Visiting Italy – Should I take a guided tour or go it alone?


By Janet Zirpola - June 2021

There are so many ways to travel – it really comes down to the personality and travel style of the traveler.  So how do you know what works best? Your travel planner can help you figure that out.

Italy is a country that many have visited and many more are still looking forward to their first trip there. If you haven’t been there in the past, there are many famous landmarks you have on your must-see list. And if you have been to Italy, there are undoubtedly some places you didn’t have an opportunity to explore fully during an earlier trip so now you want to take a deep dive.

When you are planning your trip to Italy, there are quite a few ways of seeing the country and it really depends on your travel style. If this is your first trip, cities like Rome, Venice and Florence are most certainly on your list. If you’ve been to the country before, you might have fallen in love with the Tuscan countryside and want to spend all of your time exploring the vineyards and farmhouses. It’s pretty common for travel in any country – you see a little of everything but there is that one place that grabs you and lingers in your memory.

For the first-time traveler, a guided tour is an excellent option. There is no need to be worried with navigating your way through an unfamiliar country. There won’t be a need to learn a foreign language although it might be fun to do regardless. You will be driven, most likely by motorcoach, throughout the country by a local guide who will be able to educate you on local customs and highlight the most sought-after sights.

If you’ve been to Italy before, you may have felt drawn to southern Italy…perhaps the Amalfi Coast region. Since you were able to visit the larger cities on your first trip, this time you might decide to head south and spend your time driving around the region through towns like Sorrento and Positano.

With so many ways to go, it helps to do some research and your best tool is a good travel planner. One of the reasons I got into this industry is my love of exploring the world – virtually or in person, depending on the circumstances. After I get to know my clients a little, I’m able to assist them in crafting the right kind of trip for them. One of the best things about my job is when a client returns from their vacation with stories of how great their trip was – I take pride in knowing I played a part in creating that memory for them.

So…you and your entourage decided to go to Italy…everyone is excited, but no one knows where to begin planning! Let’s talk about next steps.

map and passports

This is Our First Trip Abroad!

It’s all so exciting and yet just a little frightening. No one in your group has ever left the United States – and no one speaks Italian. If these are adventurous types that want to take their chances with a few traveling misadventures, a self-guided tour will do. But if they find the idea of driving around a foreign country a bit scary, a professional guided tour is the best option.

A lot of people aren’t fans of a guided tour because they feel it’s too structured and they don’t want to be seen as a “follower”. The tours of years ago were a bit like that but there are so many options available to travelers now that there really is something for everyone. Yes, there are still tour buses that transport 40-50 people around the country. But if you prefer a smaller group, that is an option. If you prefer to travel with your private group alone, that too is a possibility.

When you think of visiting Italy, you think of Milan, Venice, Rome, Florence….major cities loaded with history and culture. But there are other gems that you should have on your radar – San Gimignano, Siena, Naples, Sorrento. Some tours can provide you with a nice blend of the major sights mixed with the smaller towns so you get a nice feel for the country and still have the opportunity to experience those once-in-a-lifetime cultural icons.

Another common complaint about some tours is that they try to do too much in too short a period of time – and leave you totally wiped out. Again, the tour companies have responded with a variety of paced tours so you can do as much or as little as you want. The customer has a plethora of options! And your travel planner will help you select the right tour for you.

Been There, Done That… Show Me Something Different!

You’ve already done the major city tour and there was something about the Tuscany region that just made you say, “I’m coming back here someday”. You need a fully customized experience…flying into the right airport, getting a car rental or a private driver, booking into a farmhouse or villa, reserving specially guided tours of cultural sights. If you want to do multiple towns, you might want to take a high-speed railway to get there. The sky is the limit.

What is most likely the best type of trip for those who want to experience regional culture is to find accommodations in a location central to the sights they want to see. A great activity I like to set up for clients is one where they can actually visit Italian craftsmen or artists at work whether it be in a studio or a kitchen. There is no better way to experience what life in a country is like than to interact on a deep level with its people.

I’ve Never Been There But Really Want the Experience of Finding My Way!

While this could be the most exciting experience you’ve ever enjoyed, this is the one that will require the highest degree of planning – and that takes a lot of time! You will need to at least map out what areas you want to visit and what will be required for you to travel around and see the sights on your list. There are some things you can leave to chance – no one ever wants a totally scripted experience. But it’s always a good idea to plan the framework of your adventure so you’ll at least have a place to sleep at night.

For this type of trip, I would have to have a conversation with those traveling to see what their expectations are and determine how comfortable they are with going it alone. If they are the kind of people who don’t need much guidance, I will help them set up their transportation and select accommodations, perhaps set up a tour or two. They would have all of their time to explore as they found points of interest.

If the travelers tell me they don’t want to be on a tight schedule but still need help, then I would make travel and accommodation plans as well as scheduling their tours and, possibily, making restaurant reservations.

This might sound like a little bit of psychology is required to plan a vacation and perhaps it is. Like everything else in life, no two people see things the same way...everyone has their own idea on how something should be done. Every vacation requires a degree of compromise amongst the travelers – time is finite, and decisions need to be as to what you can actually accomplish while abroad. A country like Italy has so many wonderful experiences to offer that sometimes you just have to say, “maybe I’ll do that on my next trip”.

Where should you start? Well, it’s my job to say, “call me and we’ll discuss it”! After an assessment of your travel style, we would review what is available – if you want guided tours, which ones are most suitable for you and your group? If you’ve decided a tour is too structured, we would determine just how detailed a plan we need to put in place for you. Just a few guided tours added to the itinerary might be perfect – maybe at least one per day is best for you. Or if you want to rent a farmhouse in Tuscany and drive through the hills and settle in for the evening with a wonderful bottle of local wine for days on end, that can be arranged too.

Time to stop dreaming and start planning…the world awaits your arrival!

Janet Zirpola, owner
Cruise Planners, a full-service travel agency

I am a dedicated travel professional who loves to help clients plan their vacations whether they be honeymoons, girl’s getaways or family trips. Best part of my business is I get to know people and help them select the options that are suitable for them – you work hard for your vacation and I want it to be perfect for you. When you’re ready to go, so am I…the world will be open for us again and we’re all looking forward to that!

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