If you've never been to Northern California, you're 100% missing out! From the iconic cable cars of San Francisco to the granite cliffs of Yosemite National Park, stories of the Gold Rush in Old Sacramento, crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe, the mysterious tufa towers of Mono lake, and exquisite varietals in the wine region of Sonoma, this is a trip of a lifetime.
The easiest way to see and do it all without doing any of the hard work of planning is to booking the California Dreamin': Northern California By Design tour by Globus. In this Globus Tours USA review, learn what it's like to travel with a company that has 90-plus years of experience through my own eyes and what sets them apart.
The mountains are calling and I must go.– John Muir
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Here's what we're covering:
- Northern California By Design Review
- How Globus Tours In The USA Work
- How Did I The Like Northern California By Design Tour?
- Top Tips You Need To Know Before Your Globus tour
- Is It Worth It?
- Closing Thoughts
- Frequently Asked Questions
Northern California By Design Review
There's been a ton of gushing over the beauty of the Golden State through the thorough breakdown 9 day Northern California road trip itinerary. It managed to WOW me at every turn even for someone that's spent some time in NorCal before.
I will admit that we normally don't travel by tour for most of our trips but on occasion, we'll work with a tour bus company if we believe in the product and the company that stands behind it. One that comes into mind was our epic trip doing the New Zealand Reverse Traverse with Flying Kiwi.
Over the years, we've learned to never put different forms of travel in a box. There's a time and place for every style of travel and it just so happened that for the timing of this trip and what I wanted to see and do, the California Dreamin': Northern California By Design by Globus worked out better than I expected.
Who is Globus?
Globus is a company that started over 90 years ago by a gentleman named Antonio Mantegazza in Lake Lugano, Switzerland. That kind of legacy and experience in travel has translated to a Globus family of brands that has a footprint all over the world.
While you might've heard of Monograms, Avalon Waterways, and Cosmos, Globus is the company's bread and butter.
With their history, they've been able to hone and re-imagine how escorted bus tours look like. They've built up one of the best reputations in the business and are geared towards budget-minded travelers. They're not meant to be overly luxurious but they certainly don't skimp out on the finer comfort details.
The elephant in the room though is their target audience. I'll be the first to admit that they've traditionally marketed to the 50+ retirees. This is starting to change and with the introduction of ChoiceTouring and how their overall marketing strategy is evolving.
At its core, Globus always makes sure you see the classic sights and make sure you cross off items on your bucket list. They also leverage their industry power and access to get you exclusive access to tours and experiences that you can't get anywhere else.
What is Choice Touring?
Choice Touring is a style of travel recently introduced at Globus.
The idea is simple. We all want to have a bit of freedom when we're on a trip even with a guided tour. We also all have different interests. With YourChoice Excursions, they're able to offer a wider range of experiences to cater to a dynamic group that range from something for food lovers and another for off-the-beaten-path adventures.
The key is that Choice Touring allows you to pick from a menu of day-trips that don't come with an extra cost like a cruise does.
Practically speaking though, from having done the Northern California By Design tour which is a Choice Touring offering, not every day has YourChoice Excursions and sometimes it's also subject to availability and seasonality.
Why did I choose Globus?
Let me breakdown a few reasons why I ended up choosing to jump on the Northern California By Design tour, one of the Globus Tours in the USA.
- California forest fires – This year was an unprecedented year of forest fires including in the Northern California region. Not having a good understanding of their impacts and how to plan around them was something I didn't have a good grasp of.
- Stress of driving – Like we learned in New Zealand, it is really nice now having to worry about driving especially when there are unexpected detours.
- Lazy to plan – While I love planning trips, sometimes you just want someone else to do it.
- Don't have to worry about reservations – Whether they be reservations at Yosemite National Park or the restaurants that were included with the tour, this wasn't something I needed to worry about even when joining last minute.
- Meet like-minded travelers – Everything above is about the planning and logistics but the most important and rewarding part of these type of tours is being able to meet new people and create new friendships.
For this Northern California By Design review, we thought it'd be helpful for you to see the entire itinerary in map form.
Highlights of the trip
What were the most memorable experiences from our California Dreamin': Northern California By Design tour with Globus?
