Would You Contiki?

By Nomadic Matt | Published July 31st, 2009

Contiki Tour GroupA few weeks ago, Contiki Holidays put up a message on Facebook that “you can literally save hundreds of dollars going with Contiki over doing it on your own” and that backpacking was “so 1997.” Amused, I tweeted how that wasn’t right since independent budget travel is always cheaper. Contiki tweeted otherwise.

Whether or not you believe backpacking is “so 1997,” (it’s not) it doesn’t change the fact that Contiki is NOT cheaper than independent travel, and I found it completely disingenuous they even tried to make that point (twice!). The Contiki tweeter pointed out that they get group rates, and can therefore get better deals. I don’t think so. I’ve been on tours before. I like tours. They have their moments and can be especially good for first time travelers who want to go places but are scared to do it by themselves. But even the best companies are never cheaper than solo travel. This is because these companies have to pay for guides, buses, insurance, and administrative costs.

But the reality is in the numbers. For example, let’s look at one of Contiki’s “budget” European tours. I called Contiki to make sure all my information was correct. And it should be noted that their operator said the rules by which the budget tours operate are the same as the others. The difference between budget tours and other tour classes is simply accommodation standards.

European Horizon Tour (12 day tour)- Contiki calls this a 12 day tour for $1415 or $117 per day. The tour includes 10 nights accommodation (3 to 4 people per room), 9 breakfasts and 6 dinners. However, Day 1 is the day you fly to Europe and the last day is a transfer to the airport, making this really a 10 day trip at $141 per day. Now, let’s assume your average budget meal in Europe is 8 euros, which adds another $145 onto your trip (10 lunches, 3 breakfasts). Moreover, no entrance fees to any attractions are included. Most people spend about €20 per day ($280) on attraction entrance fees. Additionally, the average cost of a flight to Europe right now is $600. Adding the numbers up, the total cost of this trip is now $2,440 without counting alcohol, any optional activities, or anything more than a budget meal. So for 10 days you are really spending $244 per day not $117.

Contrast this with doing it on your own. For ten days of travel, you get numbers that look like this: Flight= $600, Meals = $280 (€20 for 10 days), Sightseeing = $280 (€20 per day), Transportation= $250 (local train travel), Accommodation = $420 (4 bed dorm, shared bath at €30 per night) bringing your total to $1,830. Note: For accommodation, I used Amsterdam prices. This tour goes to many places, but Amsterdam is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, thereby making sure I am not accused of trying to “lowball” estimates for literary effect.

That is a $600 dollar difference, not including the fact that most hostels include breakfast (lowering cost), you can Couchsurf (lowering cost), or make your own meals (lowering cost). Even if backpacking is so 1997, you clearly can’t save hundreds of dollars by going on Contiki.

What do you get for your costs? Well, in my opinion, nothing I want. I’ve never taken a Contiki tour. I’ve thought about it many times but I’ve never been able to justify the cost and pace of being shuffled through Europe quickly just so I can party more. Geared to 18-35 year olds looking for a good time, tours on Contiki tend to be filled with parties, young people, and alcohol. Most of the travelers on these tours have just a few weeks in Europe and are there to have fun before going back to work. Friends of mine have gone on Contiki, and they all come back with the same story: it was fun, they met a lot of people, and they partied hard.

I generally avoid tours because I don’t like spending one day here and one day there. And Contiki is that type of tour company. Now, I’m not here to blast Contiki. Contiki travel works for many people, and they have a clearly defined audience (of which I am not a part of). I’m not even blasting tour groups. I think you can get a lot of value from taking a tour. However, I simply found it disingenuous of them to state they are cheaper than doing it on your own. Because they aren’t. In fact, no tour company is- they all have administrative costs to cover that you don’t.

I am a huge fan of G Adventures. I’ve done many of their tours and my first trip with them inspired me to travel. Travel companies take the planning out of travel for you while giving you an environment as structured as you want. You can go on highly structured tours or tours where you get days and days to yourself to do what you want. The people on these tours are looking for a good time, but they aren’t looking for a booze-filled time. However, even while these tours tend to be cheap, they are still not cheaper than independent travel.

