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Try this trick to book a European vacation without all the hassle

I grew up traveling with parents who were passionate about it and have been doing it ever since - in fact I made a career out of it.

A European vacation package is hardly the 'bus full of tourists' experience you might expect

So you want to go to Europe, and it's your first visit to a particular country. You could spend hours and days researching flights to get there, places to stay and things to see and do. Let me save you some time and advise you to go with a tour wholesaler or company that specializes in packaging European vacations.

I'm not suggesting you take an escorted tour on a bus with 30 other people. You can do that, if you want to be led around to the most touristy places, and you're afraid of venturing out on your own. If that's how you like to travel, then by all means, but you won't have too much freedom to explore on your own. Many of these companies are going to take you to spots that give them a commission for bringing travelers there.

If you like to explore more independently and make your own schedule, I would advise buying a vacation package from a company that groups together airfare, hotel and rental car or train transportation. This allows you to focus on what you're going to see and do. Let's face it, you are not going to be spending all day in your hotel room. You are going to be out and about seeing the sights, eating in cafes and wandering museums and shops.

Of course, you want a clean place to sleep in a good neighborhood, but you don't really need to waste your time researching where those hotels are. The same goes for the airfare. In reality, you are probably not going to find the best deals by shopping around on your own. Tour wholesalers buy in bulk, and they have better negotiated rates with airlines and hotels than you could ever find. In most cases, you are not going to beat their deals.

What to research before you book a vacation package

  • Check out which hotel your company is using, and read about it on TripAdvisor. Are people complaining that it is old and outdated and dirty, or are they saying it is well located, with good service? If the reviews are mostly positive, you are good to go.
  • Ask the tour company if they are going to use nonstop flights. Some people don't mind changing planes, but if an eight-hour trip is going to take you 14 hours instead, you need to weigh the value of the time lost.
  • See if the tour company is a member of USTOA (United States Tour Operator Association). If the company goes bankrupt, at least you have some protection for your money spent, as USTOA has a $1 million traveler's assistance program. If you want to double insure your hard-earned travel dollar, buy trip insurance, which will cover if you get sick and can't make your trip.
  • Be very sure about your travel dates and details before you book with a tour operator. If you start changing your arrangements and plans, the change fees can add up, taking your trip from affordable to too expensive. Oftentimes, these fees are assessed by the airline for changes, not just by the tour company.
  • Another great hack is to check LivingSocial, Groupon and TravelZoo to see if they have any special deals for the destination you want to visit. In order to take advantage of those special flash sales, you need to buy the trip exactly as it is offered. If you want to make any changes, those additional fees will add up.

If you are going to Europe to visit family or have been to the country before, you might want a more relaxed visit. If you want to spend more time in your hotel and want to be in a particular area, you may be better off booking everything independently. This is particularly true if you are using your airline mileage for free flights. But if you're paying your way and you want to see a particular place at an affordable price, a tour wholesaler or vacation packager is definitely the way to go.

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