The Contiki Experience

Since the other travel-oriented articles were so well-received, I've decided to write yet another one. Spring is upon us and it's that time again. The period when countless backpackers and other travelers invade Europe to discover the treasures of its numerous countries. It is also at that period that Contiki gets the bulk ot its annual customers.

If you have read my previous travel-related articles, you are aware that I'm sold to Contiki. Yes, I have also traveled on my own and saved a bundle by doing so. But for those who have little traveling experience, or for those who simply have no desire to deal with the hassle inherent of planning and then going on a trip, Contiki offers the best traveling experience. I have been on 5 different tours, and my Contiki adventures figure among my favourite traveling memories!:-)

I am conscious that many would-be Contiki customers initially show reticence before booking a tour. Well do I know, since I felt the same way. You read the brochures, look at the pictures, and think that it sounds too good to be true. Being on one of their tours, however, should disabuse you of that notion. Honestly, I would recommend Contiki to just about anyone.

So in this article I'll attempt to capture the essence of the "Contiki Experience." I'll try to give you a general overview of how tours operate, as well as give you the lowdown on a typical Contiki day. All in all, what's good and what's not!

Before you go:

Yes, the brochures are always neat, but you should do a little research yourself. Buying a Lonely Planet guide and doing a few internet searches are a perfect way to begin. It will make it easier for you to select wich tour is better suited for you. Not only will it help you come up with an itinerary, but it will also give you a general idea of how long you need to stay in a particular city in order to visit everything you wish to see. Although Contiki takes care of almost all your needs, you have a lot of free time. So a little preparation goes a long way. . .

If you have questions you wish locals or other travelers could help you with, log on to www.lonelyplanet.com. They have forums on which you may post your interrogations.

An up-to-date guide will also permit you to budget your adventure appropriately. Entrance fees to the attractions are not always included, so read the brochure carefully. Paying attention could prevent a few unexpected and unwelcome surprises.

Another thing that will aid you in planning your budget is the price of the optional excursions. There are a number of them on each tour. Simply ask your travel agent to request the information at the moment of the booking. By acting thus, you will know weeks in advance the cost of such excursions, and not just a week or so when you receive your documents. It will also give you time to research if they are worth your while.

And by the way, the Fly&Tour price quoted in the brochure is seldom a good bargain. Make your own flying arrangements, and you will almost always save money.:-)

Getting there:

A little planning can save you a headache when you reach your destination. The simple act of exchanging money in the local currency back home, at your own bank before you leave, is always a good idea.

A Lonely Planet guide will let you know what are the fastest and easiest ways to reach the city from the airport. In addition, your travel documents will include hotel vouchers. Find out the phone number of your hotel (or check on the internet for their email address), so that you may contact them before you leave home. They will give you easy-to-follow directions to reach them, and will bring your attention on any details you should be aware of. Some even offer shuttle service to/from the airport.

Another Contiki advantage is that you can often get an early check-in. Which means that regardless of the time of your arrival, you often have immediate access to your room. Which in turn allows you to take a shower, a nap, or just change your clothes so you may explore the town for a bit.

There is no mandatory single supplement. You will be paired with another traveler of the same sex. Free of charge, of course!

Ask the hotel reception for the Contiki info. It's usually on a board, and it will include your tour manager's name and where you should meet for your group's welcome drink/dinner. This is where you'll meet everyone! At that time, your tour manager will get the paperwork out of the way. After that, your only concern is to have fun for the rest of the tour!;-)

Following that welcome dinner, a number of people are always in the mood to go out to get to know one another a little better. Even if jetlag threatens to KO you right then and there, you should make it a point of going, even if it's just for a little while. Remember that you only have one chance of making a first impression. Plus, the first night is always the time when little groups form within the group. So you want to be there. For nothing else, it will give you a few people to sit with at breakfast on the following morning!

A Typical Contiki Day:

Unless it's a free day (there are few of those), you'll have to get a wake-up call or set up your alarm clock. In general, you have to wake up around 7:00am. Yes, it sucks, but it is a necessary evil if you want to make the most of your experience. You hit the road early to have the best hours of the day to enjoy your destination. And you can always sleep on the coach! Your tour manager will make it a point to blast your tour song through the speakers, in an attempt to get the group going!

