Subject: The bus tour experience
Ok, i know, from what i gather from the posters here, that the majority of you are independent travellers. I wanted to travel for so many years and by the time i was able to afford it, i knew my first trip would be to the U.K. as that was my lifelong interest (in history especially). I had a friend who went on a couple of bus tours and it sounded ideal to me so we booked one around the U.K. That way i got to see a bit of everything and I had a fabulous trip. Yes, there were places i wished i could have stayed longer to explore. and Yes, there were places that didn't interest me in the least but which, for the most part, were brief visits anyway. There is the herding sheep feeling at times but they don't restrict you to following the group as long as you're back at the bus by the time they're ready to leave. The guide on that UK trip was marvellous, thank you David Mullins of Ireland!

But i also took another bus tour in 1996 around Italy. I was prepared for the style of travel but the main disappointment here was the guide who shall remain nameless. His inexperience was obvious. Also, the crowd on the tour didn't tend to gel together as had the group on the other tour i took. Very nice people but when we weren't on the bus, we didn't see much of the rest of the group. Luck of the draw i guess.

You hear about the optional extras (i.e. you pay for them) on both first class and budget tours (both of the tours i took were Cosmos budget tours) and you have to pick and choose them carefully. I have to say 75% of the extras i paid for were worth the money and experience though sure, i might have been able to do some of them independently with a guidebook in hand. You hear about the visits to factories etc. Some were interesting, some were not. Never were we forced to buy anything at the establishment and indeed i found that you could get comparable goods at other local shops cheaper.

I like a bus tour for the convenience of having the driving and planning done for me, for the companionship and security of a group, (one tour i was unexpectedly on my own as my friend had to fly back home on an emergency), the convenience of having front of the line entrance to attractions.

One other drawback other than those i've mentioned, is that with a budget tour company such as Cosmos, your hotels in major cities are not central. You often have to rely on local transportation which, in some cities, isn't always that safe (i.e. we were given no end of warnings about pickpockets in Rome targeting tourists on busses and subways then told our hotel in Rome was out in a suburb and we'd have to take a bus if we were exploring on our own! Not confidence-inspiring!) In Florence we were actually a 30 minute train journey away from the city center!!! If you can afford it at all, i recommend taking first class tours where the hotels are usually always central. Much more convenient for wandering around on your own and cheaper to get a taxi back if you're nervous of public transportation.

Oh one more caveat if you are planning to tour Italy and are less than actively mobile. Most of the stops include hill towns that involve walking UP those hills and in some cases, stairs from the car park to the city center. Busses don't go because there isnt' room for them on the narrow winding streets. That isn't mentioned in the tour books or by the travel agents.

I also plan to do some independent traveling. I'm not a very adventurous person but i know i can manage point a to point b trains and i can always find something to do in the major cities at least. But i will take a bus tour again. Probably Portugal.

Bus tours do have merit but you have to know what to expect before you go. I now know where in the UK and Italy i would like to return to on my own to see more in depth.