There are a lot of things I miss about college. The endless learning. The excuse to wear sweatpants all day. The ability to manipulate my schedule so I didn’t have any classes or responsibilities before 11 a.m. But one of the things I miss most of all about college is the access to affordable travel opportunities.
My first trip out of the country—and my very first time flying—happened when I was a junior, and I was given the chance to attend an academic conference in Portugal. Although I was beyond nervous to take a trip so far out of my comfort zone, by the time I returned I knew I had officially caught the travel bug. And the itch has only grown stronger with each passing year of my life.
I managed to take one other international trip my senior year, to Guatemala as part of a cultural studies class. These two trips are some of my fondest memories of my college years. After graduation, I mourned the loss of the future study-abroad opportunities I would never get to have.
However, where there is a will, there’s a Facebook ad for it. Not long after commencement, I started to see ads for EF College Break, which is an all-inclusive tour group for 18-28 year-olds. You don’t have to be in college to sign up, the registration covers everything from flights to hotel accommodations, and they have trips everywhere from Costa Rica to Australia. It took me awhile to save enough money, but once I did, I was determined to make all my traveling dreams come true.
As a single lady who lives by herself, money wasn’t my only obstacle. Although the stars eventually aligned so that two of my best friends from college could go on the trip with me, I initially thought I would be flying solo. A plane ride alone is one thing, but navigating a foreign country for a week on your own is another.
EF College Break proved to be the perfect fix since they provided not only a group of people to travel with, but also a tour guide who would stay with the group and take care of all the details of navigating an unfamiliar city. As someone who gets anxiety at the thought of visiting an unfamiliar grocery store by myself, the latter was especially important.
So, in one of the most impulsive moves of my 24 years, I booked a 10-day trip to Switzerland, Germany, and Italy and hoped for the best. Overall, I had a positive experience. I made new friends, ate amazing food, and checked three more countries off my bucket list. If you’ve heard of EF College Break and have been on the fence about taking one of their trips, I encourage you to take the plunge.
If the concept of EF College Break is new to you, here are some pros and cons to consider first:
Pro: Guided Tours
I really can’t emphasize enough how much this enhances a trip. Our tour guide stayed with us the entire 10 days and took care of everything from transportation to and from the airport to buying our metro tickets. Not having to stress about these little details left more time for seeing the sites and enjoying a true vacation. For those who are wondering about the arranged activity vs. free-time ratio, I would say it was about 50/50.
A typical day would begin by meeting our tour direction in the hotel lobby to take a bus or ferry to our daily destination. On the way she’d give us a brief history of the location and tell us about popular sites to see there. We then spent an hour or two exploring the city with our guide. After that we had the rest of the afternoon to roam around the city, usually meeting with the guide later to navigate back to the hotel. It was a good balance of structure and freedom.
Con: The Maturity Level Will Vary
The is a big difference between an 18 and a 28-year-old. While I loved that the tour group was entirely millennials, I was glad the majority of my tour mates were post-grads like myself. However, age is no guarantee of maturity, and no matter the age group there will always be one person who is drunk every night, who holds up the rest of the group when everyone is supposed to meet at a certain time, or who just doesn’t appreciate the culture that surrounds them. My advice is to avoid that person(s) as best you can and know that anyone who you don’t mesh with, you will never have to see again.
Pro: Lots of Bang for Your Buck
You know the meme that says: “If travelling was free you’d never see me again”? Well, duh. If you could take vacations for free, who would ever keep a full-time job? Between rent, student loans, and attempting to buy food that isn’t ramen noodles, money is probably the biggest thing keeping young people from travelling. While it is possible to travel on a budget, even with the cheapest flights and hostel accommodations it’s difficult to spend less than a couple thousand. EF College Break tours start at about $2,500, depending on where you go and when you book. This is a decent chunk of change, but it does include your flight, rooming, guided tours, and any city-to-city transportation.
Meals aren’t included, except for the hotel’s continental breakfast and a goodbye dinner the final night. However, there are always options to eat on the cheap, if you are careful. Overall, I thought the trip was a good value for the price I paid. My group stayed in three very nice hotels. Each was slightly outside the city we were touring, but coach buses were provided to transport us anywhere we couldn’t get via the local subway. In the end, I know I spent far less than I would’ve booking an overpriced hotel on my own.
Con: You Won’t Get to Explore It All
These trips are designed to be very fast-paced, so you can see as much as possible during your short stay. Unfortunately, this sometimes comes at the expense of missing the little details, or even some of the major tourists attractions, you are hoping to see. I toured four cities in 10 days. At one point, I was literally running through the streets of Venice, attempting to keep up with my group while taking pictures, licking a cone of gelato, pricing the goods of local vendors, and also hunting for a bathroom. This is a pretty good representation of the multi-tasking we did in all the cities, so make sure your cell phone is charged and you have earplugs for sleeping on the bus.
Pro: You Are Never Alone
Of the two dozen people on my trip, everyone was travelling solo except for my two friends and myself. Obviously these tours are popular for young people who don’t have a travel partner. As someone with a lot of social anxiety, I was nervous going even with my two friends. However, nothing bonds a group of people quite like a shared experience, and trips like these are the ultimate group bonding exercise.
During our free afternoons, people would usually break into small groups depending on what they wanted to do. The goal of finding a famous building or cool local bookstore together made even the most awkward small talk bearable. Plus, as someone with no sense of direction, I really appreciated being able to hang with five or six other people who could read a map. It made getting lost seem more like an exciting screwball comedy and less like the next Liam Neeson movie.
Con: You Are Never Alone
If you are an introvert, or just someone who doesn’t usually spend time with large groups of people, these trips can be very draining. Most days we left the hotel at around 8 a.m. and were lucky to get back by 9 or 10 p.m., and I was one of the party poopers who didn’t bother to go drinking every night. I had an amazing time, but at the end of the trip I was exhausted and ready to go home.
My tour with EF College Break was a whirlwind experience. It was just a small sampling of all that Europe has to offer, and my appetite was only further whet for future travel experiences. That being said, the pros of EF far outweigh the cons, especially if you are travelling solo. Someday I hope to be brave enough to travel alone or to plan a trip with just one or two travel buddies, but until then I am saving for another EF trip. Maybe I will see you there as well.
Do you have experiences with EF College Break? Tweet us @LitDarling!