Discovering Scandinavia and the Baltics with Busabout

BY ONEIKA RAYMOND

As someone who travels often and extensively, I’m used to planning all of my own trips.  From scanning airfares, to sourcing accommodation, to plotting itineraries, my adventures abroad are always organized and executed by yours truly. While this is fun, it can often be stressful; I spend hours upon hours scouring all available resources in an attempt to craft the perfect getaway.  For this reason, then, I was delighted when Busabout came into my life. Itching to travel more through Europe, I partnered with them this past summer on their Scandi-Baltic adventure, a fully-planned 8-day trip through five northern European capitals. It was right up my alley: all the fun of international travel devoid of the tediousness of preamble and planning! I’ll be writing more over the coming weeks about my exploits with Busabout, but what follows now is my review of the trip.

  Trip Details

The Scandi-Baltic has a jam-packed, air-tight itinerary that takes the traveller through five countries in 8 days. The tour brings you to the gorgeous less-touristed Baltic cities of Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn (the capital cities of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, respectively), as well as to the more recognizable Scandi capitals Stockholm and Helsinki.  The price of the tour includes all transportation and ferries, as well as 7 nights accommodation, 7 breakfasts, and a Busabout guide.

What I loved

The destinations: This area of the world is jaw-droppingly beautiful.  From the wide expanse of blue waters surrounding the islands that make up Stockholm, to the red, peaked roofs of Tallinn’s old town, my camera was severely overworked. The House of the Blackheads in Riga’s town hall square is one of the prettiest buildings I have come across in Europe.  There is no shortage of scenery to gawk at here.

Busabout takes all the guess-work out of planning. No organization skills? No problem.  Busabout is king for the lazy and/or inexperienced traveller.  Everything is set up. Everything is laid out. There is no fussing with bus and ferry times, no hassle with procuring tickets to attractions, no hiccups or misunderstandings due to foreign languages you don’t speak.  The accommodation and tours have already been fixed and your Busabout guide is an expert at navigating the cornucopia of destinations on the agenda. All you have to do is show up.  It’s perfect for those wanting to have a good time with minimal stress.

It’s cost effective:  Even with a weak Euro, travel in the “Old World” is expensive, especially in Scandinavia.  But the Scandi-Baltic adventure is a steal at $825 USD for all transport, 7 nights of accommodation, most food and tours.

The assortment of activities: I was never bored- there was no lack of things to do.  There was the Viking walking tour in Stockholm (where we donned horned helmets and were encouraged to growl at passerby), the sunset barbecue on the beach in Lithuania, and rollicking rounds of karaoke on the night ferries. A range of optional paid activities like guided bike tours and a visit to a shooting range (!) were also available.

The people: Prior to going I worried that the members of my travel group would consist solely of 18-year old Aussies on their first jaunt around the continent. I was convinced I would be the oldest traveller on the trip and that I would have to play Mama Bear as they drank their way through Europe. But in reality, I couldn’t have been more wrong. While the trip was oversubscribed by Australians (Busabout is popular amongst their set), they were lovely and mostly my age-  late 20’s and early 30’s. Even more surprising was the presence of three fierce ladies in their 40’s- Contiki Eurotrip this was not.  I loved having a more mature group- there was a great synergy between us.

What I wasn’t a fan of

Too much time spent on transportation and not enough time spent in destinations: While the itinerary was intelligently planned and well-executed, I simply felt the trip moved too fast. We spent every single night in a different place and I found it a bit jarring:  just as I was getting comfortable in a particular destination, had unpacked and semi-settled, it was time to re-pack and be on the move again. A fair amount of time was also spent getting from point A to point B. We spent a combined 34 hours on ferries from Latvia to Sweden and then from Sweden to Finland.  While I often found the “getting there” part enjoyable (ferries is a misnomer- we actually were on full-service cruise ships that had entertainment) it ate into my time on the ground. While I spent a day in Helsinki, I feel like I barely got to know the city at all.

Pressure to do everything with the group: If you are someone who enjoys travelling independently and/or likes to have time to yourself on your travels, this probably isn’t the trip for you.  While my other 21 travel companions were lovely, eight straight days with the group wore me down a bit and impeded my typical travel rhythm (fast/efficient).  There were opportunities to sneak in some alone time in the evenings (which I did) but a few times I felt obligated to join the rest of the gang in the “suggested” night activities.

