Touring with a commercial bus company

One essential for a good bus trip is a great driver – not just competent behind the wheel but also calm, friendly and with a sense of humour. I nominate Alan!  He was standing in the car park near the Franz Josef Glacier walk indicating the way to the bus for the returning walkers. This was his response to my comment that he was the most animated road sign I had seen for a while.

Julie and I qualify as seasoned travellers – not in the number of trips or places we have been but in our forms of travel. In this order we have camped, caravaned, river cruised, railed and bused in Australia and overseas.

I’d like to consider what goes into making a good bus trip. When we have been travelling around Australia we have found short bus trips ideal ways to get places you can’t manage without 4 wheel drive car and driving experience. Examples of great 1 day trips were into the Bungle Bungles and from Broome to Cape Levique. Overseas we found bus tours, either the hop on/off kind with a recorded commentary or those led by a real guide are great introductions to a city. I prefer the second sort even though they are more expensive because you get the chance to interact with a real person.

We are now entering the 3rd week of a New Zealand Coach Tour with AAT Kings. We chose this because of the fabulous experience we had with a 11 day tour of Italy with Trafalgar had convinced us this was the least stressful,  most time efficient way to see a country in a short time, although certainly not the cheapest.

Another essential is a good Tour Director. Those who followed my blog through Europe might remember Barbara who was excellent. So is Vaille, here demonstrating one of his prime responsibilities – that of keeping us awake on the bus! An interesting commentary is essential, as is answering crazy questions in a credible manner, sorting out the schedule, being always polite to the passengers, staying calm when others aren’t and most importantly NOT LOSING LUGGAGE OR PASSENGERS.

Aside from the Driver and Director who are essential, these are some things that help make a tour successful.

  • Bus not too crowded – a few spare seats make a big difference.
  • A variety of travel companions who are friendly, flexible and prepared to help each other out.
  • A range of nationalities makes things more interesting.
  • So does a range of backgrounds such as work. A bus full of all school teachers (or whatever) would be bad!
  • Understanding the different needs of single people travelling as part of the group.
  • Some space in the schedule to separate and chill out.
  • Regular stops, not just for food and toilet but to do something and move.
  • This might seem inconsistent but Age differences do count. I have seen adult children travelling very successfully with a parent but most of my two coach tourists have been 50+ and I suspect that travellers younger that 40 would probably struggle to fit in.there are coach companies that specialise in young groups
  • Good weather helps.

Tour Guides

After a week of fending for ourselves we have come to see the advantages of great tour guides. For a start, an organised tour like the “Italian Concerto” that we did with Trafalgar everything is organised for you – your transport, meals,activities runs smoothly because a Tour Director spends their life on the phone making arrangements and paying bribes to make sure that you get what you want. An example on our trip was that The Gyro D’Italia completely shut down traffic on the Amalfi Oast and could have prevented our Day on the Isle of Carpri. Apparently it took 2 hours to find 4 hire cars and drivers to cover for the bus that couldn’t make the trip. Our Tour Director was Barbara “Don’t call me Barbie!” and she was wonderful. Here she is pictured on the boat tour of Carpri.


While the Tour Director has a good general knowledge of where we are going and the local s history, geography etc, in each position local experts lead the group. it is not just their knowledge, but their passion for the place they live that really fills it with personality.

Following are images of three of our local guides. Elenanor proved her point that “all Romans are crazy” – but her craze is Rome itself. Henrico as our guide to Pompei was the claimant to more knowledge about the brothels of of this city than any man living. Who could dispute him? Willy showed us the Isle of Carpri from top to bottom and all around. Then, Michelangelo had such knowledge and passion for the history and architecture ofthe Amalfi area that you could not help but love him for it.