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Student Group Travel: Pizza Fixes Everything

Group travel is always a learning experience. You may learn some facts after a visit to a museum or historic site, you may discover how to navigate public transportation in a foreign city, or you may realize just how important it is to plan ahead with a custom group travel operator. Mary Kujak, a member of student group travel with Baylor University, made a few discoveries of her own during the independent travel portion of the program. 


I was ecstatic when I was informed that I was accepted into the Baylor in Maastricht student group travel program earlier this year. I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend their whole summer exploring another city and culture?

However, these monumental feelings of excitement seemed minuscule when I realized this program offered over five weeks of independent travel outside of our custom group travel program. The excitement I felt after learning this kept me feeling the euphoria for days. I arrived in Europe two weeks ago, and after orientation and a wonderful custom group trip arranged by Millennium Tours with my fellow classmates, we were given six days of independent travel before the schooling began.

A few months ago, I began to ponder where I wanted to spend my first blissful days in Europe; however, did I really need to “decide” where I wanted to go? Absolutely not. All the fantasies and dreams I had when I was eight years old flooded my mind, and I was taken down memory lane.

The choice was clear: Italy is where I longed to be.

If you were a girl born in the early 90’s and did not fantasize about an elegant trip to Italy, I somewhat begin to question your childhood fun. I mean, what girl didn’t want to go to Italy only to find out that she had a twin who happened to be a pop star? That’s right, the Lizzie McGuire Movie set the bar high for my expectations for this trip. I was bummed when there was no cute Italian pop star waiting to whisk me away on his moped towards stardom after I tossed my coin in the Trevi Fountain.

However, after overcoming this harsh realization with many visits to the gelato shop, I began to fully enjoy all that Italy had to offer.

My roommate and a few other girls from the college group travel program accompanied me on this trip. We went to Venice, Florence, a side trip to Pisa, and Rome. While this trip was memorable and fun, I think the most I will take away from it is what I learned about traveling and travel plans.

As I stated above, my program had a five day guided group trip before I left for Italy. We arrived back from the custom group trip late Monday evening and our flight to Italy was early the next morning. Being the efficient coordinator that I am, I thought that booking an early flight the next day was fantastic. **FYI: Running on FOUR hours of sleep and traveling all day is not a good idea!** The plane ride to Venice was not bad; however, my friends and I arrived around seven at night, and we had been traveling since five thirty in the morning (having eaten no meal all day). After walking around for only an hour and witnessing the gorgeous Venetian sunset, we were ready to go to our hostel and prepare for the next day.

This is when we realized that while we could operate our own vehicles back in the States, maneuvering the bus routes would be a challenge. We got lost or made an error every time we took the bus in Venice. The only thing that allowed me to keep my sanity was the cute Italian boy who came to our rescue and helped us reach our destination.

We had hoped to be snuggled in bed by 9pm; however, we finally made it back to our hostel around 10:30pm. This is when we realized that booking the cheapest hostel usually meant camping in the woods. Instead of unwinding in a normal sized room, my friends and I squeezed in a 3ft by 3ft cabin. Needless to say, we became super close friends, really fast.

Student Group Travel to Italy

After earning our camping badges, we headed back to Venice the next day before our train left for Florence. Ultimately, seeing the beauty of Venice and touring the Doge Palace and Saint Mark’s Basilica outweighed whatever pain we had endured the night before.

Feeling optimistic about Florence, and a different room situation, we arrived at our hostel and happily learned that this facility was more along the lines of a hotel. Grinning because we had just connected to Wi-Fi for the first time in over 24 hours, we headed to our eight-bed dorm to find out who else we would be bunking with that evening. We were a little hesitant when we opened the door and saw that we were sharing our room with all boys who were bedridden with illness. Their attractive appearance and cute Canadian accents could not cover up the repugnant “sick” and “pizza” smell that permeated our room.

We made it through the night—I am still healthy mom—and the next day we ventured to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower.

Student Group Travel to Italy

Fortunately, there is no horror story associated with our hostel situation in Rome except for the minor hiccup over the public transportation strike that was going to happen the only days we were visiting Rome. My friends and I began to understand how a well-hatched plan of each day’s activities was imperative to accomplish all that we desired.

Thankfully, we were able to leave Rome content with the sites that we saw. We ventured to the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Coliseum, Roman Forum, Palestine Hill, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps. As I boarded a flight at six in the morning leaving Italy, I couldn’t help but notice the excitement I felt to be going home, to my new home in Maastricht; the same excitement I once felt about going to Italy.

I appreciate all the mishaps that occurred during this trip because it helped me to realize exactly what it takes to plan a successful journey. There were so many moments when I wanted to call my mom or our program director to ask for help. However, I do not think there has been any period in my life that has made me feel more alive or more like an adult. I am thankful for what I learned through this trip because I can apply it to new adventures that lay ahead this summer.

Because in the end, there is nothing that some good friends and good pizza can’t fix!

Student Group Travel to Italy

This is a post by Mary Kujak, student group travel blogger. Join Mary on her college group travel journey through Europe this summer—sign up to receive updates below:

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