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Study Abroad or Rick Steves Tour?

I am a 19 year old female college student torn between studying abroad in the Spring semester or going on a Rick Steves tour alone in May/June as a high school/college graduation gift from my parents. After this semester, I will have met all my Gen Ed requirements for my degree and will only need a few more credits my last semester to graduate. Since I have room to play with my schedule, I want to take this time to travel as I have always wanted to go to Europe. The problem is I want to go everywhere and do everything and I have an extremely hard time making decisions!
Here are my options:
Study Abroad in Florence for 3 weeks during the Winter semester (3-4 credits)
Study Abroad in Tuscania, Rome, and Italy for 3 months in the Spring (15 credits)
Trip to London at the end of the Spring semester for 10 days (after taking a specific class) (3 credits)

Or a Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 days tour that hits a lot of places I want to go.
Any advice/input/recommendations about what the best option could be, or tips on traveling alone, would be greatly appreciated!

Posted by
31 posts

Definitely study abroad!!! I love Rick, but the tours are normally for a bit older crowd. Also, you can do a lot of traveling normally on a study abroad, during and after. The experiences from study abroad are once in a lifetime but you can always go on a Rick tour. Personally, I'd do the longer one but you can't really go wrong.

Posted by
2090 posts

My vote would be for the 3 month study abroad and take some of Andy Steves' tours!

Posted by
914 posts

One of my few regrets is not taking advantage of studying abroad while in college. Just didn't know enough about it at the time! So I say study abroad and pick a program in a country that interests you and ties to your major. And with all due respect to other posters, pick where YOU want to go no matter what part of Europe it is. :)

Posted by
6483 posts

Definitely I would choose the study abroad option, and make sure you mingle with the locals - not just fellow students who speak your language. Also, if it's a part of your studies, you can always mention in on your resume. : )

Posted by
1079 posts

Definitely the three month option. I did the same thing in college and it opened my eyes to the world and I loved every minute of it! Once you are actually in Europe, you have the freedom to hop on a train or plane for weekends anywhere you want to go. Just do it! :-)

Posted by
2121 posts

What a wonderful set of choices you have! I would definitely study abroad and choose the 3 month Italy option. Though it sounds like you're very close to the number of credits you need to graduate, what you'll gain in culture/experience/insight/wow factor for the 15 credits will far outweigh the time or cost. As another poster mentioned, try to take one or two Andy Steves weekend tours (see here) then when you finish your spring studies you'll be well prepared to travel in Europe for the summer, with a tour or on your own.

I regret (sometimes daily!) that I did not take advantage of overseas study and traveling in my youth. It's truly amazing how quickly jobs/mortgages/life gets in the way of these things once you leave school. There is another thread on this forum called "Travel While You Can" (see here) that while not about choosing study abroad, most certainly will provide some inspiration for the choices in front of you. Best of luck!

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks everyone! I appreciate your suggestions, and agree with a lot of what you guys are saying! The Andy Steves tours are definitely a game changer!

Posted by
9210 posts

3 mos Study Abroad for sure. But could you do both? A Rick or Andy Tour at the end of the 3 mos?

Posted by
9879 posts

If you have the travel bug, you should study abroad for as long as possible, and stay in a European dorm where you'll meet others from all over Europe. I bet you'll end up with invitations to visit your new friends in many other countries when they go home for the summer or spring break. If you find you need some Americans to hang out with from time-to-time, there will be plenty studying in Italy, too. The more you do independently, the more people you'll meet from various countries.

Posted by
796 posts

Study abroad! For as long as you can afford. Study the language a bit before going, try Duolingo as a start.

If you can do some travelling while in Europe, do it. Take a train somewhere for the weekend. Delve into the history and culture of where you are, the art, the food! Try living as a European, not as an American only spending time with other students from the same country. (Sorry, might sound parental).

I a jealous, as I did not have the opportunity. I have studied French in France twice for month long trips as an adult. Such great experiences.

Enjoy your studies. Perhaps a goal after your first post-secondary education after finding employment will be to save for a RS tour!

Posted by
4637 posts

It is interesting. Absolutely everybody is for study abroad and so am I. And on weekends you can travel around. R.S. tour can wait few years. Opportunity to study abroad does not come so often.

Posted by
15315 posts

No question: three months studying in Italy! That's a fantastic opportunity not to be passed up. I wouldn't look at it as being limited to one country but being able to get to know that country on a deeper level than you would on a tour. You'll also spend that time with others closer to your age, and have the opportunity to meet more local young people than you would on an RS tour.

You have many, many years in front of you to go to other places in Europe so grab this gift while you can! Aside from your studies, you'll likely learn to become comfortable and confident enough with managing in a foreign country to want to do those next adventures independently as well.

Posted by
5295 posts

It is a question of living in Europe vs. traveling in Europe. If you want the real experience, you live in Europe. To only travel Europe is to just get half of the story. Sorry travelers, but it is true.

Posted by
1171 posts

I studied abroad for a year in Munich. It was life-changing. I agree with the posts above: study abroad and try the Andy Steves tours.

Posted by
677 posts

Absolutely study abroad in Italy!!! It's an experience you'll never be able to have again. You have many years ahead for RS tours, which I highly recommend.

Posted by
4380 posts

We both lived in Europe and it is amazing what one can absorb even in a three month period. Definitely advise doing the three month plan, travel as much as possible during your free time, and if you want some structure do one of Andy Steves' tours.