There are many good tour companies out there. Every company, including Contiki, has a certain audience and is right for certain types of travelers. But don’t be under the impression that tours are cheaper, and don’t buy into the sales pitch that they are.

comments 74 Comments

Tours like Contiki scare me! My take on that type of travel is that you could stay in your own hometown and get raging drunk every night for a fraction of the cost of the plane ticket etc. ;)

I have however traveled with Gap & Intrepid, both were good companies. I would argue though that depending on the country (& your travel style) a tour CAN be cheaper if you’re traveling solo. I did one of their last-minute departures in Morocco that was 20% off, and it would have been much more expensive on my own since many parts of Morocco you have to hire transportation etc. Now if I’d only gone to major cities or had 3 friends with me it would have been cheaper sans-tour. Cheers!

Gregory Hubbs

I would never even consider taking a tour such as Contiki, as group travel has been a total nightmare on the few short occasions I have participated due to logistics and the idea of being trapped with people I may not like at all. Being rushed through Delphi is antithetical to the nature of a spiritual experience, and you feel a like herded cattle. As a result, I have always traveled independently by one means or another–though, as you rightly mention in another piece, ending up as an appetizer for a lion on a Safari has its drawbacks.

Nonetheless, I know a woman who took a Contiki tour before she met me and it changed her life, not having been exposed to any other travel before. When we dated I showed her the advantages of slow travel, and she actually saw and experienced Rome, Paris, etc. in depth while immersing herself in the time and culture on its own terms. But her tour experience with Continki had served its purpose and she remains friends with some of those with whom she “partied” across Europe, “doing” it in a few weeks (the notion of “doing” a country seems so imperialistic to me, and is the opposite of responsible travel, as the money does not return to the local community).

But, chacun à son goût!

As someone who runs group tours (and they are the antithesis of Contiki Tours), I can tell you that you can always do better traveling on your own. However, there are lots of travelers who don’t want to do it alone. My travelers come with me because they want to see Italy with an art expert, and they don’t want the hassle of making all of their own arrangements. On my trips they get both concierge and guide in one. Again, though, I’m not in the Contiki price range at all.

That said, one of my favorite travel memoirs is written by someone who used to run these kinds of tours and lived to tell… check out Rule No. 5: No Sex on the Bus by Brian Thacker. It is hilarious, hysterical, and just downright fun… and it may make you think twice about large group, budget travel.

NomadicMatt

I just want to say that I agree with everyone here: Tour groups provide a great way for first time travelers to experience the road with some kind of “security blanket.” While many people will just up and go do it, for some people they want to dip their toe into the pool before jumping in and tour groups are great for that.

My first trip to Costa Rica was with Gap Adventures and it set me out on the path I am on now. Even a tour like Contiki can set people down the travel path. But the post isn’t about the value of tour groups, it’s about the price and as people have said, they aren’t cheaper.

Jessie

I also agree with everything in the article and comments…depending on the country. I used to be a travel agent for the student market, so am very familiar with quite a few of the budget tour operators. I didn’t enjoy selling them because that is not how I prefer to travel. I am typically the type that refuses to go on tours, but when I went to Africa I did an overland camping tour from Capetown to Victoria Falls with Nomad (www.nomadtours.co.za/) and am incredibly thrilled that I did. I would not have been comfortable traveling solo and I would not have been able to go to many of the locations that I did. Contiki works for first time travelers that like to party, but if you are actually interested in learning about the culture and truly experience another country, you won’t get that.

It can be incredibly beneficial to travel with a tour operator in certain destinations, but I would still advice you to research who you are going with. Make sure your tour operator is locally owned and operated. They provide a better experience because they are more familiar with where you are going and they give back much more to the local communities. I just heard about two siblings booking an independent tour through GAP to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. They were told by GAP that they would have a guide and a porter to themselves. Turns out, when they got to their meeting point before departure it was with a locally owned operator who had 4 other people booked to go with them, even though they made sure to ask before they go that it would be a true GAP representative. Then they found out that the other people that climbed with them paid $400 less per person because they booked directly through the local operator.

