Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Review of Traveling with EF College Break

Since traveling with EF College Break in May 2012, I've received many emails asking me about my experience with EF. I've decided to go ahead and share my opinion of the trip on here in an effort to answer questions for anyone who is considering a trip! I've tried to cover many of the things I've been asked, but if I've missed anything you'd like to know about, feel free to email me!

Apparently there are a number of negative reviews for EF College Break Tours floating around the internet. I really enjoyed my EF trip and I made some amazing friends! There were some negative aspects, so I'll share those as well, but I'll get to that at the end…

The customer service was fine, considering I didn't use it a whole lot. I got a deal through their Black Friday sale for 10% off the trip and made all my payments on time. I chose to do a 2 day stay ahead, and they were excellent with setting up my flights ahead of time and getting my trip information to me. My birthday was the second-to-last day of the trip, and apparently they provided that bit of info with our tour guide, Joel. When we all hopped on the bus that morning to head to Pompeii, he announced it to everyone and had everyone sing happy birthday to me. I thought it was pretty cool of them to make note of the fact that my birthday happened while I was traveling with them!

The hotels were pretty decent. Not particularly central to the action, but close enough that we could easily access central London/Paris/Rome by riding the Tube or metro and taking a short walk from the station. Rome was more of a pain than the others, since it required a cab ride... But the fair wasn't too bad when split among friends. The rooms are shared with 2-3 others, so if you aren't traveling with friends, I suggest you make some early on with similar sleep habits to your own. My first night in London with the tour group, I ended up getting roomed with a bunch of under-21's who were on the trip for clubbing and drinking. Being over 21 at the time and more of a traveler for the cultural experiences, I quickly made friends who were more suited to my schedule. Our rooms were comfortable and clean, and fairly sizable. Admittedly, we found a cockroach among our things one night in Rome, however I can't really hold it against an old hotel that they had a single bug that managed to outlive the dinosaurs. Generally the only problem we ran into was fighting for the bathroom, since the group I befriended and roomed with consisted of three females.

Oh, and pack light! There’s a rule of travel that once you’ve packed everything, put half of it back because you won’t end up needing it. This is an incredibly true statement. The last time I went to England, I survived for 9 days off of the contents of a backpack, and I’d even say I could have halved what I’d packed again and only taken a quarter of it! Many of the smaller independent hotels in Europe are old and don’t have elevators. I saw many people struggling up small staircases with large luggage. It’s a nightmare!

The food really ends up depending on you... Breakfast is often provided, and is a typical European continental breakfast with your choice of breads, cheeses, cold meats, fruits and cereals. The rest of the day, you're generally left to your own devices. Our tour guide was fantastic about pointing out places to eat, so if you don't know what's good, just ask! On our last night of the trip, our tour guide collected money from everyone interested and essentially bought out a restaurant in Rome so that we could have a huge family-style Italian dinner. It was incredibly fun and I strongly recommend you don't pass on those opportunities!

The flights were pretty standard... They keep the prices of the trip low by putting you on a cheaper airline. Don't expect British Airways-style complimentary alcohol and amenities on the flight. You do, however, get full meals on the flights, and most huge planes are now equipped with WiFi and/or a TV screen in the headrest, so you have entertainment. The flight over is the worst part, because you have to try to sleep to reset your internal clock. It's tough, seated with random people in a tight space and loud engines running all night. I suggest sound-proof headphones if you have them. You arrive overseas in the morning. Many people were inclined to take a mid-day nap because of the jet lag, but thankfully I was with a friend my first day over there and he wouldn't let me. When the tour group arrived 2 days later, I wouldn't let the three girls I'd befriended take a nap either. While everyone else was sleeping away their first day in London and struggling with jet lag for days, we all dropped into bed at the end of our first day and immediately set our internal clocks.

Travel between each city was fairly standard... We took the EuroStar train from London to Paris. It’s a quick trip, and most everyone slept on the ride because we were up at the crack of dawn. From Paris to Rome, we took a night train. Accounts of the trip varied for everyone. For the better part of the evening, we all hung out in our respective cabins. When we were ready to sleep, the seats folded and beds lowered from the wall. Many people complained they hardly slept because of the bumpy ride. I climbed into my rack, passed out, and slept like a rock, however the ride was very similar to being on a ship/boat and I was raised in a Navy household. My only complaint for the train ride was the bathroom, which was disgusting and after a certain point in the night, out of toilet paper. It made for a rough start when everyone awoke in the morning needing to pee! The excursions were bus trips, and consisted of your standard charter buses. Generally a tour guide sat up front and talked the whole way. Mostly people slept.

