Going to Europe not daunting if you have all info

Published 10:49 pm Saturday, June 19, 2010

Reader Kristen asked “My husband and I are thinking about traveling to Europe next year. We’ve never traveled outside the country so we stopped in at a travel agency. They handed us a stack of brochures. After reviewing these we’re more confused than before. Can you help us out?”

First off shame on that travel agent who just handed you a stack of brochures and probably said “look these over and get back to us with any questions.” They should have taken the time to ask you questions. Plenty of questions!

The first question I’d ask is “Do you have your passport?” If yes, when does it expire? If you don’t have your passport, then head down to the post office and they’ll get you started.

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Next would come a series of “W” questions. Where do you want to go? When do you want to travel and are your dates flexible? Why are you traveling? What are the must sees of this trip? What do you want included in your package? What have you budgeted for this trip? What type of trips have you taken in the past? What did you like and dislike on past trips? Get my drift?

I’d ask if you want an independent, hosted or escorted trip. The independent trip is self-explanatory. Going this route means that you’re taking advantage of specially priced group air and land features. This is the least structured and frequently the least expensive.

A hosted tour means that you have a company representative at your location.

They can help sort any difficulties you may encounter and/or they can recommend and sell optional sighting tours.

In a foreign country these folks speak English so first-time travelers feel a bit more comfortable with this tour option.

The most expensive trip is the escorted tour. You have a tour manager who accompanies the group and handles the day-to-day needs of the trip. The escorted itinerary is very structured so be sure to take close look at it.

I’m trying to determine what are your travel motivations, needs and expectations. Once I get a fairly good understanding then I’ll know what one or two products to recommend.

If you’ve never traveled to Europe the idea of coping with unfamiliar customs and foreign languages can seem overwhelming. It’s easy to throw in the towel and book an escorted tour package.

Europe may sound exotic if you’ve never been there but travelers arrive on the continent with nothing more than a suitcase and a good travel guidebook all the time.

If you can find your way to Chicago on Amtrak then navigate the “L,” you should be able to handle London, Paris or Rome by yourself or with a companion. You’re an independent or hosted type of traveler. However if you have trouble finding the Huntington Mall, then think escorted tour for me.

Granted, some tourists do have some other good reasons for traveling in escorted groups.

High school students need chaperones, the elderly and infirm may enjoy the convenience of luggage transfers, and travelers with special interests (such as archaeology or animal husbandry) may find it worthwhile to enroll in programs geared to their tastes.

But most first-time visitors to Europe will be just as safe, comfortable and happy traveling alone as they would at home.

Let’s get back to the brochures that you picked up. I suggest that you create a list of what is included by each company on the trip that interests you. Often the major differences between companies are number of meals included, admission fees and type of hotel and its location.

If you’re traveling to Italy and want to enjoy the local cuisine do you want the tour company to select your meal locations or do you want to personally scout them out?

Is the tour just walking by Rome’s St. Peter’s Cathedral or are you going inside for a tour? Sometimes the lower price tour features a hotel on the outskirts of town while the other company may feature one in the city center.

There’s just way too much to cover in this space about helping you plan your European getaway.

Do thorough research as your examine the various tour companies, then go back to your travel agent. Try to narrow it down to two or three companies and then have the agent inform you about the product differences.

Don’t have an agent then I’d be glad to talk about Europe. My dream is to spend the spring, summer and fall in Europe then winter over in the Caribbean.

And in the Caribbean it would be at a Sandals Resort! Of course I’d head back to Arizona in time for some spring training baseball and golf before returning to the continent.

Happy travels! Got questions or comments? The Travel Professor always wants your feedback at thetravelprofessor@gmail.com.