Tours are not a bad thing. There is a lot to be said to be with a local that knows the in’s and out’s of where you are and has a great reputation with the locals everywhere you will be going.

Nathan

I’m going on a Contiki tour in Australia in a couple of months. Given my choice, I would probably do the independent travel thing but I was invited by a friend who is in the military and likes to do Contiki tours because he often only finds out at the last minute that his 30 day leave has been approved thus no time for planning.

I intend to travel independently to NZ, Thailand, and maybe Japan after the Contiki tour is over.

Even if Contiki is a bit expensive and not self-guided, I’m looking forward to the trip.

Rhys Wynne

I’ve been on a Contiki tour. It was my first tour, and as Kirsty commented on my blog at the time, a bit of a “drunken shagfest” (which was true).

I enjoyed it, and like you said, I met friends and will hopefully be staying with them when I go to Australia next year. But it was amazing looking at the photos, they originally started as pictures of scenery/touristy (Collusium, Arc De Triomphe etc.), but as the trip went on the pictures became more and more me + random contiki tourer + beer. In fact, in my write up, the pic that summed up the trip was a group picture – http://bit.ly/8GdJl/. I think that says more about the tour (good or bad!) than Europe.

I CAN imagine times where Contiki would be cheaper. I think Oktoberfest would be VERY difficult to do for under the £229 they have quoted on their website (assuming you’re in London, which I am :)). Whether you’d like 5 (or 3 going on what you said) days in Oktoberfest is another matter! And I suspect why it could be cheaper is that a lot of these tour companies buy up all available bed space early on!

Contiki. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Did it open up a love of travelling? Yes (it was my first time abroad). Would I do another one? No, as I’ve now learnt the world isn’t that much of a scary place :)

jenni penny

good post!

i’m a travel agent and a youth travel specialist so work with a lot of tour companies that offer options to the would-be-backpacker crowd (contiki, topdeck, busabout, on the go etc). i think the main benefit of conitiki is that it gives a bit of security blanket that you definitely don’t get with couch surfing and booking your own hostels, low cost carriers etc. i personally love the random chaos that comes along with being a couchsurfer but even i have pondered doing some of the regional tours that contiki has like the turkish delight tour.

as far as cost comparing, if you’re a hardcore budget traveler then you’ll always find a way to beat the cost of a tour…but most people i book on tours wouldn’t sleep on floors, couches and massive dorm-style hostels. for them, tours are a great savings over booking 2 or 3 star hotels.

Carrie

I feel companies like Contiki are for lazy travelers (what an oxymoron, huh?). If you don’t feel like putting forth the effort into planning your own trip, you might as well pay someone else a pretty penny to do the legwork for you. Backpacking isn’t so 1997. The fact is, some people (mainly Americans) lead an increasingly sedentary lifestyle as time marches on, and companies like Contiki complement that lifestyle.

Kate

My first two travelling experience on my own were through Contiki. I met a lot of great people and can tell you that they were not a booze fest. Our tour guide was a huge help, yes we had a lot of free time but a simple google search before my trip lead me to find lots of free or inexpensive things to do on our own within walking distance of our hotels. I made some great friends on that trip and strengthened friendships I already had.

I was not a seasoned traveller at the time and “couch surfing” and hostels were not an option for me, as I am sure many people would agree.( It was not due to being lazy ) Many people setting out to see the world for the first time don’t know how things work in other countries (i.e. transportation ) and there can be language barriers as well. Utilizing a tour group such as Contiki is a good idea, in my opinion. Once you can get your travellers “sea legs” beneath you and you are comfortable and confident about your ability to travel wisely and safely then hostels and couch surfing can definitely be an option.

