If planning and booking holidays makes your skull ache, Anna Leask suggests you do what she did. Hand the job over to someone else and climb on board for a ride of pleasant surprises and new friends.
One bus, 51 strangers, 12 countries, 22 days. What had I signed myself up for?
It was 6.30am in the lobby of a London hotel and I was sitting with my pack, in desperate need of coffee and wondering how the hell the next month of my life was going to pan out.
I'd be with 50 strangers, probably sharing a room with one of them, my whole life planned out by someone else for the next 22 days.
Our tour leader emerged and we were herded on to the bus to start our adventure.
Topdeck's Europe Uncovered tour would take me to places I had dreamed of visiting for most of my life. I was going to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome, I was going to ride in a gondola in Venice, to touch the Berlin Wall and wander through Prague's Old Town.
Our leader - fearless and with unlimited energy - was Stacey.
Proudly Welsh with a love of history, Harry Potter and Sex on the Beach (the cocktail, of course), Stacey was our beacon in the haze of travel. Her sidekick was our driver, Adrian, whose task was to move us thousands of kilometres in one piece. They were outstanding and, from the get-go, set the tone of the trip.
One of the first things Stacey said to us as we set off from London for Dover was that it may seem weird being thrust into a month's travel with so many strangers - but by the end we would be best friends and it would break our hearts to leave each other. She was spot on.
We crossed via ferry from Dover to Calais and Adrian bussed us to Paris where we arrived in the early evening. After a group dinner at a restaurant of snails, French onion soup (or is it just onion when one eats it in Paris?) and boeuf bourguignon, we were back on the bus for a whirlwind City of Lights tour.
We had only one day to explore Paris so the tour was a way to show us around and give us a taste of what we might want to head back to for a closer look.
That's the idea of the whole trip, really - an introduction to Europe for those who have never been and want to see the key sites in one fell swoop. From there, it's easy to decide which cities you want to return to and which you'd rather skip.
By bus we took in the Champs d'Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, the Concourse and a quick stop at the magnificent Sacre-Coeur Basilica before we pulled up for our first look (and selfie) at the Eiffel Tower. By night, it was stunning, and we were all itching to go back there the next morning.
The next day was a full day to explore and there was much to do - Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Palais Garnier where The Phantom of the Opera is set and between seeing the sights, as many baguettes, croissants and macarons that we could cram in.
From Paris we headed to the Swiss Alps where we had our fill of cheese fondue, took in the fresh air atop Mt Titlis, reached on a gondola ride with spectacular views and wandered the streets.
Just when we were getting used to the Alps, we were whisked back to France for a couple of nights in Nice and a visit to Monaco.
By this stage of the trip I was already longing for more time. A lot is packed into the 22 days but the schedule is tight when you are travelling by road, so there is often a lot you don't get to do. But, at the same time, what you do get to experience in that time is unbelievable.
Next stop - Italy. We strolled through the narrow, cobbled lanes of Florence, stared in awe at the Basilica di Santa Croce, sampled authentic pasta at Ristorante FrancescoVini and hit the popular drinking hole for travellers, The Red Garter for a night of table dancing and live music.
Topdeck offers walking tours with local guides, or with our history expert, Stacey, where she can.
Florence was the first of these and it allowed us to get up closer and more personal with the city before we got back on the bus to head for Rome.
Another walking tour awaited us, my favourite of the trip. We walked the Spanish Steps, ogled the Pantheon and Trajan's Column and sighed in disappointment as we reached the Trevi Fountain, under maintenance and surrounded by scaffolding.
Our first sighting of the Colosseum more than made up for not sighting the Trevi. Lit up in the dying daylight, the ancient Roman structure looked simply magical.
The place emanates history and culture, and lures your mind into a daydream of gladiators, lions and crowds cheering for death.
Rome is another place I needed more time to enjoy. But we had to keep moving, Venice was waiting for us. We headed there via Pisa for the obligatory Leaning Tower photo stop and Verona to see the balcony made famous in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Stacey led us through the winding streets of Venice, over bridges and into the Piazza San Marco, the stunning centrepiece of the floating city. Our mission from then - to get lost.
