Journey through five European countries and discover what it really means to backpack Europe with Travel For Teens! For 9th & 10th graders, our approach is rooted in the classic backpacker strategy – travel by rail, explore cities with a variety of daily choices, and leave ourselves open to the spontaneous possibilities that every day brings. This is a classic combination of some of the best cities and natural beauty in Europe. We will begin with the northern canals in quaint Amsterdam, journey through classically Bavarian Munich, adventure in Switzerland, travel through charming Venice, wander the Renaissance streets of Florence, discover the hidden gems of Italy in the Cinque Terre, and end our trip in the City of Light – Paris! This program incorporates the discovery of magnificent cities complimented by some thrilling outdoor adventures in the Alps & relaxing days on the Italian coast.
We are all about a hands-on approach to travel, where we go beyond the casual tourist experience and learn how daily life really is in each place we visit. We provide a unique and carefully crafted itinerary that allows for more challenges and independence. We encourage teens on these trips to learn how to use a Eurail pass along with other handy travel skills so that they become confident and able to take on even more of the world in the future!
Join us for the ideal mix of insider knowledge, travel know-how, and fun as our groups winds its way by train through some of the best of the continent!
During this program, you will…
- Discover the famous Dutch tulips at the Singel Flower Market along Amsterdam’s canals
- Take in Bavarian culture in Munich, including a dinner at an authentic beer hall
- Come face to face with WWII history at the Dachau concentration camp
- Cool off with a swim in Lake Geneva right next to a 12th-century chateau
- Relax at a spa overlooking the Swiss Alps
- Adventure through the Alps as you bike down mountain paths, conquer ropes courses, and slide down waterfalls on a canyoneering excursion
- Savor the best pizza, pasta, and gelato of your life in Italy
- Wander through Venice’s picturesque canals and explore the charming island of Murano
- Stroll across the famous Ponte Vecchio, gelato in hand, and experience Florence lit up at night
- Take the cable car to Birg and test your limits on the Thrill Walk and the Skyline Walk*
- Stay in the heart of the Cinque Terre and hike between five tiny fishing villages
- Fly high over the Swiss Alps on a once-in-a-lifetime paragliding adventure*
- Pay a visit to the Mona Lisa at the world’s most famous museum, the Louvre
- Visit the Palace of Versailles, at the top of every history-lover’s travel bucket list!*
- Take a bike ride through Paris’s off-the-beaten-path alleyways and explore the artsy neighborhood of Montmartre
*These are optional excursions
DAY 1: DEPART FROM NEW YORK (JFK)
DAYS 2-4: AMSTERDAM
Welcome to Europe! Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, is known for its vibrant culture of young travelers eager to explore the city’s treasures. The city itself is a sight to behold, filled with bicycles and gorgeous old buildings, which make it ideal for exploring on foot. Our focus is on providing a safe and energetic tour of this dynamic place, as we tour the Vondelpark, check out the masterpieces on display at the Van Gogh Museum and even take a walking tour through the notorious Red Light District. Throughout, we’ll peer back into the origins of Dutch culture, and pause to reflect on the events of modern history as we visit the Anne Frank House, where the famous diarist and her family lived while in hiding from the Nazi forces that occupied the city.
DAYS 5-7: MUNICH
From Amsterdam, we travel south to Munich, the exciting German city near the Bavarian Alps. Munich was heavily damaged by Allied bombs in WWII, but unlike most other German cities it was carefully rebuilt with the original street plans and traditional architecture. We will take a bike tour of this beautiful city and relax in the Englischer Garten (larger than Central Park!), see the famous glockenspiel in the Marienplatz and even visit a traditional beer hall to taste the local weißwürste and pretzels. At Dachau, just outside of Munich, we’ll visit the first concentration camp that the Nazis founded in Germany and take a moment to reflect on this dark chapter in recent history.
During our time in Munich, we will also have an optional excursion to the Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps. This is the fairytale castle that inspired Walt Disney and you will have the opportunity to go inside and tour its many lavish rooms and hallways, ride bikes through the Alps at the foot of the castle and even go for a swim in a fresh alpine lake!
DAYS 8-11: SWISS ALPS
Fresh mountain air awaits us at our chalet in the Swiss Alps, a sunny paradise of rivers, alpine pastures, forests and glaciers. Using a mountain lodge as our base, we’ll explore the area and all of the outdoor activities on hand. We will go on an exciting mountain biking trip (for all skill levels) through some spectacular trails. We will go on a hiking adventure high up in the Alps with incredible views and even stop on the way for an authentic Swiss cheese tasting with a local family who makes the cheese themselves! Another day will be spent climbing and gliding through the air on a high ropes course in an outdoor park popular with Swiss locals.
We will also go canyoning–always a group favorite! On our canyoning adventure we will climb, slip, slide and jump through natural rock formations and waterfalls!
