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Packaged Tour or Do-It-Yourself

Franklin, TN
Level Contributor
24 posts
1 review
Packaged Tour or Do-It-Yourself

My family of 5 -- my wife and I with our kids 18, 16, 12 -- are traveling to England from U.S. May 31 - June 14. We're flying in and out of Gatwick. That part is firm.

The original plan was do it ourselves with a BritRail pass. I've tried to game plan that with a family of 5 though and it just seems to get real complicated -- and real expensive -- real fast.

So we're seriously considering a packaged tour that would take us to many of our "must see" spots -- Edinburgh, Wales, Bath, etc. It would be June 4 - June 12. The big advantage is a big chunk of our transportation and lodging would be taken care of. It would still leave us 5 days to do on our own,

The packaged tour will cost $6000, or roughly $600/day which will include breakfast and 3 or 4 dinners.

Any thoughts?

Oregon
Level Contributor
1,092 posts
44 reviews
1. Re: Packaged Tour or Do-It-Yourself

Day Tripper,

I haven't used a rail pass in years so I don't know about the economics of same. Also I am a single traveller so that is not so helpful in your situation. However, as a rule I don't like packaged tours and usually find that I can travel as economically on my own. Having said that, I think you should look into bus transport, which in many cases can be cheaper than rail travel.

Good luck.

London, United...
Level Contributor
1,232 posts
21 reviews
2. Re: Packaged Tour or Do-It-Yourself

I am not sure what your goal is here, saving money or seeing all the sights?

However, my view, you have six weeks to plan out a tour for yourself. Doing it yourself, is part of the fun. Tours are on average are about a third more pricey. The UK is not that difficult to navigate and honestly we are fairly helpful here.

Start off with a blank sheet of paper and a travel guide, do your homework and once completed you will get a sense of achievement. Something you will look back on with pride in a few years.

Franklin, TN
Level Contributor
24 posts
1 review
3. Re: Packaged Tour or Do-It-Yourself

Well, my goal is both really (sites & save money). A packaged tour just seems to be so convenient. So far I've found planning for 5 people to be daunting. Have you done a similar tour?

And what would you recommend for lodging in London and in Edinburgh?

And if I did on my own, what would be a rough per day budget? We have to have 2 rooms because of the 5 people.

Edited: 6:35 pm, April 18, 2011
Ipswich, United...
Destination Expert
for Ipswich
Level Contributor
7,655 posts
31 reviews
4. Re: Packaged Tour or Do-It-Yourself

There are advantages in taking a tour and it can be less hassle and more economical. It really depends on how breathless the tour is and whether it gives you enough time in the places you want to see. As you have allowed yourselves five days on your own it could be a rewarding combination.

I tend to arrange things myself but on a couple of trips to the Continent with my elderly father a tour seemed the best option for him and for me. We both thoroughly enjoyed it, as did most of the others on the tour. The idea that you spend most of the time on a coach or get no free time is largely unfounded. If you did it yourself you could spend just as much time travelling, and on a tour a lot of the stress is removed as someone else has to do the worrying.

Edited: 6:58 pm, April 18, 2011
Redlands, California
Level Contributor
6,302 posts
58 reviews
5. Re: Packaged Tour or Do-It-Yourself

I really think you may have left it late to do your own planning as many popular/better accommodations may be booked up. No, WILL be booked up. I would look first to see if you can find accommodation in London for about a week. You can easily spend that much time based there--you could do Bath as a daytrip and there are numerous other options for that. (York is another well worth while although a longer trip.) Then check for Edinburgh lodgings for a few days. There will be day tours available there as well. If you can't find accommodation, a tour is a must. If you can find accommodation the experts here can then help on details; the most affordable train fares become available about 12 weeks ahead so the dreaded railpass may be the way to go if you decide to be independent. (I say "dreaded" because many experts say "Oh just book well in advance," but you can't.) There's also a family railcard but I'm not familiar with that.

Melbourne
Level Contributor
2,993 posts
2 reviews
6. Re: Packaged Tour or Do-It-Yourself

Hi DayTripper,

It may be helpful (if you haven't already done this) to get a map of the UK and some small sticky dots in various colours and determine a priority of colours for the dots. Then work out everything you think you want to do (since you will never have enough time to do everything you want to do - at least, I never have), and give it a priority for how much you really want to do it.

I would then make a list of all the things I want to do/see/visit in each location and any special notes for things that are only open on specific days etc. This will let you know on which days you would have to be in any specific location. No point planning to be in City A on June 9th if what you want to see there is closed on a Thursday.

I would then work out exactly how to get from one place to the next on public transport and see how long it would take to do so. I'd then compare the travel time against having a private car. It's been a long time since I've been in the UK so I have no idea what a BritRail pass would cost these days. Also you have to factor in that you are buying tickets for 5 people (are they concession ticket age?). I imagine for 5 people you would need a larger car but it would be more efficient (and convenient) to get around (except in London).

I suppose it's a balancing act between how much time you have available versus the relative costs. You could also add accommodation costs to your list of places to visit to see what's available and the price. You might find that the packaged tour comes out way ahead on price compared with all this.

Given that you only have 2 weeks and public transport can be more time-consuming you might choose to spend more per day to be able to see all the things you want to do. If I were you I'd really try and minimise travel time, there's just such a lot to see and do.