These were the top 5 highlights:
1. Giant Sequoias
2. Brees Lookout
3. Tufa Towers
4. Yosemite Valley
5. Train History
- Giant Sequoias
- Brees Lookout
- Tufa Towers
- Yosemite Valley
- Train History
Book with Globus
Take a closer peek at the Northern California By Design tour by Globus. If you're thinking about exploring more of the Golden State, we highly recommend this tour.
How Globus Tours In The USA Work
From my experience with California Dreamin': Northern California By Design tour, here's what you can expect if you book any of the Globus tours in the USA.
After you book your trip and close to your departure date, they are stellar with their communication.whisp
- EDocs – You'll receive an e-mail a PDF document with your tour code and booking reference that contains all of the pertinent pre-trip information you need including contact information, what to do if your flight is delayed, departure information, hotel list, itinerary, excursions, tips on what to pack, etc.
- GlobusGO app – Before you leave, they encourage you to download the GlobusGO app (iOS/Android) which allows you to see your trip itinerary through your smartphone. This is a nifty app that works offline, has map functionality to help you find points of interests, day-by-day breakdown of your trip, and ability to keep track of expenses and write your own trip diary.
- Open email communication – You'll be able to ask all the questions you have through e-mail (or phone if you'd prefer) prior to your trip.
Welcome drinks and first meeting
You might think that this is just an informal meeting to say hello to your tour director and other travel mates on the trip but this is actually an integral part of the tour that I'm glad that they do.
Here's what actually happens at this meeting:
- Sign in – An official sign in process where they pass along any documents and personal notes to you for your trip regarding customizations or any questions you may have had. You will also be doing a quick temperature check, sign an attestation letter, and have your COVID vaccination document checked. Lastly, you'll receive an envelope with additional documents
- Drinks – The most important part right? This is typically catered by the hotel and there's a very large selection of beers and wines. Yes, you can come back as many times as you'd like.
- Introductions – Not only will the tour director formally introduce him or herself, everyone in the tour will also have a chance to say a quick line of who they are and when they're from. I know this sounds a little nerve-racking but it was actually nice to get a big picture of who's in the group and see who you might get along with.
- Detailed itinerary – In your envelope is a physical printout of the itinerary but unlike the others you've seen, this one will include an actual timeline. This is the one you'll be using forward because it includes times for breakfast, departure, and a guideline for how much time you'll have at each destination.
- Baggage pick up procedure – Inside your envelope is also your own baggage tag. Your tour director will explain how the pick up procedure works and that you need to have this tag attached to the suitcase that will be at the bottom of the bus.
- Form to confirm requests – The other document in the envelope is a paper form that you will have to fill out to re-confirm room requests (i.e. 1 king vs 2 queen beds), farewell meal choices, departure flight information, special requests, and special occasions. You will fill this out during the meeting and hand it to the tour director at the end.
- Miscellaneous notes – The tour director will talk about expectations on the bus, any changes to the itinerary, and other miscellaneous items.
Expect this orientation meeting to last 1 hour.
With the pandemic, I was the most curious about what the experience would be like on the coach bus. Here's a definitive guide on what to expect both pandemic-related and also how Globus operates.
- Temperature checks – The tour director will do temperature checks after leaving each major destination. For the Northern California road trip, that meant checks leaving San Francisco, Sacramento, Mammoth Lakes, and Yosemite National Park.
- Masks required – As it currently stands, masks are required to be worn whenever you're on the bus. Of course, if you need to take a sip of water or you're eating, you can take it off. This is par-for-the-course anywhere you go now so this shouldn't be a surprise.
- Coach bus configuration is the same – Like you, you might be wondering whether plexiglass has been installed on these type of buses. The answer is no. These are the same buses as before and haven't been retrofitted with anything new.
- Smaller group sizes means everyone gets their own row – This isn't a guarantee but at least for our group, there was enough space for everyone individual or couple to have their own 2-seat row. This is fantastic because you have plenty of room and you can also leave your backpack on the seat beside you if you're solo for quick access.
- Hand sanitizers – There are hand sanitizers and alcohol wipes available at the front of the bus. You can use these on your way out or back in on the bus.
- Daily cleaning of high-touch surfaces – Your driver will go through and clean the bus after every day. This is part of the Globus On-Trip Assurance.
