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Rick Steves-style teen student group tours

I work in the business office of a high school that occasionally organizes trips to Europe for its students (for example, students taking French would have an opportunity to spend a week or two in France). These are often, but not always, exchange trips, where students live with host families.

I have taken two Rick Steves tours with my wife and found them to be the gold standard in group tour experiences. The guides are so knowledgeable, the itineraries are so well organized, and it's wonderful how they incorporate an off-the-beaten path, local flavor. Knowing that Rick Steves offering its tours to high school/exchange groups will probably never happen, does anyone know of any tour companies that offer Rick-style and Rick-quality European tours geared toward teenage school groups?

Posted by
795 posts

You will want to visit Education First's website. They offer trips for student groups to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and North America and you can browse their trips, create a special one of your own for your specific group, and even see video of their actual tours. They are top notch. They have been in business for over 50 years and this is all they do. They have a lot of expertise. Be sure to scroll down to the very bottom of their home page and you will see the different kinds of tours and can click on what interests you. These are not exchange tours.
There are many benefits to doing your tours with EF Tours. It is one stop shopping as they include the flights to and from, the meals, a full time tour director, experienced local guides, transportation, admissions to places you visit, and accommodations and the teacher leading the group gets free training in advance. Once a student books, the price will not go up and if you find a lower price elsewhere, they will refund the difference. We've used them for home school group and Scout group trips. Do watch their video of actual students on an actual trip. Your students and teachers will love it.

Posted by
8 posts

I encourage you to do a little research on your own. EF Tours is not Rick Steves-style. They do student travel, and it depends on what you want. The accommodations are often located a good distance from the attractions and sites of interest in an area and may not be in areas you would feel secure if the students left in the evenings. The food served as part of the tours has been noted as "not a cultural experience" with some properties serving "Americanized" food to the students. As a teacher who led a number of tours to Europe, I researched this extensively before making recommendations to other educators. I am pasting below a copy of comments from fellow teachers gathered in the process. In the student travel industry, the following "ratings" --

EF and Explorica are the lowest,
CHA and Passports are middle of the road and
ACIS and NETC are the better/higher-end student tour companies.

With EF, some things depend on when you travel. If a bit offseason, quality of hotels/food might be a little better. For breakfast, some type of bread and juice (may be something like Tang at some places) and coffee. Some hotels you might get a bit more (yogurt, maybe cheese or hardboiled egg). Dinner will be geared towards teenagers with French fries at many meals (or some other potato). Chicken/pork and maybe a veggie. Most teenagers will still be hungry and need to buy extra food. Usually drinks are not included except water. Soft drinks are never included and are expensive.

As for lunch on your own, often you are traveling and the bus will stop somewhere (restaurant/cafeteria) in the middle of nowhere so you won't have a choice. Otherwise, you will lunch in a touristy area and they will tell you to be back in one hour or so. Some teachers will not allow students to go off on their own so you will have to eat where the group eats unless you have a parent traveling with you.

EF sometimes takes students to restaurants they think they want to go such as Hard Rock as an included meal. The food is prearranged (hamburger/fries) and you usually can't order off the menu.

Your teacher gets a free trip for every six students he/she signs up. Any students over six, they can choose cash reward for each student signed or add another adult free. With 20 students, they qualify for 3 adults free plus some cash or may choose free space and thousand + dollars (I don't know the current amount they are paying per student signed - also factors in total trip price).

Hotels can be 30 minutes to an hour outside of the cities so it's unlikely you could go off on your own for dinner (even if the teacher allowed). I have seen some teachers take groups to Europe with EF and just turn them loose. Those kids were out clubbing all night. He had no clue where they were and didn't care.

You can pack some breakfast bars in your luggage and be sure to take advantage of any stops at convenience type stores to stock up on a few of the local snacks.

Posted by
3881 posts

Rick Steves son Andy has a tour company that does trips (I think) for college students that are already in Europe. Don't know if he is set up to do the type thing your are looking for, but it might be worth researching. Don't know the name of his company, just google something like "andy steves' tours" and see what pops up. TC

Posted by
4 posts

My son took an ACIS tour with his HS German class a few years ago. The school has used the tour company for several years. It was a great experience for him- no problems whatsoever.