Monday, June 30, 2014

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Taking an Organized Tour in Europe

The bus stopped shortly after we crossed the border for a much needed coffee break. Actually, it was the second time we had crossed from Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina after landing in Dubrovnik early that morning. We had traveled a short distance up the Croatian coast only to find ourselves with a twenty-kilometer stretch of Bosnian coastline before entering Croatia once again. As our destination for the day was Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, we needed to cross the border one more time.

It sounds a bit confusing - so many border crossings in such a short distance. Luckily, I didn't have to worry about a thing. My wife and I were on an organized tour. Our guide handled the passports and border police, and our driver followed the planned route toward Sarajevo.

This was the first time that we had ever taken an organized tour, and we weren't sure what to expect. I love to plan our travel adventures - researching hotels, routes, and places to explore. But this time, we were visiting three countries, with three different currencies, and many border crossings. I decided to forego driving for one week and enjoy the ride. I would soon discover that there are advantages and disadvantages to taking an organized tour in Europe.

Montenegro is very mountainous, and stunningly beautiful

When I booked our week-long trip to Bosnia, Montenegro, and Croatia, I was informed that the age range of those who take this type of tour is typically between 40 and 70. In reality, most of the members of our group were aged 65 to 80. We were the second youngest couple among the 33 travelers. Luckily, the older members were up to the walking tours we took. The two oldest women were spunky and eager to do everything the guide had planned.

Our bus couldn't make it up all the mountain roads - we traveled in smaller vans as well.

Back to our coffee break - the first stop in Bosnia. There were two small bathrooms and everyone waited patiently in line for his, or her turn. Some of the bathrooms we encountered on our journey were squat toilets, nothing more than a hole in the ground, but for the most part, we were taken to establishments that were clean and modern.

While the group heard explanations, I climbed over a ridge to discover this beautiful mountain lake.

It was a pleasure having an experienced and knowledgeable guide accompanying us. In addition to his explanations, our group was met by local guides in Mostar and Sarajevo in Bosnia, and later by local guides in Montenegro and Croatia. We were led to fascinating historical sites, including the Sarajevo synagogue; the museum at the site where Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian empire was assassinated, launching World War One; and the tunnel that served the citizens of the besieged capital during the horrific war years of 1992-1995.

Wherever we went, we were given free time for lunches and to do a little exploring on our own. But because we were touring sites as part of a group, we never were able to extend our stay at the places we visited, nor were we able to go off on our own in different directions.

A local guide tells us about the Sarajevo Synagogue.

Usually on our travels I am the one doing the driving. One of the reasons is that in Europe, most rental cars have manual transmissions, and my wife only drives an automatic. I don't mind the driving, and I even enjoy navigating the narrow mountain roads. On our travels through Montenegro, a very mountainous country, my wife was glad that someone else was handling the serpentine turns. Instead of gripping the steering wheel, I looked out the window at the passing forests, rivers, and gorges - simply stunning!

The hotels we stayed at, with the exception of the first two nights in Sarajevo, were beautiful ski and beach resorts. Our group had apparently been given good rates during the off season.

The older members of our group didn't slow us down, not even on our walks through the forests.

The only thing that upset us about the group's itinerary was that we didn't have enough time to fully explore Dubrovnik, a fascinating walled city with stunning sea views and narrow alleyways. Well, that is reason to go back for another visit!

Would we take another organized tour? It's not for sure. On future, short trips such as visits to specific cities or a single country, it's likely that we'll continue our tradition of independent travel. But perhaps if we head for someplace very, very different, such as China, we'll travel again as part of an organized tour.


  1. I would like to visit them, specially Croacia. Stunning countries.

    Kisses from Rio de Janeiro,
    A Verdade é Cruel

    1. I hope you get a chance to visit these countries, Sissym!

  2. Ellis, I understand some of your frustration with not having enough time to meander through charming places on your own when you're herded with a tour group. I've done a lot of independent traveling throughout my life, on four of the seven continents. For those countries on or below the Equator, though, I've taken tours and have enjoyed them very much. Also, as I age, I've found tours easier to manage, and those I have gone on allowed a good deal of optional free time.

    1. I agree with you = there comes a time for taking organized tours, but that doesn't mean one should give up on independent travel.