Reasons Why Organized Tours Are Highly Underrated.
“My husband thinks organized tours are for geriatrics,” commented my friend Stephanie. She’s not one to mince words. She read that I’d be experiencing some tours while I traveled through Italy, and her reaction wasn’t far removed from anyone else learning that a fairly active, non-geriatric, semi-organized, outgoing, and capable thirty-something woman like me might depend on paid guides to show me a good time.
And the scoffing didn’t stop there.
I read quite a few travel blogs. And food blogs. And travel-slash-food blogs. And one thing many of them have in common is a palatable intolerance for organized tours. It’s especially prevalent among the budget backpacker crowd to sprout little seedlings of hate in their cultivated “cool way to travel” gardens about the decidedly lack of hipness associated with organized tour companies.
And I get it.
It’s uncool to traipse around a culturally/historically/architecturally significant city/monument/landmark amongst a huge crowd of strangers touting a dangling radio transmitter connected to ear buds. And most humans, as far as I know, don’t particularly enjoy being crowded onto a humongous bus-beast monstrosity with 49 other clueless tourists in order to get shipped, like freight, from one place to the next — no matter how plush the seat cushions. And the worst are those companies whose representatives descend upon you in the form of a middle-aged, pot-bellied ticket peddler as you step weary from the train, touting their pamphlets while they reach for your wallet.
But also —
As someone who’s not particularly adept at planning — as someone whose guide book arrived just one day before her departure and for whom the idea of renting a car or buying museum passes or standing in line or figuring out how to book a wine tasting are tasks she might rank just above visiting the gynecologist — a well-executed tour can be the stuff of dreams. And particularly to me, a person who becomes practically paralyzed when faced with even the smallest decision, a small-scale, carefully curated, well-varied tour with an enthusiastic guide is not only entertaining, but the ultimate solution for overcoming research and decision overload that often accompanies planning a trip.
Bonus points if there’s food involved.
In order to fully research the gamut of tours available that fit my criteria for enjoyability (small scale, organized, food/adventure bonus), I reviewed tours from several different companies in order to share with you some of Italy’s most intriguing offerings.
|Company||Tour Name||What’s Included|
|The International Kitchen||Women Only Week Mediterranean Cooking Experience||7 nights lodging, cooking classes, most meals, drinks, day tours, guides, drivers, airport transport|
|MyTours||San Gimignano, Chianti & Montalcino||Entire day tour (10+ hours) van chauffeured food and wine tour of Tuscan countryside|
|MyTours||Vespa Tour||Day-long (7+ hours) Tuscany Vespa ride and wine tasting|
|Walkabout Florence||Wine & Dine in the Tuscan Countryside + Florence By Night||Evening tour (5+ hours) dinner and wine tasting at a Tuscan farm, plus nighttime Florence van tour|
|Walks of Italy||Best of Florence Tour||Educational morning walking tour (4-5 hours) of some of Florence’s must-see sights, including skipping the long line to see the original David|
Yep. I was really roughing it.
Of course, before you run off and book the first tour with a pretty, English website, keep a few things in mind:
- What type of tour are you interested in? Culinary? Adventure? Strictly educational? If you want it to involve food, does that entail cooking, or eating, or both? If you’re looking for something adventurous, what are the risks? Legal requirements? The MyTours Vespa Tour was an absolute blast, but I’m pretty sure I signed away any and all liability on their end had I ended up a smear on the windshield of some giant tour bus. If you’re just looking to get information about a place, what are the guides like? Funny? Enthusiastic? Understandable English skills?
- How physically active do you want to get? To me, the best tours are a mix of walking and arranged transportation. But often it’s all-or-nothing. My Walks of Italy Best of Florence tour, for example, entailed a lot of walking throughout the city. But my Walkabout Florence tour, ironically, was conducted entirely by van. So be prepared ahead of time with the right amount of energy and of course the right shoes!
- What level of hand-holding are you comfortable with? The MyTours San Gimignano, Chianti, & Montalcino tour did a fantastic job of filling my head with information while we cruised along in the van from one village to the next, then offered unguided free time to wander through medieval towns. I enjoyed exploring on my own, but some people might prefer a guided tour to see a village’s top attractions in a limited amount of time.
- How long can you handle? While it’s always good to feel like you got your money’s worth, the simple truth is that sometimes tours can get a little long. Whether you get tired of walking, tired of listening, or are just plain too full and tipsy to deal with the world after that last shot of grappa, consider the length of a tour before you accidentally sign away an entire day you didn’t intend to spend. I wanted to make sure I saw some of Florence’s major sights with an informative guide, but I also know I have a relatively short attention span when it comes to the absorption of educational materials, so I signed up for Walks of Italy’s half-day Best of Florence Tour over their day-long tour, and that was the perfect length. That said, my week-long International Kitchen tour was so varied and carefree, it could’ve gone on forever and I wouldn’t have complained. It’s all about knowing your limits.
Getting lessons on how to taste our wine.
So. If you’re anything like me, there are actually several reasons why signing up for an organized tour (or seven) on your next trip is a really good idea.
3 Reasons Organized Tours Are Highly Underrated:
1. Efficiency — Organized tours are a really great way to become acquainted with an area in a short amount of time. Not a big planner? Tours can help ensure you don’t miss an area’s must-see attractions and allow you to access places you might not be able to access on your own. For example, since I wasn’t renting a car in Tuscany, I would never have seen the iconic cyprus tree-lined drives if I hadn’t taken any tours.
Also, tour guides are smart. You’re more likely to learn tidbits you might otherwise have never known. Like, if I hadn’t taken that bus tour of Seattle back when I was 20, I never would’ve realized that a suburban home we were passing was a place where Kurt Cobain once lived. And that would be a shame.
2. Socialization — The tours I attended during the second half of my trip saved me from becoming a hermit. No joke. As a married, female solo traveler who was staying in hotels and apartments as opposed to a more social hostel atmosphere, it’s quite possible I might not have spoken to anyone besides innkeepers for an entire week had I not gone on tours. And I met some of the best people on tours! They really helped keep the trip interesting.
This vintner was a riot!
3. Tours are maturing — While the days of sardine-packed busses and guides carrying tall flags so you can spot them among the crowd are not entirely over, it’s a simple fact that the variety of tour options out there is rapidly expanding — the choices extending far beyond drone-like mass groups. From learning how to make the silkiest mozzarella to zipping around the Tuscan countryside on a little red Vespa, there’s a plethora of choices to fit almost any style.
I was also very cognizant of spacing my tours out, so I didn’t become too exhausted from organized activities. With plenty of time to wander the towns on my own in-between, the tours I chose were an excellent way to break up the trip and learn more about the region.
What kind of tours have you experienced that you actually enjoyed?