Firstly, I travelled with a friend. This avoided the discriminatory and costly single supplement for both of us, that can make independant travel prohibitively expensive for solo travellers beyond staying in backpackers and YHAs.
We stayed in two or three star hotels, with sometimes great views centrally located in London, Paris, Florence and Rome, as well as an apartment in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre. These we spent several months researching via Trip Advisor and other travel references online and doing all our accomodation bookings ourselves. Never once were we disappointed.
Moreover, we saved a fortune on public transport, as we were largely able to walk to most attractions, limiting our use of the metro and underground systems to when we were tired, or needed to be at a specific location early, such as an 8.00 AM start at the Vatican!
We made this section of our trip our own, allowing time to do lots of walking, drinking in the local architecture, art and enjoying the local food and wines. We spent a week in both London and Paris, then at least three nights in other destinations, but one, where we regretted we did not have more time.
We selected the attractions that most interested us, with galleries and iconic museums and buildings high on our list of priorities, along with sampling local foods and drinks.
In London and Paris we made use of Hop on Hop off bus services, but by the time we made it to Rome and Florence had begun to question their value. They tend to make the cities seem way bigger and less walkable than they are. They consume a lot of time doing a prescribed route between attractions. Time that can be better spent within the attractions, unless you are happy to use them to get to an attraction then spend only half an hour once you get there then hop on and go elsewhere they are a cost that should be avoided!
My best advice to the independant traveller is to firstly purchase a decent map with streets and attractions clearly labelled and secondy familiarise yourself with the local public transport system. wherever you are.
Our independant travel allowed us genuine time to roam our favourite galleries, museums and archeological sites at leisure, to adjust our itenaries to avoid long ques, returning later in the day often proved way better than attempting to be first in line and making the most of late museum opening times. It allowed us to take a break when we needed it, or spend ten and a half hours in L'Orangery, followed immediately by Musee D'Orsay.
In contrast our Turkey tour, with Peregrine Tours, was originally booked as an Intrepid Tour. When booked it avoided Gallipoli and included two flights to avoid long days on the bus. The tour we ended up on relied solely on bus travel and included Gallipoli. The fine print permits such changes to be made and both companies are run by the same umbrella group.
The itenerary was jam packed with "Treasures of Turkey" and lived up to its name. However, with 15 in the tour we were on, the one tour fits all needs ideal was tested, particularly for those who were less into archeological sites than my friend and I. We covered well over 3.000 kms on the bus.
Our guide, Gokhan was exceptional and a great ambassador for Turkey, not just its ancient treasures but also contemporary culture. His knowledge and good humour enhanced our experience, whilst our skilled driver, Viktor, kept us safe as he ably negotiated our bus through Istanbul's narrow alleyways.
Luckily, our group of fellow travellers gelled from the introductory meeting and was invariably good humoured, supportive and cohesive, It varied from a few in their mid twenties, to the middle aged and active elderlies. We parted with new friends and a sense of shared experience.
Accomodation was patchy on the tour. Some hotels were excellent and close to town and major attractions. Others a long way from any shops or local restaurants, other than the hotel's own. My friend and I began in a room so tiny in Istanbul we were unable to both open our packs at the same time. One hotel had a bathroom so mouldy I was unable to close the door without becoming very allergic and asthmatic. Another was so airless and overlooked internal shops above the hotel kitchen, we opted to pay for an upgrade, with a balcony that faced onto the beach. Others were good, but rarely up to the standard of those we booked independantly. At least all had windows that could be opened to let in air. Many had air conditioners. The family owned and operated independant hotels, invariably exceeded the chain operated ones, both in the quality of the rooms and friendly, obliging service of staff. Breakfasts varied from the subime in Istanbul, to the inedible.
We paid for a flight back to Istanbul, opting out of Gallipoli and Troy, to give us our intended time to do justice to this great city.
A genuine pro of the tour was the benefit of local knowledge and off the beaten track attractions and eateries. Another is that Turkish signage and language are not the easiest to get on top of and having our tour organised bypassed the challenge of the language barrier.
For the two solo travellers of the tour, it made their experience a sociable and extensive exploration of Turkey.
I still prefer the challenge and flexibility of independant travel, but believe the organised tour most certainly has its place and is a great way for those with limited time, or less confident about dealing with unfamiliar languages and cultures to travel safely and easily.
A real con with any organised tour is that you avoid the magical interactions that come of dealing with the demands of day to day living and genuine interaction with the locals beyond your hotel and guide. Your tour will likely be experienced within a cultural parameter that matches your own at home; fine for sight-seeing, but it can border on a degree of voyeuerism rather than experiencing much of the local culture.
I urge anyone intending to travel to do their best to learn at least a little of the language spoken at their destination. It certainy makes interacting with the locals more accessible, regardless of whether you are travelling independantly, or undertaking an organised tour!