Breakfasts are always a surprise. And it depends in which country you find yourself. If you are fortunate, you will get a buffet breakfast. The norm is the continental breakfast. But in countries where people don't truly eat breakfast, such as Italy, you may get a hard roll of bread and a coffee. Thus, at times breakfast is great, and at times it barely gets you started.

Hotels are usually 3-star establishments. Generally, they are very good value, especially if they are part of a chain. On each tour, you will get one or two which are below those standards. Again, it is a necessary evil. But for the most part, the hotels are nice enough, perfect for budget travelers. So forget about those stories you've heard! There are a couple of personal stories I could share with you here (don't worry, you'll have your own to tell!), but suffice to say that hotels are usually very nice and clean.:-)

Aboard the coach, your tour manager will provide you with the information you need for the upcoming day. I deliberately said "manager" and not "guide." The tour manager is there to make sure that things run smoothly. He or she is not a guide. Yes, they talk on board, about history, culture, and a number of other topics. Hopefully you won't be stuck with one who gives history lessons every day. You are on vacation, after all! They hand out maps and show you were to meet, where the ATM can be found, the shopping areas, the restaurants, internet cafés, etc.

In many locations, you will have a free walking tour with a local guide. Some are good and some are not. Learn to live with that. . .

Your free time is yours to do as you please. That's where a Lonely Planet comes in handy. Do we have enough time in each city, you ask? An answer to this questions remains elusive. In certain cities, you don't have enough time. In others, you have just enough. And yet in other towns, we have too much. In the end, it all comes down to what you are into. Once again, a little preparation before your trip could prevent your being disappointed.

Lunch is never included, so feel free to hang out with your new friends and check out the local specialities!;-)

As is the case with breakfast, you never know if the included dinners will be good or not. In any event, if you came here for gourmet meals, then you're definitely in the wrong place. Optional dinners can be a lot of fun, but they can be expensive. And in my opinion, you don't always get good value for your money. If most people are going, then so should you. But if many are staying behind, just head out on the town and do your own thing. Some of my favourite Contiki moments are from those impromptu dinners we shared among ourselves!

And speaking of newfound friends, I am persuaded that Contiki is the best way to meet travelers from around the globe! After spending a few hours every day aboard a coach with strangers, you'll soon realize that you now know more of them than of many of your friends back home. Sharing every meal with those people, discovering new cities and countries in their company, going out with them every night; all of this will allow you to forge bonds of friendship that are very special. My friend Anna claimed that this was the best thing about Contiki: instant-friends!:-)

Over the years, I've had the good fortune of meeting nice and interesting guys and gals on each of my Contiki tours. And they are the reason I've enjoyed those tours to such a degree. I'm still in contact with many people I've met through Contiki and I cherish those friendships.:-) I believe that, very often, the people you are grouped with will make or break the trip. Because in the end, it's all about the people you meet!

There are only two rules to follow on a Contiki tour: 1) See the sights. 2) Have a blast with the people you meet. Because the only thing better than climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visiting the Parthenon atop the Acropolis, being awed by the splendors of St. Peter's Basilica, etc, is to have someone to share those moments with!:-)

So if you are debating whether or not to book a Contiki tour, my only advice to you would be to do it! You'll never regret making that decision. In my opinion, it's always a worthwhile investment.

And you'll return home with memories that will last a lifetime. And that, my friends, is priceless. . .

P. S. Feel free to comment or ask questions.:-) I'll do my best to respond.

50 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to thank you so much for the informative article about Contiki! You answered many of my questions!

Anonymous said...

That was good reading. I think you looked at the tour with an open mind and gave it a true evaluation. I've read many different peoples opinions and from what I gathered, that has got to be spot on. I'll know for sure after my trip in several days.

Jen from Montreal said...

Wow that was excellent. You should be a motivational speaker for those afraid to travel. Was really great to read what you wrote. Im going on the sep 54 highlights tour, am feeling very anxious about that as I am a firts time traveller-going solo. But you've helped ease my anxiety somehwta. Thanks.
P.S Im from Montreal too!

