Traveling to Italy can be a once-in-a-lifetime event. At the very least, it represents a significant investment of time, energy and money. If you have decided to join a tour group, I recommend you spend a lot of time becoming clear about your needs and wants and do a lot of research. Here are some questions to get you started and hopefully, avoid some of the pitfalls.
Think about Size. A tour described for “small groups” can mean anything from 6 – 36. The exclusivity factor goes up the fewer people there are. The average price goes down the more people there are. If more than a dozen people are on the tour, it limits the places you will be able to visit that are private and distinctive. There will be more large restaurants, less time spent in museums or exhibits. I have seen many a tour group in Italy being herded around, on and off buses, in and out of touristy restaurants, no time to stop and everybody looking exhausted and hurried. Smaller is better if it’s in your budget.
Think about Time. How early do you want to start the day? How much free time do you want? A lot of group tours start very early and understandably, have strict breakfast and departure times. If you want a more leisurely start to the morning or wandering around time, you are going to want to take a very good look at the itinerary details. Keep in mind, Italians tend to dine later, so being ready to board a bus at 7:30 a.m. may not be appealing after finishing up dinner at 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. the night before!
Think about how often you want to be on the move. Many Italian tours offer multiple locations during the 8, 10 or 14 days you will be with them. While seeing Rome, Venice and Florence all on the same trip sounds exciting, it can quickly become overwhelming when you consider you have to repack and be on the move every couple of days or so. Make sure you have both the desire and the stamina to keep up with this kind of travel. If you really want to experience Italian life, less is really more. There is such an abundance of art, history, architecture, food, music, wine and shopping in Italy. It is a lot to absorb and can all become blurry. If this is the only trip you are going to be taking to Italy, then of course, you want to see as much as possible. But, you should consider that going to one area, really seeing and experiencing as much as possible while there, offers a deeper level of connection, not to mention being able to remember these experiences later, creating memories that last a lifetime.
Consider the Extras. Tours to Italy can be all-inclusive and partly inclusive. Some include airfare. Others might include all meals or only a certain number of meals. There might be a fixed menu at meals, extra costs for wine, upgraded room fees, single supplements if you are traveling alone, tips may or may not be included. In other words, read the fine print, even if the tour advertised is “all inclusive.” Make sure you understand the cancellation policies!
Think about the Season. High season in Italy is typically summer, although late Spring and early Fall also fall under this category. Popular destinations in Italy such as Florence, Rome and Venice are very crowded with tourists during the Summer months and also normally have very hot temperatures. In August, most Italians close up shop and flee the cities for the beach. You may want to consider traveling in off season which can have multiple benefits. These tours can be somewhat lower in cost, there is more ease in getting in and out of places, and usually more comfortable temperatures.
Consider the operator’s reputation. There are many online reviewers for travel, and are partially helpful, but these are very subjective. I recommend you also look at the Tour Operator’s credentials that might include: how long they have been operating tours and how many destinations do they offer? It’s not to say a large tour operator cannot offer special, local experiences, but you want to be with guides who know more than the cursory knowledge about what you will be seeing. You want an operator that has a wide and deep network. This is not always easy to determine, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Oftentimes, an operator will include bios on their guides.
Think about Comfort. What kind of accommodations do you want/need during travel? Tours to Italy can include staying at private villas or palazzi, three, four or five star hotels. Prices are usually based on double occupancy. If you are traveling alone, you will most likely be charged a single supplement, which guarantees you a single room, but sometimes, especially in hotels, these are not always the most comfortable. Make sure you understand what the operator means by “luxury accommodations.”
Ask your friends. Who do you know who has traveled to Italy? Someone who has a similar threshold of comfort and budget as you do? The best way to select a tour operator is by referral!
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