Contiki – 6 years after
The decision to go Contiki:
The choice to take a tour was made for me, in reality. I was 19 and living around London with my parents. I hadn’t moved out of home yet. And when you haven’t moved out of home yet, even if you’re legally an adult, you don’t really get to make choices as an adult. (Or that’s the way it is in my household.)
I had a full time job for a few months and was saving all my cash. But the problem was, I didn’t know where I wanted to go, and my parents weren’t comfortable with me just taking off and backpacking around Europe on my own. So the decision was made that I was doing a tour.
I started to look around at the brochures for Contiki, Top Deck, all the main tour companies. I was looking at tour companies that went to Europe, but also Egypt, as that’s on the top of my to-go list. In the end, I chose not to go to Egypt, as I knew where I wanted to go there and what I wanted to see, and I was suspicious that an organised tour wouldn’t allow me the time I wanted in each place. So once Egypt had been (sadly) ruled out, I refocused on Europe.
There is so much in Europe that I had no idea of what I wanted to see – so for me, a tour was a good option. It actually took a really long time to go through all of the brochures and decide what I wanted to see, and who I wanted to go with. I ended up looking through the Contiki brochures the most, as they seemed to cover more of the famous sights than any other tour company. I was looking for a really good overview of Europe, and had decided that my ideal tour was the 16 day European Encounter. However, I ran into booking issues – I wanted to go relatively soon and nearly every tour was booked up! In the end, I went to see a travel agent, and that’s how I got a spot on the 12 day European Discovery – just over one month before it departed.
Price was also a factor in the tour decision – even if I had been allowed to go backpacking, I doubt that I would have enjoyed staying in shared hostel rooms for long. In the end, I think my tour was around GBP 900, so I thought that was good value. That included the 11 nights of hotel accommodation, all travel, half the meals… all in all, fairly good value! The hotel accommodation alone would have cost more than the entire tour, if I had decided to do this trip on my own.
Touring with Contiki:
I know that they had (and I believe still do have) a pre-departure meeting, usually the night before. i have no idea who went to this on our tour. I didn’t, as I was at home, not staying in the recommended hotel by the tour start location. I don’t know what information they cover, but I imagine that most of it would be the information that is repeated when you all get on the bus that first day.
I went on the tour on my own, and had no problems making friends. Many people were on their own, some were with friends, and there were a few couples. It really didn’t matter who you’re with.
The boozing, sleeping around culture. Well, we really didn’t see that on our tour. I think the sleeping around stories are a load of rubbish, one of those “well my friend said it happened to him so if I don’t say the same, it’ll look like there’s something wrong with me” and so on and so on, the story perpetuates itself. As for drinking, well, what’s been documented here is probably the highlight of my drinking life (I’ve never really enjoyed alcohol). So if I went on this, rarely drank, and had a good time with the people on the tour, it stands to reason that others can too.
A few people on my tour got annoyed by the tour manager, they thought she was acting too much like a teacher or mother. I didn’t get bothered by her… I thought she was really nice and she always made time to chat to every person on the bus, learned everyone’s name nearly on the spot & was genuinely a nice person. Yes, when we re-boarded the bus she did a quick head count, and as we headed into a city she gave commentary. I imagine those were compulsory parts of her job!
Would you go again?
That’s a hard one. The European Discovery suited me at the time. It was affordable and fitted what I wanted to see and do. But since 2005, many things have changed for me personally (I have a dog, husband, degree, career & am doing more study in 2011 & 2012). I can’t say if touring with a group would suit my husband and me. I would be open to a tour again, but I would have to be convinced that it was worth the lack of privacy.
12 days on the road of constant go-go-go was really tiring. I spent the week after I got home sleeping (which turned out to be good, as just after I got back London was attacked by terrorists, and I was incredibly glad I wasn’t back temping in London yet!). I think I would hesitate a lot before doing a tour any longer than 12 days.
Do you recommend a Contiki Tour?
All I can say is that it suited me at the time. I think it depends on your circumstances, what you’re after, the time you’ve got & the money you’re willing to spend. It also depends on your personal view of tours. You will miss things. You won’t get to choose your traveling companions.