Standard bus operation procedures
- Overhead storage – There are overhead bins above each seat.
- Garbage bags – There are small plastic bags at each row that can be used for garbage. There's also a larger garbage bag up front by the driver.
- Bathroom – The back of the bus has a toilet. It's for emergency purposes but with the understanding that if you need to use it, you can.
- Outlets and USB – Every row has 2 electrical outlets and 2 USB outlets. This is super handy to make sure your devices are always topped up.
- Wifi – The bus is equipped with wifi but the speed is slow and is location dependent. Think of it as a wifi hotspot device that's shared between every passenger. To give you an idea, I ran a speed test in San Francisco and I saw 0.19 Mbps down and 0.16 Mbps up. To give you an idea, LTE with Koodo in Canada can be anywhere between 150Mbps – 200 Mbps down and 20 Mbps – 50Mbps up.
- TVs – There are TVs mounted above every 5 rows. That said, I did find it hard to watch the TV if you were the furthest away from the TV. That said, it was only used for the Globus introduction video and a few times the tour director wanted to show us a video that explained for instance, the Donner Party.
- Speakers – The audio quality and volume is evenly distributed throughout the bus and if you can't hear, you can always let your tour director know.
- Seating rotation – This is perhaps the most interesting. On your first day, seating is first-come-first-serve. Cards are later passed out where you'll write your name and stick them above you. Every day, the tour director will move the cards 3 rows in a clockwise direction. This way, it's fair for everyone.
- Seat spacing and features – Standard coach buses are used in Globus tours USA. There are arm rests, seats can recline, there's a small tray that can be folded down from the seat in front of you, there's a small hook and handle, and there is also a footrest. Overall, seats are comfortable and quite spacious.
- Shade – If your window is too sunny, you can pull down a sun shade. These aren't individual row shades though so if you pull them down, it'll affect 3 rows of seats.
- Buses are not owned by Globus – It's worth noting that the coaches used are not owned by Globus. As a result, they are labelled with another name depending on where they're being contracted from.
- Bathroom breaks – Something Globus does remarkably well is build in a ton of bathroom breaks along the itinerary and it was always the tour director's point of emphasis to mention where they're located and whether they're clean or not. Come to think of it, I don't think I ever felt the urge to go to the bathroom because there was also the right break at the right time.
- Water – An unexpected bonus on the tour was that the bus always had complimentary bottles of water available for everyone. At the very back of the bus is a cooler and anyone is free to go back there to grab a bottle if they need it.
When it comes to making stops during your Northern California By Design tour, because of the type of places you'll be visiting, you'll appreciate that you'll have quite a bit of freedom to explore as you're interested and capable of doing.
While every stop is a little different, these are a few interesting points to take note of:
- Stories and commentary – The tour director is great at teeing up stories and commentary about upcoming stops.
- Clear communication – Prior to each stop, you'll also know exactly when you're expected back at the bus. This is repeated several times. This level of detail isn't on your itinerary sheet so you'll want to make note of it.
- Ideas for what to do – Where it makes sense, your driver and tour director will do an orientation drive around the area you'll be exploring, pointing out recommended places (i.e. shops, viewpoints, and restaurants).
- Guided – Typically in a city walk such as in Old Sacramento, your tour director will take the entire group out. In these situations, they will hand out wireless “Whisper” headsets. This allows you to hear the guide's commentary no matter how far or close you are.
- Free to explore – In most cases, your tour director will give you a few ideas of where to go before disembarking your bus. Once on the ground, you'll have the freedom to go wherever you want.
For the Northern California By Design Globus tour, all breakfasts, 2 dinners and 1 lunch are included. This means that for everything else, you'll be responsible for your own meals.
When it comes to lunch, there will be spots built into the trip and they do a fantastic job and recommended places to eat.
For dinner, this is a similar story. Keep in mind that one of the dinners included is the farewell dinner on the last evening.
Something that Globus tours are great at is choosing stellar hotels. There's not one bad thing I can say for each of the properties that you'll stay at in the Northern California By Design trip.
Upon arrival in a new destination, the check-in process works similarly as follows:
- Passengers stay on the bus while the tour director goes to the front desk to check-in.