The sightseeing had its high and low points. If you can afford to, go on the excursions! My friends and I had some of our best times running around the gardens of Versailles and getting drenched in a downpour in Pompeii. The more obnoxious members of our tour group generally skipped the excursions, so you end up going on the road with some fun people who are as keen on taking in the sights as you are. On the flip side, group tours are at the mercy of the quality of the tour guide. We had a fellow driving us around Paris pointing out the sights who was so monotone and hard to understand that it really just ended up being a morning riding around in a bus. For the most part though, you are left to wander around on your own. We were dropped off one morning at the Louvre and told to meet back with the group at a certain time. We were then free to wander about the museum, or head off on our own around Paris.

There were really only two major downsides to the trip, in my opinion…

First, the large tour group. Sometimes you get stuck waiting on people, especially if you were all given a set time to meet somewhere to tour a museum or something. It becomes problematic when you then have to rush through the place because you were late for the tour. We were practically sprinting through Bath because some girls in our tour group decided to hang out in the Roman Baths for about an hour longer than they were supposed to. As a Jane Austen fan who wanted to see more of the beautiful city, it was irritating.

And second, I don't know if you're one of these people, so if you are, I apologize in advance... One of the things that annoyed me the most on the trip was the under-21's who were there to party. Generally those of us who were there for more cultural reasons avoided the younger people who were letting loose with the younger drinking age. There were, however, occasions where they couldn't be avoided and they made quite an embarrassing scene. For example, when we were in Paris we all went on a Seine River Cruise and then we went up in the Eiffel Tower. We were told to feel free to bring along some wine or snacks on the cruise, so everyone did. The younger folks, however, got trashed and then proceeded to become obnoxious. When we reached the Eiffel Tower, they were rip-roaring drunk and some of them were hardly able to stand. Security snagged them all and refused to let them go up in the Tower. This scenario happened on multiple occasions during the trip. Considering most of them were there on mom & dad's bill, I can only imagine them telling their parents they'd paid thousands of dollars for them to then be unable to participate in the activities they'd paid for.

It depends on the trip you plan to take and the amount of time spent in each place, but you won’t see everything. I’ve been back to London twice since my EF trip and I think I could go back ten more times and still not see everything I want to! I recommend you come up with some things you want to see/do in advance so that you make the best use of the time you have. Wandering aimlessly is fun and you make some awesome discoveries, but when you only have a few days in a city, it’s not the most efficient use of your time. I didn’t go with anyone I know, so it was a bit intimidating joining up with a huge tour group of strangers. I managed to make my friends early on because I heard one of them mention they wanted fish and chips, and I’d done some research in advance of places to eat. I then became the unofficial leader of our group because I was the one who had brought some travel books with maps and suggestions of places to see.

All in all, I recommend the EF trip. It’s affordable, hits all the high points each city, and I made some amazing friends who I still regularly chat and travel with. If you go on the EF trip (or any, really), I wish you the best of luck in your travels! Feel free to send me more questions and I’ll do my best to answer them! I hope this helps!

21 comments:

  1. So using the EF trip was one of the more affordable ways to go? Also, which countries to did you enjoy most?
    Looking at going Jan 2015 and trying to figure which route to take!

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    1. I did a lot of research on tour groups and EF was definitely the cheapest option. I've since done some solo travel, which is also cheap when using hostels and such, but since it was my first time overseas I wanted to be with a group. England was my favorite, but I'm a total anglophile so it was the primary place I wanted to visit!

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  2. When you went in May...I've looked up the weather and it seemed to be 50's and 60's...did it seem chilly to you?

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    1. England and France were cool, but not too bad. We were all fine in light jackets. Italy was warm and we were able to wear tshirts and such.

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  3. I'm going to sign up for the July Italy trip for 12 days but I'm signing up alone. I'm really nervous about going alone because I have read mixed reviews online. I'm not really sure what to expect.