As always, our emphasis is on safety and we will be accompanied by professional local guides as we hike, bike, and climb. All of these activities are open to all levels and we can easily accommodate anyone from beginner to advanced.
A day trip to the nearby resort town of Montreux rounds out our time in this part of Switzerland. During our time in Montreux we will visit a famous Swiss Chateau that sits right at the edge of Lake Geneva and climb its highest towers and explore its eerie dungeons. We will go for a dip in the fresh alpine water right outside the chateau and experience stunning mountain scenery while we enjoy a refreshing swim. Afterwards we will stroll along the path that circles the lake and enjoy some great music and fun at an outdoor Jazz music festival! The festival is a local favorite and is a great opportunity for us to truly immerse ourselves in the Swiss culture!
DAYS 11-12: VENICE
From Switzerland, the iron road will carry us down to the floating city of Venice, on the Adriatic Sea. When you walk out of the train station facing the water, you’ll be amazed at your first look at the splendor of the Grand Canal, lined with Renaissance palaces and filled with passing gondolas. We’ll wander the city’s tangled streets, marvel at the colors and reflections that only Venice can offer, and visit St. Mark’s Basilica and the palace of the Doges. We will visit the island of Murano to enjoy a live glass blowing demonstration and learn about this delicate craft. You will also have the opportunity to ride a gondola and live your very own Italian dream!
The enchantment of Venice won’t wear off anytime soon, and we promise you’ll go home with the memories of a lifetime and a strong case of the “travel bug”.
DAYS 13-15: FLORENCE
Then it’s off to discover Florence! Here, in the center of the Italian Renaissance, artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as writers like Dante and Machiavelli completed some of their most famous masterpieces. We’ll stand in awe of Michelangelo’s gorgeous David at the Accademia gallery, and we’ll tour the Uffizi, the world’s best collection of Italian Renaissance art, marveling at paintings by Botticelli, Caravaggio, and others. Art and culture are not all that is in store for us in Florence, however; we’ll also enjoy an amazing pizza dinner, challenge ourselves to complete a tasty nighttime tour of some of the best handmade gelato places in the city, and even enjoy a special invitation to a leather shop for an introduction to the Italian leather industry. No trip to Florence would be complete without a visit to the Duomo, the magnificent Gothic-style basilica. We’ll climb to the top of the famous terracotta dome for a breathtaking view of the city. And don’t forget a sunset stroll over the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest and most iconic bridge that crosses the Arno River. Before you know it you will truly understand the meaning of “la bella vita!”
DAYS 16-17: THE CINQUE TERRE
We leave Florence for the Cinque Terre, which is one of Italy’s hidden gems! Often referred to as the Italian Riviera, this region is home to five idyllic fishing villages with pastel colored houses perched on dramatic cliffs that plunge into the crystal-blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. We stay right in the center of the most beautiful villages, Monterroso, just steps from the beach! We do not stay outside the towns in La Spezia which is not technically part of the Cinque Terre. Instead, we are right in the middle of everything and able to walk just a few steps to the beach or charming shops. In Monterosso we have established strong relationships with the locals from some of the service projects we have done there in the past, and you will see you are treated like family during your stay here!
The Cinque Terre is known for its spectacular hiking trails that connect the towns and we will have the opportunity to hike them for ourselves! On the hike we will enjoy spectacular views of the sea and the vineyards that line the cliffs and be inspired by the natural beauty in this region. During our time here we will also sampling local specialties like pesto and focaccia. We’ll dine on fresh seafood and relax on the beach in our seaside paradise.
DAYS 18-20: THE SWISS ALPS
Time to head back to Switzerland! This time we will visit an entirely different region of the country. Earlier in the week we were high in the mountains near the French border. This time we will be in the backpacker mecca of Interlaken, nestled in a valley between two large lakes in the mountains. Outdoor sports and activities abound for those who wish to breathe in the fresh mountain air. We will go on a hike in the alps to discover breathtaking scenery and views and spend plenty of time getting to know traditional Swiss culture and history in the nearby towns. Slip and side through waterfalls while canyoning. We will take a trip out to the larger lake for a sunset cruise and barbeque and the opportunity to relax on the shores of its fresh alpine water. We will also have optional excursions to visit one of the highest peaks in Switzerland, and to fly high above the Alps while paragliding!