A tour group may end up being more expensive than travelling on your own but it is made up for in the security and experience they provide. All you have to do is throughly read the tour itineraries beforehand to see exactly what you are getting into and what is included and then from there making the best decision for you financially.

I am a Canadian but I think that saying tour groups are a lazy way for people ( Americans ) to travel is pretty narrow-minded. Most people, from all over, are not eager to just hop on a plane and go to a foreign country with no plan. Tour groups offer you the experience to travel and learn with the security of a group.

Actually, when traveling from Japan, tours with hotels included can be a very good deal. For shorter trips my wife and I generally try to find a tour package with hotels, breakfast and airport pickup and drop off. Prices are typically marginally more than the airfare alone.

Perhaps it is because Japanese travelers tend to spend a lot at hotel stores and purchase up-sell tours, but I was surprised when I first discovered the great value Japanese tours offer.

They are definitely much cheaper than buying the airfare and accommodation separately. The real benefit is that you get high quality hotels for hostel prices. I have only seen these deals from Japan though.

personally I like travelling on my own..but we have just started group tours ourselves to offer experiential travel and though these are just weekend tours, Im beginning to enjoy the experience, not just to travel with a group but to be a tour guide too and partake what we have got out of our experiences

Great article Matt. I am usually one for independent travel – believing it to be cheaper, a better way to learn about the country, and culture and frankly more fun (who wants to be stuff with a group of people you’re not really gelling with for a week!) But, last year my husband and I took a 2-week tour with Intrepid through China, and it was wonderful. A great introduction to China. Our guide, Jack, detailed the history, culture, customs, politics of the country while allowing us to partake in some independent travel. Although, our group became such good friends that we usually all hung out together.

So, now I’m much more of a believer in group tours (with certain companies…I don’t think I could ever travel with Contiki), but still prefer to do things the independent way.

Your statement is correct that tour is not cheaper than independent travel. But since your post title is ‘Would you Contiki?’, I think you will find various answers. As for some people, cheapest option might not be what they are looking for. I can see the example from my own family. My mom is in her 60s and she can’t speak other languages than Thai and just a little bit of Chinese. Group tour is a way for her to travel to other countries like in Europe or Australia.

Would I consider Contiki? No.. Because part of the fun for me in traveling is the planning part. Why pay someone else to enjoy that part of the travel planning when I can do it myself. But I also understand that other people might not have time or resources to do the same.

Wow – haha, you b!tch slapped their smug remark with numbers. It was like watching that scene in Good Will Hunting. So good.

Agree with you whole heartedly, cheaper to backpack and do it yourself. You’re saving money, have more freedom, won’t have to deal with some doucher who’s getting all alpha male all over any1 looking at his “girl”. Get rid of the security blankets, grab your nuts (or ovaries) and book the trip yourself people. You learn valuable lessons by doing so.

sophie

Hello,

Im planning on travelling to newzealand in the next year, our travel agents thomas cook recommended contiki.
yes they probably to get a cut! it is safety net for myself an others … but i dont want to party and if i did it would be on our own accord.
however im unsure of actually how to plan my trip getting around everywhere, and booking hostels. etc
Any tips?

Funny Matt – I did the same figures back in the 80’s and they came back exactly the same about 1/3 more expensive for the tour. I like Contiki though – never been on one but we got an excellent free tour guide in Pompeii – we got lost going there (I dont think the train station marked Pompeii was the right one!) – we ended up coming into the site from the back end walking thru deserted Roman streets it was like a set – I expected a bloke in a toga to come around the corner. Instead we found the hung over contiki group who couldn’t be bothered with this excellent guide. We started following them around cause he was really good. We tried to be subtle initially but everyone else dropped off . In the end we ended up tipping him and he asked us if we were part of the group – we admitted not – he wasn’t surprised the Contiki ones never cared about the history.

I love to drink – but I don’t udnerstand why I’d spend all that time and money just to be too hung over to appreciate Pompeii!