- Tour director comes back on the bus and hands out room keys.
- You have the option of picking up your own bags to bring to your room if you need them right away or you can wait to have them delivered to your room (can take up to 30-40 minutes).
These are the properties (this may be subject to change):
- Marriott Marquis San Francisco
- Embassy Suites Sacramento Riverfront Promenade
- Mammoth Mountain Inn
- Tenaya Lodge
On days where you'll be changing hotels, you'll leave your suitcase with the special Globus tag by your door, inside the room, at the time specified on your itinerary (the paper one received at the welcome meeting). The hotel concierge will pick them up and load them onto the bus for you.
This is an incredibly handy service since you don't have to carry your heavy suitcases. That said, you do have to make sure you have everything packed ahead of time.
More specifically, let's talk about what the final day of the Northern California By Design tour is like. The day prior, the tour director will confirm your travel plans as some may decide to stay in San Francisco longer.
You'll also be asked to write on your luggage tag, the airline you're taking. This will help your driver sort out the order of how the bags can be pulled out.
Upon arrival at SFO, the bus will go from terminal to terminal. At this point, all of your farewells should have been made on the bus and the night before because once you're off the bus, you'll want to head to the check-in counter quickly and the bus will move onto the next terminal.
How Did I The Like Northern California By Design Tour?
The 9 days of the Northern California road trip itinerary were exactly what I needed. I got to explore new landscapes, take incredible photos, try new food, and meet amazing travellers.
There is a lot to like about Northern California By Design Globus tour which I'll break down below.
The photos from the tour itinerary breakdown give you a glimpse of the type of scenery we encountered during our 9 days.
Any of the superlatives I could use wouldn't be able to do it justice but I'll say that this Globus tour in the USA delivered in spades when it came to landscapes.
While places like Yosemite and Lake Tahoe are well-advertised, I learned to not underestimate any of the other stops along the journey.
In fact, if I were to plan this trip on my own, I definitely wouldn't have stopped in Sacramento, I might've picked Napa over Sonoma, driven the wrong way around Lake Tahoe, and might've skipped Mammoth Lakes entirely.
By travelling with Globus, you're taking advantage of years of experience and fine-tuning. They know the best way to put together a 9 day Northern California trip.
Of everything, I was the most impressed and surprised with Sacramento and Old Sacramento specifically. From the world-class California State Railroad Museum, and historic architecture, it was a step back in time that I did not expect.
Amazing tour director
With Globus tours USA and the rest of the world, the tour director is the backbone of the trip. In many cases, this is an element of a guided tour that can make or break the experience. Our guide was Derek Lundgren, an expert in the region of more than 10 years and he was absolutely amazing. He was compassionate, a clear communicator, highly knowledgeable, and a great storyteller.
There were a few key moments that really stood out to me for what sets Globus guides apart:
- Bus temperature – Derek asked throughout the trip, whether we were comfortable with the temperature on the bus.
- Daily breakdown – At the start of every day, you'll hear a detailed walkthrough of what the day will look like.
- Easy to digest facts and stories – For bus tours, it's often easy to get overloaded but Derek had the ability to break down complicated concepts through great analogies and simple terms.
- Attention to the details – Whether it's Derek double-checking headcount and that all luggage is onboard, letting everyone know whether there's cell signal in an area or not, or letting us know which bathrooms are good and which ones aren't, it truly felt like the Globus tour director was able to answer a lot of our questions before we would even think of them.
- Always reachable – On the printed out itinerary is the tour director's cell phone number so you can contact him at anytime. That's not something I've really seen before.
- Music for long stretches – During those long drives, Derek put on what he jokingly called “Globus Radio” which was a mix of some classics but it was quiet and non-intrusive.
Choice Touring was one of the key features of this itinerary and for the most part, I liked all the picks I made. From the railroad-centric activities in Sacramento to the Ansel Adams photography tour, I got to do what I wanted instead of something that didn't quite suit my travel style.
Unique to our trip was the fact that 1) the California forest fires were still raging and 2) COVID-19 was still making a big impact on local businesses and parks. These both had real impacts to the trip but I was very impressed with how Globus and the tour director was able to adapt.