And lost is exactly what we got. But getting lost in Venice is glorious, there is just so much to see and do. Views, history, shopping, food, and that all-important Italian wine and limoncello are on offer in every nook and cranny.
From Venice, we continued to Croatia, where we crossed by ferry to Pag Island for two nights of sun, sand and extremely cheap drinks on the beach. The weather was stunning, the waters of the Adriatic Sea clear and warm and, while Pag was full of loud, drunk, mostly Brit school leavers wearing next to nothing and looking for any kind of fun they could find, it offered us a mini-break before we started the next busy leg of the tour.
After a night in the beautiful Slovenian city of Ljubljana - City of Dragons - we made our way to Salzburg, Austria.
There, the inner child of most of the girls was released as we visited Mirabell Gardens and Palace, where some of the most famous scenes in The Sound of Music were filmed.
The next day was much more sobering as we visited the Mauthausen concentration camp. The mood on the bus was very different after we had spent a couple of hours making our way through the barracks, gas chambers and memorial rooms at Mauthausen.
It's a horrible place but it's also extremely important to give people an insight into the atrocites of World War II and the Holocaust.
Hours later, our mood brightened as we descended upon Prague. Split into the Old Town and New Town, Prague was one of my favourite cities on the tour. Like many European cities, it has its share of cathedrals, a magnificent castle and museums. But it is a city with a unique atmosphere, and it has a wild side.
The Sex Machines Museum offered a few, slightly uncomfortable, laughs, the Charles Bridge was a great place to meander and take in the surroundings and the Old Town Square was the perfect stop for raspberry lemonade, schnitzel and dumplings and people-watching. Prague is eclectic, it's electric and it's a beautiful place to spend time.
We travelled on from Prague to Berlin, where we had two days of walking, stein-drinking and pork knuckle-eating to embark upon - and a history lesson or three. By now we were all pros at sleeping on the bus, holding on until the scheduled toilet stops and checking into hotels quickly to maixmise our adventure time. And by now we were all pretty good mates.
Berlin marked the beginning of the end, the last four days of the trip. We had come so far and it felt like we had been on the road forever, but our journey felt still as exciting as that first day.
We drove into Berlin and Adrian took us along the part of the historic wall known as the East Side Galleries with its amazing murals with their strong messages.
We dined at a local beer house and did a Berlin-style pub crawl, which was more seedy basement nightclubs than pubs, and toured the city on foot taking in forebidding but beautiful landmarks including the Reichstag Building, Brandenburg Gate and the site where Hitler's bunker once stood. We visited Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Berlin, and visited the Holocaust Memorial - another sobering site. It's a unique monument but it hits hard all the same and is a must-see in Berlin.
The next day, after 11 hours on the road, we reached Amsterdam. We were looking forward to a good final party. Tour options included a live sex show in the city's infamous red light district, which should be compulsory. The show was not as risque or daring as we'd expected but the joy of watching the crowd react to the activities on stage were worth the euros we paid.
A bike tour was included and most of the group set off in the rain to see the sites. Others visited the Anne Frank house (definitely book ahead because I missed out and the queue was almost a kilometre long) and we indulged in other "only in Amsterdam" treats. Sorry Mum.
Our final night was spent on a canal cruise and commiserating with the Dutch locals after their Football World Cup loss to Germany. That night resulted in many sore heads and the bus to Calais to catch our ferry to London the next day was subdued to say the least.
So, 22 days of travelling with strangers was over and we were saying goodbye as friends. For me, it was a challenge - not knowing anyone on the bus and having to relinquish my obsessive compulsive planning control to someone else. But it was the best way to be introduced to Europe, to get a taste and feel of the main cities, and to learn what I liked and what I wanted more of. It's also a great way to learn about yourself as a traveller. For anyone like me, in their 30s and finally embarking on their big OE, but not wanting the stress of booking and planning endless hotels, flights, buses and trains, a coach tour of Europe is the perfect solution.
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies daily to London from Auckland via Los Angeles.
Details: Topdeck's Europe Uncovered tour is priced from $4750.
The writer travelled courtesy of Topdeck.