaded with extra cash on-line if necessary. 
    •  Whilst we agree that airport transfers when you arrive at your destination make life easier and a lot less stressful, we found that a taxi transfer from our hotel to the airport for our return flight was easy and a lot cheaper. 
    •  Be aware of additional or ‘hidden’ costs. These include optional experiences, lunches and evening meals, and gratuities (tips) expected by the local guides, your tour leader and coach driver. This can add many extra dollars to your cost, so you need include these in your budgeting before your book.  
    • Be careful of paying "gratuities" to tour leaders and coach drivers upfront when you pay for your trip. Gratuity rates are 'recommended' by the tour company but they are "something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service" - therefore they are not obligatory - they are a 'tip' for good service. Unfortunately some times you might feel that your tour leader or coach driver has not given you the service you expected, in which case you should not feel 'obliged' to pay the 'recommended' amount. If you have already paid up front when you paid for your trip, you have no say in how much you pay. 

      Now the fors and againsts tour bus travel, as we saw them.....


        • The tour companies know the countries you are visiting and are well placed to get the best deal to see the most in a limited time.
        • Travel in the safety and security of a group under the guidance of a tour leader who will also address language difficulties.
        • All your accommodation, breakfast and many of your meals are organised. Generally we stayed in good quality hotels, but this depends on how much you pay for your tour.

        A very enjoyable "optional" dinner in Madrid with opera singing waiters
        • You don’t have to plan or think about your day – it’s all organised for you
        • You receive a good snapshot of the country including visiting the iconic sites.
        •   A good tour leader will be very organised and have you arrive at points of interest early before the tourist hoards descend. 
        •  Be taken to places you might not have been aware of in the region: eg UNESCO World Heritage listed Trulli houses near Alberobello in Italy dating back to the 14th Century.
        Trulli houses
        •   No queuing at locations. To me this is the biggest plus of an organised tour when I saw the length of queues at the iconic sites. Our tickets were already purchased and we went straight past the waiting queues of other tourists, some of which were hundreds of metres long. This can save many hours of queuing which is wasted sight-seeing time.
        Colosseum crowds, Rome
        • Optional tours with local specialist guides at places of interest or street walks gave us an in-depth experience of these places. We found in general that local guides were passionate about their cities and its history. We all had headset radios which worked well for everyone to hear what the guides were saying.
        The Mosque of the Caliphs in Cordoba in Spain, built in the 10th Century, and now a Catholic cathedral, and our passionate local guide

        • All our breakfasts were included in the price of the tour, some of our evening meals, and some optional cultural dinners were offered.
        • Meet a range of people from different countries with whom you can share experiences, fact find together, and share information. 
        • The pace of the tour was hectic. We only had a few cities where we stayed two nights. The ‘get packed up, put your suitcase out to be collected, have breakfast, and get down to the bus by 8am or earlier’ regime was tiring.  

        • There was very little opportunity to relax. We often had long driving days with a visit to a place along the way, usually not getting to our hotel till after 4pm. We would have liked to have had 3 nights in a few places, and perhaps an ‘at leisure’ day in the middle of the tour so that we could rest, recharge, explore on our own or get our washing done. 
        • You may have to spend time at locations of little interest to you as they are part of the travel itinerary.
        •   Whilst the ‘optional tours’ give you a more in-depth experience, they leave little time for self-exploration, especially if the stop also required finding lunch, all within an hour or so. But of course these are 'optional tours' which you can opt out of.
        • No flexibility to stop and explore places of particular personal interest or move on quickly from places of little interest to you.

        •  Sometimes the ‘experiences’ don’t necessarily match the itinerary, or hold ups with traffic etc can mean that you are rushed through planned experiences. Unfortunately this happened to us in Pompeii, and the rain that day didn't help.
        • Visits to artisan workshops and outlets, whilst very interesting, can be little more than a chance to push sales. On several occasions I felt I would have rather spent my time exploring the city instead.

