I’ve just finished the 37 day European Pioneer trip at the beginning of August and thought I would share some of my own experiences from doing a European Tour. I had so many of my own questions before I went on the trip and I thought I’d share with you all what I did, what I’d change if I was going again and pieces of advice to get you through a Topdeck trip. I’m happy to answer any questions as well if you guys have any general questions regarding a European trip.
**The Trip basics -
How long? It was a 37-day trip where our first destination was Paris and last destination Amsterdam with 15 countries in-between.
Accommodation Style? Mostly hostels with a few hotels in the middle. Expect cabins in Switzerland, throughout Italy and you’ll stay in a prefab tent in Mykonos. There’s also an overnight ferry from Italy to Greece.
How many people on the trip? We had 60 travelers coming and going from day 1 to day 37. There were a lot of shorter trips joined to ours and people coming and going all the time. The most we had on the bus at any time was around 45 and the least amount was 32. It was a majority of girls too. We started with 8 guys and then finished with 5.
Expect - a lot of early mornings and late evenings. You can catch up on sleep on the bus and usually the first couple of hours is dedicated to sleeping.
Remember to bring your sense of adventure
My trip from my own experience
If you’re nervous, the nerves will disappear fairly quickly. There’s no real chance to be nervous as everyone else is feeling the same way and you realise you’ll be travelling together for 37 days. You may feel a little shy for a few days which I certainly did until the barriers break and you feel comfortable with them all. You’ll become a little family quite quickly. You have all these memories you share with these 40 odd strangers who you’ve only just met but quickly get to know. And even when you leave each other and return to your lives, you miss everyone, you miss the routine, the structure of the day and just the sense of experiencing this trip altogether.
I was originally planning to do this solo but I had a friend and my younger brother tag along and it was great fun to get to experience it with them. We still talk fondly of the trip and remember funny moments or say the little sayings from our trip. If you’re worried about travelling solo though don’t be because everyone swoops in and takes you under their wing right away.
General - passports, laundry, health, getting around, bus days
- Your trip leader is the heart of the trip. They do this because of their passion for travelling and ensuring you have a good time and showing you why they love Europe. They’ve usually had the least amount of sleep and least amount of time to get ready. They’re usually doing work whilst you enjoy your free time. They’re human too and deal with everything that each trip brings which sometimes means sacrificing their own personal plans if emergencies with travellers come up. The least you can do is be friendly, thank them at every possibility, be prompt and show up at set times, especially on travel days. Buy them a drink, pay for a meal or the taxi ride home. Just showing them the tiniest bit of appreciation goes a long way. It makes their job worth it.
- The same for the bus drivers. They get you from point A to point B on wheels and they do some pretty awesome driving. The drivers as well are doing this for the love of it. They get to charter 40 18 to 30 somethings around for 37 days. Some travel days are long and they soldier on even when they’ve done almost 10 hours of driving cross country. They also spend a lot of time behind the scenes cleaning the coach, parking sometimes miles away from the accommodation, waking up early in the morning to go and pick up the coach so you don’t have to walk for miles with your suitcases. They squeeze into parks as close to attractions and drop off points as possible and deal with the crazy European driving as well. They load 40 bags onto and off the bus every day and there are never any complaints. So always thank them every chance you get because without them you’d be stranded on the side of a road somewhere in Europe.
-Bring another form of ID like a driver’s license or photo ID card. You don’t want to carry your passport with you on nights out or free days and risk it being stolen and having to remain behind as you source a new passport. Your trip leader will let you know if you need your passport. You’ll need it on every travel day as there are border stops and checks. The only time we needed it on a night out was when we visited Monaco and if we had plans to enter the casino.
- Laundry - We experienced no laundries from Athens until Budapest. Some of the hotels had a laundry service but charged per item and sometimes items were known to go missing. So plan to do laundry in Rome to catch up. We had to do a wash in the bathtub in Meteroa and we still had a week until we would have laundry facilities. Our trip leader did comment on how strange it was that there were no facilities until Budapest.
- When doing laundry, try and do it first thing in the morning on your free day. There were dryer issues in Budapest where the dryer could only take half a load of washing at a time and people had clothes that were still soaked after sitting in the dryer all day. Most of their clothes were still damp when they had to pack them that evening.
- You’ll probably get sick at one point during the trip. It’s bound to happen especially sharing close proximities with everyone, lack of sleep, lack of water, the air conditioning, lack of nutritious food and being exposed to high traffic tourist areas. Just listen to your body and know it’s OK to skip a night out in favour of a nights rest. There’s no pressure to always go out and sometimes a night in with those who stay behind are just as fun as the ones out.
- The cough will strike and linger for the entire trip. Be prepared for it. I think there was maybe a week when not one of my roommates were coughing before it started again. You’ll also get used to hearing the familiar chorus of coughing on bus days with one person at the front starting and it finishing at the back.
