One of the first questions those who are new to traveling abroad should ask is whether or not you want to travel with an organized group or go solo. There are plenty of pros and cons with both options, so it really is a matter of what is important to you and how much planning you want to be responsible for versus how much you’re willing to spend.
For my first big Europe trip, I decided to travel with EF Ultimate Break (formerly known as EF College Break) and we chose their European Road Trip which covered 7 countries in two weeks. My good friend Lo Shepherd and I did the trip together two weeks after we graduated from college as a fun way to kick off the summer and our newfound freedom. Because it was the first big trip abroad either of us had taken, we wanted the chance to experience traveling through Europe without having to worry about things like language barriers, where to stay, how to get around, etc.
Since then, I’ve been to 35 countries and always organize my own trips, but I think that this first trip with EF Ultimate Break was the perfect way to get accustomed to traveling abroad and give me the confidence to travel solo! So here are a few pros and cons to help you make your decision:
The biggest advantage to traveling with an organized group is that you don’t have to worry about planning! You get the advantage of just signing up and showing up, which is kind of why most of us choose to get away in the first place, right? EF Ultimate Break was very organized in their planning but also allowed us the freedom to break away from the group whenever we wanted, so our experiences were totally up to us and we could do as much or as little as we wanted.
The other major pro is the opportunity to see a lot in a short amount of time, which really adds value to your experience and allows you to figure out which places you like and don’t like. And if there’s a place you fall in love with, you know you can always go back and spend more time there.
The first big “con” is the price, because you will almost always spend more when you travel with an organized group. You are essentially paying for the luxury to not have to plan, which for many people is more than worth it. My personality is definitely the “planner” type, so I personally enjoy planning trips but I would say that most people I talk to have the opposite feeling!
The other con was that because this was a trip for college-age students, Lo and I felt that we didn’t personally connect with a lot of the other people in our group because most of them were there more for a party and less to see new places. This was just my personal experience, though, and I have heard of other friends having amazing experiences with the group they traveled with and made lasting friendships. This again depends on what your interests are, but I’ve found that the best friends I’ve made traveling abroad are usually seasoned travelers who travel solo and have a deep desire to connect with others and are there to make friends.
Now that we’ve covered the pros and cons, I’m here to share our trip with you! Here are all the countries we visited and my experience in each:
Our first stop was Amsterdam, and I immediately fell in love with this city! The only things that came to mind when I thought of Amsterdam prior were the Red Light District and the fact that weed is legal there, so my expectations weren’t too high going in. But boy, was I wrong! Firstly, the Dutch are the nicest people I’ve met out of all the places I’ve traveled. We were perpetually lost yet we constantly had strangers come up to us and say “you look like you’re a little lost! Can I offer you some help?” And since I come from one of the least friendly cities on the planet (Miami, FL) it was such a pleasant surprise!
Amsterdam is also the most bike-friendly city I’ve ever visited. There are literally more bikes than people. The locals ride their bikes everywhere and it’s great because people spend more time outside and around other people, they get more exercise, save tons of money, and help the environment. Only problem is the roads are shared by vehicles, bikes, and people all at once – so be very careful if you decide to rent a bike!
One of the other wonderful things about Amsterdam is the city is very modern and artistic, so there are tons of local restaurants and shops that are impeccably designed and so unique! I have a huge appreciation for creative business and good design, so I was in heaven. I’ll do another blogpost soon on all the best spots I found while I was there. And if you hate nice people, cute shops, and good food, then you will still fall in love with the incredible canals and waterways that run through the city!
The next two stops on the list were Frankfurt and Munich. I really loved Munich’s ancient architecture and how fashionable everyone in the city was. And since I’m a huge lover of craft beer, I was so excited to finally experience a German biergarten! Hello, beautiful.
My favorite part about Munich was exploring their U-Bahn subway line, which is one of of the most artistically design subway systems in the world. Getting off on each stop felt like transporting into another world.
On our way to Switzerland, we stopped for lunch in Innsbruck, Austria. The Inn River runs through the city and pastel colored houses line the water. It was such a peaceful mountain town and made our afternoon in Austria so relaxing.
Next we made our way to Switzerland and I was soooo excited! We spent the morning in Lucerne which is an incredibly beautiful and clean city. The Reuss River runs through the city (apparently Europe has a thing with building cities near rivers and I like it) and it also sat right next to Lake Lucerne. But be prepared – Switzerland is SO EXPENSIVE. No joke, an apple is about $6. But walking through this beautiful town is priceless!
After a couple of hours, we took a ferry across Lake Lucerne to head up into the Apls! Traveling across the lake along was an absolute dream. Once we were on the other side, we took a little train up to the top and the views going up were out of this world!
Then we made it to the top of Mt. Rigi! I think we were actually in the Sound of Music. This was hands down one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been.
And then we took a cable car down from the top. Totally casual. Switzerland, you rock.
Then we drove through the Swiss and Italian Alps and made our way to Italy! I had been to Rome and Florence already so I was really excited to finally see Venice. I had high hopes for Venice already, and it honestly exceeded my expectations; it’s pure magic. If you avoid the insane crowds at mid-day and spend most of your time in the early morning and evenings, you’ll have way more fun wandering its beautiful streets.
In the afternoon, we took a ferry to an island 40 minutes away called Burano. I had heard that this island was filled with little neon-painted houses and I knew I had to go! Once we stepped off the boat, we instantly fell in love with the island and it was probably my favorite part of the entire trip!
I may be biased because I’m Italian, but Italy is definitely my favorite country in Europe. The people, the pasta, pizza… and don’t forget gelato with every meal!
I had a lot of people warn me before going to Paris not to get my hopes up and that it’s not as magical as movies make it seem. But the second we arrived in Paris, I knew those people were totally wrong! From start to finish, I was so impressed with the city and thought it was absolutely incredible. We didn’t get a lot of time here which was a bummer, but thankfully I got to do almost everything I was hoping to!
My favorite part of the day was going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for sunset. This view of the city is absolutely breathtaking and offers and amazing view of the Eiffel Tower, for just 7 euro. J’aime Paris!
Our last stop of the trip was London! This city is filled with history and culture. The locals were very friendly and the London Underground is very easy to navigate. Not to mention, all the museums are free which is a win!
My favorite spot in London was this famous local pub called Churchill Arms. The outside is covered in flowers and is probably the coolest exterior of any building ever. The inside is just as cool and has interesting items and objects hanging from all of the walls and the ceiling.
And I should put it out there – authentic London scones with clotted cream and jam are a million times better than scones in the States. Can’t wait to go back just to eat them!
Which of these countries have you visited and are your favorites? Comment below and on social media!