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To Tour Or Not To Tour...That Is The Question

If you asked me a few years ago whether I would ever consider an “escorted tour” for travel, I think I would have shook my head and said “not a chance!” You see, patience isn’t exactly either one of my virtues. When I go out to explore, I have my own rhythm and pace that I've developed over the years-and it just so happens that a majority of the time, it’s quicker than everyone else’s. Group sightseeing has never been my thing. Prior to this particular trip, I'd booked tours on vacation, only to either cancel them, or ditch the group and go off on my own.

So naturally, when I took the jump and booked an escorted tour of Scotland and Ireland, I was a bit hesitant. The anxiety only worsened when once I delved into my research. 5am wake up calls? A strict schedule to stick to? Spending two weeks traveling on a bus with complete strangers? I wasn’t getting that warm and fuzzy feeling that I normally got every time I’ve booked a trip. Worse yet, I was convinced that this trip was doomed after our very reputable travel agent (whom my family has dealt with for years) went bankrupt after we paid my deposit, without forwarding our money to the tour operator. Did we mention that the agency was located in Ireland? This trip was turning into a disaster a year before we even departed.

So, all of these issues aside, let’s break down the escorted tour experience:

The Good: 
International travel is expensive, and since you’ve flown a few thousand miles, it stands to reason that you want to see as much as possible while you’re there. Escorted tours let you do just that.

The amount of cities and attractions that our tour operator managed to cram into 13 days was absolutely astounding. We saw more castles than we have fingers. We stopped in more cities than we've made it to in the several previous trips COMBINED. Our tour guides were world class-which is a huge compliment coming from us since we are not that easy to impress. We even had multiple tour guides, and they join the tour in the area in which they specialized in. They knew exactly where all of the scenic areas are in between destinations, and we stopped pretty frequently to stretch out and take some pictures.
The Scottish Highlands from the beginning of our trip. Did we mention how friggin beautiful the entire country is?
Just about all of our meals were included in the tour, and what an experience they were. We were treated to everything from 5 star restaurants to authentic ethnic foods, and even to homemade, fresh-from-the-oven scones and jam. And for the non-adventurous eaters (ie. Those who aren’t fans of haggis), we were afforded many different options.
Accomodations on this tour were all 4-5 star hotels, and included sprawling estates, modern, big city hotels, and even a converted castle.

The bad:
Since one of the perks of escorted travel is getting to see so much, then the downside is that you’re giving up a large portion of your sleep time to get it done! On most days, we were awake sometime between 4-5am, with breakfast around 6am to be on the road for 630-7am. Did I mention that some nights, we didn’t get into the hotel until 9pm or later? The first few days are definitely the roughest since your body is still trying to function on US time.

Over the course of our two weeks, we covered several hundred miles via a luxury motor coach. It was by far the most luxuriously appointed, comfortable motor coach we've ever been on. But it was still a bus, and you were still trapped on it for several hours a day. To someone with a bad back like Larissa, we were very anxious going into the trip, but it wasn’t nearly as terrible as we thought it would be. But it’s still a bus. And you’re still trapped on it. A lot.
Our CIE bus for our two week tour
The obligatory bus selfies
One of our many photo op stops

The ugly:
As we mentioned earlier, we have my own special pace, and it’s probably faster than yours. While we were given time to explore on our own much throughout the tour, we came to equate the parts where we were supposed to “stick together“ as torture. Not going to lie-we ditched the group more than once at some of the busier attractions.

The other biggest turnoff for us is that as a group, you have no choice but to rely on everyone else to be on time. Our days are planned out, as we found out the hard way, down to the minute. Our group was lucky enough to be blessed with “the purple sisters” as they became known for their neon purple jackets. They were late. Constantly. Every. Single. Day. They were so late one morning that we nearly missed our ferry-the only one of the day-which would have stranded us in Scotland with no hotel accommodations since we were due in Ireland that night. And even after we made the ferry by the skin of our teeth, guess who was late getting back on the bus to drive off of the ferry? Of course, none other than the purple sisters.

So, what’s the bottom line you ask? The verdict is that there is no way that we could have planned this trip out on our own and gotten to see as much as we saw, for as little as we spent. It was such a great feeling knowing that our gratuities were paid for, our meals were paid for, our attraction admissions were paid for. And we'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.  Just hopefully minus the purple sisters.

Til Next Time!

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