Cultural Experience | Europe

Teens Touring Europe – Getting the Travel Bug Early

Learning to embrace new cultures on a tour designed just for teens

This summer, my 16 year old sister signed up for a month-long European adventure—leaving me and my family behind. Traveling on an American Trails West Teen Tour, a company that organizes trips all across America and Europe for teens primarily in high school, my sister has been making her way from the Buckingham Palace to the French Riviera all over the course of four weeks. To date, this is my sister’s second teen tour. Last year, she spent four weeks traveling the west coast. During my junior year of high school, I also went on a teen tour through the west coast using Rein Teen Tours, where I camped out at the Grand Canyon and rode cable cars down the streets of San Francisco. Luckily enough, my sister snagged some Wi-Fi in Italy to answer a few of my questions about her trip:

Why did you choose to go on the American Trails West European trip?

After going on a teen tour last year around the west coast, I wanted to go to place that I’d otherwise never get the chance to go to. The European trip offered five countries in four weeks, and although many of my teen tour friends from last year picked another trip around the west coast, I could not pass up this offer.

palace imageWhat have been your living arrangements? Where have you stayed? How have you traveled from place to place?

The living arrangements differ as we travel from place to place. Some hotels are bigger than others. In the majority of places we have stayed at, I roomed with only one other person. You get to choose your roommate ahead of time. However, in Switzerland I roomed with five other people because we stayed in an apartment-like suite, and in Italy I roomed with two other people. Rooming with more than one person means that someone is going to get the cot, as well as shorter shower times. Our main means of transportation have been our Mercedes coach bus. Since we only stay for a couple of days in each country, at times, the bus feels more like home than anything else. The rides to and from places are anywhere between four and ten hours. So not only are we seeing the landscapes and monuments of each country we visit, but also their rest stops.

notre dame imageHow did you embrace the local culture on your teen tour?

We are never in one place for more than three days, so we have to adapt to new cultures quickly. In Paris, we spent the first night eating escargot and frog legs. I must have eaten at least one crepe a day! We visited the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc De Triomphe, as well as the Louvre. In Switzerland we took a gondola ride to the top of the Matterhorn and ate lots of chocolate. Also, in Italy we visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa, as well as the Trevi Fountain.

locks imageWhat was themost amazing experience you have had so far?

The most amazing experience I have had so far is climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower. It was after midnight and we were all tired from the long day we had. None of us thought we could actually climb to the top without using the elevator, but when we make it up, it was the most amazing feeling ever, and the views were incredible.

What locations have you visited/will visit?

We first stopped in London, then Paris, Zermatt, Florence, Sorrento, and now we are in Rome. For the last week of our trip we will be traveling to Venice, Mykonos, Santorini, Katakolonos,and Nice.mountains image

What are the top 5 things to do while traveling Europe?

1) See a Broadway Musical in London

There’s something about seeing your favorite musical performed by British actors that makes it so special. How they translate the script and read the lines whether it’s with their accents or not is very entertaining to see.

2) Take a river cruise in Paris

As you float down the river, the lights of Paris seem to engulf you. You get fantastic views of the Eiffel Tower that you won’t get anywhere else, and pass by some of Paris’ most famous monuments.

3) Ski down the Matterhorn

Not only will you be able to ski from Switzerland into Italy, but you can’t get a better view from anywhere else.

4) Have an authentic Italian meal

Complete with singing and seven courses, your stomach will thank you and the memories will last forever.

5) Visit Capri, Italy

Never longer than a half hour boat ride, you can’t beat the handmade custom-fit sandals and jewelry stores that line the shore. And if you take a trolley to the top, you might even see a celebrity among their restaurants and high-end stores.

eiffel tower imageHow has this trip impacted you?

The people I have met on this trip have impacted me the most.  Age differences don’t matter as much as they do at home, and being able to be so close with everyone even though we have only known each other for three weeks, is mind blowing to me. We really are a family.

Any advice for other teens planning a trip to Europe?

My advice would be to take lots of pictures, but at the same time, to put the camera down instead of living through the lenses. Whether it’s the street performance playing wineglasses on the curb, the smell of freshly made Swiss chocolate, or being brave enough to try the local food, be sure to take time to observe your surroundings—because we are seven hours ahead of Chicago here, and time moves fast! 

Hanna Handler

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | 9 stories

Hanna is a junior student at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign studying communications, public relations, media sales, and art and design. She is a member of The Illinettes Dance Team, the official dance team of the school, the Vice President of Public Relations for Panhellenic Council, and the Vice President of PRSSA. She is also a sister of Delta Gamma. She will begin her first internship experience at Edelman this summer in Chicago and in the past year, has traveled to Mexico, Ireland, and Israel.

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