Posted by
1064 posts

I take questions like this with a grain of salt but, assuming that the OP really is a 19-year-old senior in college, I will offer two bits of advice:
1. Consult with faculty members about choices like this. They can offer better advice regarding your education than strangers in a travel forum. In this case, however, I would expect your professors to give you the same advice as above.
2. Ask yourself: Which option would look better on a resume or graduate student application a year from now and why?

Posted by
2087 posts

Study abroad!!

Not only will it give you a great experience, the opportunity to maybe make a couple of new life-long friends, and (as another poster mentioned,) you will also be positioned for easy weekend travel journeys while there. When my nephew studied in Wales, he and his new buddies would check Kayak to see where the best flight deals were for the upcoming weekend, they'd throw some things in a backpack and off they'd go to experience a new country or city.

And, while it should not be the sole driver for your decision, the Study Abroad experience is something that will highlight your resume, while one would not list a Rick Steves tour on his/her resume. And, I'd suggest doing the 3-month program.

What a lovely gift your parents are giving you. I hope you know how very lucky you are! Make them proud.

Posted by
5 posts

Roy, I really am I 19 year old college student, I will be graduating with my associates degree. I plan on continuing my education after that. I have an appointment with an academic/financial advisor this week to figure out what the best option would be. I was just curious as to what experienced travelers had to say.

Posted by
5 posts

I am extremely grateful for these opportunities, and as much as I would love to study abroad and do a RS tour after, that starts to get a little pricey! Haha

Posted by
715 posts

Definitely study abroad and stay with a local family if there is that option. You may never in your life have the opportunity to live for 3 - 6 months abroad. However, you will most likely have the chance to go on a Rick Steve's tour when you are older.

Posted by
1064 posts

Sorry, klsmith, but I thought you were nearing the end of a bachelor's degree program. Once you move on to a four-year college to continue your studies you are likely to have the college's study abroad program to help you with these matters. These programs are rare at most two-year institutions, so you might want to visit your nearest university for advice from faculty and staff experts in international programs. You don't have to be a student or plan to attend that school to meet with them.

Posted by
5 posts

No problem! I know these programs aren't common for two year schools. However, I am a SUNY student in upstate NY and have access to all the programs at any SUNY school. I have met with the person in charge of study abroad at my school and am looking at these in particular because they are some of the least expensive. But thanks for your advice!

Posted by
2451 posts

I agree with the others that, while tourism and RS tours in particular, are wonderful experiences, you should seize the opportunity to live and study for a longer period in a single place, ideally an exciting place. When I was about your age, decades ago, I had two "exchange" opportunities, first in high school, living with a family in Italy, and then through a business exchange program while in college, working in an office and large store, using no English, and sharing a room and meals with other non-Americans in university student housing. These were not only wonderful intercultural experiences, but they were key in building my confidence to deal with the big world out there, and knowing that I could do well even in some language other than my own. I do think it is important that you try to choose an academic program that fits your own future academic interests, where what you learn will advance your college work and potentially a career. Carpe diem!

Posted by
208 posts

Three months in Italy has to be the choice. You won't believe how fast that will go, but so many memories forever. I lived in Germany for 2 years as an early teen and then worked for ITT in Frankfurt at age 19 and 20 for 18 months. Would not take anything for those memories and all the great weekend trips I got to take. Now as a senior citizen, I still try to go back at every opportunity. Next fall will be my 6th time and wish I had taken many other trips. At your age, you have the chance to live there for 3 months and then have many years to go back. Living there for 3 months with give you the chance to learn how to do it all on your own and that opens up so many other doors to European travel. Rick's tours are great and a wonderful learning experience, but living there is a chance not everyone gets. Don't Miss That Chance!

Posted by
127 posts

I always enjoy being the contrarian but I can't in this case.

At your age, study abroad makes more sense than a RS tour. I did two months at Oxford during my time in college and it is an experience that can never be replicated later in life.

Bang for your buck when it comes to credits seems to be the trip to London (assuming cost is less with fewer days). The three-month alternative seems attractive- so long as you're really interested in Italy and Renaissance art. Florence for three weeks might be a good middle ground.

All that being said, I would probably recommend the London option for your first trip to Europe. I make this suggestion for a few reasons.

  1. You are not going to be able go or do everything you want to do in Europe on this first trip. Keep it simple.

  2. Taking a specific course before you go helps prepare you for what you are going to see and do.

  3. You can probably communicate with the locals :-) More importantly, I think you will be able to get more out of your first experience in Europe if you save linguistic challenges for future adventures.

I'm sure there are naysayers to the above advice who think that at your age you should "carpe the diem" and immerse yourself in the rich culture of Italy. I can't disagree with that approach to your situation. I just think that you might get more out of this experience for the reasons I've explained above.

Happy travels whatever you choose to do.

Posted by
1284 posts

When I was a Junior in college several of my friends were able to take their Senior year abroad in Italy. Unfortunately for me, my family did not have the resources to give that to me and I was 39 before I was able to go to Europe for the first time.
So I would encourage you to take the semester abroad and make the most of it!
You're a lucky young woman to have this chance! And do let us know how it is going ...


Posted by
558 posts

Hi KL,

I too am in the study abroad camp! But, I was just wondering what SUNY program you attend? (I'm from upstate NY originally).


Posted by
22987 posts

For all of the above reason we endowed a scholarship program at Iowa State Univ just for study abroad. We support at least two students a year in semester long programs. So if you are enrolled at Iowa State go take a look. It is associated with the School of Business but open to anyone. klsmith, maybe you should consider transferring to Iowa State for your four year degree.