As an American teenager I toured five countries in Europe as part of an educational tour. At the time, particular experiences left an imprint in my memory. Now, eighteen years later, I realize those experiences have shaped not only how I travel but also have helped me appreciate cultural differences. This article relates some of the good and bad experiences I encountered while traveling in Europe as well as some benefits and shortcomings of traveling with an educational tour group.
Breakfast is Included
Be aware that breakfast may not be filling. On an educational tour, be aware that when the brochure mentions that breakfast is included it is not necessarily mean a traditional American breakfast. Although this may happen from time to time, the normal breakfast for our tour group consisted of hard rolls, jam, and coffee. We tried to take extra rolls with us for lunch time, but the hotel managers frowned upon that practice. This “breakfast” was anything but filling, especially to the growing teens comprising our group. As a result, it is beneficial to buy some extra food bars to carry with you for when hunger gets the better of you.
Limitations and Benefits of a Bus
Riding a chartered tour bus has its pros and cons. The biggest limitation to riding a tour bus is the schedule. If one person is late getting ready in the morning, the entire bus has to wait. If someone decides to take extra photos at a tourist stop, the bus has to wait. On my trip we had to miss our stop in Canterbury, England, because we left London late and had to catch the ferry at a particular time in Dover.
Another disadvantage of a tour bus is its maneuverability in old cities. In Paris, for example, the roads merged at all sorts of angles. The intersection near our hotel had five streets assembling at a circle, some with one way directions, and another with a police road block. Our bus caused a traffic jam and backed into an expensive vehicle while attempting to turn around.
However, there are benefits to riding a tour bus. Although it is probably obvious, the convenient bathroom prevent frequent stops en route. Also, the bus has a height advantage, providing good visuals of passing scenery. Also, using a tour bus allowed student groups and other tourists to get to know each other. Our group, for example, was from Michigan, and we met up with other students from Tennessee and some tourists from California.
The hotels the educational tour group chose for our stay were usually quite good. Most of them were in safe neighborhoods. I frequently roomed with three or four other people, with twin beds shoved into sometimes tiny bedrooms. Every time, however, we enjoyed a private bath and a TV in our room (although most of the channels were difficult to understand due to being broadcast in a foreign language.)
Location did play a key role in our tour, though, especially in France. To our leader’s dismay we wound up in the Red Light district. Being a bit naive, I was not sure what that meant until we ventured out in the evening for a discotheque / dance club. En route our group of 15 – 18 year olds passed signs for “XXX”, “sex shop” and “GIRLS”. One of our tourist groups composed of adults were followed by some strangers. A gypsy boy tried to grab and run away with my friend’s purse. As a result, I loved Paris but came home with some surprising stories to tell my parents.
Overall, I had a good European tour experience. Having a tour leader in our group who knew local languages helped tremendously, and I did not need to worry about where we were headed. I was simply along for the ride, allowing me the chance to complete travel journals and take photographs.
The educational tour was a great introduction to how European cities differ from American ones, but it did not allow me much time to discover the places that locals enjoy. Rather, we visited traditional tourist destinations which helped us gain an appreciation for European differences. Now that I have a basic understanding for how Europe operates, I feel more confident to travel independently on future vacations.
Have you ever been on an educational tour? Have you been to Europe? Please leave a comment below.
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