I myself have been on 3 contiki tours. I agree that they are not cheaper than solo travel, but the tours I did were well worth the cost. They are great for beginner travelers and excellent for laid back trips where you don’t have to plan a thing because it is all laid out for you. They are also great for traveling to places where travel from point A to B is generally more difficult. Also the Europe tours are great for getting a basic over view of a place to see if you like it and would then want to come back and spend more time in that particular place.

NB

Hello

I spent a year backpacking in Europe, and have done about 10 Contiki tours as well. I like both forms of travel for different reasons. In life there is a value on time and when backpacking you spend a lot of time organizing travel, accommodation, food etc.

One big flaw in your calculation is the cost of transportation. $250 is way too low. Just to get from London to Paris or London to Amsterdam is $150 round trip by train.

I still believe backpacking is cheaper but the margin is closer than your calculation.

Carl

Glad to see the mention of GAP and Intrepid, the only two tour companies that seem to charge fair prices for their tours and keep the number of travelers down to a small size. I’ve seen tours that charge many thousands of dollars for, say, 2 weeks in Mongolia, when a comparable Intrepid trip would cost under a thousand.

When I was working full time in the states, I found Intrepid to be a great way to travel for 2 or 3 weeks in a style similar to what I would do on my own — with the advantage of them handling all the logistics beforehand. Since time was so precious, it was great to not waste time waiting for buses and stuff like that. I always had a good experience with them, and it was a wonderful way to learn how to travel in Asia.

R0

First, I have never actually went on a Contiki tour. But I did sit in on a single day tour with Contiki once. The tour was of Vienna, a city which I happen to know inside and out.

The tour guide was some very young girl (from Australia?). She was friendly enough to let me sit on the tour along with the regular tour group. I think it was one of those germany/austria/switzerland tours. I met the group in a rather run down bar next to their hotel which happened to be in one of the more seedy areas of Vienna. Pity too, because Vienna has so many quaint areas where hotels are inexpensive, and very affordable heurigers to eat at, that would have really shown these people a bit of the Austrian culture. But instead they took them to a seedy bar that had zip culture.

So this young tour guide chattered on as the bus drove around the ring in the center of Vienna. I was astonished as she pointed out sights and gave descriptions of them that were totally wrong. I think she mislabeled the parliament buildings and gave Vienna a completely new history on the creation of the ring strasse. In summary, she didn’t know much at all about Vienna. But the people on the tour had absolutely no idea.

Even if they can get bulk rates for hotels and such, are they really the kind you would want to stay in? And what is the point of a bus tour if they are feeding you false information? I suppose it is only good for the wheels to get you there. I would rather go on my own, find small but quaint hotels, nice little cafes to eat for cheap, and a good guide book. It would definitely be cheaper and more fun.

Dave

So disappointed… I was expecting a post on sailing the Pacific on a balsa-wood raft… ;-)

I’ve done Contiki twice. First time was European Magic and then Italian Espresso.

Contiki really does cater to a certain group of people. Is it cheaper than backpacking or solo trips 100% of the time, no. However it can be.

Would I do it again? Probably not. When I first a Contiki tour I never traveled before, was going alone and was so shy everything scared the crap out of me. I thought it was the greatest thing at the time, but looking back 3.5 years later the only thing I could remember of Paris was that I peed on top of the Eiffel tower.

The second time I just used it a lazy way of finding travel arrangements, and did my own thing the rest of the time.

My first OS trip was a Contiki tour, 37 days of madness, that cost me over $5300(AUD) that still didn’t include alot of the activities and the accommodation standard was often much lower then you would find at cheap hostels!!! Now having studied tourism and done the whole packaging tours thing i’ve learnt that travelling independently is certainly much cheaper in most cases. I think one of the big downfalls price wise with large tours is above and beyond the daily cost breakdown, what doesn’t get factored in is the fact that the accommodation is often so far away from anything, getting transport particularly taxis back is half your days spending budget. So you either take the plunge go out for the night and taxi back or stay in and drink yourself silly on overpriced drinks that you are going to pay for anyway bcos the next best option is too far away. Not only that, the optional excursions seem to be great value but then you realise after talking to people who did it independently you could of got it much cheaper with room to negotiate.

