I have received a ton of questions from people curious about what the EF College Break experience is all about. I also had a million questions before I went on my trip and thought a tip page would be helpful. To start things off, if you weren't directed here by way of my YouTube video of all of my awesome adventures in Europe, feel free to watch it below. It'll help get you excited for your own trip (or so I hope).
I went on the Grand Tour of Europe the summer of 2012. It was AMAZING! While any trip has it's ups and downs, I would seriously give anything to go back and do it all over again. Here are some questions I've been asked and tips I collected along the way...
- How big is each group? My group had 38 people. 4 boys and the rest girls. Every trip is different though.
- Do you stay with your group the entire time? Yes and no. You travel with your group to every destination and a lot of the tours and excursions are done with your group. However, EF gives you a lot of free time to go off on your own and explore the cities at your leisure. So yes, you stay with them the whole time, but you don't have to be with everyone the whole time.
- Do you feel this trip was worth the money? YES!! I did a lot of research on different college tour groups and I found that EF had the lowest prices for the most experiences! One of my favorite quotes is, "Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer." I would pay for it all again in a heartbeat.
- Would it be weird if I went by myself? Absolutely not because that is what I did! I was originally going to go with my best friend but she had to back out last minute. Of course I was nervous about going by myself but you'll get over it fast. Going alone allowed me to make new friends and they became some of the best friends I've ever had!
- Make a plan! Research the places you are going and make a list of all the sites you want to see. Make a list of foods you want to try or adventures you'd like to go on. I promise your trip will be a million times more memorable when you actually know about the history, culture, and general layout of the place. If you don't know what happened in the Colosseum, it's not going to be that special to you. Catch my drift? Before I left I wrote down every place I was going and then made a list of everything I wanted to do there. It was a bucket list of sorts.
- Save some money. Even though you'll be making payments towards your trip, also set some money aside for things you want to buy on your own. Like souvenirs, food, gelato (LOTS of gelato!), museum tickets, etc. I took $2,000 in spending money with me. It actually ended up being a pretty good amount. I felt like I had enough so I didn't have to scrounge or pinch pennies (when in Rome), but at the same time I wasn't tossing euros around like they were nothing. If people ask you what you want for Christmas or your birthday, tell them money so you can buy something nice in Europe.
- Buy a large, hardback suitcase with a combination lock! I found mine at TJ Maxx for a really good price. The reason it needs to be large is so that you'll have plenty of room to bring home all your treasures! The reason it needs to have a hardback is so that people won't be able to rip open your suitcase and steal your treasures! And the reason for the combination lock is so that people won't break into your suitcase and steal your treasures! Seriously though, I know it sounds lame, but don't expect the maids to leave your stuff alone. People in my group had stuff stolen out of their suitcases because they weren't careful. Make sure all your valuable stuff is locked up before you go out each day!
- Buy converters and a money pouch or small purse! Europeans are weird and use strange plugs to charge their stuff. You'll have to buy a converter if you want to dry your hair or charge your camera. Ask around first though, my cousin let me borrow hers. I also bought my own too, which actually came in handy when I needed to charge my phone and my camera at the same time. Also, pickpockets are part of the European experience. If you are careless with your stuff, they will steal it. (A gypsy lady tried to steal a pack of mentos right out of my hands one day! True story!) Buy either a money pouch that loops around your neck or tucks into your waist. I had one and eventually got sick of it. I also brought a small purse (about 6 inches wide, 9 inches tall, and 2 inches deep) that strapped over my shoulder and ended up using that. Just keep a firm grip on it at all times, preferably keeping your hand over the zipper. Those gypsies are sneaky devils!
- Buy a journal! No matter how well you think you're going to remember something, you won't remember it 20 years from now so write it down! This trip has long bus rides which gives you the ultimate opportunity to take a while to write down your adventures. Write about everything, what you ate, what you smelled, what you did, what you saw. I've gone back and read my journal and was amazed at how much I've already forgotten! Not like it was forgettable, just that there is literally SO much you're going to see that it is almost impossible to keep it all straight. Also, write down the addresses of people you want to send post cards to while you're gone.
- Join your group's Facebook page. When you get a little closer to your trip, EF will send you a link to a Facebook group where you will be able to get a sneak peak of all your travel buddies! This is great because you'll be able to get a feel for everyone and see who you would like to hang out with while you're there! If there is a certain place you want to see, post it on the page and see if anyone else wants to go! A large group of us did this and all went to the Harry Potter Studios while we were in London.
- Buy a camera with extra memory cards. I bought a nice digital camera before I left and extra memory cards. I would recommend getting 4-5 4GB memory cards. I recommend this because that way you won't have the same memory card in there the whole time. One of my friends never changed her memory card and her camera got stolen out of her purse towards the end of the trip. She lost every picture she took while she was there! Don't let that happen to you! When you run out of room, pop in a new card and put the used one somewhere safe.
- Buy a backpack. This is one thing I'm really glad I brought. This trip is basically a road trip so you're going to be on a bus every few days. I put my journal, a neck pillow, snacks, the airline blanket I got on the flight over, etc. in my bag for the long drives to keep me busy and comfortable.