Expensive  food on the cruises: The price of food on board was exorbitantly high, double what it would have cost on land.  I wouldn’t have minded this if it were good, but the range and quality of food options was poor to average at best.  Our guide strongly suggested we partake in the buffet dinner on the night cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki but I balked at the 38 Euro price tag and had a 7 Euro sandwich instead. Apart from me and another girl, everyone else had the buffet dinner, though I was told later by someone who went that the buffet wasn’t worth it at all. My advice: stock up at the supermarket before setting sail!

 My Overall Impressions

The Scandi-Baltic adventure was one of the most memorable journeys I’ve been on and I’d highly recommend it to anyone. I met great people, saw beautiful things, and I loved not having to plan anything! Stay tuned for more posts and pictures relaying my experiences in this interesting part of the world.

Have you ever been to Scandinavia or the Baltic States?  Have you ever been on a group trip?

Many thanks to Busabout for the complimentary Scandi-Baltic trip.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

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94 Comments

  • I have been on a Baltic cruise on Royal Caribbean which was great; however, when we took the group tours we never had enough time to see everythin. The group I was in was so large and between waiting for some slow pokes and looking for others who took off unexpectedly, our group was rushed through many of the sites.
    On a better note…I returned last week from a tour of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand with Geckos Adventures. I was hesitant at first about traveling with 6 strangers on the first portion of the trip in Vietnam, but it turned out to be a very positive and enlightening experience. For the most part we did do many of the adventures together; cycling through rice fields, rowing down the Mekong Delta, snorkeling in the Nha Trang, taking a cooking class, sight-seeing and even celebrating one of the guy’s birthday on Vietnam train in the middle of nowhere! There were times we took a break but only because some of the girls wanted to go shopping, whilst the others wanted to go see some of the historic sites. If we wanted to go off on our own, no one got offended or took it personal. I think there was just a basic understanding that there would be times when a break was needed.
    Our guide Phi (best tour guide ever), had even said it was rare for a group to mesh so well together. Two of us, moved on to Cambodia and joined up with a 3 others and unfortunately the dynamic changed. The new people were not as open to the whole “experiencing the culture” and complained relentlessly about everything from food to hotel accommodations. It was difficult to go from one extreme to the other but I had to remember that I was there for me.
    Overall, I think group travel is a hit or miss. I miss the people I traveled with in Vietnam but in the end I came back with great memories and 6 strangers I can call my friends.

    Reply
    • Group travel can be a hit or miss, I agree! It depends on so many factors: the size of the group, the demographics, where you’re travelling… As a rule, group travel is great for places that you are afraid/intimidated to travel in on your own!

      Reply
  • You’re a stunning little lady with a flawless complexion.

    Gisele Bundchen looks a little scraggy when placed next to you in all honesty.

    Reply
  • The last time I did a group trip was 2/3 years ago in Amsterdam… I loved it though because it was full of people in my age group 18- 20 who wanted to do similar things (drink and get high lol). This look fun though, I never really think of going to the Baltic states.

    Reply
  • never been on a group tour, and dont plan to, especially with a group more than 4. Because then you just end up waiting for people and end up doing nothing. I don’t even like going out with groups of people for the same reason.
    I don’t think i’ll ever consider such jam packed trips where you travel 5 countries or 5 cities in a country in 5days. I love to LOOK and really take in everything and just appreciate the landmark i’m viewing. Also, I get mentally tired quickly. so such trips wont work for me.
    On that note, your pics are very beautiful! Nice to see a chocolate amongst many vanilla 😉

    Reply
    • Haha! You know I have to represent!!! I agree about needing to spend more time in places, but it was good to get a taste just the same- now I have an idea of what the place is like and if I’d like to go there again. :-0

      Reply
  • It doesn’t surprise me that you’d feel constrained by the set itinerary and group dimensions of the trip, not to mention being tethered to what’s available to eat on the assorted cruise ships. This sort of package deal seems more worthwhile for people coming into the region from far away lands, not someone centered in London.