        • You may find you are travelling with a group or tour leader that isn’t a good match for your personality. Touring in this situation can make for a less than happy experience considering how much time you spend together over the duration of your tour. This can make or break your enjoyment of the tour.
        • Tour groups can be too large. Our last tour had 49 people. Tour groups of this size puts additional pressure on tour leaders and make it more difficult to have interaction with everyone on the tour. When you are walking with a local specialist the tour group tends to get ‘strung out’ over a long distance.The 'plus' of a large group is that you are more than likely you will find somebody who you 'click' with.
        •   On the bus, whilst our tour leaders could tell us information along the way via their microphone, it was limited how we could interact back to them or ask them a question due to the size of the bus. 
        •   A large tour group can make for very noisy dining experiences.


          At the end of our tours we were given evaluation sheets. This is a good opportunity to express your likes and dislikes, or make suggestions, about the tour, or you could email the tour operator direct on your return home. Please try to give truthful and useful feedback, otherwise the tour company won’t know what they are doing right, what doesn't work, or what they could improve on. 

          Overall we enjoyed our travels through Spain and Italy and we met some lovely people who we will no doubt keep in touch with over the coming years. However next time we will be looking more closely at the length of the tour, the area being covered and the number of people we would be travelling with. 

          A note on ‘hop on hop off’ buses. These can give you a good overall view and get you around to the iconic places in a city. However be aware of traffic conditions. When we were in London several years ago we wasted a lot of time sitting in traffic and didn’t get to see all the places we had planned. We could have walked quicker than the bus drove through the city. Also you still need to buy your entrance tickets and queue which wastes valuable sight-seeing time. You could catch local buses, but if you don't know your way around this could be problematic. 

          Thank you so much for stopping by. Over the next few weeks I hope to bring you more from our travels to Spain, Malta and Italy. 

          Have you been on a bus tour? What did you think about it? Do you have any travel tips for us? Perhaps you would like to share in your comments. 
          I value your comments and look forward to hearing from you. I will try to visit your blogs in return. Have a wonderful week.  

          The views expressed in this article are entirely mine and my husbands.
          We travelled with Trafalgar and via Qatar Aireways at our own cost.

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          1. Fantastic post, Jill! I have never been on a group tour with the exception of a day long tour. But I'm looking into it for a solo trip. I think I will feel more at ease in a group and get the most info rather than trying to do so on my own. Your pros and cons look to be spot on. And, of course, fantastic photos.

          2. Thank you Jill, an excellent wrap up filled with handy tips for would-be travellers.

          3. Such a fascinating post, wonderful photographs and brimming with good ideas and information. It seems that on balance you enjoyed your tours although I think they would have been too hectic for me, at my age I needs naps more often that I used too!
            We recently took two hop on/off bus tours around Corfu town which were quite disappointing but enjoyed a much better experience when we did the same thing few years ago in Edinburgh.
            Happy Mosaic Monday.

          4. Thanks for the Pro's and Con's of group tours. We have always "done our own thing" but as we get older it might be the way to go. We did have a 2 day guided tour of St Petersburg last year and I found it very tiring but it is the only way in St Petersburg unless you go to a lot of trouble with Visas. I agree with you that there aren't enough "rest" days on bus tours or even on cruises as ours was a port almost every day, but we survived and had a good rest when we got home! We do a lot of caravan trips and they are definitely relaxing and not much planning, just do what we want when we want.

            1. Hi Rosemary. Thanks for your take on the bus touring. Yes I agree about caravanning, though we always seem to be on some sort of time limit to when we have to get back. We are looking forward to going away in our caravan again as soon as we can.

          5. Great post Jill. I personally don't like bus tours for their photography restrictions but sometimes they win out for a variety of reasons.

            1. Yes I really struggled with not being able to stop and take photos when I wanted. I always had to just take quick snaps and hope some of them turned out ok.

          6. I wondered where you were. . .and whew, you wore me out with those travel schedules. While I like the idea of not having to plan out each day, I think my brain would have been on overload with this schedule. Look forward to many more tales from you as generated from this trip.

