People always ask me what my thoughts are regarding organized tours to Rome. Are they better than going alone or with a group of family or friends? Are organized tours too structured? Will I see everything that I should see with an organized tour? Will I be bored on an organized tour? If something happens to my reservations while I’m in Rome, am I capable of fixing it on my own?
Organized tours can be great things. Going with a group can take a lot of the “scariness” out of going to a foreign country. I don’t care what people tell you, but traveling to a foreign country where English is not the native language can be daunting, especially if it is your first time. You don’t know what to expect, and all sorts of scenarios are running through your head! You don’t want to go to a foreign country, spend all that money, just to hang out around your hotel. Going with a tour can help take the edge off.
On the other hand, organized tours can sometimes be too organized. There’s more to a place than what any organized tour will show you. The tour can also have the habit of segregating your from the place you’re actually visiting, and you’ll find that you are spending more time with people on the tour than you are with the residents of that country. You might be thinking “I don’t speak the language, so how will I interact?”. You’d be surprised at how friendly Italians can be, and how they will relish the opportunity to practice their English with you.
Organized tours can also make getting around a lot easier, especially if you plan to visit other cities in Italy along with Rome. The tour will generally make sure that you get from point A to point B, organize your hotels, offer recommendations on where to eat and shop, and ensure that your trip goes smoothly.
Another positive to organized tours is that you won’t need to spend hours and hours learning the language. If you plan to go to Rome on your own or with friends without a tour, you’ll have no choice but to learn a few simple phrases. If you don’t have the time or inclination, the organized tour can be a god-send.
The good thing about tours is that most of them are customizable. There are lots of companies out there that will help you plan the trip. Some of the more expensive ones will have a guide and driver at your disposal almost 24 hours a day. There are also more reasonably priced student tours where you can meet other students and people your age while traveling about fun locations.
If the tour you want to go on isn’t spending enough time in a place that you want to visit longer, ask to extend your stay. You may have to bypass another place or cut your visit shorter in other places, but it never hurts to ask. If you find that a tour is too restrictive, keep shopping around until you find one that is more flexible and accommodating to your plans.
Be careful though — tours can sometimes be ‘whirlwind’ in nature. That is, you bounce from city to city with only a day (and sometimes less!) in one place, making it hard to get a feel for the places that you are visiting. Realize that if you’re on a tour that starts in Rome for 2 days and then you’re to stay two days in Florence, the last day in Rome or your “first” Florence day are going to spent traveling. While distances in Italy are shorter, you’re still going to eat up a big chunk of your day on the train, getting to your hotel, settling in…before you know it, you’ll be packing your bags and off to your next destination.
Going alone or planning on your own can be fun and exhilarating. You have total control over what you want to do and where you go. However, when snafus develop, you’re going to have to work them out yourself. With the tour, most of the practical concerns are taken care of, but you may not be able to stay or enjoy a city as long as you would like. Weigh the pro’s and con’s, set realistic expectations of your trip, and decide accordingly.
Remember that a tour can be a great way to acclimate yourself to Rome, and then return another time in the future on your own once you’ve had a chance to get a feel for the city, its inhabitants and what to expect.
Regardless of whether you take a tour or “do-it-yourself”, make sure that your adventures in Italy are memorable and fun!