Like many of you who are considering taking a trip with EF College Break– you probably saw a friend who did it, or their ad simply popped up on your Facebook feed and after picturing yourself on a foreign adventure; you’ve already decided you’re doing it or you’ve decided to dig a little deeper.
Around 380 days ago I was in your exact same shoes. I knew I wanted to travel the world and because I was on a budget and going at this alone I figured EFCB was the best way.
Fast forward to today, I am currently suffering from jet-lag since I just came back home two days ago from one of the best trips of my life. I signed myself up for the London, Paris, Barcelona trip with an additional three day excursion to Ireland.
So, you may be wondering- how was it traveling through EF College Break’s program, did you love it or did you hate it? Would you do it again? How was it traveling on your own? Did you make lifelong friends? And was it worth your money?
I’ll tell you right now that whether I would have traveled with EFCB or not, this experience was an unforgettable adventure- the tiny things that may have not been ordinarily my first choice truly didn’t matter because I was traveling the world and I was doing it in ways that were out of my comfort zone. And I believe everyone’s experience is based on the type of person they are and their outlook on life.
Some people can complain that the accommodation wasn’t the best, or that they didn’t have enough time to do the things they wanted to-which I agree with, but regardless of all those things I would do it all over again and not regret one single penny.
So to make things easier I’ll break it down into categories for you; to read and to analyze. Please remember my job isn’t to convince you travel through EFCB or through some other method. Everything you’ll read is based on my personal experience and what was talked about with fellow travelers.
If you don’t know this already then you should know that traveling with EFCB means that you’ll be sleeping most of the time in hostels and with two to six roommates at a time.
The first hostel we stayed at was the Astor Hyde Park Hostel in London. I’ll tell you right now that the area this hostel was in was one of the fanciest areas in London. The neighborhood is rich, clean and safe . You’re also walking distance from Hyde Park and two subway stations, making it an easy point to get from place to place.
However, I would never stay at this hostel at my own accord nor would I recommended it to anybody else. Luckily, I was one of the few girls that only had to share with three other girls which meant we had two extra beds in our room and just a tad bit more space. Nevertheless, this place was not my favorite. Our room was on the fourth floor and there was no elevator, so lugging our suitcases up and down the stairs was no fun. We never received new towels which meant we had to use the same towel each night. And when I approached the help desk to let them know they only gave us two towels for four girls, it was a process just to get the additional towels.
Now because I knew we were staying in a hostel I didn’t expect the fancy amenities that are usually offered, but I was shocked that there wasn’t at least one tiny bottle of hand wash or body soap. And to make matters worst the sink was probably the size of my foot. And as for the breakfast, I would suggest that if you’re a breakfast person (like me), to wake up extra early and get your own meal before heading out on a group excursion. If not, prepare yourself for toast and washing your own dishes. Also, keep an eye out on toilet paper because it won’t get refilled fast and chances are your phone will stop charging throughout the night because the electricity kept going out. Tip: Sleep in the bottom bunk.
The next place we stayed at was the IBIS La Villette in Paris, this place was like heaven for us after the nightmare that was Astor Hyde. Here I only had to share with one girl and we got fresh new towels every morning, a working elevator and hand soap. Granted this was a hotel and not a hostel , I do wish every place selected by EFCB was like this one.
The last place we stayed at was the Twenty Tu Hostel in Barcelona. This place was better than the hostel in London but not better than the hotel in Paris. Because this was an Eco-friendly hostel there were certain things one had to get used to. For example, the water in the shower would go off every 17 seconds to conserve water, the lights in the bathroom would also go off every couple of seconds and room lighting went off at midnight. Although, what bugged me the worst was the weak WiFi signal. And as for the towel situation, each new towel costed €2. And again you needed to provide your own hand soap and wash your own dishes. The max amount of persons per room here was four.
TRAVELING SOLO VS. BRINGING A FRIEND
If you’re worried about going solo and having to make new friends, I would say don’t be. Most people went solo and the second I arrived and met the group everyone was excited and for the most part talkative. For me personally, I am not used to being surrounded by so many people and having girls all around me but it was exciting to meet new people , be outside my comfort zone and learn about each others lives.
By the end of the tour, everybody already had a group of people they would hang out with. Our group was about 28 people and I would say it broke off into like four groups.Chances are whoever you’re hanging out with in the first city will be the group you mostly stick with.
Now in my case, I am used to being alone and wandering off on my own adventure. So I would say if there are certain things you really want to do and can manage being on your own, don’t be afraid to head off exploring. I was able to be on my own in London and Spain and it was truly one of the best ways to get the most out of your sightseeing agenda.
