First Time to Europe with Teens..alone or a tour

I am 52 and have never traveled outside of the US. I want to take my 13 and 19 year old children to Europe (so they don't end up like me), but my husband can't go with us. I am a bit afraid of doing it alone, but know I could. Would you recommend picking one of Rick's tours to help my comfort level or making my own road? Or any key questions to ask me that will help me know what to pick?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24211 posts

Jenelle, It would help to have a bit more information. For example: > What prompted this desire to visit Europe? > How long will the trip be? > Are there any particular countries or sights that you want to see? > What type of budget are you working with? > When will this trip be taking place? There are pros & cons to both taking a tour as well as travelling on your own. With a bit more information, I'm sure the group here will be able to provide lots of good suggestions. Cheers!

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1994 posts

I've not taken any of his tours, but I've only heard good things from people who have, including a relative who took her 3 children (in the general age range of yours). She said the kids were very skeptical about taking a tour but had a great time. And since you talk about being a bit afraid, why make it harder by needing to worry about finding how to get to your hotel, working out transit from city to city, dealing with translation issues, etc. I'd suggest looking at the tours, finding something that looks interesting, and then posting a question asking for input from folks who have gone --- you'll likely get responses.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
5772 posts

You should start by getting Rick Steves Europe Through The Back Door. The first half of this book has all the information you need to plan your own trip, and will tell you all about the logistics required to travel on your own. It will also help you decide if doing it yourself is for you or not. And yes, be sure to involve the kids in the entire process. First, you want it to be their trip too. Second, they can be a great help in the planning, navigating, etc. If you look at ETBD and decide that doing it yourself is not for you, you may want to take a tour (from RS or someone else). I have an office mate who usually travels on cruises or guided tours, and likes these. But I convinced her for her last trip that she could do it herself, with my help. So, she and her husband went to Paris, London and Mallorca on their own. She was not happy, and said she will never go on her own again - she found it too stressful to decide what to do each day, and to figure out how to get there (and yes, she had the RS London and Paris books; she still didn't like "playing tourguide," which is how she experienced it). Now, that's exactly what I love about going on my own; no one is going to be my tourguide but me. I decide what I want to see, how long I spend there, what places I skip, etc. For me, planning is part of the fun. But, as my story above indicates, that's not true for everyone. So, if you want to go on your own, we're all here to help, and you can certainly do this if you want. If you don't want to go on your own (for whatever reason), then take a tour, and don't listen to those who say you shouldn't. continued..

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7382 posts

If you want some middle ground, you could take a tour for a city you think might be too challenging on your own. There are hop-on-hop-off buses in most major cities, and while I don't find them useful for me, they might be a good way to get an orientation of a place and then strike out on your own. Definitely get the guidebooks, have your kids do some online research (especially "images" to see if they're interested in particular sights or cities), and have fun. If you take the HOHO bus, sit on the top level (bring a hat and a bottle of water).

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
5772 posts

continued.. The second half of ETBD has information about lots of places (Rick's favorites). That will get you started on what you might want to see. You can also see his shows on Hulu or YouTube. Again, your kids should also be reading, watching, and contributing ideas. If they're not happy, no one will be happy, and travel takes too much time and money to not enjoy. Yes, you should start with how long long you have to go, and remember that your first and last day are taken up with flying to and from Europe, and that the day you arrive in Europe is often a jet-lagged haze. You can also look at some tours to get ideas, but don't try to duplicate a tour pace on your own. With a tour, you can see more places than you can on your own, because someone else who knows where you are going is handling all the logistics. If seeing a lot of places is important, take a tour. Finally, do you have any special interests? These can be a wonderful way to focus a trip, even if it means you miss the "first-timer must-sees." For instance, if one in your party is interested in car museums, there are lots of them in Europe, and many are not in the most famous places. The husband of the office mate I described in the post above is a huge tennis fan, so when they went to London, they spent part of a day taking a tour of Wimbledon. This is not what most people seek in London, but they had a great time (even my office mate agrees this was a nice part of being on their own; on a tour, they would never have gone there).

Posted by Cathy
49 posts

Is your 19 year old a good partner in this venture? He/she should be able to do a lot of planning and navigating with you. I've traveled with my teens and have found that the more they're involved in reading maps and finding things, the more fun they have. Also, when I was 20, I traveled alone and with friends in Europe, so imagine that your 19 year old would be up for the challenge.

Posted by BG
SF Bay Area, USA
1647 posts

If you can do it, I recommend doing a Rick Steves' tour for your introduction to Italy (or anywhere in Europe, particularly for non-English speaking countries). It is a great experience and you will effortlessly learn all the travel skills you need to know, which you will use on future trips (except how to use the Paris metro, of course!). Fun guides and nice people and young people are often part of the groups also. Or you can get Europe Through the Back Door, and Rick's guidebook for any city you want to visit and read them cover to cover and follow them religiously. And I second the recommendation that you get your 19 yr old involved in the trip planning & navigation.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
6739 posts