Jen from Montreal said...

Wow that was excellent. You should be a motivational speaker for potential travellers. I am going on the sep 5 highlights tour and am feeling extremely anxious-as I am a firts time traveller and going it alone, but you've helped ease some of that anxiety, so thank-you.
P.S I'm from Montreal as well

Jen from Montreal said...

Sorry I just realized I posted twice-I was trying to correct the first and ended up sending it again :(

Patrick said...

No problem, Jen! And have no fear, everything will be awesome! When you'll return from that tour, you'll wonder how you could ever have been that anxious!;-)

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask!

Ness said...

Hi.
Thanks for your article - I've always travelled on my own but in 2-3 weeks now I'm going on a tour in Europe and I must admit that I am worried about what an organised holiday is like.
Good advice to look up things in each of the places you go to - it's logic but I've been slack and haven't done it yet!!

Anonymous said...

Respect to you for combining decent writing style with honest feedback and thought-through advice.

Nigel said...

Hi Pat

A quick question - how does one cope with the different languages in each country, especially for someone who only knows English and VERY basic French (and not nearly enough to get by, unless I want to ask people where the bank is, or tell them that the window is open)?

Do you just hope someone in the group can translate for you and hang out with them on the whole tour, or is pointing at things with a hopeful look on your face an easy enough way of getting what you want?

Nigel said...

Oh, and Dragons of Autumn Twilight is one of the all-time greats. :)

Patrick said...

Hi Nigel!

Well, English and French have gotten me everywhere thus far. English is more or less understood just about everywhere in Europe, so have no fear.

Make it a point to learn a few words and phrases in the local language, however, as this will be greatly appreciated. And don't forget to bring your smile and patience with you.:-)

Other than that, you should be fine!

Khushi said...

Hi Patrick...I'm from India and am leaving in a couple of days, 2 to be more precise to go on a Contiki European Whirl tour. To be frank, before my bookings and at the planing stage, I was very confident that I would manage alone, am a little apprehenseive now, especially after hearing all the horror stories about people whaching your passports, etc etc. Hmmmmm....I just hope its a lot of fun and I don't land up overslepping ;) or getting into any other hassle. Well actually, I think its high time I learnt to handle situations and manage on my own. your article makes the trip sound like a lot of fun.

take care,
Khushi

Anonymous said...

Thanks, great little article. cheers

Anonymous said...

Love your writing style. Am off on a Contiki tour in a couple days, saw your post over there and of course couldnt resist reading your article. Thanks for the insight.

Ren x

Patrick said...

Thanks for the kind words, guys!;-)

Enjoy your adventures!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi!
I went on my first Contiki holiday this April and couldn't agree more with your comments. My only regret about Contiki is that I waited until I was 33 to do my first tour!! I'm hooked on the adventure that comes along with this kind of travel.
My Contiki experience was one that I will never forget!! As Patrick says, even with the anxiety of travelling alone, you'll never find anything quite like it. It was an incredible experience!

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick,
THanks for such wonderful sharings. It was well written, and I admire your spirits. I've been planning to go to Europe and am intrigued with Contiki since my best gal friend relate her experience to me. Your response to languages is truly helpful as that enquiry is on my mind too.

Does Contiki handles visa application for you too?
-celine from Penang Malaysia

jak said...

Great article! Being a big fan of the Contiki Experience myself, I was interested to read your thoughts. I think you summed up the experience perfectly. :)

Kellie said...

I did a 37 day trip around Europe with Contiki back in 2001, and I can honestly say it was the best thing I have ever done. I know some people prefer to plan every aspect of a trip themselves, but Contiki take a lot of the stress out of going overseas and any down-side of having things structured for you is made up for by the opportunity to meet and hang out with so many fabulous people. I think about my old tour-mates often and wish I could do it all over again for the first time!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the fantastic article-- I'm a Contiki alum, and traveling again this September... The BEST experience of my life.
My next trip is with 2 girls I met on my last Contiki trip-- Friends for life!
It's fantastic-- and even with doing ALL the excursions, still an unbeatable value.

