Author: Sarah Matthews
I recently went on a vacation that many 20-somethings dream about – a two-week trip to Europe! I never thought I would ever be able to go on such a trip in my life. After graduating college, I didn’t go immediately into grad school in order to avoid the poor job market. I didn’t move back home with my parents to recover from 5 years of undergrad (yes, my school was a 5-year program). I never saw any of those as an option for me. I was lucky – I had a job lined up for me immediately upon graduation. Unlike many of my English major counterparts, I was employed. It was time to join the rest of the working stiffs out there! No exciting vacations for me.
When my boyfriend first told me that he wanted to travel to Europe over dinner one night in November, I thought he was nuts. I was still in college and I could barely afford my expensive Boston apartment – let alone a trip to Europe! After some convincing, I decided I was going to take a chance and do it. I’m what people call “cautiously stingy” with my money. I knew my limits, being a college student, and two weeks of country hopping was not within those limits. After meeting with a travel agent in January, we learned about a discount tour group that caters to 18-35 year-olds. It sounded promising.
After looking over the HUGE brochure, my boyfriend and I weighed the pros and cons of dropping so much money on a trip. I looked at him, a young 20-something professional two years post-grad with a good job in the finance industry. He could afford this trip more than I could, but I didn’t want to miss out on such an amazing experience and the great memories he and I would have together. I decided to step out of my comfort zone. I’m young, and if I don’t go, I’ll kick my 23-year old self. An hour later, our 2-week adventure was booked and paid for.
Flash-forward six months later – we board a plane in Boston for a 9-hour trip to Rome, Italy; the first stop of our trip. We traveled with Contiki, a tour that caters to 18-35 year olds. Our tour was mostly made up of 20-somethings from Canada, USA, Australia, and England. We started in Italy, and then made our way to the French Rivera and onward to Spain.
My top tips for a stress-free trip to Europe:
- Research! Our travel agent told us about Contiki. The trip ended up being much cheaper than if we booked it ourselves. Our travel between countries and hotels were all included in the cost of the trip, saving us the stress of booking hostels and trains. The only extras were excursions and personal shopping. Even some meals were included! Do your homework; research deals and crunch the numbers!
- Pack LIGHT. As a fellow 20-something female, I know how this is easier said than done. I packed more tops than shorts, because I knew I could re-wear shorts easier than tops. Also, sundresses are perfect for European summers. Pack only 1 pair of heels, that’s ALL you’ll need.
- Attempt the language. Our tour guide was Italian and taught us some Italian words, sayings, as well as some French and Spanish. If you even attempt the language in a café or restaurant (hello, please, thank you) the servers appreciate it greatly. Plus it’s FUN!
- Patience is a virtue. When traveling with 30 other people, things take longer. We toured the Coliseum, Roman Forum, Vatican museum, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Sistine Chapel, all in ONE DAY! My boyfriend is as patient as a cranky 3 year-old sometimes, so long days were tough. Don’t worry about time and enjoy it.
- Take chances. While in Florence, we learned about a traditional street food, Lampredotto, the fourth stomach of the cow. I know, it sounds disgusting. I was repulsed, but my boyfriend was totally game to try it. He did and LOVED it. When I tried it, I was shocked. It was DELICIOUS – one of the best lunches in Italy. Try everything – you never know what you’re missing.
- Embrace your tourist status. I know other European guides tell you to try and blend in. Honestly, everyone in the big cities in Europe are tourists. As long as you’re safe and smart with your belongings you’ll be fine. Ladies, zip up those purses and put those backpacks on your chest, fellas. I know it looks dumb, but it’s better than losing your wallet to a gypsy child wielding a knife and cutting backpacks open.
- Have no regrets. I didn’t want this trip of a lifetime pass me by, so I made an effort to enjoy everything even if I wasn’t totally game for it. I got a really bad cold in France and was sick for the second week of the trip. But I still managed to go out and enjoy sights such as Casa Batlló in Barcelona.
Fellow 20-somethings: What is your dream vacation? Is it hard for you to take chances? Have you ever been to Europe and have any tips of your own?