Here are a few examples:
- Folsom Prison Museum – As one of the Sacramento choices, this was unfortunately closed. With undoubtedly some folks disappointed, Derek did his best to make up for it by including the Johnny Cash mural in our tour of the city, something that isn't normally a stop.
- Kayaking Mono Lake & Panorama Gondola – The local kayaking operator wasn't running and neither was the gondola. You could say we didn't have much of choice as Bodie State Historic Park was the only one left but Globus managed to turn that into a positive by upgrading our boxed-lunch to having dinner at Nicely's Restaurant, and also including a stop at Mono Lake. In the end, we got to do more than if the original plan was followed.
- Yosemite Tram Tour – The National Park Service closed all trams which was a bummer but to make up for it, Derek and our driver replicated all of the stops the tram with our bus so in the end, we all got to do it.
- Forest fires – This was primarily luck but while there were forest fires blazing in parts of Northern California, we were never significantly impacted by them. At most, smoke descended into Yosemite Valley on our last day.
- Alternative to Mariposa – I didn't manage to mention this in the 9 day NorCal road trip itinerary but our tour director arranged a bonus trip to Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias on the third day in Yosemite. I wasn't able to take advantage of this because we had organized our private tour but I loved that Globus was constantly looking at ways to increase the value of the trip despite elements that were out of their control.
Beyond the official choices, I appreciated that the Northern California By Design tour wasn't jammed with activities. Don't get me wrong, we did and saw a ton but it was never overly exhausting. There was a nice pace and flow and in addition, there were key moments of free time that opened the doors to new and unexpected possibilities.
- Brees Lookout – This wasn't on the itinerary but was added added because of a last-minute discovery on Instagram. We asked Derek and the hotel staff at Mammoth Mountain Inn about how to get there and we managed to book a cab (albeit very expensive) to fit it in before the bus departed for Bodie.
- Minaret Vista – Stay at Mammoth Mountain Inn gave us an opportunity to do the hike from the lodge to a viewpoint known as Minaret Vista. It wasn't officially on the itinerary but our tour director pointed it out and for those that were able and interested, we hiked there to see the sunset.
- Private Tour of Yosemite – The third day in Yosemite was meant to be a free day to relax at Tenaya Lodge. A few of us in the group were more interested in seeing more of the national park and so we were able to arrange a separate day tour on our own.
9 Day Northern California Road Trip Itinerary
Make sure to read the full breakdown of what we saw, did, ate, and where we stayed with this comprehensive guide.
Stress-free health & safety
It's worth noting that this was also my first international trip since I was coming from Canada so beyond an incredible trip, I got first-hand experience in how travel works today.
As a Canadian, I had a unique perspective of this trip because this was also my first time leaving the country since the pandemic. With that, I learned quite a bit through the process and ultimately why I felt like I made the right choice going with Globus.
- Departure testing – This part was all on me. I had to figure out what kind of test I needed to enter the US and to make sure I had all of that paperwork ready to show when flying.
- Globus takes care all of the details in-destination – Once you land in the US, Globus had all of the details covered. Primarily, I didn't know where I could get testing before flying back home but they had that all sorted out by figuring out that SFO has rapid PCR tests at the airport. They booked an appointment for me and it went off without a hitch. In the event of a positive test result, they also had contingencies communicated to me.
- Masks on buses were enforced – I'll admit that this wasn't initially comfortable but I got used to it and it gave me the peace of mind that we were playing it safe in indoor environments.
- Bus always clean – Our driver, Ron, made sure the bus was clean everyday and it helped to know that he was wiping things down with sanitizer as well.
- Trust and comfort – More of a psychological factor, this trip helped me be more comfortable travelling again, feeling normal to be around people again, having that experience with fellow travelers, and being confident about the safety protocols.
Beyond the epic sights, yummy foods, and fun experiences, what sticks out in my mind are the connections I made with my fellow travel mates on the Northern California By Design tour.
I'm not going to lie, the demographic of the passengers for Globus certainly skews a little older and while I thought that would take away from the experience, I turned out to be completely wrong.
I gained newfound perspective in spending time with the older travelers because I got to learn their story, laugh at their jokes, and their unending passion for travel. Their ageless energy and spirit lifted me and I'd like to think that I also provided a new kind of energy to them that they might not have expected.
