• 30 May 2014

Freelance travel writer Jo Castro recently travelled with us on our Europe Jewel tour. Here are 10 reasons why she thinks we’re simply better…

You get to meet new friends and have lots of laughs on an Expat Explore trip. Sheila our wonderful Tour Leader is second from left guiding us up to Belvedere Fort in Florence after a lunch that included some Cianti :)

Before we picked Expat Explore we’d done quite a lot of research about other tours and companies. We’d been to the Perth Travel Expo in Australia to begin our research and came across companies offering tours for 18 – 35 year olds for keen for a bit of partying with some culture thrown in, and tours for older people which by comparison seemed a little too five star, or too sedate for us.

Nothing we discovered quite fitted our criteria. Some tours went to too many places, others didn’t tick the places we wanted to see, some were too short and some were too long.

Yes, it was a bit like trying to please Goldilocks and The Three Bears!

I didn't really need a guide book in Prague because the guided architectural city tour we went on took in all the main sights. We had coffee at this pretty spot beneath towering old buildings. If you want to book a tour then check out the tour guides who stand with big colourful umbrellas under the Astronomical Clock.
I didn’t really need a guide book in Prague because the guided architectural city tour we went on took in all the main sights. We had coffee at this pretty spot beneath towering old buildings. If you want to book a tour then check out the tour guides who stand with big colourful umbrellas under the Astronomical Clock.

We were looking for certain specifics:
A tour that went to 90% of the places we wanted to visit in the time we had available.

A tour that catered to varied age ranges.

A tour that would include a little nightlife, but not all-out partying.

A tour company that looked stable and offered certain guarantees – such as guaranteed departures – important as our leave could not be changed.

Why we’re glad we booked with Expat Explore
As we’ve always been fairly intrepid travellers, we first thought that booking a coach tour was a bit of a cop-out. In one way perhaps it is, but with Expat Explore we were constantly surprised at how much the tour exceeded our expectations.

Here’s why …

It’s great value for money. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the standard of hotels and the number of meals, guided tours, tram and metro tickets that have been included.

You get to stay in decent hotels. Our first night in Amsterdam (by our standards) was 4 Star and we’d been advised that 2 or 3 Star hotels were the norm. Since then hotels have been better than we expected and always clean and functional – sometimes quite small, but nothing to complain about. No dorms, no crazy booze fueled shenanigans coming from the next bedrooms.

The Strasbourg Palace in Vienna - we had a wonderful guided tour of beautiful Vienna on arrival which meant our few hours in the city were well spent.
The Strasbourg Palace in Vienna – we had a wonderful guided tour of beautiful Vienna on arrival which meant our few hours in the city were well spent.

Flavour of Europe
On the Europe Jewel Tour you get a real flavour of Europe. 12 countries in 14 days. It’s whistle stop, on the go, a WOW a day and the tour gives you a veritable smorgasbord of Europe. For instance, breakfast in Prague, lunch in Brataslava and then dinner in Budapest – all in a day!

One of our tour group said it was a “Touch and Go” experience! And she meant that in the best possible way!

Extensive Itinerary
Our trip compressed an extensive itinerary into a relatively short time, which often meant limited time at our stopping points. On the outset this looked constricting, but because of the well thought out itinerary and the orientation tours on arrival at each place, we were able to make the most of our stop overs.

We arrived at the leaning Tower of Pisa before the crowds and were able to get some memorable photographs. Sheila our Tour Leader organised a competition for the best picture - there were some truly creative pics! Mine wasn't one of them :(
We arrived at the leaning Tower of Pisa before the crowds and were able to get some memorable photographs. Sheila our Tour Leader organised a competition for the best picture – there were some truly creative pics! Mine wasn’t one of them :(

For example, even though we arrived in Budapest late in the afternoon and were on the road again early the next morning Expat Explore’s detailed plannng meant that we were still able to fit in a city tour, visit the castle, walk around Heroes Square, spend time soaking in the Thermal Baths, eat a traditional Hungarian dinner in a beautiful square and travel on the metro, so getting a flavour of being ‘local’.

Ideas for future trips
The Europe Jewel Tour gave us so much to think about – it gave us ideas on the places we’d like to return to on future visits, how to get around if we do return, and our tour guide passed on much valuable knowledge about the best ways of doing things – including what to see and what to do, along with ideas on extra places to visit if we return.

Meet new people, explore, read – no stress!
On the coach you get to meet new friends and interact with people of different nationalities and different age groups – not all of them couples.

A great spot for lunch in Graz, Austria. We had a few hours to walk around the city, climb up to the fort (or take the lift or funicular) and have lunch.
A great spot for lunch in Graz, Austria. We had a few hours to walk around the city, climb up to the fort (or take the lift or funicular) and have lunch.

You get plenty of time to read, write journals, research the next place you are going to, chat or catch up on sleep on the coach. We kept on relating this back to the stress of driving and the know-how required for finding our own way across several countries.

All the arrangements are done for you. We first began planning our tour of Europe independently but after a whole Sunday in February given up to the logistics of organising an extended adventure we soon gave up when we realised …

a) how much time and effort it would take to book everything and make sure our travel plans dove-tailed to make the best of our time and

b) that if we booked the trip independently it could potentially cost considerably more in the end.

Excellent Tour Guide and Coach Driver
Expat Explore take all the stress out of things – no driving stress, no need to find or book hotels (and no guesswork as to the standard), no need to worry about hire cars or train times, no worries about logistics, no thoughts required about booking tickets or getting across borders.

All done for you. Bliss!

We arrived at the leaning Tower of Pisa before the crowds and were able to get some memorable photographs. Sheila our Tour Leader organised a competition for the best picture - there were some truly creative pics! Mine wasn't one of them :(
We arrived at the leaning Tower of Pisa before the crowds and were able to get some memorable photographs. Sheila our Tour Leader organised a competition for the best picture – there were some truly creative pics! Mine wasn’t one of them :(

Our Tour guide, Sheila was well trained, well travelled, informative, level headed, easy to get on with, never ruffled and dealt with all our questions and concerns with the aplomb of a professional.

Andy, our driver was friendly, calm and dependable in the face of sometimes extreme traffic and only concerned with getting us to places on time and safely.

Prices
We found Expat Explore prices to be competitive and were pleasantly surprised with the number of dinners, lunches, trips and tours that were included in the package.

The trip exceeded my expectations in regard to experiencing a taste of Europe. Not only did we visit a wide range of places and sights but we were also able to take the time to create some really memorable experiences including an exciting musical concert in Vienna, enjoying a relaxing thermal spa in Budapest, a lazy ride on a gondola in Venice, visiting all the main sights of Paris, going to the top of Switzerland on a snowy day on a train, walking around the leaning tower of Pisa before the crowds arrived, and a wonderful guided architecural walk around Prague … just to name a few.

Expat Explore’s Europe Jewel has given me the overview of Europe I wanted, and also given me the insight to be able to plan more focused trips to Europe in the future if the opportunities arise.

Bio
Jo Castro is a freelance travel writer. She’s resident in Western Australia and she’s lived in 11 different countries on 4 continents with her geologist husband and two children. You can find her on her blogs Lifestyle Fifty (inspiration and lifestyle) and The ZigaZag Mag (travel and Western Australia) or on Twitter @johannaAcastro. Connect with her on Facebook at Lifestyle Fifty or The ZigaZag Mag. Find her on Instagram at Lifestyle Fifty.

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