- Only pack half of your suitcase. Don't try and cram everything you own into your suitcase. PACK LIGHT!! My suitcase had a zipper that separated one half from the other, so I only packed one side. Even then I didn't have enough room! I wish I would have packed lighter. You are going to buy clothes while you're there. The shopping in Europe is AMAZING, especially in June and July when all the sales are going on. So only pack the necessities and you can buy cute clothes along the way! Also, buy mini styling products if you're a girl. They have cheap travel hairdryers and straighteners at Target or Walmart.
- Pack medicine. If you have allergies or are prone to headaches, bring some medicine! I poured all of my medicine into one bottle to save space. Buy a little container that can fit into your purse so you'll have some on you while you're out exploring. If you get sick or need something while in Europe, medicine over there is super cheap (yay for universal healthcare!).
- Stonehenge and Bath. Personally, I chose to go to the Harry Potter Studios the day of this excursion. But two of my friends did it and they liked it! However, on our trip for some reason they told us that "Stonehenge was closed for the day." so they took everyone to Windsor Castle instead. Later they found out that the day they were supposed to go was the ONLY day of the year they let you walk straight up to the rocks.
- Versailles. Do this one on your own time if you want to see Versailles. It's cheaper if you do it on your own too because you won't have a tour guide. Our tour guide for this excursion was super boring and spent waaaay too much time in each room.
- Biking the Dutch countryside. I loved this excursion!! The ride isn't that bad since it's basically flat the whole way. You'll ride through meadows and fields with windmills and the air literally smells like chocolate! You ride to a cute little town where you watch a clog making demonstration and you can buy chocolate and cheese. It was a blast.
- Mount Pilatus. This excursion was really fun! First you take a relaxing boat ride through Lake Lucerne and then you get on the steepest railway in the world! The ride to the top was so beautiful. We even saw swiss cows with bells around their necks! The view from the top is amazing and they have yodelers up there!
- Rome cooking class. I didn't do this one. Some of my friends did and they liked it! If you like to cook then you should like this one. Personally, I wanted to have more time to explore the city.
- Monaco casino night. Out of all the excursions, this was the one I was most excited for. Unfortunately, not enough people signed up for it on my tour so it was cancelled :( If you're planning on doing this one, buy a fancy dress when you get there!
- Cava and tapas. No one on my tour did this one because you can go out and do it on your own.
- MORE TIPS: Throughout your tour, your guide is going to offer other excursions to you for an additional price. Some of the other excursions we did were amazing (gondolas in Venice!), and some were lame. Do your homework before committing. I signed up for a tour of the Roman catacombs for 15 euros and it was so boring. Some other people in my group did it on their own and it was only 5 euros.
THINGS I WOULD RECOMMEND DOING
(I'm excluding all of the normal stuff you do in these cities because you're probably already planning on seeing them: Big Ben, Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, etc.)
- London: ride the London Eye, Harry Potter Studios, eat fish and chips, Cambden Market (great shopping!), King's Cross Station/Platform 9¾.
- Paris: Eat a banana nutella crepe!, try escargot, sit on the steps of the Sacré-Cœur, see Moulin Rouge, see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.
- Brussels: Eat as many Belgium waffles as you can! They were my favorite food in Europe. See the Manneken Pis, buy chocolate.
- Amsterdam: see the "I am Amsterdam" sign, eat chocolate, buy some frites, tour Anne Frank's house, rent a bike, take a tour of the Red Light District (this was one of our optional excursions and it was actually really interesting!).
- Heidelberg: see how many Germans you can piss off (they are grumpy here), go see the castle, browse the shops.
- Lucerne: see the dying lion, eat lots of ice cream!, buy/eat lots of chocolate, walk across the bridge, take a dip in the lake if it's warm, eat more chocolate.
- Verona: go see Juliet's house, buy a lock at the gift shop, write your name and your lover's name on it, lock it onto the gate, GELATO!
- Venice: get lost, ride a gondola and sing "oh peperoni!", eat pasta, go to the glass making factory on Murano (another optional excursion), GELATO!
- Rome: eat pizza, throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, sit on the Spanish Steps, go inside the Pantheon, feel small in St. Peter's Basilica, GELATO!
- Florence: get lost, pay to take the 500 stairs to the top of the Duomo, go shopping, see the Gates to Paradise at the baptistry, GELATO!!
- French Riviera: sit your butt in the sand, go skinnydipping in the ocean, go shopping, take the bus to Cannes, go to Fragnard if you can, eat more banana nutella crepes.
- Provence: Sadly, we stayed on the side of the freeway in the middle of nowhere so we didn't do anything here :( They change hotels a lot so hopefully this won't happen to you.
- Barcelona: go to Park Guell, see the Sagrada Familia, go shopping, go see the Magic Fountains of Montjuic!
- Madrid: go to San Ginés and order hot chocolate and churros!, go shopping down the Gran Via, don't eat the paella.
If you have any other questions, or would like to add your own advice, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading and safe travels!