On the other end of the spectrum, we had a dynamic group of travelers that swung to the other side of the demographic.
It was our diverse group that enhanced the entire trip experience. All of us got along incredibly well. We helped each other with photos, swapped travel stories, and enjoyed each others company.
It's these personal connections that always make travel the most memorable and special.
Where I thought the tour could be improved
No trip is perfect and this wouldn't be a complete Northern California by Design review unless I spoke on the other side of the coin.
Here are a couple of things that I thought could be done better:
- Better wifi – I know Globus doesn't have as much control of this since they contract local buses but talk about a way more delightful experience if we had blazing fast connections on the bus.
- Even more choices – I'd love to see Choice Touring taken to the next level with even more options to cater to more interests and range of physical activity.
- River Fox Train – I would have preferred a more authentic steam/diesel locomotive ride along the Sacramento River. While River Fox Train was an ok Happy Hour ride, I didn't find it particularly scenic.
- Yosemite with a large bus – With a large coach bus, you're not able to drive up to Glacier Point. I would have loved to have seen one of the Choice Touring offerings to be a sightseeing tour around the national park in a smaller van for those that are interested.
- Photography-centric – I'm biased here but I was often times thinking about how I could potentially shoot a sunrise or sunset. While this is tricky to do with a tight schedule on a tour bus, I also would have loved to have seen more options for photography lovers. That said, the Ansel Adams photography workshop was fantastic.
Top Tips You Need To Know Before Your Globus tour
If you've read our other travel itineraries, you'll know that the value of our guides is that we try to go beyond the surface. The big advantage of this Northern California By Design tour review is that having done it in person, I'm able to go a little deeper.
These are 11 tips that you need to read before you go on your Globus tours in the USA.
Tip #1: What should you pack?
Packing is highly personal and so I'm not going to list an entire packing list but there are a couple of things you should remember to pack for a Globus tour.
- Carabiner – This is the least obvious but since the seat in front of you typically has a handle or something you can loop around (in our case, the tray's cup holder hole), a carabiner is great to hang water bottles, bags, and accessory pouches like the Peak Design tech pouch.
- Layers – If mountains are involved and/or you're travelling outside of summer, you'll want to make sure you always have a jacket or extra layers with you. The bus could also be a bit colder than you'd like.
Tip #2: Stay charged
Most of us carry a smartphone with us while we travel and with how much we use it, whether for photography, watching a video, browsing, or checking e-mails, the battery drains incredibly fast.
Thankfully, Globus buses are equipped with USB and electrical outlets to make your life a lot easier.
While each bus is different, our particular bus had 2 electrical and 2 USB outlets per row. This is way more than you need.
For simplicity, I recommend you bring a USB cable to charge your phone. If you're looking for quicker charging, you can also bring a charging block.
If you have other devices that need charging along the way such as a wifi hotspot or camera batteries, you can easily do that on the bus with all of the outlets available.
Something I notice was that since the bus did not have a front pocket, it was really handy to be able to loop the charging cable through the carabiner and then stuff my phone into the Tech Pouch. This helped keep things nice and tidy.
Tip #3: Keep your bags organized on the bus
One of the biggest learning curves of being on a bus is that you need to have a strategy for where you keep your things and how you stay organized at your seat.
Under the bus
When you're transitioning hotels, your suitcase will be at the bottom of the bus. What you need to know is that any of your belongings under the bus are more-or-less inaccessible.
In theory, you could ask the driver to open up the bottom compartment to access your bags but it's inconvenient and you also don't know if your suitcase is easy to get to or not.
At your seat
While on the bus, you want to make sure you have quick access to all of your comfort items that you need. Here are my thoughts on the optimal set up.
Overhead – This should be reserved for large items that you can't fit by your seat but need in case. This could be a large jacket or perhaps souvenirs you bought during the day. These items are hard to get to while the bus in motion.
Your seat – There often isn't much room on the seat itself. If you're sitting by the window, you could slot in something small like a water bottle or a few snacks. If you're lucky and you have the whole row to yourself, you could put your backpack in the seat next to you.
