In light of Black Friday travel deals this week (there are a lot popping up on my newsfeed!), I’d like to share this look-back on my hassle-free experience with Expat Explore, which I booked through a local travel agency. I’d totally do it again!
It was a very important phone call — one that would take me from the shores of Puerto Galera to the streets of Paris, Venice, Pisa, and other exciting European destinations, in just a few weeks.
It was a “prep call” where Ms. Weng gave me valuable tips and info on how best to prepare for and handle the embassy’s Schengen visa application interview. I had earlier completed and submitted all the documentary requirements (also with TSV’s help). The call was part of their agency’s “visa assistance services,” but I felt the warmth and sincerity of the person I was talking to. She really wanted to help me secure that visa.
Thankfully, my visa got approved. In May 2017, I was chugging mango juice and eating grilled pusit for lunch in Puerto Galera. Merely a month later, I was having some fancy fish with lemon butter sauce and sipping on a glass of wine somewhere in France’s Burgundy region.
Making a decision
I booked Expat Explore’s Classic Europe Tour (6 European countries in 14 days) through their Philippine agent TSV, which I found online along with several other agencies offering similar tour packages.
I chose to email five of them, got prompt responses from two, then I attended the Philippine Travel and Tour Expo at the SMX Convention Center to personally inquire with the two agencies I was eyeing.
It was an easy decision — I finally booked with TSV and secured my reservation with a downpayment right there at the expo because I believed they were more trustworthy and reliable. I liked the all-in package of airfare, hotel accommodations, coach (bus) and walking tours, and even most meals (all breakfasts and six dinners). There were absolutely no hidden charges and as I later on realized, I fully got my money’s worth.
DIY Travel versus Tour Package
Some travelers do it DIY style, others hire a tour agency to take care of all arrangements and take the stress and guesswork out of travel planning. I opted for the latter and I couldn’t be happier.
Had I not joined an organized tour group, I probably would’ve spent more time getting lost on the streets and missing trains than enjoying all the amazing sights and experiences.
Expat Explore’s coach tour proved to be convenient, safe, and comfortable for a multi-city/multi-country trip. A DIY trip may be initially cheaper, but I knew there’d be logistics to take care of. For example, with a coach tour, I didn’t have to worry about hotel reservations nor be burdened by huge bags as I navigate train stations. The coach tour expense was justified when convenience, safety, and comfort were factored in. Another good thing was, Expat Explore handled most tour arrangements, but gave me the freedom to explore and do things on my own during the “free days.” There was the right balance of structure (the itinerary was well thought of) and freedom (on those days when I did things separately from the group).
Raring to explore more
My European dream-turned-reality was supposed to be my “life-changing reboot.” And in so many ways, it was. It happened at a challenging time when I felt I badly needed a break. Taking time off and traveling encouraged me to explore more and see beyond the familiar. That trip to Europe was a wonderful journey to beautiful places that I only used to dream about. (I got goosebumps when I walked on the cobbled streets of Florence for the first time, and when I saw the Eiffel Tower at night).
Travel is a dream coming true. It’s both an escape and a reward — an escape from the mundane life, a respite from the noise and worries and a reward for the overworked, tired, and listless. There’s a big world out there waiting to be explored with so many different cultures to experience and so many people to meet. It was a great experience for a first time “solo traveler, tour joiner” like me, and it won’t certainly be the last.