DAYS 21-24: PARIS
In Paris we’ll experience the best of French culture as we marvel at priceless masterpieces and stunning architecture, stroll along the quintessential Parisian boulevards, and eat our way through the different arrondissements, or neighborhoods. You’ll climb the Arc de Triomphe, see where famous artists used to live and be inspired in Montmartre, and shop ’til you drop on the Champs-Elysées. You’ll have the chance to visit the Palace of Versailles and learn about the rise and fall of the French Monarchy, as well as stroll through Marie Antoinette’s gardens and go for a rowboat ride on the lake. You’ll have the option to take a leap back in time to the 19th century to visit the home of Claude Monet, the master of Impressionism, and feel the sheer romance of Giverny, the setting for his famous Water Lily paintings. Take a bike ride through Paris’ hidden alleyways with our local guide and learn interesting aspects of the city’s long history. Explore the Luxembourg Gardens or Père Lachaise Cemetery, take in the best of Impressionist art at the Musée d’Orsay, and relax on a sunset river cruise down the Seine. Try some of your favorite recipes at authentic restaurants, such as crêpes, fondue, and omelettes, or maybe taste something new–escargot anyone? Finally, let’s not forget the experience of a lifetime going all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower!
DAY 25: RETURN FLIGHT TO THE USA
Frequently Asked Questions
Who can go on this trip? What kind of teen typically goes on this trip?
Teens from all over the world join this program! Typically, our participants are culturally curious individuals who are excited to make new friends, experience something unique, and interested in stepping out of their comfort zones and expanding their horizons.
This program is exclusively for students who are currently in 11th or 12th grade and approximately 16 to 18 years old. Students living outside of the USA are welcome to join!
Where do we stay?
Our hotels are chosen specifically in safe areas and are well suited to facilitating group supervision. We stay in centrally located accommodations, usually within walking distance of the main attractions. We do not use large, impersonal chain hotels on the outskirts of cities; we prefer to select smaller, family-run hotels where we establish personal relationships with the owners.
In Amsterdam we stay in a spacious family-oriented hostel just a short tram ride away from the Anne Frank House, in one of the city’s up-and-coming residential neighborhoods. In Munich we are in a centrally located, clean hotel, while in Switzerland we will stay in a traditional Swiss chalet in the breathtaking Swiss Alps. All of the rooms even have private balconies overlooking the mountains! In Venice we enjoy a perfect location and a great hotel with many rooms opening right onto a beautiful piazza.
In Florence we stay in a great hotel right by the Duomo. In the Cinque Terre we are in beautiful, clean hotel in the center of town just steps from a private beach. In Switzerland we will stay in a hip backpackers villa right in the center of town where you will see paragliders flying through the valley outside your window every day. In Paris we stay in the heart of the city in a modern hotel.
For safety reasons, we do not publish the names of the accommodations we use. We do not feel it is safe to publish the name of a hotel where a group of teenagers is staying abroad. After registering, participants and parents are given access to our secure parent website where you will be able to see the names of all of the accommodations for the program.
Do most travelers go on their own?
Yes! In fact, over 75% of students who travel with us choose to come independently. This encourages teens to step further outside their comfort zone and make new friends. We believe that one of the most rewarding and exciting elements of travel is the new friendships that form along the way. When we travel by ourselves, we are bound to make new friends from all over the country and even the world. The best part is, you can travel again with your new friends on another TFT program the next summer!
If you are thinking about joining a TFT program by yourself but you are feeling unsure, please let us know! We have plenty of references from solo travelers who had great experiences and would be happy to chat with you about it.
Can I bring a friend?
Absolutely! We ask that if you do come with a friend, you and your friend(s) maintain openness to meeting new people and sharing this special experience with the entire group.
What do students like most about the European Explorer trip?
On the European Explorer trip, students love the combination of cites, mountains, and beaches. There is certainly no lack of daily adventure on the European Explorer program. They appreciate that the trip puts a focus on helping them learn to be confident travelers through the quintessential backpacker experience traveling Europe by rail.
What is unique about the European Explorer trip?
The European Explorer program provides the best combination of dynamic cities and outdoor adventures. Touring and sightseeing in large cities can become overwhelming, so we include fun activities to keep the trip engaging and exciting! Whether it’s attending a glass blowing demonstration in Venice, taking a French cooking class, or going on an exciting bike tour in Munich, every city features unique and inspiring activities.
What is included?
Tuition cost includes ground transportation; accommodation; chaperones and guides; program-related activities and admissions; taxes and tips; all breakfasts and dinners.
Not included in cost (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list): airfare; lunches; visas and visa application fees; personal and medical expenses; activities and admissions that are not program-related or referenced in the itinerary; beverages other than filtered water at meals; participant expenses that are outside of the program description, such as excess baggage fees and damage to hotels; expenses related to unforeseen circumstances, such as transportation strikes and natural disasters.
How do the optional group flights work?
Upon registration, you will be contacted by our International Logistics Team to discuss the program’s flight details. There is no requirement to take the group flight, but there are several advantages to doing so. The group flight is usually chaperoned by a TFT staff member, and it also offers an opportunity for the students to get to know one another prior to the start of the program. Parents are responsible for coordinating transport to the departure airport – however, the logistics team will send out instructions detailing the exact meeting spot and airport point person. For additional information about flights, visit our dedicated flight page.