-And if you don’t have the cough (or are sick), try and not make those who are sick feel guilty if you’ve had a sleepless night. They’ve mostly been up the whole night unable to sleep because of the coughing and trying to not wake everyone up in the room.
- There were pharmacies nearly everywhere you go if you do need to stock up on medicine, vitamins and such. Most understand English and are very helpful. There was only one pharmacy in Berlin that didn’t understand English. Google translate became our friend that afternoon. Anything medicated will be behind the counter like cold and flu, cough medicine and throat lozenges.
- Travel pillows are a lifesaver. I used mine on nearly ever bus day, on the ferry we had to catch to Mykonos and as a second pillow in the hostels. I sometimes used a hoodie as well underneath my pillow.
- Different seats on the bus can be warmer or cooler. So some days you’ll be sweating terribly or you’ll be cold and pull on a hoodie. I always had my hoodie in my backpack just in case. The hoodie can also double as a pillow on the bus too if you don’t need it.
- I purchased a UK sim which got me through a majority of the trip. I didn’t have it for the last week of the trip but we were in reliable Wifi locations. Having data was handy especially when you were out on your free days and you wanted to use maps, message other people who were out or if you’re into your social media. I didn’t realise how much you rely on data until we didn’t have it but we got around easily and if you needed wifi most major shopping centres, Starbucks, McDonald’s had it.
- This tip came from a girl on the trip. She said to have your earphones in if you were relying on google maps to get you around especially on your own. You blend in with the locals and you can listen to directions and not stare at your screen and be haggled.
- It’s a good idea to look at downloading offline maps or finding an app that works. Our trip leader had us download maps.me which you just needed to download the city on wifi and use that to get you around. The Topdeck app also has maps for each city with attractions and highlights marked.
- A lot of people who had Netflix had shows downloaded on their phones to watch on travel days or even of a night in their rooms. I used this quite a bit.
- It’s also a good idea to have shows downloaded for the overnight ferry from Italy to Greece. It’s 24 hours on a boat and if you don’t want to drink you can hang out in your room, watch Netflix, chat with your roomies, binge on snacks that you purchased or catch up on some sleep as the next few days will be quite big.
- most of the girls had small crossover handbags and the guys just kept their wallets and phones in their front pockets on walking tours. I opted for my small bag.
- In busy times and going through crowds or on public transport make sure you move your backpack to your front or hold onto your handbag.
- I felt generally safe everywhere I went. You will notice an increased presence in the military in Paris, especially around tourist areas. There were also military guards in Florence but everywhere else was fine.
- Prepared to be haggled a lot in Paris, Barcelona and Italy. It’s generally easiest just to ignore them and continue on. One girl did get scammed by a guy at the Eifle tour. She purchased a couple of keyrings and he wouldn’t give her her change and made her purchase a few more keyrings to make up the total. Be mindful of people trying to scam you in other ways such as tying string around your finger, picking up a coin and asking if it’s yours, even train tickets. We were pre-warned about these as we entered Paris and you could spot them as you walked around.
- It pays to be careful and alert but don’t be too alert and make it obvious because that’s when you will be targeted. Try not to be too carefree either. Just go about wandering these streets like you would at home with a sense of awareness but not overcautious.
- try and do as many of the optionals as you can. Try and factor them into your budgeting. I did most of them and was glad I did. You get to bond with everyone and it’s fun of an afternoon/evening to chat about the highlights from the day.
- Your trip leader will also advise you on the ones you should really do. Also have additional money for unlisted optionals and activities which might be dinners or lunches.
- There may be a case where you want to do two optionals but the times may interfere. It all depends on what time slots are available at the time. There was only once that the optionals clashed and that was in Switzerland. We had the early skydiving time and our group were leaving for Jungfrau as we were jumping. Things happen for a reason and if we had an afternoon slot we wouldn’t have jumped because of the change in weather. Things may line up better for you but I’m glad I got to skydive.
- Something i wish I did more of was to take more photographs. I took thousands of photos but I wish I took more of everything from sites, to the group and to everything else. I even wish I took more video footage of short clips to do a end of trip movie. I’m a sentimental person so I enjoy looking back through old photos and videos and remembering those times.
- our group did make up a facebook chat about three months before hand and we all were chatting and swapping information about what we were packing and taking. Asking each other questions and then on the days we were all departing our countries to head to London we were sharing airport snaps and selfies. We did use the Topdeck App a little bit too. Your trip leader might make a facebook page too which she’ll post up information, maps and whats coming up.
- some optionals didn’t run because they fell on a Sunday. The Vatican visit we couldn’t do but our trip leader lined us up to do a Colosseum and The Forum guided tour and it was amazing.
- and some places don’t trade on Sunday’s too. Our full day in Barcelona was a Sunday and some of us planned to do some shopping but that didn’t happen as the shops didn’t open on a Sunday.
