Looking for a European Summer Trip for Your High Schooler? A Parent’s Guide

Now that you and your high school student are thinking about a summer high school trip in Europe or “Teen Tour”, you’re probably wondering where to begin. As a parent you have surely been inundated with phone calls, brochures, and e-mails from high school summer trip companies offering programs in Europe this summer. Despite all of the options out there, we started Atlas Workshops because we believe that there is a big gap in programs for students who are looking to work on a project and travel — not just sit in a classroom, and not just play tourist. There are plenty of options to choose from, but sometimes the quantity of programs can be overwhelming for prospective parents and students. Reviews are usually all positive and many programs sound the same.

Where should you begin your search?

Having participated in and led many trips throughout our high school and college careers, we feel pretty knowledgeable about what factors help comprise the perfect summer high school trip.

We’ve put together some helpful tips on picking asummer high school trip in Europe (so you don’t have to go it alone!):

To get started, some key tips to think about in choosing a program:

  • style of travel
  • purpose of the trip
  • destinations
  • safety and reputation

Do keep in mind that we are focusing on high school trips in Europe — not the whole Globe. Student trips in other parts of the world might have some very different factors to think about, such as the ethics of a service project, who you are collaborating with, and who is plugged into the local networks on the ground.

Picking the summer trip that is the right fit:

When you are exploring program options you should be thinking about fit and quality. Some trips are amazing–for some students– but other students might hate it. Hiking in the Alps and overnight camping might be a dream or a nightmare, depending on the student. Other trips have flashy websites, but their safety practices or educational agenda are limited at best. Be careful of educational programs that talk a lot more about typical tourist attractions over a clear educational agenda.

Style of Travel:

The biggest way to get a sense of fit is in understanding the style of trips the company leads. Find out if the program endorses public transit or opts for rented buses.  For example, we decided early on that all of our trips in Europe would rely on public transit more than private buses because that aligns with our projects, values, and is also how most locals get around. Check out whether the program involve hiking or camping or hotels and inns in major cities. We normally use hotels or comfortable guesthouses and apartments depending on the country. Does the program include a homestay or living in a dorm? Our project work is off-campus and is very immersive and so we decided not to use homestays so students have time to decompress in a familiar environment.

Purpose of the Trip:

This is also a huge factor. Why is your student traveling in the first place? Is this trip a fun break from school or an international camp? Do you want to improve your high schoolers language skills? Are you looking for programs that offer community service hours or create sustainable impact? Related–what do you want your student to accomplish–are you looking for something impactful? The purpose should also tie directly into the style of travel–language learning and homestays go hand and hand for example.


Where does your student want to travel? Do you or they have a specific country (or language in mind) or is the objective to go somewhere off the beaten path? Would they prefer a university campus or a small village? We always suggest both of you think about what and why, before where. Would a relatively uninteresting program be worth it if it included a visit to the Eiffel Tower?

Safety and Reputation:

This is probably the question that is on the top of every parent’s mind from day one. When I transitioned to the other side of student travel (planning and leading trips) I was blown away by how little regulation there is. I have met some travel companies with no insurance coverage leading trips to countries that the directors of the company have never visited before! Even some of the bigger companies with years of experience end up hiring main trip leaders who are barely older than the students they are leading by simple virtue of the fact that they have much more availability than someone older and more experienced.

An Overview of Current Summer High School Trips in Europe:

Clearly, there are many companies to choose from, but we’ve compiled a list of some of the biggest names out there with trips all over Europe:


Putney is an established company boasting a recent partnership with National Geographic. They are headquartered in Vermont – in fact, one of the owners of Putney is now the governor of Vermont (maybe one day one of our founder’s will head into politics? how cool is that!).  Putney has trips all over the world, and in Europe their offerings range from pre-college programs at Oxford, Language Trips in Spain and even some community service projects. If you are looking for the standard teen tour, language program, or pre-college program they are a pretty high quality choice.

Experiment in International Living

EIL is another one of the oldest organizations in the field. It is the high school summer branch of the much larger World Learning group. EIL has some unusual program focuses, but the style seems to really center on the homestay and inter-cultural components. Most of their programs last for a few weeks.

Travel for Teens

Travel for Teens trips are teen tours with a focus on travel. TfT talks a lot about how students have control over activities in the itinerary so students can choose between a football match or an afternoon shopping. This style of travel is an update on the teen tour from the last few decades. They have also recently added community service and other skills to make the programs more educational. TfT is one of the few companies like Atlas Workshops that is taking students to Croatia — we can’t blame them–it’s one of our favorite countries in the whole world, and for our model of project work is a fascinating place to explore.

Overland Trips and Camps

Overland leads trips all over Europe with small groups of teenagers. There programs stand out to us because they include camping and hiking experiences. These programs are a great mix for a student that is looking for an outdoors and more rugged experience in combinations with a trip to Europe.


Oxbridge is an organization focused on educating 8th to 12th graders at big name institutions, whether it be Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews, or even Harvard.  They are a big name in the pre-college program market and offer a primarily campus-based experience in Europe. Pre-college programs can be a great way to expand your studies and get a feel for college life.

Beyond Europe there are some amazing opportunities as well. Some of the companies we respect the most don’t even lead trips to Europe, because their emphasis on rugged travel and rural communities just doesn’t make sense in somewhere like Germany, for example. Groups like Rustic Pathways, Global Routes and Where There Be Dragons don’t focus on Europe.

What Can A Summer High School Trip to Europe Do?

Having lived, worked, and traveled all over Europe we know that there are a lot of interesting opportunities for high school students on the continent that are more than just touring to major sights and taking classes. Every summer we send some of our high school student travel teams to Europe to work on projects as part of our Global Innovators: High School Summer Programs.

If you are looking for a fun, academic, creative, and unique high school summer trip in Europe look at our upcoming summer trips and consider joining one of them!

UncategorizedAdam White