I opened that email even though I knew it would be "junk." It contained a recipe for a Greek meal that intrigued me, but other than that I knew nothing of its sender. But something, I don't remember what, caught my eye. Be a travel leader? For students? Hmmm....I kept reading. The email contained another teacher's name from my school that used to lead these tours so I felt the email deserved a little attention.
After a quick conversation with the teacher, and former leader, and I was hooked! Fast forward to my first ever parent meeting in 2015. I had the room set up in the library for 50 and yet 150 turned out! That evening, and for the next few days, I had over 50 people enroll; parents and students. This was really happening!
My first trip with EF was with the student division in 2017 to Italy. We had an outstanding group of students, parents, and chaperones and had an incredible time; truly the trip of a lifetime.
After three years of group tours with students to places like Greece, Switzerland, France, and Spain, I retired from teaching and decided to launch the adult and family branch of EF; EF Go Ahead Tours.
I launched two tours and had quite a few enrolled, but Covid had other ideas. After two years of cancelations, I finally was able to hop on a plane to England, Scotland, and Ireland in June of this year. (2022)
So what is an EF Go Ahead tour really like?
Let me give you an example of a typical day, but know that every tour, every day, is different. There are a few things you can count on; great hotels, wonderful breakfasts and several dinners with wine or beer, transportation that involves some fascinating stops, a 24/7 Tour Director to help with all of your questions and take care of logistics, expert local guides, and admission with "skip the line" privileges to all attractions. Plus loads of free time to plan on your own!
A DAY ON TOUR:
7am: Wake up, get dressed, sometimes pack up, and head to breakfast at the hotel. Breakfast is usually quite an amazing spread! You might snag some coffee to go too.
If you are changing hotels that day you can bring your bag down, or sometimes porterage is included.
8:30 Meet on the bus for a guided tour, or travel to the next location. On travel days you can expect to get off of the bus every 1.5-2 hours at planned stops. For example, we stopped at some fancy rest stops, castles, and other points of interest to eat, walk or shop. The bus drive itself is always more than just transportation to the next stop.
12:30 Lunch. If we are on a locally guided tour we have probably walked and stood for a couple of hours. Yes, you can take things at your own pace, but I like to see it all! My hips are always sore at the end of the day, but nothing a little stretching before bed can't help.
It's up to you if you do the group activity or tour in the morning, but it's always interesting and you often make decisions during that time on what you want to do in the afternoon and evening. As an example, I have been to Lucerne, Switzerland several times. This time, instead of taking the guided tour in the morning, I am going to sleep in a little, have a leisurely breakfast, and go do something I haven't done! I am not even sure what that will be yet...swimming in the lake, paddle boarding, a short hike? Then, in the afternoon I am going to take the excursion to Mount Pilatus even though I have done it before. It's gorgeous and I plan to do some hiking and then take the alpine slide down.
Free Time: After a morning tour or transfer to a new place, we get free time and the first thing we want to do is find a place to eat. Oftentimes, my choice is to go to the local market (small grocery store) to grab a sandwich, fruit, chips, or a pastry. It's quick, it's inexpensive, it's local fare, and that way we can really look forward to a nice long dinner. Then we are off to either a pre-booked tour such as the Guinness Tour we did in Dublin. Or we may just wander and enjoy the local village, or back on the bus to the next stop. If you are traveling with me you can join me on my adventure of the day or do your own thing. Several times on this most recent trip, we would start together and then split up as people wanted to explore different things. There is no fear of getting lost because we have our phones for communication and there are always taxis around. In most places, it is fine to walk around alone too, and if not, the Tour Director or I will tell you.
While in London, I walked to some areas that I hadn't been to before that weren't considered big attractions. Sometimes the "off the beaten path" places are the best and sometimes that is also exactly where we stop while transferring to our next stop. On the way to Ireland, we stopped at the most adorable village in Wales. We only had an hour there for a break, but we all agreed we wanted to stay! *Group tours are a great way to learn where you want to return for more time.
Afternoon break: Occasionally, in the afternoon, we will stop at the local market for a snack and to grab a fresh bottle of water for the evening that we refill the next morning. Hydration is important!
6:30 Dinner There are usually several dinners that are included with beer and wine; the welcome dinner and farewell dinner, and one or two others that are usually once we have arrived at our new location. After dinner is a great time to head out and explore the town at night or just grab a drink at the hotel and relax. *If dinner is "on our own" we will either find a place that looks good, or even do some research and make a reservation. Google Maps is a fast way to find a place that gets good reviews. Or be like me and just walk in somewhere.
I am not sure where every minute goes, but it seemed we were rarely back in the hotel room until 10:00 at night! I think all of the walking takes longer than you think. We would stay up shower, re-pack and organize, stretch, and catch up with what was going on back home and turn the lights out around midnight.
As I was writing this list it became apparent that each day really is very different, and you can count on the Tour Director to post the plan for the following day on a wall downstairs in the hotel room, or on an app like "WhatsApp." You won't know every detail of an itinerary until you are on tour, and the Tour Director often includes surprise "optionals" like a wine tasting, or maybe a quick stop for ice cream with a view.
Group travel is not a vacation. It's a trip! You will learn, expand your mind, and enjoy new cultures, new food, and new people. The world will shrink as you realize we all aren't all that different. You will meet new people, and make new friends. And, you will want to stay in each place just a little bit longer!
Here is a video I made about our first days on tour this summer.