Michael said...

awesome post, and as Kellie said

"I think about my old tour-mates often and wish I could do it all over again for the first time! "

This is exactly how you feel many many years later, its been 5 for me and i can honestly say a week doesnt go by where i dont think about it. :)

Patrick said...

Thanks for the kind words, all of you!:-) Contiki rules, that's for sure!

Anonymous said...

I to am a loyal travler of Conitki. I have just booked my next trim and can't wait. I was going to travle on my own this time but even after doing RSCH I was finding that the stress of trying to get where you want to go and how to get thier was taking all the fun from my trip. With contiki you never worry about what time your train is how to get to your hotel, if the cabbie is ripping you off or if your missing a great local sight. If you are willing to spend a little more (and really it's not much and sometimes cheeper after some of my friends have Backpacked through europ) you get to leave your worry behind and have a great time every day.

Yes that wake up call sucks but you can sleep on the bus or when you get home.

Anonymous said...

Do most people travel alone?

Patrick said...

I would say that about half the people in my Contiki tours were traveling solo.

So go for it!;-) It's the perfect way to meet girls, anyway! Or boys, for that matter. . .

Jenny said...

As a former Contiki traveler myself (GB & Ireland), I just want to add that traveling solo is the way to go! You're right about that first night, especially if you're on your own. I met 4 others touring with me the first night and we were instant friends! I think the best part is not only learning about the cultures in the countries you're visiting, but the cultures of your fellow tourmates. I from the US...met and still keep in touch with my Aussie, Kiwi and Canadian friends! So if you are afraid of traveling alone, DON'T BE!!! Half of the others are too and looking for friends to share in the fun! I am planning my next tour...winter wanderer...for October 27th. Have you been there in winter. I'm a little nervous about the cold, being from the southern US, but am too anxious to wait until spring for another tour!

Jo said...

Thanks for the great and informative review of contiki trips. I'm about to set off on Simply Italy and am most excited. I'm glad one of my main reasons for going is to meet new people, as everyone has said that is what they liked most about the tour. And of course getting and introducation to Italy will be fabulous I'm sure.

Tara said...

hi patrick!

I'm only 18 but I would love to go on a trip to Europe. Are most people older? Will it be awkward for me? Thanks!

Patrick said...

Hi Tara!

If you're outgoing and like to have fun, it certainly WON'T be awkward for you. You might be among the youngest of your tour, but the overall average appears to be around 22 or 23 years old, so it's not that big a gap...

So go for it!!:-)

netchick said...

Hi Patrick! Thanks for your useful advice! I'm booked for December 25th to do the European Discovery tour, and I can't wait. At 35, I wish I had done this type of tour earlier! That said, I'm young at heart, and I'm sure I'll have a great time. I can't wait to experience Europe (for the second time) with Contiki this time!

I'm curious... How was your pairing during your travels? And, what was your favourite city during the European tour?

Patrick said...

Don't worry! You'll have a blast during your tour!;-)

My pairings, you ask? I've been paired three times in the past: in Italy, in France, and in Spain and Portugal.

The first time was great. Jason and I got along so well that our room quickly became the minibar/hangout spot for the rest of the gang.

The second time was a disaster. Jonathan was the weirdest guy on tour, and he snored like a bulldozer.

The third time was somewhere in between. Eugene was a very straight fellow, which made it impossible for our room to reclaim its minibar title. He got annoyed over the stupidest thing, and wrote our tour manager (the best one I ever had, by the way) that he was an idiot and didn't know how to do his job.

So, as you can, it's often hit or miss. . .

Favorite cities in Europe: Paris, Prague, Copenhagen, Munich, London, Seville, Salzburg, and the list goes on and on!:-)

Anonymous said...

=) I can't wait to go!

Thanks

Anonymous said...

hi patrick
im doing the european adventurer contrast tour in april. not sure if you would be able to help me or not but i was told to bring a sleeping bag and dont know whether its ment to be kept in your suitcase when your on the bus or if it can be tied to your suitcase
any help is much appreciated

thanks,
Laurelle

Anonymous said...

Great article. We are planning to go in late February and wanted to know what type of clothes to wear. London to Rome and everywhere in between. Is everyday a coat day that time of year?

Simon said...