One of the observations I made about people who brought a friend is that they kept to themselves more-somewhat closing the door to forming new friendships.
On the other hand keep in mind that you do get a lot of free time, so if you don’t want to explore cities on your own and you want to do specific things , than I would suggest bringing a friend.
TOUR GUIDES PLUS TIPPING
When it came to tour guides and tipping , I noticed that there was a lot of confusion. I think part of the reason was that when you’re booking your trip, you’re under the belief that you are already paying for the tour guides. But I’ll tell you right now that you still have to tip. Not that it’s a big deal, I just wished they would have told us sooner before I believing everything had already been included in the fee.
Another thing you should know about this is that your tour guide and tour director are two different roles and two different types of tipping.
Throughout your whole tour, you will have one constant person leading you from place to place . They won’t be with you everyday unless you have a group tour or excursion. However, this is the person you should direct your questions to during your trip. This person is known as your tour director. And most people including myself thought that part of the fee included paying for your tour director. However, what goes unsaid until about a week before your trip is that you still have to tip your tour director. Again, most of us are accustomed to tipping here in the U.S. However, tipping is usually up to your discretion based on the service provided or a certain percentage. In this case it is recommended that you give your tour director $3-$5 a day.
Now in each city you visit or excursion you attend, you will have a tour guide. This is the person that will be with you roughly one to three hours and will give you a historic briefing on what it is your looking at. Personally, I felt all the tour guides we had were exceptional. They all had different personalities and ways of engaging the group, and I learned more from them them than my tour director. Normally, I would tip them €1 to €3 depending on the excursion and honestly on how many coins I had, so make sure to have some change handy with you.
When it comes to transportation; flights, cabs, buses and trains- I have to give EFCB an A+. In terms of how much money I paid, I thought every form of transportation was comfortable and timely.
And when it came to in-city transportation, EFCB made it really easy by providing us with metro cards and city passes to get from one place to another.
The website says to plan on spending $100 a day and to make sure to have cash on you. Depending on where you are going and what kind of spender you are I would say not to worry too much about this. First of all, if you’re traveling to Europe mostly every place accepts visa. When I was in London, I was seriously upset that I took out $300 dollars which converted to £175 , because every place I went to accepted credit cards and on my last day in London I still had £100 left to spend. So I essentially blew all my money just to get rid of it.
In Paris and Barcelona, I only took out €100, and used my cards on everything.
However, you should note that my credit card had no foreign transaction fees. So if you’re planning on using your cards make sure you don’t get charged per transaction.
In terms of savings, I would recommend saving as much money as you think you might need. If you’re planning on spending a lot then adjust accordingly. For 14 days I saved $1,400 and brought along my credit cards for emergencies. I was perfectly fine.
One of the main reasons that EFCB appealed to me in the first place was the detailed itinerary listed under each excursion. However, you should know that the actual itinerary looks different than it did on paper. On the site it seems as if you won’t have as much free time, but in reality you do have a lot of free time. Especially if you choose not to do the excursions. Make sure you have a list of things you would like to do.
For example, if you’re in a city for three days- they normally have a group tour the first day which is a great way to get a layout of the city. And the following days are usually free days or excursions.
EXTENDING YOUR TRIP
If time and money are not a worry to you, I would suggest extending your trip, for me personally it was the best decision I made. Just keep in mind that you are in charge of booking your flight to your chosen destination as well as your hotel. Out of 28 people in my group only four people chose to stay longer or arrive sooner, and the ones that didn’t definitely wished they would have.
All excursions will be different on each trip. I strongly suggest you look these places up before you sign up for them. If you don’t want to sign up for them, look at it as a whole free day to explore the city your in. If you go to Paris, I strongly suggest you sign up for the Versailles trip,it was extraordinary, informative and worth it. And if you go to Barcelona, do the beach day and paddle boarding, it was A LOT of fun.
Please note that before your trip your tour director will post additional activity options on the Facebook group page; and will require you to pay them in cash before the trip is over.
Overall, I am very happy with the outcome of my trip. As of right now I think I would do another trip through the EFCB program, granted I would prefer to do one on my own simply due to accommodation reasons. However, it was a wonderful experience; something I didn’t expect I’d do and I saw it as a great introduction for a beginning solo traveler.
Lastly, I really hope that this blog post helps you all out, and if you have any questions on anything I may have missed or not elaborated on please let me know in the comments below. I am more than happy to share!
Happy and safe travels!