            1. yes it did wear me out and in the end I was counting down to when we finished. But of course there were gems in there too.

          7. Tam Taking Photos18 June 2018 at 21:24

            from my time as a travel agent and my own experience through Europe, I chose to travel with a bus company too because I was on my own. When you next decide to do it again, there are certain touring companies that have smaller group sizes, more 2-4 night stays in each stop and give you the option of your own free days within those locations. They are usually smaller companies and not always marketed as well as the larger companies like Trafalgar Tours, but they do exist. It just takes a bit more research to find the one best suited to your needs

            1. thanks for this feedback Tam. We had chosen another smaller company but then they cancelled the tour we wanted to do.

          8. Jill - this is a very valuable post for anyone considering this type of tour. Awesome tips! And thanks for the lovely pictures that accompanied your advice!

          9. Great post, Jill. I've traveled in Europe in a number of ways. With my husband, we do the Rick Steves way - find our own accommodation and tour around. I think we miss a few things that way, but we have lots of freedom and spontaneity. With my mom and sister, I did a bus tour. It was good for my mom to know she'd be in a nice hotel each night and that a lot of things were taken care of. It was great (with Globus, associated with Trafalgar, I believe), and I saw places I'd love to return to for more exploration. My husband and I did a river cruise in 2016 and to me, that's the best of all. We returned to the same room each night, our tour guides were fantastic, and there was enough free time to explore. I know they are more expensive, but all tours are included in the price.
            There are a lot of things to consider when choosing a vacation style. You covered a lot of ground.

            1. Life Images by Jill19 June 2018 at 13:09

              Unfortunately Europe is so far away for us to visit there is a huge undertaking, so I don't have the opportunity to travel independently. I like the idea of returning to the same room every night on a cruise. Happy travels Lorrie.

          10. My Jill that was an epic 'Amazing Race' and not once did you have an a 'I'm a celebrity get me out of here moment!' You made me think, I can't imagine taking a bus tour around Europe, mostly because having family in Europe we still have the feeling that we will have plenty of holidays there to explore places, so will go at our own place. I get a load of stick when I organise a driver in Asia and a guide, mostly for generally being over organised, but like you, I love the benefits of seeing a lot in a short space of time.
            Wren x

            1. life images by Jill19 June 2018 at 13:12

              hmm.... I did feel a couple of times "get me out of here"! :) I would love the luxury of renting a cottage in the countryside and staying in Europe for a few weeks.

          11. spinningstreak20 June 2018 at 00:16

            I love the Cordoba mosque mosaic! I remember it as such a mysterious place - you definitely make me want to return!

          12. I have done a few group/bus tours. When I went to France with my high school our school joined another tour group and that helped keep the costs down so much plus we had a wonderful guide that spent the whole week with us translating everything. My husband and I also went on a tour bus to Quebec and while we mainly only signed up to make sure we actually WENT on the trip we did have a lot of fun and I think we saw quite a few things we wouldn't necessarily have thought to check out on our own.

          13. Lots of good tips for packing and such. We don't travel by bus, but do go by airplane and packing light helps us keep costs down. I also use liquid soap and shampoo provided in a hotel for washing dishes from our travel pack that we use for in-room meals (another cost savings and sometimes better than eating out all the time). - Margy

            1. Life Images by Jill25 June 2018 at 11:42

              Yes, finding a super-market and having a few meals in your room certainly can keep the costs down. We also found years ago that not including breakfast in your original cost, saved quite a bit, as we found we could buy breakfast much cheaper out of the hotel.

          14. Traveling with the agency is OK if you travel alone, with your partner or friends, I mean without children. Travel organization is very difficult to work, sometimes it is better to leave it to the agency at all, if you do not have a lot of free time.
            But ... I prefer to pay more and travel in a small group. This is also my wish for future travel.
            I'm looking forward to your photos ...


          I hope you have enjoyed your visit to my blog. Thank you for stopping by and for taking the time to comment. I read and very much appreciate every comment and love hearing from you. I will try to visit your blogs in return.