Packing luggage, first aid items, do’s and don’ts
- Tissues come in handy. Sometimes not just for you but others. I was victim to several nosebleeds as was my brother in the second half of the trip. The tissues can also come in handy if there is no toilet paper either.
- A mini first aid kit always comes in handy. Bandaids, panadol, throat lozenges, vitamin C tablets, hydralytes, Berocca’s, cough medicine, eye drops, buscopan etc. If you don’t need it someone else might need to borrow something if they’re caught out. A lot of people suffered from motion sickness so ensure you bring plenty of motion sickness tablets as there are a few ferry rides and even some windy roads.
- the cough went through everyone in different variations. Cold and flu tablets, cough medicine and throat lozenges are you friend and I’d recommend packing those from home. There are known brands like in Australia but if you know your body and what your body responds well to, I’d bring them. Vitamin C is also a good idea and even just taking them leading up to the trip and every day is a good idea.
- hydralytes are a must, especially if you’ve been sick, had a big night or feeling a little lethargic helps. If you travel during summer you will sweat a lot and that extra boost did wonders. Beroccas were also good.
- Sunscreen is your friend. Even aloe vera or after sun care should be packed. Mykonos most our group got a bit too sunkissed, some a little worse for wear. Majority of us didn’t realise we were burning until it was too late. Especially as we are used to the Aussie sun. Remember to be as sun safe as possible, even during walking tours and days out exploring.
- I know this is always said but you won’t need half the clothes you pack. I regretted bringing so many things that I thought I might wear and never did and had to carry them around for the entire trip. I did quite a bit of clothes shopping over there and ended up wearing a majority of the new clothes I bought.
- stick to the basics when you pack. And comfortable clothing too. Clothes that can be mixed and matched with each article of clothing you brought along. And pack for the weather. We went from the start of July to the beginning of August. Most days didn’t see below 30 degrees. Except for Switzerland and Serbia where we had rainy and cool afternoons/evenings.
- for the girls: denim skirts/shorts were the popular choices of bottoms from bus days, free days to even going out of a night. You can basically get away with the casual look even on a night out. So don’t over pack on nice going out clothes because you’ll end up wearing that denim skirt you’ve basically worn the entire trip.
- But don’t forget to pack a nice going out outfit as there are a couple of group dinners throughout the trip and a visit to Monaco.
- skip the high heels and opt for a nice pair of sandals or flats instead. It’ll save space and the weight in your bag. Majority of the streets are cobblestone as well. I think I wore my Stan Smiths out more than my actual sandals.
- Ensure you have a good pair of walking shoes. Some of the walking tours aren’t too long but if you’re planning to do more sightseeing after a walking tour you’ll want something comfortable. I stuck to my Stan Smiths, some people wore their thongs or Birks. It’s a matter of preference and knowing your own body. A lot of people did struggle with swollen feet from the heat so keep that in mind if you do struggle with swollen feet and what shoes to pack.
- Bring old clothes that you won’t mind parting with if you have to. Even socks and underwear that you can begin to get rid of as you go. Kmart is a good place to stock up on these items.
- A light rain jacket or poncho that can be rolled up neatly and small is good to have as well. I only needed mine in Switzerland and Serbia. I did bring along a warm jacket also that I didn’t need at all but I knew if I didn’t bring it, I would have needed it.
- I just didn’t bring a towel for the shower. I bought one from the hostel in London for 5 pounds that I used a majority of the trip. Most of the hotels and some hostels/cabins did provide towels that I used. I just ditched the towel at the end of the trip. Some hostels you can rent a towel but they work out to be quite pricey.
- Packing cubes were a lifesaver and I recommended them to everyone who had plans to travel in the future. They fit nicely in my suitcase, I had everything laid out nicely in front of me, things stayed put, clothes were separated into what they were and I could swap and change when needed. I think the cubes help reduce what you bring as well and I could have opted for smaller sized ones to trick me into packing less.
- I had a four-wheel suitcase which was fine as a majority of places had lifts. Expect long wait times for the lift, especially as they were quite small and slow. We devised a system of one person going with the bags as you could fit more bags than people (you could usually only fit 4-6 bags) and by the time the lift arrived your roomies were there to grab their bags. Some lobby’s in the hostels did have stairs from the street so be prepared to carry or drag them up the stairs. And some of the streets could get a bit rough so something with a bit of durability would be preferred as it will get thrown around for 37 days.
- The bags weren’t weighed or measured before we started. Just remember though you have to carry it for the entire trip so if you struggle to lift it at home how will you manage to travel with a bag you can hardly lift. Try and aim for below 20kgs and you’ll be thankful. I was over by a kilo at the start and finished the trip at 25kgs so think of extra purchases such as souvenirs and such that you will fill your bag with as you travel.
