Toby Irwin - 2016 Program Participants

What inspired you to go abroad?

After finishing school and my exams in May, I had a long summer ahead of me before starting university in September. Along with a long founded and keen interest in travel, it made sense to utilise this free time to go abroad.

Why did you choose Travel for Teens?

Travel For Teens were able to accommodate to me being 17 years old, something most companies (particularly British ones) would not do. I actually went on two trips with the company during the summer. The first was a real shot in the dark, as I had no idea what it would be like, but by the time the second came around about a month later I was sure I had made the correct decision.

Travel For Teens really does offer something unique in that a lot of the stress and concern is removed from traveling, having things like accommodation pre-booked and having activities to do in the locations ready for you. Despite what might seem like a sort of spoon-to-mouth, hand holding approach, Travel for Teens actually unknowingly gave me such confidence and awareness that I now feel I can travel anywhere on my own, particularly within Europe; something I would never have thought I could do when finishing high school.

Coastal view in Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy

What was your favorite part about the locations you visited?

The two trips visited multiple different locations. The first trip I went on was from Prague - Vienna - Salzburg - Bled - Split - Dubrovnik, but the second went from Amsterdam - Bruges - Swiss Alps - Venice. It'd be impossible to pinpoint a favourite aspect of each location, though the fundamental variety and scope that I experienced would be the highlight. Europe is a continent of such contrast and history that everywhere you go is just incredible, and Travel for Teens allows this. By contrast, I really mean contrast, there is such variation in where you go. Within a couple of days, you can go from roaming Prague to chilling out on a yacht or island hopping on the Croatian coast.

What made your experience abroad unique?

Despite being an American company that offers spaces for participants from all over the world, I found myself to be the only non-American. This, however, was not a downside, and I would claim it to be what made it unique for me personally.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

On the trips, there were three counselors with us all the time. They basically just ensured things went smoothly from start to finish. Even when my flight was delayed coming in from Scotland to Prague at the start, one of the Travel for Teens counselors of our group found time to swing by and pick me up no bother, arranging taxis and whatnot. The staff are trained in first aid as well, something that came in handy after I hyperextended my knee playing football in the Alps.

It should also be noted that while in certain cities the itinerary can often be changed around what the participants want to do, as the staff will adapt and organise other activities based on preference. For example, one night in Amsterdam we were given the options of going back to the hotel, exploring Amsterdam a bit more or going to a Jazz Club, something that was accommodated by the fact there were three staff with us.

Rooftop view in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Rep.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

There's not really much. If anything, it would be to appreciate each place a little more, not that I didn't, but as time goes by so fast one often forgets what a great place they're in.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

You'll wake up in your hotel room, shared with anywhere between two and seven people, though mostly it's only a few of you to a room. Breakfast is already paid for, so you will have to get up, have that, and get ready for a specific time, as that's when the group will be heading out for the day.

The trip leader, one of the counselors, will lead the way. It really depends where you are, but a lot of the time each place you visit will be followed by a quick tour by a local, then some free time. Often the day will include something else, like a bike trip around the city, or a visit to a beer distillery, or cheese factory or local palace. It really does vary, though each itinerary is set out in detail on the website, so you know what you're signing up for in advance.

Lunch isn't provided for you, so a lot of the time you get free time to roam about with your new friends and grab something to eat while you're at it. Dinner is always at some random local restaurant pre-selected by the counselor who has visited the city before, and your dinner is already paid for in advance as part of the trip costs so you can order what you like (Note: on the older teens trips that I went on, alcohol was permitted in moderation over dinner). The evening often has just free time for yourself.

Hohenwerfen Castle, Austria
Hohenwerfen Castle, Austria

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

You don't get hours upon hours of free time, so it's not like one can go on a day trip to the neighboring town or something, but what time you do have I found best spent exploring the new location or going to a cafe for a bit. It's said a lot, but simply walking around often is the best way to take in a new city, rather than feeling forced to spend every minute of your time on tours and in museums.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

It was always in a safe and central area, pretty easy to find if you got lost, for example. For those that are wondering (which is probably everyone), yes, they all had wi-fi. Most of the time you'll share a room with just one, two, or three others (if you're in a hotel), though on occasion you can find yourself in a hostel, where it's likely you'll have to share with several others of the group. You always share rooms with the same sex.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

The one thing I would point out, to those on the older teens trips especially, is the alcohol rule. Do not sign up if you're expecting a bar crawl everywhere you go and have a priority of attending the local pubs. The company tends to stick to the American law of 21 years old being the drinking age (which, yes, was rather frustrating for an 18 year old Scotsman; but hey ho), and thus the only time you can consume alcohol is having one beer, cider, or wine over dinner. All other spirits and alcoholic drinks will result in you being kicked off the trip.

Hvar, Croatia
Hvar, Croatia

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

It has certainly opened my eyes a bit more to the practicality of traveling and the fundamental fun of it, to be blunt. It has given me confidence to get back out there and explore more, and I find myself now saving money up to next go abroad.

Would you recommend your Travel for Teens to others? Why?

I absolutely would, particularly to younger teens as it is a structured and safe environment where they can experience so much with little risk. If you're older, say late teens 17 or 18, then I would urge you to be absolutely certain this is what you're after; not that it's not suitable for our age group, but more because at this age we have the possibility to do it on our own.