I have recently finished a Central European Quartet tour, always an enjoyable experience. It is a great tour, one day of travel followed by one full day to get an overview of the city before moving along. It is a busy tour without being hectic and offers a good amount of time for the group to make their own exploration of a place having been given an overview by a local guide. Anyhow, last month I wrote about the benefits of pre-tour contact and how it makes the on-tour experience so much smoother. One area which is great to cover pre-tour is free time, what it means and how it breaks down.
All EF itineraries are a mixture of included activities (city sightseeing tours, museum or site visits and meals etc.) optional excursions (normally half day or full day) and then free time. Free time is a tricky one to evaluate sometimes and the name itself can be misleading. Thus far, the alternative ‘standard time continuum with no pre-arranged structured activity’ lacks appeal, so free time it remains. I mention my recent tour as, in each of the four cities, the morning tour would end sometime between noon and 1pm and that would be it for included activities until we met for dinner. There are EF optional excursions on this tour, as there are on nearly all itineraries, but if your group has chosen not to purchase them then be aware of the need to plan a little. In itself, this time can be used for lunch, shopping, visiting a specific site either as a whole group or dividing up to do different activities.
Free time does not mean the Tour Director (that’s me) is going to disappear until dinner leaving you clutching a map and a vague sense of where the main sites are. Occasionally TDs need to use this time to go off and arrange other activities for further down the line, pick up tickets, that sort of thing. However, you can be sure that your TD will always be ready to discuss free time and how best to fill it. Personally, I like to bridge any free time so I might let the group off for lunch then meet back with them to go and see something. After this activity as a group I might let them go again for some shopping time until we meet up to go to dinner. I always follow the lead of the Group Leader (that’s you) and discuss with them pre-tour how they want to arrange things. Students will generally always be in groups of three or four minimum and in a certain geographical area.
For me, this time in small groups is a great opportunity for students to explore, to get a feel of being in charge of how they see things and when they see them. Everyone needs a break from the drill of touring at some time. Of course, safety is an issue and this is why the pre-tour contact is the ideal time for the TD to get a feel for what the group are about, what they want to do and see and how they want to do it. So, have a look at the itinerary for your upcoming EF tour, spot the gaps where there is some free time and get your students involved in discussing how they would like to fill it. Above all, your Tour Consultant or Tour Director are always on hand to offer help and advice.
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(Editor’s note: Paul Mattesini’s posts appear Tuesdays on Following the Equator. If you have a travel question for our resident expert tour director, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future posts.)