- If I did another trip I’d take a back pack instead of a suitcase.
- You won’t need huge bottles of toiletries. You should be right with travel bottles. I let my roomies borrow mine and I still finished the trip with 1/4 full bottles.
- The squeezy silicon travel bottles were also a lifesaver. I poured my facewash and face creams in the bottles to save bringing the big bottle along and came home with product still inside the bottles.
- For the gals - I took a small can of dry shampoo that I used here and there between hair washes and it got me through to the end of the trip.
- Baby/antibacterial and makeup wipes are your lifesavers from quick freshen ups if you have fast turnarounds and right up to cleaning shoes.
- On the topic of shoes, if you’re going to bring along synthetic white shoes note that they will not be white by the end of the first week.
- Powerbanks can be your lifesaver. There are charging ports on the bus but during your free day you’ll likely drain your battery as you take photos, use maps etc. You can usually pick up a small one that will fit in your bag. They also came in handy when there was just one powerpoint in your room and 6 people trying to use it all at once.
- I did pack a power board to help ease the congestion of all sharing one powerpoint. Remember your adapter as well. UK have a different one to Europe as well.
- there is an option to get a trip shirt as well which we got on our way out of Venice if I recall correctly. I got two shirts and a hoodie. The shirts were roughly 20 euros and the hoodies a little more. A few people came up with a design and we all voted for what we liked.You’re trip leader will advise you of the shirts quite early on. Set aside some money for a shirt because it is a neat souvenir from the trip.
- When we headed to Greece there were discussion on if we’d take our suitcases when we headed to Mykonos or leave them in storage at the accommodation in Athens. We took our bags as a more of peace of mind thing. You’ll need your backpack for the overnight ferry as you leave your suitcase on the bus as there is not a lot of room in the ferry rooms.
- some of the hostel rooms there are lockers so having a spare lock is keen to keep valuables safe like passports and money. Or remember to lock your things in your suitcase. No one had any issues with things being stolen from their rooms but it doesn’t help to be diligent.
- a beach towel as well comes in handy as there were pools at some hostels and hotels and when you’re in Greece. Something small and compact is a lifesaver and I had a tesalate brand towel which is sand free and dries quickly.
- a pack of cards, card games or even things like ping pong balls for drinking games.
- A speaker to play music when in your room or having drinks with your group outside of your rooms. Just be mindful of the noise curfew in some places.
- a camera or gopro. Phone cameras are just as good and compact too. I took my DSLR but didn’t use it a lot as we’d sometimes do a walking tour which would lead into going out of an evening so my phone was used quite a lot. I wish I had an action camera for some of the activities like bike riding, kayaking and swimming.
- Skydiving in Switzerland was beyond beautiful. There are no words to describe the moment. It’ll be one I cherish forever.
- The second night in Switzerland was also the night our group really bonded. We were at about day 5. We sat in the hallway of our cabins playing music, games and sharing drinks and laughs together. It was something we all recalled throughout the trip and still talk fondly about now.
- visiting Disneyland in Paris on our last free day. We got fined for having the wrong train ticket. We’re laughing about it now (but beware of getting the wrong ticket to Disneyland and back)
- gelato - do i need to say more?
- Karaoke in Barcelona
- Wayne’s bar and tabletop dancing in Nice. We played pakour on the way home and sang and danced.
- Our alleyway parties in Venice. We pushed the picnic tables together both nights between our cabins and shared drinks, snacks and chatted. The second night, we had pre-drinks before the masquerade party and ran back to our cabin after midnight as it started to thunderstorm.
- karaoke in Florence
- Watched international DJ Armin Van Buuren perform in Mykonos
- Watched the sunrise in Mykonos after watching Armin perform with a few of us and our trip leader. Also had my best sleep of the whole trip that day crashing at 6:30am and not waking until 1pm. I think that’s what you’re supposed to do in Mykonos anyway lol
- Old Town in Dubrovnik had this beautiful appeal to it and I will be back. If you get the chance, do the kayaking of the sea walls. We got the sunset session and it was spectacular.
- I loved the second half of the trip the most. From Croatia onwards was spectacular. I wished we got to spend more time in those last few countries.
- Vienna was hosting a film festival and as we had the whole afternoon after a short travel day we headed there, enjoyed some food from the markets and had a relaxed afternoon.
- Was in Amsterdam for the closing weekend of Pride. There was glitter everywhere from our hair to the streets. I think I brought home a suitcase filled with glitter too.
- The food
- Cocktail buckets and 1 & 2 litre cocktail jugs
- The memories and new friendships. I’ve met up with two of the girls in the 6 months since returning home.
I could have gone on for pages and pages but if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask me and I’ll do my best to help you out! It is a little daunting before the trip but it’s so worth it once you step on to that bus. I’m guessing a lot of the other trips still will correspond with some of my experiences on the Pioneer trip.