In front of you – This is the under utilized space that you can take advantage of. In some buses there may be a tray you can pull down, some may have a handle and others might have a pocket. Since it's inconvenient to have the tray down the whole time, I learned through our New Zealand bus trip that it's incredibly handy to have carabiners hooked in to hang onto additional pouches, bags, and water bottles. The Peak Design Tech Pouch is super handy in this situation with all of its pockets to hold things like charging cables, charging blocks, headphones, and even snacks but a reusable bag works as well.
At your feet – Depending on whether you're comfortable with this because of cleanliness or closing off of leg room, you can put your backpack here as well.
How to organize your bags
Even more important is to have a good strategy for your “bus things” and “explore things”. The ideal configuration is to have a day bag and a bus bag. To start, the bus bag fits into your day bag so you can bring it all in at once but once you're on the bus, you can unpack it into its two parts.
For example, your day bag could be a backpack and your bus bag could be one of those reusable grocery bags. When making quick stops, you don't want to lug everything on your back so you transfer those extra things to the grocery bag. There are different ways to do this but have something modular so at the end of the day you can stuff that smaller bus bag into your day bag.
Sound like overkill? Maybe just a little but trust me, I learned the hard way that having a good system on the bus will make everything way easier.
Tip #4: Faster data connection
While there is free wifi available on the bus, it's unfortunately not very fast. If you want to make sure you have a good connection, you have two options:
- SIM card – If you're from the US, this is a given. If you're visiting, I recommend T-Mobile's prepaid sim cards where $40 gets you 10GB of data (there's a $10 activation fee).
- Wifi hotspot – As a visitor the USA, it might make more sense to get a wifi hotspot such as the Solis (formerly Skyroam) or Pokefi. The benefit here is that you'll be able to share the connection with multiple people and it's a device you'll be able to use for future trips whereas SIM cards are more-or-less disposable.
For those that are interested in Pokefi, this is what I personally used on the Northern California By Design trip. In testing the speeds, I tested 18 Mbps download and 6.05 Mbps upload which was significantly faster than the wifi's 0.19 Mbps down and 0.16 Mbps up.
While there are certainly speed differences between the options, one thing you can't control is cellular signal strength and the terrain. This means that when you're in Yosemite National Park and the signal drops to 0 bars, all of your devices including wifi, your SIM card, and wifi hotspot will stop working.
The good news is that all hotels chosen by Globus have free wifi so you'll be able to catch up every evening.
Tip #5: Do a little planning ahead of time
As much as the Globus tour will have everything planned and laid out for you, there are a few instances where it doesn't hurt to do a little of your own homework in order to maximize your trip.
You'll be selecting your Choice Touring excursions but what about some of the other free time you might have?
Being prepared for the day
- Camera gear – Do you need a GoPro? What mounts do you need? How many extra batteries or memory cards?
- Extra clothing – Depending on the activity for the day, do you need extra layers? Is it going to rain?
With the lunches and dinners on your own, you could easily decide where you want to eat when you're there but if you want to make sure you eat at the best restaurants, do your research ahead of time on TripAdvisor or Yelp.
There's a good amount of free time in the Yosemite Valley. Your tour director will have a ton of great suggestions for where to go or you could follow what I did in Yosemite.
However, if there's something in your research where you'd really like to go see, a trail you'd like to do, or specific photo you'd like to take, research will serve you well.
Lastly, if you're keen on hiking Half Dome, you will need to secure permits on your own or book a guided tour ahead of time. What you need to know is that the you need to grab those permits in March or take a gamble on daily lotteries (good for 2 days prior to the hiking date). That is why you may have better luck booking a tour which you can do on the free day in Yosemite.
Tip #6: Useful apps to download
Before you head out on your trip, there are a few apps you should consider downloading:
- Globus GO – This is the Globus app where all of your trip information is stored digitally.
- NPS App – This is the National Park Service app which you'll be able to use in Yosemite including maps, points of interests, and trails. It also has an offline feature!
- Gaia GPS – If you're looking to do any hiking, Gaia GPS Premium (1 year free trial included) gives you fully detailed trail maps.
Tip #7: Pack snacks
There are several long stretches of driving on this Globus USA tours. Your tour director will normally point those days out so if you'd like something to nibble on, pack some snacks from home to save money or you can purchase them on your own time.
