I had dreamed about going to Europe for years. The sights, culture, food and fashion all seemed so amazing to me, and yet I had only seen them through pictures and never got to explore them for myself. Throughout high school and my first year of college I kept trying to make my dream trip happen, but it always fell through for some reason or another. Then I read about when the Her Campus editors when on Contiki tours and immediately did some research. I scrolled through pages and pages of dream trips that went everywhere, and one day I decided that enough was enough and I was going to make this happen. In October I booked the London and Paris tour and realized that the vacation I had always wanted was finally happening.
December couldn’t come fast enough once my trip was booked. I studied harder than ever in French class and saved as much money as I could (go shopping in Paris and you’ll understand!). I could barely contain my excitement as the departure date came closer and closer, and then it was finally here!
After a brief panic when my luggage didn’t make it to Heathrow Airport (I did survive! Check out my last article for that story!), I boarded the Underground and made my way toward the city. It was uncharacteristically sunny my first day in the English capital as I explored downtown. My first stop was Covent Garden, which was bustling with people. One thing I didn’t expect was how diverse London is; everywhere I went I was surrounded by different languages, accents and styles.
After a brief nap at my hotel (jetlag much?) it was time for me to meet my fellow travelers. I introduced myself to a group of girls from Australia and we immediately clicked. Our Contiki tour group was just as diverse as the city we were exploring. I made friends from Australia, Brazil, America and more. I have to admit I was nervous setting out for a foreign country on my own, but having a built-in network like Contiki made all the difference. Our tour guide Glen seemed to know everything about everywhere and was invaluable on our trip. All the staff members were so helpful and made the daunting city seem so much more accessible.
We only had three days in London, so we packed our tour with all the major sites. My new friends and I went all over London in search of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the perfect plate of fish and chips. The day trip to Stonehenge and the Roman Baths was incredible and would have been impossible if I had went to London on my own. Actually, the whole trip gave me so many extras. Contiki took care of built-in admission tickets, breakfast every morning, most of our transportation and a packed itinerary that included everything I wanted to see and even more I hadn’t thought of.
The tour dates worked out so I got to celebrate New Year’s Eve in London – amazing! Glen arranged a classic night out for us that ended with watching the fireworks over the Thames. Wow. I set out in search of a once in a lifetime experience, and I got it. Definitely my best New Year’s so far!
Then it was time to say goodbye to London and bonjour to Paris. Just like in London, Contiki had pre-booked and planned all we needed to experience the French capital. I put my language skills to use on some locals and couldn’t stop smiling for the whole trip. The Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Versailles and the endless museums were all on our list of Paris to-dos, and somehow we managed to fit it all in. The great thing about our Contiki-provided schedule was the built-in free time. When we weren’t gazing out the windows of our bus Glen cut us loose to do what we liked. With a metro pass in hand my friends and I made our own list and took some “me” time away from the group. We weren’t locked into a carved-in-stone itinerary, which was great for all our diverse interests. Having a mix of both guided and unguided sightseeing was perfect.
Saying goodbye to the group was emotional to say the least. It was amazing how close I had grown to everyone on the trip over the course of just 10 days. We spent our last night in Paris in a classic café sampling all the must-try cuisine (escargot is surprisingly delicious! Give it a shot!) and then pretty much cried at the hotel the next morning. Before I knew it, it was time to get on a plane back to the US.
If I had the chance to do it all over, I would absolutely go with Contiki again. So much stress comes with planning a huge trip like this and I’m so glad Contiki was there to guide me through it all. Everyone I worked with was so friendly and answered my million questions about every little detail. I honestly can’t imagine going to Europe for the first time completely on my own. This trip gave me friends I would have never met, experiences I would have never had, and the trip I had never even thought possible.
(Shout out to Kate, Cassie, Tegan and Julia. I love you and miss you all!)