There are a myriad of ways to travel, each with its pros and cons. One of my personal favorite options to get around a destination I have never seen before is to do an organized group tour. If you’ve never done any traveling with a tour group, you’re young, and you like to have a good time, one activity that I highly recommend you do before you hit your 36th birthday is to go on a Contiki tour.
What is Contiki? Glad you asked.
Contiki is a tour company that specifically caters to 18 to 35 year olds. Here is their official website: contiki.com. They started off ages ago doing bus tours around Europe and have since expanded to cover interesting places on every continent except Antarctica. To say a Contiki tour is a lot of fun is an understatement. It is an absolute blast.
Like most organized tours, all your lodging and transportation is included. All you need to do is get yourself a passport, show up at the specified time at the specified place, and bring some clothes & money/credit cards. Everything else is taken care of for you. The great thing about this method of travel is that it’s tremendously convenient for someone who either doesn’t enjoy doing the planning part of a vacation or is too busy to plan a trip for themselves.
Contiki is one of the few companies geared specifically toward younger folk. The pace is fast and there’s a lot of partying involved, so it’s perfect for a young person looking to have a good time. I’m not entirely certain how they enforce the age limit, but trust me: if you’re over 35, you will feel really, really old if you go on one of these tours, so I wouldn’t bother even if there was some way around the age restriction. If you’re approaching middle age, just go with a different company.
I’ve done five Contiki tours, and all of them were fantastic. The general outline of the schedule is this: you fly into your destination city where the tour begins, and the first night you meet with your tour manager and the rest of your group. The smallest crew I was with was around 24 people; the largest was close to 50. The first evening you’re together, you get to know each other over dinner and an excessive amount of drinks. Drinking is a huge part of Contiki tours; they are very well known for this. You can still have a great time even if you abstain from the booze, but just be aware of this fact.
A quick aside — this is a big part of the reason why I said don’t bother if you’re over 35. When you’re 22 years old, you can party all night, sleep 3 hours, and still have a great time sightseeing in the hot sun all day. When you’re 37 years old… hell no.
After the intro session, you spend the next however many weeks touring from place to place, usually on one of those big, nice coach buses. On some tours — the ones in Asia in particular — you fly local airlines to get to the next destination. All these mid-tour flights are included in your tour package fee. From a food standpoint, breakfast is typically provided every day, you’re on your own for lunch more often than not, and dinner varies. Sometimes it’s paid for, other times you pay à la carte.
To help give you a sense of what’s in store for the day, each morning you have access to a very helpful schedule that highlights important stuff you’ll be doing. Here’s an example:
Many tours also feature optional excursions. These are activities that are not included in the package price, and you can pick and choose which ones you want to do and pay extra for just those activities. It’s worth reading about these on the Contiki website forums from posts written by people who have recently finished up their vacations, as some of the optionals are excellent and others can be meh.
So what are some of the great and not-so-great aspects of Contiki?
- Everything is taken care of for you. No worrying about hotel reservations, renting a car, buying train tickets, or anything of the sort. If you’re doing a long-ish tour spanning multiple countries where there’s much potential for hiccups, this reason by itself may make it worth signing up for a tour. Seriously, the biggest decision that you’ll need to make every day is what to eat for lunch and dinner.
- You have a built-in group of friends that travels with you the duration of your vacation. Most everyone who goes on these tours have a lot of things in common (love for travel obviously) and are generally friendly individuals. You’ll meet lots of great people.
- On a related note, every single Contiki I’ve been on has had more ladies than guys. There are couples too, but most travelers are solo, young, single, and free-spirited. I’ll just leave that there for you to ponder.
- You see a lot of stuff. If you’re visiting an area you’ve never been to before, going with Contiki is a great way to see all the major highlights. Because they’ve been doing these tours for so long, the sightseeing is very efficient.
- Safety. Wherever you happen to be at on tour, chances are you’ll always have at least a few tour mates nearby. Let’s face it: some places are still relatively unsafe compared to our hometowns. You’re less likely to get robbed or kidnapped if you have six big Australian dudes walking back to the hotel with you. Which brings up the next point…
- Australians. For some reason, Contiki is very popular with young people from Australia. Chances are, whatever Contiki tour you do, there’s going to be some Australians in the group. And let me tell you: Australians are some of the most fun people in the world. You have not lived until you’ve partied with a group of Australians.
- Cost. Doing a tour like this will be more expensive than going on your own. It’s the price you pay for convenience.
- Lack of flexibility. When it’s time to get on the bus and leave for the next country, it’s time to go. If you require lots of leeway in your travel plans, this probably isn’t the best option for you.
- That’s it. I can’t really think of any other negatives.
If this is sounding like something you might want to do, here are some recommended tours:
The Original. The classic Contiki tour. This takes you all around Europe. An excellent option if you have the luxury of taking 2 months off and don’t mind camping. It’s also a steal of a price given how long the tour is.
The Big Walkabout with Sailing. This is the renamed version of the Aussie Explorer trip I did back in 2009. A month long journey around 2 main swaths of Australia: the Northern Territory and the east coast from the Great Barrier Reef to Sydney. This was my personal favorite Contiki of all the ones I’ve done. Make sure you do the sailing option; the Whitsundays are amazing.
Inca Panorama. Hike the Inca Trail and see Machu Picchu, one of the greatest combo man-made/natural sights in the world. The Inca Trail permits sell out way in advance, so if you want to do the hike, book this tour at least 6 months ahead of time. It’s worth it.
Going on these trips was by far one of the best life decisions ever, and my only regret is that I didn’t do more. But hey, we all age out at some point.
Since I live in the United States, I have no experience with any of the USA Contiki tours. If you’ve done one of these and have any thoughts or suggestions, please comment below!