The information we discovered after analyzing several tour brochures formed the basis for why we decided to go it alone. This one takes a look at a longer tour, fifteen days (which is about a week short of our trip), and it includes much of the same territory we originally intended to see. I’ll also cover some information about tour advertising, and what certain phrases in the brochures may mean.
Here’s a possible opening paragraph for such a tour, advertised at £1,645 ($2,500) per person. “Possible opening paragraph” means I’m rewriting it. This is not their text, but it approximates it.
“Explore the variety of Britain: London’s Parliament and Big Ben, ancient Stonehenge, the Beatles’ Liverpool, the Scottish Highland and more. Discover the diverse beauty and ancient splendor of Britain.”
This would be followed by a bullet point list of the places. They would list about thirty of them, places like (Salisbury, Plymouth, Bath, Cardiff, Glasgow, Edinburgh, etc.), and would follow that with a day-by day description of your itinerary. Here are a few non-British (Westeros from A Game of Thrones) examples.
Day 1 – Leave Braavos, overnight flight to King’s Landing [presumably on Dragon Airways].
Day 2 – Arrive King’s Landing (2 nights). After checking into your hotel, the Baelor Crystal Towers, on Aegon’s High Hill, you have the rest of the day to yourself. You will be responsible for obtaining your own lunch, dinner and transportation in King’s Landing this day.
Day 3 – King’s Landing sightseeing and leisure time. After a buffet breakfast at the Crystal Towers, you will enjoy a morning sightseeing tour that includes many major sights, then you have the rest of the day to explore.
Day 4 – King’s Landing – Grassy Vale – Kingsgrave – Three Towers (where we spend two nights at the Brightwater Inn). Today we travel to the Grassy Vale where we visit the ancient Yronwood tree circles. We will stop in Kingsgrave to see the Monuments of the First Kings of Westeros, before driving through Blackmont country and past Starfall to Three Towers. After we check in, enjoy a Welcome Drink with your Tour Director and your travel companions. (A continental breakfast and dinner will be provided at the Brightwater Inn).
Let’s stop there, but take a look at the map (highly inaccurate by Game of Thrones’ standards, since the location names are just placed on a map of southern England).
On Day Four of the tour, you and your thirty or so companions would leave King’s Landing (London), travel to Yronwood (Stonehenge), stop in Kingsgrave to see the monuments (Salisbury Cathedral), then drive through Blackmont country (Thomas Hardy in this scenario is Blackmont, so Blackmont country is Wessex), and drive past Starfall (Dartmoor) to Three Towers (Plymouth). Google Maps tells us that trip covers 220 miles and will take 4 hours and 20 minutes just to drive it.
Minay and I spent a couple of hours at Salisbury Cathedral, and over an hour at Stonehenge. On this tour you would be on A-Roads most of that time (slower than M-Roads), and just getting out of London will take a while, so just how much time does that leave you to sightsee? If all of your days are like this one, you will have spent most of your time on the tour just driving past sights, stopping only occasionally and briefly.
Notice some of the keywords from Day Four, underlined and italicized in the paragraph above (visit, stop, see, driving through, and past). Disclaimer: This is just my personal thought on the matter, but in tour brochures the words and phrases visit, stop, and walking tour usually indicate that you will spend a little time at that location, although sometimes stop can mean stop just long enough to take a few pictures. Other words and phrases, like driving through, drive along, drive by, past, shows us, make our way across, and through (which were used liberally throughout the brochures), almost always meant you would be seeing those sights from a moving bus or van. Words like view and see are more ambiguous, and could mean either a brief stop or a drive-by.
In fairness, some other days on the real tour seemed to be slower paced. See image below.
Day Five would spend some time in Plymouth (D), drive to St. Ives (B) and Penzance (C), then back to Plymouth for the night. That’s 170 miles, about fifty miles less than Day Four. First, they drive around the city, showing you the Mayflower steps (where the ship left) and the city’s harbor, then drive to the county of Cornwall. St. Ives is an artists’ colony, where you will presumably spend some time wandering and shopping, then to Penzance (of stage-Pirate fame). Somewhere along the way you would stop for a cream tea (tea with scones, clotted cream and jam — Yum!) before driving back to Plymouth for the night. Basically, a nice, relaxing day, but on most tour days it seemed like they were driving, stopping briefly at a few locations, but not taking much time to explore at any one place. It felt like it would be rush, rush, rush most of the time.
Again, the last day of the tour (Day Fifteen) means getting on a plane and flying home. Not a sightseeing day. Be sure if you’re thinking of a tour, and the brochure says 8-day tour, or 15-day tour or 20-day tour, look at the first and last day. If they’re travel days, it really means six days, thirteen days, or eighteen days in the country, not eight, or fifteen, or twenty.
Cost Summation (using the information in the tour brochure, and adjusting it for two people): They have charged you £1,645 ($2,500) per person, so that’s £3,290 (or $5,000) per couple. Assuming travel for two from Houston (yours may vary), airfare would be £1,118 ($1,700). You will mostly be on the bus or walking, but might need some transportation in London during the half-day you would have there. Let’s say £30 ($46), which is probably a little more than you would need. The tour would provide you with some meals, beginning the morning of Day Three. According to the brochure, thirteen breakfasts (two buffet, one continental, and ten full English), one cream tea (an afternoon snack break, essentially, but a nice one), and six dinners (four three-course, one with wine in Glasgow, and one with wine in York). They won’t be buying your lunch or dinner on Days 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, or 12; and won’t be buying just your lunch on Days 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 13. Your breakfast will be provided every day except your first travel day and your arrival day, but that’s understandable. I’m just guessing here, again, but let’s assume £30 ($46) for two-meal days and £15 ($23) for days when you’re buying single meals for two people. That would be £30 x 6 = £180, £15 x 5 = £75, for a total of £255 ($388) for meals.
To sum up the costs, £3,290 + £1,118 + £30 + £255 = £4,693 (or $7,133). We only spent $7,662, and spent twenty-one days (not counting traveling days), eight days more than this tour would have been. Our $7,662 also includes souvenirs, purchase of a cell phone (BrE – mobile), and a few other things. We’ll get to all of that in the travel diaries, which will be soon (and will have pictures – finally!).
Next up, a brief post comparing/contrasting Travelcards and Oystercards.
How tightly do you try to budget your vacations? Have you found any methods or tricks that work better than others?