If you are considering traveling to some of these Catholic holy sites you have a decision to make: do it on your own (or with a few friends) or travel with an organized group. One of our suggestions is to consider a group tour first, then go back another year independently to see the places that you want to spend more time in. There is also a third option--read below.
Like may things in life, there are pluses and minuses to both types of travel. Here are some we consider important---and a third option that may appeal to you as well.
Advantages of group travel:
Many people love group tours: everything is arranged in advance, the route established, departure and arrival times are known, as are menus, hotels, all stops and a guide in each city provides commentary. In most cases, if it is a Catholic group, there is a priest along to celebrate Mass daily as well as offer spiritual guidance. There is a tour director who ensures that the entire tour enfolds as planned, and according to itinerary. And there are local guides in many cities.
You can avoid long lines to gain admission to such places as the museums in Florence, because tickets have been arranged in advance. There is very little effort required on your part. And, group travel can be less expensive, since you know pretty well in advance what your total costs will be and don't have to worry about over-spending.
Another plus is that you often develop friendships with other members of the group that last a lifetime. Often you end up traveling with those people time and time again.
Group travel can be enjoyable, but only if you select the right company and the itinerary that is best for you.
Disadvantages of group travel:
While group travel offers advantages, it also has some disadvantages that must be considered before booking. In group travel, unless you are joining a group from your Church or organization where you already know some of the people, then you may have individuals are of a different background, nationalities, habits and character. Some are always late, others complain constantly about their accommodation, food quality, visiting times, seats in the bus; just to name a few. Not that all groups are like that--most are not. But be prepared for at least one person who has some of these traits.
Advantages of Independent Travel:
Traveling independently allows you to go at your own pace, stop where you wish, and stay as long as you want. If you like to stay out late in the evening and then sleep the next morning, eat out at exotic restaurants, stay at small boutique hotels, then independent travel is probably your best choice. And the chance to mingle with the locals, shop at local markets and live the local lifestyle will really add another dimension to your travels.
You won't be at the mercy of the rest of the group. And if you decide to change your itinerary you are free to do so as you go along.
Disadvantages of Independent Travel:
By its vary nature, independent travel requires you to be fairly self-reliant. If, for example, you do not speak the local language then you will be at somewhat of a disadvantage. You will need to make your own travel arrangements, hotel bookings, rental car and train reservations. And you will not always have easy access to museums and other attractions that require waiting in line for tickets. And unless you book one, you will not have a local guide along to explain the sights you see. If you are a practicing Catholic, attending Mass will not always be possible so you will need to plan ahead. Check out our internet links page to find out where you can attend Mass at various cities around the world. Also, it is easy to over-spend since you don't know all costs up-front.
However, as mentioned above, independent travel can be very rewarding depending upon your own comfort level. It just takes a certain amount of planning and willingness to be flexible.
There is a third option:
Known as independent or self-guided tours these tours offer the benefits of group travel with the additional freedom to plan your own activities. You usually have air and hotel arrangements made for you plus ground transportation as well. A nice compromise for those who do not want to go it alone completely but also don't want to go on a group tour.
We have found a series of tours offered by Rick Steves called "My Way" tours that make the air, hotel and ground travel arrangements along with a tour conductor on the bus. Also, Gate 1 Travel offers an "Italy by Rail" with visits to Rome, Florence and Venice. The rest of it is up to you.
Please note that these tours will not necessarily be less expensive than group tours since you need to arrange your own sightseeing. And, of course, these are not Catholic groups so there will be little or no emphasis on Catholic Church sights. Perhaps some enterprising Catholic tour operator will put this type of trip together---or maybe they already have. If you know of one, please let us know or post a note on our forum.