After years of drooling over travel magazines and stories from abroad, I finally booked my first international trip with Topdeck Travel. I landed in London just a little bit nervous, but mostly thrilled to finally live the life I stored away in my heart. Topdeck was the perfect outlet for me to see the world and see it well. The experiences I had on my trip are now memories that I will cherish forever.
City Stops and Free time
Over the course of my Road to Athens trip, I was able to see and explore seven European countries. Traveling to a foreign city for the first time made it difficult to know what “authentic” truly meant. Fortunately for me, Topdeck provided resources that helped me see each city the way a local would.
Throughout the trip, Topdeck did a great job of balancing free time and optional activities. They didn’t serve me the cities on a platter, but instead gave me the thrill of discovering the intricacies of each city myself. For example, they helped organize a gondola ride in Venice, but my afternoon was free to explore cafes and canals. They also helped me organize a bike tour in Paris that I signed up for, but I got to set my itinerary for the rest of the day. The plans were my own, but Topdeck helped make it happen.
Topdeck is a well-running machine. I can’t even begin to imagine planning this trip on my own. Not only did they have a strong focus on culture and art, but they also put on great events as well. A few worth mentioning would be the picnic by the Eiffel tower, the colors of Italy party in Venice, and the toga party in Rome.
There’s a quote by Danny Kaye that says, “To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” The best part about having free time with Topdeck was seeing how far I could push myself out of my comfort zone. How much would I allow myself to grow and to learn?
Optional Activities and Inclusions
Sometimes I can’t get over all of the amazing things I did on my Road to Athens trip. I often tell my friends that it would take a month to tell them everything I did in a month. But just for kicks and giggles, here’s a list of a few things I did over the course of my trip:
- Did a bike tour through Paris
- Ate escargot for the first time
- Hiked Harder Kulm in Interlaken
- Saw a flamenco show in Barcelona
- Went parasailing in Nice
- Rode in a gondola in Venice
- Ate wild boar
- Toured the Vatican City
- Rode a banana boat in the Greek islands
- Was lifted up on a table by Topdecker’s teeth in a Greek dance
- Went four wheeling across Mykonos
Going into an unknown environment was scary. Going into an unknown environment with a bunch of strangers was even worse. I didn’t know a single soul going on the trip with me, and I felt slightly anxious about it. Turns out, worrying was pointless. I think it took me all of twenty minutes to make friends on the bus. Practically everyone who travels on these trips wants the exact same thing I did: travel and meet new people. Making friends was the easiest thing I encountered while traveling, hands down.
I met some of the most amazing people on this Topdeck trip, and I can’t fathom the idea of having seen Europe without them. After a few cities were under our belts, we were practically family. I’m so happy to have such great memories with such wonderful people. Saying goodbye on my last day was unbelievably hard, and a few tears were shed.
The accommodations were probably my favorite part about choosing Topdeck. It was so relaxing to drive into a city and not worry about the hassle of where I was going to stay for the night. From the nice hotel upgrades to the comfortable camp ground resorts, it was almost always a lovely set up. Whether it would be full of flair like in Interlaken, massive like in Florence, or edgy like in Barcelona, it was always better than anticipated. I rarely, if ever, had any complaints about where we stayed. I genuinely fell in love with each stop.
This is where I get oddly specific. If you don’t have Stacey Pugh as your trip leader and Norby Tronkos as your bus driver, I truly pity you. I had the best of the best – the top of Topdeck. I can’t imagine a better duo to lead me across Europe. Stacey was a fountain of knowledge when it came to local living. She was such a great help, and she always gave the best advice on how to plan a successful sightseeing day. She was also just a great person to be friends with. Norby was a mad boss when it came to driving. I’ve never experienced a better bus driver in my life. I swear he’s made of magic. He’s such a sweet and sincere person to know.
We also had two “tour leaders in training” on our trip as well. It was such a highlight of my trip getting to know Paul Vass and Jessica Fraser. Talk about a delightful duo. Though I was super excited for them when they were called away to lead their own first tour, my heart broke just a little bit in saying goodbye.
Topdeck does a great job in selecting their staff, and they have my respect.
How much free time will I have?
In most cases, depending on your selected tour, you will have a full, free day in each major city. You can do whatever you want in that time slot. You’re given the freedom to navigate public transportation, grab a taxi, or walk to whatever attraction or monument you want to see. It’s completely up to you and dependent on what you plan.
Is it hard making friends?
Absolutely not. Like I said above, it was probably the easiest thing I did on my trip. Everyone was wonderful, and I walked away with many lifelong friends.
Are there any language barriers in Europe?
I tried to be polite and respectful by learning a few key phrases here and there. Let’s be honest though – I didn’t know much. I never once had a problem with a major language barrier. If you’re traveling in major European cities, I’d say you’re fine.
What’s check-in on day 1 like?
Our check-in location was a really great hostel in London called Wombats. The night before, the Topdeck staff posted announcements in the lobby with information of which leader to meet and at what time. Once you arrive in the lobby, you get checked off a list and head on to a coach. The process was very smooth and easy.
Did you ever get too tired?
It actually wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, truthfully. Depending on your nightlife style, there’s plenty of opportunity to not get enough sleep, that’s for sure. There is, however, enough down time traveling on the coach to catch up on the sleep you missed.
What should I pack?
It really depends on where you’re going. I was packing for mountains and for beach. I’d say pack a few cute dresses/skirts and a lot of shorts and tanks. Bring warmer clothes that you can layer up if necessary. You can read more about my packing tips in my article Pack Like a Ninja, Look Like a Lady.
Final Thoughts on Topdeck
I mean this with complete and utter sincerity: this past month was the best month of my entire life. The things I’ve seen and experienced cannot be replicated any other way. If you’re on the fence or trying to glean more information before taking the plunge, let me help you. DO IT. At this point, I cannot recommend Topdeck Travel enough. I walked away having seen a part of the world, and I am a changed person because of it. Thank you Topdeck for cultivating such a phenomenal opportunity for me to experience. I will never forget it.
Want to read my full Topdeck journey through Europe? Click the links below!