How do you travel? It may seem an odd question but I ask because I recognise that many our travel preferences differ. I’ve long considered myself an independent traveller. I enjoy putting together my trip – packaging flights, hotels, transfers and tours getting exactly what I want, rather than an itinerary a travel company has concocted for me. I’ve often been disappointed by package holidays with their one-size-fits-all experience, long waits for coach transfers, and sub-standard hotels. So when I was invited to experience a package style holiday with Monograms I was intrigued to see if it would be a good fit for me.
Monograms is a travel company that does holidays differently. Yes, they provide their customers with a package, but it could be described as a package holiday for people who don’t do packages.
The company has itineraries all over the world but they have considerable strength in Europe where they offer a number of city breaks and travel to popular destinations from Amsterdam to Vienna. I travelled with them on a 10-day itinerary to London, Paris and Rome.
This post is the result of the trip I took with Monograms for a project between Monograms and iambassador. As always, all opinions are my own and I maintain full editorial control of the content on LiveShareTravel.
Experience my Monograms trip – London, Paris and Rome
Monograms – a history of holidays
Founded in 2004, Monograms is part of the Globus group of travel brands, which also includes Cosmos and Avalon Waterways. As such it has a long heritage in package holidays – since 1961 Cosmos has been offering value-priced European coach tours for cost-conscious British travellers. These coach tours were so successful Cosmos soon introduced another form of travel – air holiday packages to the beaches of southern Europe. Then in 1968, Cosmos’ air holidays were so popular, the company formed its own airline, Monarch Airlines.
Monarch has sadly folded – it was a good airline, but is a relatively recent casualty of the hugely competitive aviation industry. And thankfully for a traveller like me, who hates the idea of the long distances and organised nature of coach holidays, this is definitely not the Monograms way.
Instead, Monograms offers holidays in countless destinations all over the world. With Do It Yourself holidays proving popular choice and package holidays offering a comfortable and easier way to travel than going it alone, Monograms offers something in the middle.
They invite you to travel the world independently, with their expert help. Monograms offers:
- Hand-selected hotels in central locations.
- Transportation between cities and countries, including reserved premium seating via high-speed train.
- Included half-day guided sightseeing tours in each destination.
- VIP access to must-see landmarks allowing you to skip the queue.
- Countless customisable choices from optional excursions to accommodation upgrades.
- Services of an on-site local expert, known as a Monograms Local Host.
So does it all live up to expectations, and can travel with Monograms appeal to an independent traveller? I would say yes.
My experience of a Monograms holiday started not a million miles from home at London’s St Pancras station. Arriving by train, I was met by Dora one of my Monograms Local Hosts in London, before I’d even gotten through the ticket barrier. For a moment I wondered how she’d gotten through to meet me right off of the train, but then I was distracted by her gleaming, welcoming smile and before I knew it, we were chatting away about my journey, my plans while I was in London and various suggestions she had for ways I could spend my time.
We were soon in a chauffeured minivan on a private transfer to my hotel, as Dora served up a few insider tips and suggestions for things I could do with my time in the city.
Soon I arrived at my hotel, the Park Plaza Waterloo, and found that Dora had already checked me in and had my key at the ready. So I was able to go straight to my room without the hassle of the check in desk.
Monograms’ Local Hosts
Monograms Local Hosts are more than just couriers to see you through your arrival process though. They are based at your hotel every day and provided information on things to do in the city, as well as my personalised tour itinerary and they are a great point of contact for any concerns you may have.
These are not holiday reps – there’s no unnecessary welcome meeting, they’re not there to sell you tours or push you into doing anything you don’t want to do, they’re just friendly and supportive when you need them.
They also give you a way to discover your destination just like a local – the Local Hosts happily provide tips on their favourite haunts from the best markets, cafés, viewing points, parks and more. And this wasn’t only the case in London, but in each section of my trip.
Get to know your city
With every part of a trip with Monograms you have the chance to do things your way. The Local Hosts are there to make suggestions and book activities for you if you wish, but you can also just go it alone.
Alternatively if you prefer more support as you navigate your destination, Monograms runs a huge number of tours for you to fill your days with – for instance there are more than 50 in Paris alone.
And if you ever arrive in a city wishing you had at least some information to help you get your bearings, then Monograms has you covered. They include a free city tour of all the major sights.
From my experience, the included city tours vary in quality – in London we had a great guide taking us by bus and on foot to many major sites and providing a huge amount of information on the history, but also offering a broad take on life in London and the UK.