    But still. A nice introduction to places you might not have otherwise gone, right? Now you know that you need to revisit Latvia!

    Reply
    • I agree with you wholeheartedly there. I’m a big traveller, I’ve lived abroad before and travelled on my own, and I lived in a great travel hub. This sort of trip is ideal for my complete opposite lol. But it was indeed a fantastic taster- I know that I probably NEVER would have gone to Vilnius, Lithuania (I had never even heard of the city, let alone had a clue that it was the capital)!

      Reply
  • Nice review! (And that Viking walking tour sounds amazing… haha!)

    Your impressions of doing a group tour with Busabout are similar to mine (though I haven’t written my review yet) – much cooler/more mature people than I was expecting, but too much time spent in-transit (seriously, we were on a bus 6-7 hours per day on my Balkans trip). That being said, you really can’t beat the value, and I DID make some great friends.

    Reply
    • Thanks Amanda! I’ve been curious about your perspective! I understand the need to see a lot in a short period of time by people with limited vacation time. Though at the same time I wonder if the quality of their experience is being degraded for all of the time spent in transit. That said, I talked with a number of ppl on the tour (most of them had done two or three Busabout tours before this one!) and very few of them complained about the time spent on transport!

      Reply
  • I’ve been to Norway with my daughter to visit family and absolutely loved it. I definitely want to go back and see the neigboring countries as well.

    Reply
  • group tour/travel is a no-no for me…I traveled to Goa, India with a about 30 people and everything was so disorganized, plan was ditched and everyone was doing whatever they wanted…I might try an organised group tour, but looks like I would not have that freedom to explore as I would like to.

    Reply
    • Yikes! I think it depends on your travel style. I know that someone like my mom would never think of going to India or the Baltics on her own- the planning and culture shock would just be too much for her. This trip would be right up her alley!

      Reply
  • I’m so glad you had a good time Oneika and what a relief that you were with a good crowd. I’m also super happy that you went on it and shared it because these types of trips have always appealed to me but now I know that it’s not for me. Stephen and I can barely get through a week together – we split up for one afternoon on our last trip for respective sports / reading activities but usually we spend far more time apart. I just can’t imagine spending a full week in other people’s pockets. But, it’s a great way to spend a week seeing five countries and makes me think that 10 days and five cities next summer might just be doable (we’re thinking of driving).

    By the way, fabulous photos! I know you were travelling without your official photographer, so well done!

    Reply
    • I feel the same as you- as an independent traveller I don’t like travelling with groups and having myself hampered. Though I did this trip and really liked the vibe, I still prefer travelling on my own and doing my own thing. That said, this is a GREAT option for people who are either scared to travel alone or intimidated by planning a trip of this nature that spans so many countries/cities in so short of a time! Thanks for the compliment on the photos! I’ve been practicing 🙂

      Reply
  • I would have gotten the sandwich too – that is one expensive buffet! Overall this trip sounds like a great option if you don’t have time to really explore each of those cities. If you end up loving one (or more), you can always go back on your own later.

    Reply
  • Wow! This seems like such an amazing trip – I have only done one kind group tour thing and it was when I was studying abroad at Melbourne Uni – we did a 10 day camping trip up the coast of Western Australia and a HUGE amount of time was spent traveling in a bus. like a HUGE amount of time. I also got QUITE sick of the people.

    Reply
  • The first picture.. that’s Riga, right? Where were you located to take that picture? I’ll be there in June and I would love to see that view of the city! 🙂

    Reply
  • Hi Oneika, this trip looks amazing! I’m thinking of doing it too and wondered how much the optional activities cost? I’ve been on a trip like that before and all of the non-compulsory activities which you do end up feeling obliged to go to ended up costing me nearly £150… I had a blast though. These trips are so much fun! But I’d like to budget the optionals in this time 😉

    Reply
    • I think that the optional activities were about an extra $150 USD!! I really and truly didn’t feel pressured to do them, though, so it’s really up to you!

      Reply
  • Did you know that more than half of Estonia is made up of rural villages, farmland and forests? We went to Tallinn back in March, but only for two days – we would have loved to do the KGB Museum & Tallinn Legends but we just didnt have enough time. We definitely want to go back & also explore Estonia’s fabulously green countryside!

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