I prefer to travel on my own, because planning and relying on myself to navigate through a foreign place is half of the fun. I always say that the difference between traveling on your own and taking a tour is the difference between diving in the coral reef and visiting an aquarium. I'm sure your 19 y.o. would enjoy the thrill of exploring without being chaperoned everywhere by the tour guides. But if you feel uncomfortable because you've never been abroad and maybe don't have any basic foreign language skills (which are helpful unless you go to the British Isles or only to the major tourist cities, where English is widely spoken), you could try to get your feet wet the first time with a tour. I've never taken RS' tours but I heard they are great and I'm sure they will teach you a lot of savvy travelers' skills that you and your children could use in future trips on your own. For now you may want to rent or buy some of RS' travel DVD's and books to get an idea of where you'd like to go in Europe. It's a small continent but packed with too much to see in one shot.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
6824 posts

HOw about an Untour? They make all the arrangements and there is someone available to answer questions, help with suggestions, etc., but the day to day details are yours---no tour bus to meet. Generally, they provide an apartment for a week, plus a rental car, and lots of information on the area. You can choose "samplers" of two regions, such as Swiss Berner Oberland + Alsace or Salzburg, or Salzburg + castles of Germany, or two cities in Italy, etc. They offer discounts in the pricing for children. Kandersteg is one of the choices in the Berner Oberland and is one of our favorites--centrally located for daytrips, but lots of beautiful nature (mountains and lake) righ tthere too.

Posted by Karen
Marin, CA
440 posts

We have been travelling with our children, now young adults, for years to Europe. I cannot imagine them enjoying a tour. While they like historical sites and museums they get saturated quicker and often enjoy the ambiance more, checking out their equals, fashion, food, and music. We intersperse beachtowns with big cities. Both of your children are at the right ages to participate with train travel, maps, communicating with non-English speakers, etc and they will grow with the experience. I know alot of my children's friends have taken European cruises which are easy, although you only get glimpses of a few places. We have supplemented our land trips with cruises in the middle to harder to reach places like Greece and Turkey. In Summer there are lots of kids particularly on some of the Cruise lines catering to families. Travel isn't always easy but it sure is fun and with Rick's books and his forums you will get looks of help.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24211 posts

Jenelle, A few additional comments to add to my earlier post.... You could have a look at the 14-day "Best of Europe Family tour" or any of the other tours. In my experience with six RS tours, there's always a range of ages and backgrounds, and everybody seems to get along regardless of age. One advantage of the tours is that they will give all of you some new travel skills, so you'll be more comfortable travelling on your own in future. Cheers!

Posted by Carol
Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada
130 posts

I would choose a tour just because you haven't travelled in Europe before. You're going to encounter enough obstacles/questions that you may not enjoy the trip. With a tour you'll be able to sit back, relax, enjoy the trip and not be stressed about how to handle various situations. Once you get home you'll be a little more travel savvy and you can decide how you want to handle the next one. We've just returned from 3 weeks in Italy. We planned the trip ourselves but it was about our 10th trip to Europe and I spent months researching it.
You'll make a lifetime of memories with your kids. Have fun.

Posted by melissa
848 posts

Hi Jenelle, IMHO it is easier on your own, particularly if you pick only one or two destinations and keep it simple. Are you going for one week or two, or ?? For example, with Rick's guidebook, this forum and some reading, you could easily, happily spend a week in London or Amsterdam or Paris, take a couple of day trips out of the city, and enjoy the adventure. You probably won;t need to worry about a language difference on this trip. My kids never wanted to get up in time for a tour, or even breakfast some letting them decide where and when to go part of the time works for
me. If you have traveled in the US with them, then use that confidence for this trip.

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1697 posts

My suggestion if you are skeptical and going to do it on your own, you go to England, Scotland or Ireland so you won't have any language issues. If on a tour, since there are three of you, would someone, probably the oldest child, have to pay a single supplement? My first trip to Europe was with my sixteen year old son and his friend to France, Germany and Austria. We did not have any problems but I had a friend with me so it was two adults "sharing the responsibilities.". Good luck whatever you decide.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
9483 posts

Jenelle I have always travelled independently , including when I took my 13 yr old son on my own to Europe. But, since I was alone with him I kept our trip simple, just London and Paris for 17 days. Had a great time. Then when it was time to take my daughter ( each one of our three kids got a one on one trip to Europe with either mom or dad, since we have three kids I took two of the trips, hubby took one) who was 11 yrs old I chose a Rick STeves Family Tour.. this way she could see 4 or 5 different countries in a shorter period of time then I could easily arrange myself. We also arrived 7 days before the tour and did a week in PAris, and then flew to Rome to join tour and arrived a few days early there, and then spent another 5 days post trip in Paris,, I love love Paris. The Family tour was GREAT,, the kids had a blast, we have a group of 27 , of which 14 were kids between ages of 7-19, but 11 of the kids were between 10-17.. And all the kids hung out at back of bus, in hotel lobbies, and we all had so much fun. Its the only tour I have taken and it was such a relief, for 14 days I didn't worry about which train to take, which bus to catch or where a site was, we were not "herded" about, we had lots of free time, we stayed in an agritourism in Italy with a pool, something i couldn't have done on my own as I would not have rented a car and driven in foriegn country by myself. We had hikes , the tours were geared towards the kids, but adults had fun. There were three other mothers with kids on tour, so we hung out a bit and one day I was really really sick, terrible food poisoning. I could not leave room. Thank god another mother on the tour took my daughter with hers and the group and went into Florence, if I had been alone daughter would have had to stay in room with me all day..