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    1. I felt the same way since I was going alone. It's a big group, so I promise you'll find someone to hang with! Some of the folks in my group were obnoxious, but I'm still incredibly close to the three chics I met on the first day. We make trips to see each other and video chat regularly! It's daunting, but it's also more of an adventure! Our tour guide was awesome and showed us loads of stuff, and going with the tour group got us the opportunity to see many great sights I wouldn't have seen otherwise!

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  4. How and when did you convert your money? I'm doing the London, Paris, and Rome trip and london is on the GBP and paris & rome are on the euro. Idk how to approach this!
    also, how much money do you recommend taking?

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    1. I exchanged my money when I landed, but I only got just enough to cover small expenses. Once I was in town, I stopped at the first ATM I happened upon and pulled out some cash, but again, not much. For the most part I relied on my credit card for purchases- for one, it was more efficient than trying to count coins I was unfamiliar with, and two- I wasn't left with a bunch of spare cash to exchange once I was done in a certain city. With the exchange rates constantly fluctuating, you might end up paying more for the GBP that you'd get back when exchanging it out again. I made sure I had enough for small vendors that wouldn't accept credit cards, but whenever I needed to purchase something like a tube ticket or a meal, I just used my card.

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  5. Hi! I'm thinking about going on one of the EF tours, but I'm ... well, how do I put this ... really, really not into partying? Clubs, all-nighters -- not my thing. I'm more of a "drink espresso and read a book" type of person, and I'm really concerned that if I go on one of these EF tours, I'll get thrown in with a bunch of partiers and end up in a situation I can't deal with. Is it really common for everyone to party a lot, or is it kind of a "who you hang with" thing?

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    1. It's totally a "who you hang with" thing! I'm not a partier AT ALL, so I was worried about that also! When we were first dropped in the middle of London by our guide (he had to leave and get the other half of our group from the airport), a lot of people immediately set out to find a pub because they could legally drink. I managed to immediately meet a few girls who I overheard saying they really just wanted to find some food. We ended up being inseparable the entire trip, and they're still some of my best friends to this day. We had a blast seeing the sights, trying different foods, and getting lost in each city. Unlike many of the folks in the group who stayed out all night clubbing and therefore didn't enjoy much of the sightseeing during the days, we were the losers who happily crashed in bed around 9-10 o'clock each night and thoroughly enjoyed our explorations each day. When the tour groups are so large (many of the EF tours have 30+ people), you're guaranteed to find at least one other person you'll get on with, I promise!

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  6. Hello! I've came across the EF group tour. And I absolutely am in love with the fact of traveling...just don't know how to approach the start of traveling, but like I said. I've come across this and found that it is affordable. How do I go about signing up, and knowing more information? I'm very interested!

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    1. I did a ton of research on different trip options and found EF to be the most affordable. I toyed with the idea of doing one of their trips for a long while, and when they released a Black Friday deal for 10% off I took the plunge and bought into a trip. They do a solid job of keeping you updated on your trip itinerary and stuff. As far as finding out what to take on the trip, I just researched the weather in the areas I'd be traveling to and determined what I needed to bring based on that. There are tons of resources on the net for new travelers!

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  7. Hello! I've came across the EF group tour. And I absolutely am in love with the fact of traveling...just don't know how to approach the start of traveling, but like I said. I've come across this and found that it is affordable. How do I go about signing up, and knowing more information? I'm very interested!

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  8. Did anyone go as a couple? My husband and I are wanting to go together. Also, he has to eat gluten-free. Any recommendations?

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    1. There were a number of couples in our group! As for gluten-free, I honestly don't know... Once you decide which trip you plan to go on, I would do some research on the areas you'll be staying- Urbanspoon would be an excellent resource, as you'll be able to filter the local results by gluten-free friendly restaurants.

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    2. How is the rooming done? Are couples likely to end up together?

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  9. Im interested in taking the New Years London, Paris, and Amsterdam trip, but how can I be sure that this is legit and not a scam?

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    1. I was a little concerned about it at first too... Especially since it was so cheap compared to other trips I'd checked out... But honestly, it ended up being an amazing trip and I made some awesome friends!

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  10. I'm going next summer thanks for this awesome and honest blog you posted. 30 days in Europe woot woot!

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    1. Congrats! You're going to have a blast!!!!

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  11. I'm debating on going on the Ultimate Europe trip next May and your review totally helped! Thanks, Lindsay :)

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