Thursday, August 4, 2016

go ahead

For my first time traveling abroad alone, I decided to sign up for a group tour. I booked my tour last November in a burst of late-night spontaneity. I'd like to say that I spent hours - nay, weeks - researching and making sure I was making the right decision and going with the right company, but in all honestly I read a few yelp reviews and then impulsively put down a deposit for a one week trip to Paris and Rome with Go Ahead Tours.

Luckily, I made a good (albeit reckless) decision. I'm about to gush over Go Ahead now, and as much as I wish I could say this is a sponsored post, it most certainly isn't. I paid for my whole trip with my own money. I just really loved the tour company and would definitely recommend them, whether you're like me and want to test the waters of independent travel or even if you want to go with friends or family. There were a lot of couples, mom + daughter duos, best friends, etc. in my group and I'm planning on taking my mom on a tour next fall.

That being said, I *do* have a referral link, so if you want to book a trip with Go Ahead, you'll get $100 off if you click here to do it. I obviously can't speak for any of the other trips they offer, but the Paris + Rome 7 day tour was amazing and I highly recommend it.

After I booked the trip, I got a welcome packet in the mail with information about my trip -- a very brief itinerary and some information about the payment schedule. I don't know what the timeline is if you book closer to a trip, but I put down a deposit in November and had until May to pay it off. I chose to include my airfare in the package, but you can do it separately if you want to use airline miles or just prefer to book it yourself. I have a United MileagePlus credit card, so I think next time I'd use my miles (I just didn't have enough saved this time around.)

One of the fun things about this particular tour was that you could choose whether to do something with the group every day or just go it alone. The only time that I added an extra excursion was to see The Catacombs and St. Paul's Basilica in Rome. But they also had extra outings like a dinner with Tenors in Rome, a dinner cruise along the Seine in Paris and a trip to Versailles. Even the itinerary that's included with the base cost of the trip (a 3-hour sightseeing tour in each city, breakfast every day, and a welcome & farewell dinner) are totally optional if you don't want to participate. You can have the tour company take care of your travel arrangements and then completely forgo the "group" part of the trip.

When it got closer to the trip (about 2 weeks beforehand) I got a giant package in the mail with more information. This is where I learned about some of the little details that had been in the back of my mind ("How will I get to the hotel from the airport? Where do I meet my group?" "When do I eat dinner?" etc.) It also includes an emergency phone number that you can call if anything goes wrong during any part of the trip. They also send you a branded carry-on bag, which is a really cute idea but personally I'd suggest leaving it at home or else you'll have "tourist" written all over you. If that's the look you're going for it's obviously fine, but it's definitely like having a giant neon arrow pointing you out to pick-pockets, lol.

Speaking of pick-pockets. I personally didn't have any problems in that respect, but that could partially be because our tour guide gave us a ton of safety information when we arrived at the hotel. What to look out for (I never would have known that a lot of them try to get you to sign a petition and then steal your stuff while you're signing.) Having a local guide who knows the ins and outs of the city, as well as what sorts of cons people will try to pull with tourists, was very helpful and made me feel safer.

I was very happy with both of the hotels that the tour company picked for us. The one in Rome was a little outside of the main part of the city, but it was within walking distance to some really nice restaurants and a cab from the hotel to the city center was only about 9 euros. (Obviously there's also a metro and buses, too.) The one in Paris... let's just say, I had a view of the Eiffel Tower from my window. Does it get any better?!

In addition to the fact that the tour company takes care of the logistics of travel, there's also the "group" part of the tour. I was in a group of 35 other travelers (that is the maximum that this particular company will take on tour and I felt like it was a nice amount. Cozy, but not too crowded.) I'm incredibly introverted and didn't expect to socialize at all, but I ended up meeting three incredibly sweet girls (a mom + daughter, and another traveler who was treating herself for her 30th birthday, just like me!) and we spent a lot of the "group" parts of the trip together, as well as most of the Rome section of the tour. I had so much fun with them, and it was a completely unexpected treat for me, considering I thought I'd be doing this completely solo.

Everyone from the tour company that I interacted with was amazing. I had to move my trip from August to July a few months ago due to my original tour being under-booked, and the girl who handled it was fantastic (she even moved my flights without any work on my part.) A few weeks before the trip I started panicking and contacted Go Ahead on facebook with some questions -- the girl who helped me had also traveled alone with Go Ahead and helped put my mind at ease. And then Bojan, our tour director, was a complete sweetheart. He was a great tour guide, incredibly informative and great at makings sure that everyone was where they needed to be (I had to run across the airport to make sure I was at my gate for our flight between Paris and Rome and he was holding up the rear making sure I made it onto the plane.) He even helped me find toothpaste when I realized I had left mine at home. I'm sure I would have either spent hours wandering around Paris my first night there, or I would have just chewed on a bunch of tic-tacs and hoped for the best.

Overall, I was pleased as punch with my first group tour and I would definitely do it again. I have comments disabled here, but if you have any questions about Go Ahead or group travel in general just leave a comment on my IG or facebook and I'll try to answer as much as I can :)