An honest review from a solo female traveler.
There's an abundance of conflicting opinions on whether or not prearranged international tours like Topdeck are a good way for a young solo gal to travel. They are hugely convenient in that basically everything is organised for you. Your travel, accommodation, most of your meals, and a lot of your activities are taken all taken care of. You basically just book the trip and it's all happy go Larry, yeah?
Other than my American stint, I had never really traveled on my own before. Being a young female; and one who tries to keep her wits about her after seeing one too many Taken films, I was never going to set off on a lone excursion around Europe. Cue Liam Neeson "I have a very particular set of skills..."
My friends who were living in London at the time had already been to the places I wanted to see, or had work commitments tying them down. Despite that, I was eager as anything to slurp some snails, skull some Sangria, pig out on pizza, and not be a Nigel-no-mates while doing so.
Topdeck - the solution to my woes, so off I went.
It was a good choice, but it wasn't all Toblerones and cocktails - so here's a brutally honest run down of my thoughts and learnings from the trip I did on my own a couple of European summers ago.
Tour: Western Crossing
Length: 14 days
Countries: 6 (France, Switzerland, Spain, Monaco, Italy, Vatican City)
Would I do it again? Yes, but not camping.
Do I regret it? Na.
If you know me, it may surprise you that I chose camping as my tour style - yeah yeah, it shocked me too. I'd like to think I'm kind of like Rose from the Titanic; can be a little bit precious, but will also do outdoorsy things, ride horses, spit, dangle off the back of a ship, etc.
Not actually, but It's fair to say I like my homely comforts.
For this tour I decided to suck it up. I do like camping, and it was significantly cheaper than some of the other options, but could I cope with camping for 14 days with a bunch of randoms going from place to place? Questionable.
With these organised trips come aspects that are simply out of your control. To some, having time restrictions on how long you spend in a place is fine, but to others it's an absolute buzz kill. Some peeps also have a high tolerance for being around the same people, all day, every day, 24/7 - and some don't.
Unless you miraculously fill the whole tour with your mates, you cannot choose who is on your trip. With the age range as wide as '18-30 somethings' you're bound to get a motley range of humans, and in your group will be people you wouldn't normally spend time with in everyday life.
On a typical Topdeck you'll get your 18yo's who have just finished high school, an over enthusiastic tour guide, Lovey dovey cringe AF couples (set your tent up far, far away from them), small groups of friends, couples in their early 30s, and the ones who insist on getting pissed at every opportunity.
If you're anything like me, you love a good time, but you know when you've had enough and are in need of some space. Especially after an 8+ hour claustrophobic bus trip where you cannotbreathe.
Busing is 90 percent how you travel from A to B on these tours, and it was great to just jump on the bus and chill, but boy oh boy do you clock up some hours on the road. Not only do I get travel sickness on the best of days, but with a hangover, in sweltering 35 degree heat, and in a bus filled with the breath of 40 humans it was not a good result. Do...not...touch...or...talk...to...me...or...i'll...spew.
The ones who aren't phased about being with everyone 24/7 will probably be the ones wanting to drink as soon as you get off the bus. And they will come looking for you, and they will find you...
Hold your horses pal, I'd like to actually figure out where I am on this continent first.
*exit Liam Neeson*
At the risk of sounding like a complete Debbie downer, the bus trips are actually pretty okay (if you aren't hung). You can't really complain when you're gazing out the window at the French country side, listening to some thought-provoking tunes and pretending like you're in a deep music vid.
Being a solo Señorita on these types of tours, I found that there's a pre-determined connotation that you if you're on your own, you must be single and keen to get with all of the other sloppy solos.
Being solo doesn't necessarily mean single; and being single, doesn't necessarily mean ready to mingle.
So no, I would not like to partake in your group orgy, thanks.
For me, going on a fully structured trip where I always knew where and when I was going was great for my OCD and inner planning demon. Going with the flow is not my strongest suit, so having a schedule gave me the freedom to relax and not have to worry about any of the logistics.
However, it is important to note that these schedules are pretty tight. Unless you choose some ridiculously easy pace styled trip with luxurious accom, you're going to get bugger all sleep. The idea is to see as much as possible in time you have, so kiss goodbye to your sleep-ins sleepy Jean.
Be prepared to look absolutely hideous 80 percent of the time also. I have no idea how some people manage to look immaculate on these tours. I like to groom, but the whole time my face looked like a melted Buffalo Bill and my hair as if I had stuck a fork in a toaster. Waddup humidity.
Leave the straighteners at home gals.
The good thing about being on your own on excursions like this is that they force you to step outside your comfort zone and mingle. A lot of people I know have gone on to do more travel with the friends they made on their tour.
All n all, I would recommend Topdeck for most people. There were a lot of factors that really challenged me, but I met some pretty cool people and saw some amazing places that I can't wait to go back to and explore in more depth.
It's all just a matter of asking yourself the right questions to determine whether or not this kind of gig is right for you.
Questions to consider before booking a Topdeck:
- Are you phased about having time restrictions and scheduled plans at each destination? If this is something that could potentially frustrate you, maybe consider an alternative like Busabout (yet to try this!) or Eurail where you have a bit more freedom if you want to spend longer in a place you may have fallen in love with.
- Can you put up with a wide range of maturity levels and personality types? These trips really test your patience and tolerance levels...
If you're good to go, here's a few things to consider on the trip:
- In the opportunities you get, take the time to do something on your own. This gives you a chance to gather your thoughts, breathe, and come back less titchy at the group.
- Keep your shit tidy. For reals. It's stressful AF when your gear is scrambled from your tent/hostel to Timbuktu and you've got 10 minutes until the bus leaves.
- Take a portable power bank. I can't stress enough how much this saved my life. The buses only have a small amount of power sockets available. Get a multi USB cable so that you can charge your phone and powerbank at the same time. When your phone dies (cause it will) you will have your charged powerbank as back up while all of the other suckers are bitching #winning.
- Take advantage of ALL toilet stops. Even if you don't have to go, force it. There is a toilet on the bus, but everyone watches you go in, and is probably aware of how long you've been in there. Awks. Also...speed bumps. Do I really need to elaborate?
- Leave the purple shampoo at home. If that shit explodes in your suitcase, it's not good. RIP fave white jeans.
- Put Liam Neeson down as your emergency contact. If you're having a shit time, he will find you.