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!
Taking Topdeck | Off to London
Taking Topdeck | Greek Island Sailing
Taking Topdeck | Mykonos and Athens
Want to see the tweets and pictures of my Topdeck trip? Go follow me on Instagram and Twitter!
Meagan – so, so glad I found your blog! I’m heading off next Friday to jump on the Topdeck tour ‘European Pioneer’. I’ve done several Contiki tours but never a Topdeck so I was stoked to find your review. I’m even more excited now, thank you for sharing! Quick question – who did you book your airport transfer through? And was there any particular reason you did this? (I was going to wing it on the tube). Thanks! Emma.
I’m so so glad you found my blog helpful! And I’m so happy you’re excited! You should be. Once I landed at Heathrow, I had a driver pick me up and drive me to my hostel. I used Airport Pickups London, and it was actually more affordable than I was expecting. My flight ended up being delayed by five hours, but since my driver was following my flight, he was there waiting for me. If you’re interested in using public transportation, I would recommend Heathrow Express. It’s a straight shot from the airport to Paddington station. From there you can transfer to several lines that spread across London.
You have made it way too hard to not pack my bags and sign up for the next available trip I can. The sites that you showed look beautiful, but it was the stories you told through your wonderful writing that are really taking my desire to go across the pond over the edge. Beautiful places told through beautiful stories from a beautiful soul. You’re one of a kind, Meagan. Truly.
Holly. I can’t possibly imagine a better compliment. The whole purpose of this site is to inform and to excite. To express that traveling is something that everyone can handle with just a few tips here and there. I can’t wait to see the pictures of the places that you’ll one day see.
Hi! I found you’re blog so helpful but I have a question! How much spending money did you use??
I’m so glad you found it helpful! That’s a really good question that I was asking myself before the trip too. It truly depends on where you’re going and what your spending habits are. I actually don’t drink, so that saved me a ton of money each night. So I’d say I was spending about $15 on an easy, cheap day and about $35 on a busier day. That doesn’t include museum entrance fees and paying for the optionals. Hope this helps!!
Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. It will be my first time in Europe and travelling solo, so I am considering booking my first Topdeck tour and would be interested in your thoughts on:
– the coach rides (wary of being on the bus for 5 – 6 hours)
– the food inclusions
– your review was quite positive, are there things that you did not enjoy that one should be aware of?
Thanks in advance!
Hi Chris! I’m glad you reached out!
– the coach rides weren’t as bad as I was expecting. For me, it was a great opportunity to write a post about the city we just left. For others, it was a great opportunity to catch up on some sleep they missed from the night before. Overall, it was not that bad, and there were plenty of breaks to stretch the legs.
– the food inclusions would range from restaurants in the cities to Topdeck chefs at camp ground resorts. They were all really good. Well taken care of.
– I did have a really great time with Topdeck, and it surpassed all of my expectations. One thing that I wasn’t the biggest fan of, however, would be leaving each city so quickly. That’s just the name of the game though. When you have a certain amount of days and a certain amount of cities, you can’t stay for long. Going with Topdeck, it was like getting a really great overview of each city. And now I know which cities I would love to go back and spend more time exploring on my own.
I love this review of Topdeck! It’s really hard to find good quality reviews about these big group tours around Europe. I’m thinking about doing the Road to Athens tour but I notice that the drive between the places are about 6 to even 10 hour drives. I was wondering if this tour stops at interesting sites to break up the time? Or are the breaks just quick pit stops to stretch your legs?
Oh man, don’t I know it! When I was trying to decide which tour to go with, it was like searching for the Holy Grail to find a solid review. So thank you! The drives weren’t nearly as bad as I was expecting, to be honest. The naps I took were highly valuable. It was also the perfect time to write my articles and journal. The bus stops every few hours, but it also stops at some great places! You’ll stop to see Pisa, Pont du Gard, Verona, and my favorite – Orvieto.
This post has literally been extremely helpful so thank you so much! I’m heading off on a 27 day tour with Top Deck in a few days and I am so nervous and excited at the same time! Especially about meeting new people! Thanks again and great blog! 🙂
Oh my goodness, you’re going to have such a wonderful time! Believe me when I say, Topdeck is a great choice. Where are you going?
Thank you so much for this. I have been thinking about doing a topdeck tour alone and was most nervous. After reading this i am more then excited to book my tour. May i ask how long u went on the tour for??
Let me just go ahead and say it – Topdeck is awesome. I seriously recommend it. Traveling alone sounds daunting and glamorous all at the same time. When I was thinking of traveling to Europe, I was scared of being alone, but I also wanted to stretch myself and my independence. Topdeck helped me with both. I didn’t have to worry about all of the details of accommodations and safety, but I did get to plan my own sightseeing days. It was the perfect combo. And to answer your question, I was gone for about a month. Best month ever.
I’m glad my article was helpful! And I’m so excited for you!!
Thank you for sharing your experience! So glad I read this blog post. I’ve been thinking about going with TopDeck for ages, but felt very hesitant. You’ve definitely have answered a lot of my questions.
Ah, I’m so glad my post helped! When I first signed up to do Topdeck, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. But now that I’ve been, I can safely say that it’s completely awesome. I highly recommend it!