The tour in Paris was slightly disappointing because we spent a lot of time on the bus rather than exploring on foot. This was also slow going because Paris’ traffic was the worst I’ve ever seen it as there was a programme of redevelopment going on in many quarters of the city. Add to that, although the guide gave some information on the sites we passed it lacked depth in places. The one good thing about this tour though was that we soon arrived at the banks of the River Seine to continue exploring from the water. This part of the tour was more enjoyable as we were able to get closer to certain buildings without feeling cooped up in a coach, and were no longer battling with the city’s traffic.
Conversely in Rome the included tour is incredible. A mammoth seven hours, it takes in much of the Vatican City and the sights of Ancient Rome like the Forum and Colosseum. Add to that, we started the tour at the Vatican first thing in the morning, so we were able to explore the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel before the crowds arrived. By the time we got to St Peter’s Basilica, the crowds had really started to build, but it was still better than if we had not had early entry with Monograms. I was really impressed by this tour and the guide who knew plenty of fascinating facts about the sights.
I think the difference in the nature and quality of the included tours depend on Monograms’ local partners in each destination – in this instance I’d say that London and Rome have the better tour operators.
Explore more – guided tours
Beyond these tours – which I felt were excellent value as they come free with each Monograms package – you can also book from a huge range of tours and experiences. These include food tours, deep dives into historic sights, river boat cruises, RIB rides, dinner cruises, running tours for fitness fanatics, cooking classes and dining experiences to name a few.
In London, I took a guided coach tour of Windsor Castle, took myself to Hampton Court – something my Local Host had booked for me – went on a fascinating, if gory, Jack the Ripper walking tour, to a pub dinner and on an evening River Thames cruise.
In Paris I did a River Seine dinner cruise and toured the Palace of Versailles on an early entry ticket, thus avoiding the huge queues I saw as I left. While in Rome I took a Pasta and Tiramisu Cooking Class, the following night I spent an evening dining out in the Eternal City at one of Monograms recommended restaurants, toured Rome’s catacombs and the lesser visited, but staggeringly beautiful St Paul’s Basilica.
There are so very many experiences you can book in your destinations with Monograms, and each time you’re assured that it has been tested for quality.
I stayed in four star hotels in London, Paris and Rome. Though there are other hotels available at various price points with Monograms’ packages, the good quality of my hotels – the Park Plaza Waterloo, Hôtel l’Echiquier Opéra, in Paris, and the Starhotels Metropole in Rome, seemed indicative of the standard of accommodation travellers could expect with Monograms.
Prepare to travel
I have to be honest – the more I travel, the less prepared I seem to be. I may learn some language basics before my trip, but I wait till I arrive to look for maps, and navigate my way through any quirks of my destination.
But even here, Monograms makes it easy. Before my trip I received a pack with information on all my destinations – from banking hours and how to use public transport to a few phrases to help you communicate, which is all really useful, especially if you’re not very well travelled.
As someone accustomed to Do It Yourself packaging, I’m used to booking travel to my destination separately, but it was good to have all flights and the Eurostar between London and Paris included in my Monograms package.
The only worry I had with my itinerary was that the time in each city was a little on the short side – three days in each including travel between them. But whether you want to see lots of cities in a few days or spend a week really getting to know your destination, Monograms has you covered. Take a look at their extensive packages for 2020.
Carrying print outs of your travel information, flight tickets and booking details is so 2010. So Monograms has an app that puts all your travel info in one place, plus it helps you reduce the amount of paper you’re using. The MonogramsGO app is also useful because it has info on your whole itinerary plus maps of your destination that can be used offline – you just need to connect it to Wi-Fi once to download the maps.
Conclusion: is a Monograms tour for independent travellers?
Going it alone when I travel has become my default and I love it. As an experienced independent traveller I’ve enjoyed putting together my own trips and feel confident enough to navigate a place on my own. And part of it too is that I don’t ever want to feel like a number on a coach tour, or in a big organised group, mindlessly following an umbrella-toting guide around.
I love immersing myself in a destination and seeing it, at least in some ways, like a local, visiting local cafés, unearthing quiet corners of a city.
But I will say that Monograms allows you to do that, with insider knowledge, quality touches that give you individual, attention and personalised service and rather than making you follow a set agenda, they are there when you need expert local advice.
I loved the tours that I took in my destinations and was impressed by the quality of the tour guides, I also found the assistance of the Local Hosts invaluable in helping me to navigate the destination, and I loved having private transfers to save me navigating my way through an airport to the taxi queue and hoping that I wasn’t scammed or over-charged while travelling to my hotel.
Monograms made exploring some of Europe’s most exciting cities easy, exciting and fun and I would definitely travel with them again. They allow us independent travellers scope to explore and discover the world on our own terms but with quality service to support our adventures.
My London, Paris and Rome itinerary with Monograms costs from US$1,721 per person, including nine night’s bed and breakfast accommodation in quality four-star hotels, travel between the cities, the services of the Local Hosts, and a free included city tour in each destination.