Tip #8: Drones
Thinking about bringing a drone on this trip? California doesn't require specific licensing to fly a drone as a hobbyist and your drone weighs less than 0.55 lbs (250 grams). If it is, you'll need to pay $5 to get it registered.
As a recreational flyer, there are many rules you need to abide by so make sure you're familiar with them.
When it comes to the destinations visited on Northern California By Design, the areas you absolutely can't fly are:
- Yosemite National Park
- Bodie State Historic Park
- Mono Lake
- Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park
- South Lake Tahoe (near airport)
As a result, you'll be somewhat limited in where you can fly, especially on the back half of the tour.
Tip #9: What about tipping?
We've gone so far without talking about tipping but it's always one of those awkward things that's never clear.
The good news is that Globus tells you upfront that all gratuities are included for all tour experiences where there's a third-party party vendor including the YourChoice Excursions.
That said, gratuities to your tour director and driver aren't included in the tour price. Globus recommends in the document that they provide is $5 to $7 USD per day per tour member for the driver and the same for your tour director.
To pay the gratuities, your tour director on the last day will offer envelopes for those that want them and you can hand them back to your tour director before you depart.
Lastly, for any of the restaurants and activities outside of the tour itinerary, you're responsible for your own tipping (15-25%).
Tip #10: Start on the right side of the bus
Based on the timing of the scenery of the tour I would recommend that you should try to get a seat near the middle of the right side of the bus.
Since you'll be driving into Yosemite National Park from Tioga Pass, most of the action is on the left side of the bus. With the seat rotation system, you'll want to be on the left side by the end of the tour.
Tip #11: Don't forget your hotel status
When checking into the Marriott Marquis San Francisco make sure to get them to add your Marriott Bonvoy points to your reservation. The thing is, you won't get any points from the stay but your status benefits may apply if you have any.
The Northern California by Design tour also has a stay at the Embassy Suites Sacramento Riverfront Promenade. Thankfully, Hilton does recognize membership for base points, bonus points, and stays. If you have Hilton Honors Gold, you'll be eligible for water and snacks.
Is It Worth It?
After all is said and done though, is it worth it?
The current price of this tour starts at $3,089 USD per person (based on double occupancy). When you consider that this is 8 nights of hotels, all breakfasts, 1 lunch, 2 dinners, and 3 Choice Touring excursions, this certainly isn't bargain bin cheap, but is in line with guided tours of this calibre.
If you've never been to Northern California and you're looking to see the best highlights without doing any work (planning, booking, driving, and guiding), this will open your eyes to how incredible this region is.
Going with Globus also guarantees a level of gold-standard when it comes to the quality of the itinerary, tour director, customer service, and itinerary planning that is hard to beat.
So yes, if you're interested in a guided bus experience and want to see NorCal, the Northern California By Design tour by Globus is a great choice.
With this Northern California By Design review, hopefully we've been able to provide a thorough breakdown of everything you need to know before you book and also before you embark on your trip.
The bottom line is that I enjoyed this tour very much. The sights were incredible, I made new friends, was surprised by a number of destinations, but above all else loved how carefree I could be with Globus because they had everything taken care of.
If you have specific questions about this Globus tour, feel free to leave a comment below or contact us!
Go California Dreamin'
See the best that Northern California has to offer with this Globus USA tour.
Frequently Asked Questions
Northern California By Design is great all year round when it is operating. That said, spring is a fantastic time to visit the region because of the spring bloom and flowing waterfalls. By the time fall comes around, most of the waterfalls have dried up. Summer is a great season as well although San Francisco tends to be much cooler than you'd expect.
Yes, the Globus tour, Northern California By Design, is an an excellent way to see many of the highlights. They are a reputable company that knows how to run escorted tours the right way with their customer service, experience, and superb tour directors.
Yes, if you are from outside of the United States, Globus will help coordinate COVID-19 testing.
Tips for the tour director and bus driver are not included. However, gratuities for the included experiences and meals are included
Choice Touring is a new style of travel for Globus that touts additional freedom by providing a number of options for travellers to choose from. These are known as YourChoice Excursions. This allows you to tailor your tour to your own interests and passions.
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This article was brought to you as a result of the Globus trip, a project between Monograms and iambassador but all opinions on Going Awesome Places are our own.