It began a few summers ago when my family decided that we were going to take our dream vacation to Europe in the summer of 2011. We decided on choosing a guided tour called the “European Dream” through the company Trafalgar, so that most of the planning would be taken care of. Everything from the places we would visit (like the cities Rome, Florence, Venice, Lucerne, Paris and London), the itinerary that had already been laid out for all fourteen days of the trip, to the amazing deals on airfare, we suspected this vacation to be perfect. When we thought of the things that could go wrong on the trip, we initially thought of being pick-pocketed, getting sick, loosing luggage, or losing our passports. Luckily, none of these events took place, and while there was more good than bad to the vacation, what we faced had not even crossed our minds.
â–º SEMI FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
One thing from the trip we did not really think about was the location of every hotel. In the middle of the vacation we noticed that every hotel was located considerably far from the city. From the 'Novotel' in Florence, the 'Postillon' in Switzerland, to the 'Holiday Inn' in Paris, one could not simply walk out of the hotel and onto the city streets. Any activity we wished to be part of required a long bus ride into the city. While we learned that it probably was foolish to think that we would be located right in the city with such amazing prices that we got, we soon learned why the tour company would do this.
The other funny thing we discovered while traveling was that the things that had been planned out for each day (what we had read in the catalog) were actually excursions that had not been paid for. So, for all the things that we assumed we would just go out and see we learned we would have to pay for individually. While we still saw the main attractions, it now made some sense why the tour company would place us in hotels located so far from the city; they knew that there was nothing to do around the hotel, so we would have to take the company's bus if we did want to go anywhere, and then get charged extra. This realization was disillusioning, but we carried on and managed to see the important sites.
Finally, what also caught us by surprise on the trip was the very fast pace. It seemed like we were always bouncing from one city to the next with no time to really relish the moment, which I learned is what I had really craved for in the trip.
What I took from this experience was that I wanted a real cultural immersion in every city, and I felt like I did not experience that with the guided tour. The hotel locations, the unmentioned costs for other excursions, and the fast pace revealed the true motivation behind tour companies, which is to make money. The only city that I came close to immersing in the culture was London, which we had the opportunity to tour by ourselves. From the calming visit to Hyde Park, to the friendly “Glass Blower” pub and the people we met on the Double Decker buses, we thoroughly enjoyed each moment in the city. I suddenly understood how people would “catch the travel-bug” when I had experienced what the core of traveling is all about: taking a chance in an unfamiliar place by opening your mind, which is what I will do for future travels.
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