Having then done all this research if you find you won't have enough time for everything on your list you look at your map and you can start eliminating things based on your priority colour-coding (see, you thought I'd forgotten about the map, didn't you?). So you rejig your plans based on what you really, really, really want to see and you save the things you only really want to see for next time.

Of course you might just think that this crazy Aussie puts a shed-load of effort into her holiday planning and just book the packaged tour and have done with it :)

Whatever you decide, happy travels.

Brisbane, Australia
Level Contributor
1,476 posts
61 reviews
7. Re: Packaged Tour or Do-It-Yourself

Having just returned last week from a two week tour throughout certain parts of Europe, I can HONESTLY say that there is no way in this world I could ever have seen and done so much if I had tried to do it by myself. After many months of researching, harrassing people on TA, and stressing over whether I COULD do it alone, I decided to do a Cosmos bus tour. Ages ranged from 16 to 80, mostly middle of that, and we all had a great time together. Even the younger members stated what a great time they had and that they also could not have seen so much had they chosen to do it solo - in the time available to them. There is NOTHING that I had wanted to see that I DIDN'T see, all accommodation, transport, most meals, all sightseeing, plus having a very knowledgeable tour guide to explain all the sites to us. Plenty of free time to do whatever I wanted to and the knowledge that all I had to do was wake up in the mornings and have the rest of the day looked after for me. No hassling with getting to transport, trying to find accommodation, trying to understand the intimate details of the particular site that I was visiting. The last 3 days of my holiday I was alone and I spent more time trying to find train platforms, get to tourist sites, taxis to accommodation etc that it really was quite stressful having come from being guided everywhere. I didn't understand half of what I saw as I didn't have my trusy guide to tell me all about it. Having someone explain things to you, you tend to take it in more than you do from reading it out of a guide book. In the past I have always done my "own thing" but when time is very limited, DEFINITELY a tour is the way to go. I know that TA is generally against organised tours but I re-iterate that when you are time poor, you just can't go past them. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it :) Have a great time!

California
Level Contributor
717 posts
18 reviews
8. Re: Packaged Tour or Do-It-Yourself

I did a little of both while we were in London. We did days on our own and days on tour. You can book a tour to bath and Stonehenge. Have you considered renting a flat for the family rather than stay in Hotels? If your going to be in one place for a week or more this is much more economincal and you can save $$ on meals by preparing some meals at

"home".

It really depends on what type of traveler you are...I like getting lost, getting on the wrong bus, wondering into the best little restaurant and generally bumbling my way through whatever town I am in...LOL. I DO have a general plan (I am a planner), and pre-paid tickets (Tours, Theater)....but I also have 3 kids and do not know what my stress level would be with them "lost". You will be with your family..so whatever you do it will be great memories!

Melbourne
Level Contributor
2,993 posts
2 reviews
9. Re: Packaged Tour or Do-It-Yourself

I have to say, (if you couldn't already tell from my earlier post) I am a bit of a compulsive planner, so I do excessive research before hand, I have guide books and guided walks and all that stuff and I agree with Darths_lady, I like working out the public transport and getting lost and just wandering about.

But I am also the sort of person that would prefer to have fewer trips and have longer than many short ones. I suppose it could be because it takes so long to get to the US or Europe that I want at least a month once I get there. Even though I'm a bit obsessive about planning I don't have everything planned down to the minute. I do work out what things *need* to be done on certain days but apart from that I know what I want to do and if it's raining and I'd planned a self-guided walk then I move the walk to another day and do an indoor activity from another day.

I would not enjoy a package tour, I suppose it comes from being an obsessive planner - I only like my plans ;)

Franklin, TN
Level Contributor
24 posts
1 review
10. Re: Packaged Tour or Do-It-Yourself

Wow! I should have posted this in February when I bought my plane tickets. I had good intentions but then life got in the way.

I have until Wednesday to book the tour on Cosmos. After that, we lose our spot. My wife feels like it's the smartest, safest course of action at this point. It's the logistics of 5 we keep coming up against. Always 2 rooms. Can't fit into smaller rental cars (at least and still have a view) etc.

If we decide to do it ourselves, what I distill from the various posts is that the first thing is to see if any affordable lodging is still available this late. If not, then my answer is easy.

The second thing is to check transportation. BritRail Party Pass for 5 for 15 consecutive days runs $1460. 8 days in 2 mos $1250. A car would be cheaper but once you add gas and hassle (where to park, who drives, etc.) maybe not by much.

There's been some mention of bus lines too. Is there a particular site?

Finally, I should say that my only issue with the Comos Tour which hits many of our "must see" spots -- London, York, Edinburgh, Wrexham Wales, Cardiff, Bath, London -- is that it will drive right by Liverpool but is not scheduled to stop long enough to take a Beatles tour. It's the number one "gotta see" on my 18 year old's list. I called Cosmos and they said it's highly unlikely they would simply drop us off in Liverpool and let us find our way by train to Wrexham Wales. (It's only 55 miles from Liverpool.)

How easy would it be to round trip from Wrexham Wales to Liverpool? And if we went in the late afternoon, 5 or 6 p.m. would there still be enough light to see anything?