Great writing. I went on a European Contiki in May 04 with 3 friends and am now going on a US tour this May with my two brothers. What you wrote was spot on. It pretty much happened like that for me. I'm keen as mustard for the next trip.

Fatema Fazal said...

Thanks for the information. I have booked a Cosmos tour and I have been getting nervous. Your article helped calm my nerves.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to tell from the information they provide, but if I were to go with my girlfriend would you recommend a budget tour or not? Would we be able to sleep together or be split apart with other guys/girls?

Just curious... I'm hoping to get a group of people to go with me over when I graduate from college next spring.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I are thinking of booking the European Discovery for this May. We were hoping to use Contiki as a way to get from point a to point b. However you alluded to "when you have free time" are there times when you don't have a choice but to stay with the group?

KS

Bahar said...

Hi Patrick!

First of all thankyou for your informative article. My friend and I are going on the European Escapade tour in July. Neither of us has travelled to europe before and we are a little nervous. I just had a quiestion to ask you. How much spending money do you think we need to take with us? We are interested in doing a lot of the 'optional extras', in your opinion are they worthwhile and most importantly how much do they cost? I'll be annoying you with more questions in the next couple weeks, sorry I hope you don't mind!

Thanks Patrick,

Bahar

Bahar said...

Hi Patrick!

It's me again! I have another question to ask you. I've heard from a lot of people that on contiki tours everyone drinks a lot and goes out to bars every night. Well, I'm not much of a drinker, in fact I don't like to drink at all. I'm concerned that I will feel a little left out or it will be akward because everyone else in the tour group will be drinking all the time and I won't be.

Thanks again Patrick! Bahar

Anonymous said...

Patrick,
we're planning to go on European Experience, and some of the time will be camping, etc. Can you tell us about the facilities? e.g. someplace to wash your clothes, dry your towel, etc. etc.
Thanks
Jane

Anonymous said...

good article mate - i'm luke from Australia and i'm going on a 22 days conitki in jan so now i'm really looking forward to it! Cheers.

kasha said...

thanks for all the advise....i do have one question....can you suggest a hotel to stay at in london since our first night in london isnt covered with contiki...thanks agian

Anonymous said...

I went on the European Panorama last year and had a blast - seriosuly the best 28 days of my life! Met some awesome people who i have remained in close contact with. Contiki was a stress free holiday, our tour manager took care of everything - i would go back in an instance! If you are thinking about it, just do it, you won't regret it

Anonymous said...

thanks for the article it helped alot!
im thinking of doing it but am just wondering do many people go without their partners?

Anonymous said...

Your article is great! You answered a lot of my questions.
One further question, are Contiki tours good for the solo traveller?

Anonymous said...

Hey guys, no offence to others who posted here but some of you ask questions that are ALREADY covered in this article or already answered.....seriously guys....I suggest you keep reading til the end of his article and follow thru the thread of other's posts.

Oh well, thanks a lot for a well informed article !!! Im going on July 2011 for Amterdam, Prague, Berlin and Rome (though I've already been to Rome before, I love it so much !) Its not my first time in Europe but its gonna be my first time with Contiki so Im very excited !

My first group tour in Europe was with Trafalgar and there is NOTHING I could complain about it !! It was PERFECT. We were treated like VIPs ! I would put Trafalgar tour on the pedestal because of the EXCELLENCE on everything (tour manager, hotels, optional excursions, driver and service). The only difference is that they are open to all ages and that is mainly the reason why I wanna try Contiki this time around (to travel with people the same age range as me) but for those who now passed out of "Contiki age" or with kids and whole family then I STRONGLY recommend Trafalgar tours !!

Back to Contiki, after reading your article, my doubts are officially gone for Contiki ! Im more confident now that its gonna be awesome !

Again thanks a lot and have more other wonderful future travels !

Anonymous said...

hey patrick!
love your article :)
I was wondering im 18 and thinking of travellling alone on a European adventure. I really want to go but im not too sure if im too young to be taking this step

Patrick said...

No worries! Go right ahead! You'll have a great time! =)

Anonymous said...

My husband and I took to European Encounter for our Honeymoon and it was Awesome..Dont be afraid , its a great great experience .