Who leads the program?
Our staff is a cut above the rest! We seek out two main characteristics in our counselors – extensive knowledge of and experience in our destinations, and a passion for working with teens. Our staff’s backgrounds include living abroad and working in summer camps or other educational settings. Team members are proven leaders and role models, who connect easily with others and form genuine friendships with each student – all while bringing each destination to life.
We celebrate diversity! Our staff represents 49 different nationalities, speak a combined total of 21 languages, and visited 142 countries. Additionally, 80% of our staff lived or worked abroad in their lives. With so many unique experiences to share, you are sure to gain a global perspective.
Our average minimum ratios are one staff member to every seven participants. Each program has one Trip Director with several support staff, depending on the group size. Directors must be at least 25 years old and have prior experience working with TFT.
What are the safety qualifications for our staff?
Our staff members undergo a rigorous hiring process. They receive the same background check as school educators, an extensive training process to go over all safety precautions and protocols, and are required to be certified in CPR and First Aid. We exclusively hire responsible, multi-talented individuals who are safety-minded and are as passionate about teen travel as we are.
What is the average group size?
We pride ourselves on small group sizes to create a more authentic and personalized experience. Our group sizes fall between 13 and 24 students – the perfect size to facilitate new friendships without feeling lost in a crowd! We believe smaller groups eliminate the likelihood of cliques, and allows for a well-rounded, healthy group dynamic.
How does this program connect to other programs?
Our program dates are designed specifically so that participants can opt to combine trips throughout the summer. When connecting to another program, your counselor will escort you to the airport on the last day of the program and assist you in meeting your next group at your new destination.
Families who sign up for more than one program will also receive a 15% discount on the lesser-priced program.
What is the food like on this program?
In a word – delicious! At TFT, we believe food should be an integral part of the travel experience and always make an effort to eat at authentic establishments when we can. What better way to immerse yourself in the culture of a place than by sampling the local delicacies, and we encourage students to do so whenever possible! Just as we stay away from Americanized hotel chains, we try to avoid restaurants with menus that cater only to tourists because every good traveler knows the best food is found wherever the locals are eating!
In Amsterdam we will experience its wide variety of cuisine and indulge in some of the city’s favorite specialties including sweet and decadent stroop waffles and even enjoy a tasty pancake dinner one night at one of the city’s most famous pancake houses! We will also sample some of Holland’s famous cheese and for those who dare, try a salty herring sandwich!
In Germany, we’ll have a chance to discover delicious Bavarian specialities. German cuisine is primarily based around bratwurst (sausage), schnitzel (breaded meat), and potatoes (in every form you can imagine!). Students will also get a chance to sample authentic German pretzels of course!
No trip to Switzerland would be complete without a Swiss fondue night! In addition to fondue we will enjoy other tasty swiss treats including an authentic Swiss cheese tasting with a local family who make their own cheese at a farm nestled in the Swiss Alps!
In Italy you are in a treat for some world famous Italian food! Mouthwatering pizza and pasta and incredible seafood are all on the menu during our time here. And of course we will enjoy plenty of delicious gelato!
Of course, we are always willing and able to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, gluten allergies, and other dietary restrictions.
Do we ever get time to go off on our own?
Our staff and teens are nearly always together, but we do provide the opportunity to break up into smaller groups to allow for flexibility and customization within the itinerary.
We offer free time in defined safe areas – for example, shopping in a market or exploring a museum. During these times, students remain in groups of at least two and are given no more than an hour. Of course, the counselors remain nearby and available. Additionally, a lifeguard-certified counselor supervises the campers any time they are involved in water activities.
Do I need any vaccinations for this program?
We recommend checking with your family doctor regarding vaccinations and medical advice for the destination you are visiting. For more information, please check the World Health Organization’s website. Upon registration, we provide a list of recommended vaccinations that can be discussed further with your doctor. For Specific questions pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccine, click here.
What kind of visa do you need for this trip?
Any US citizen that enters Europe is automatically granted a free 90-day tourist visa.
When joining a TFT trip from outside of the US, please be sure to check your country’s specific visa requirements.
Do I need to speak the language?
No, our skilled staff members will help you get around and even teach you a few fun phrases!
Do I have to bring a backpack?
No–the bag you bring is up to you, but we strongly recommend a smaller lighter bag, preferably one with rolling wheels to make your travel a bit easier. Larger “backpacker-style” backpacks are also appropriate. Please keep in mind you will be responsible for your own bags throughout the duration of the trip so packing light like a true traveler is key!
How will we travel from city to city?
In the backpacking spirit, we’ll be catching trains from Amsterdam all the way to Paris. You’ll learn how to navigate the trains and how to use public transportation systems in general in Europe. Pack light!