I don’t think these tour operators should be advertising themselves as the cheapest most budget conscious option as they often do. They should be advertising exactly what they are, a budget option if you want the whole thing organised for you and don’t want to deal with the finer details of independent travel.

Rosanna

Hey Matt,
I agree with pretty much all of the above comments.
My boyfriend and I went on a 2 week Contiki tour of the East Coast of Australia a couple of months ago. I have to say we found the whole experience brilliant. We got to stay in lovely accomodation most of the time (mainly a resort called Daydream Island – incredible) That we could no way have afforded if we had been booknig all of our accomodation separately. We met some fantastic people – one of which, we are going to stay with, in Auckland, in a few weeks. Our tour guide was fantastic and knew the East Coast like the back of his hand and everything ran like clockwork without us having to put any thought into times or excursions. In my opnion – we couldn’t have ‘done the east coast’ cheaper ourselves as we dont have credit cards to hire cars with, my bf is not a fan of ‘jumping into cars with strangers’ and buying a car was not an option for us.I agree Contiki’s are best for first time travellers, solo travellers or ‘party people’, however I fit somewhere in the middle of these and I still had a blast. Would I do it again? Well, me and my boyfriend have a 6 day tour of the North Island and Bay Of Islands booked in two and a half weeks and I cant wait :)

rupal

I am glad I stumbled upon this page. I was almost set on booking a tour to Thailand, laos and cambodia with contiki. I had looked into GAP and Itrepid also but the dates and itinerary with Contiki fit my needs better. But I do not want to be stuck with people only interested in drinking and partying for 14 days. Will look into GAP and Intrepid more and try to book my trip with them. I love travelling and doing all my homework on my own and have travelled with a friend or two. Not confident yet to travel solo and wanted to start off with a tour comapany. Thanks Matt.

Fredo

Your not forced to drink, it’s your choice. I’ve been on Contiki tours where people chose to do there own thing while the group continued with the itineary. You can choose to go to sleep early or see the area, wake up early on your own, just be there when it’s time to depart.
I did Vietnam with Contiki and had an amazing time. I highly recommend it! It’s very dificult to get around Vietnam, not to mention people are trying to scam you as soon as you get out of the Airport..no while your leaving the airport actually. I wish I would have done Cambodia and Laos.

Now i’m on my way to plan my next trip with contiki, I’m thinking Egypt. Yes it’s fun, and I’m traveling alone, I’m not ashamed to admit I enjoy the security of knowing my bags aren’t going be missing because I chose the wrong neighborhood or hotel because I was trying to save a few bucks. Yes chauffer me to my next desitnation while I laugh with new friends or take a nap, nice and relaxed, instead of getting ripped off by a cab driver, or getting lost on a bus or train. Part of traveling is not only knowing the history but enjoying your trip and meeting people along the way. For a initally shy person as myself Contiki is a homerun. I get the best of both worlds :-)

brad

I did that very tour and the reputation of contiki that people on this site (almost all of which havent even been one one!)’have is wrong, you see and experience the culture very well, its up to you how much and if you party. It is not a big drunken orgy as people seem to think. The only downside is that in many places you will want to stay alot longer but that is like any tour, you are forced to leave. Seriously that tour is awesome, It has shown me places I want to visit again and I have met great people in the process.

Lisa

These posts have got me a little bit scared as I have booked and paid for a Contiki Cruise of Croatia for June. I have travelled quite a bit before and have often done so on my own, which I admit has it’s benefits. The Croatia Cruise appealed to me as I have always wanted to see Croatia, don’t know much about it, and for once do not want to travel on my own. I like the idea of travelling with a bunch of young people from across the globe. I also don’t think I could have done it cheaper myself, especially since this particular trip is a cruise. I am looking forward to a combination of days lazing with a drink on the deck working on my tan, and days exploring the old towns and islands of Croatia. I hope to prove you all wrong and have an amazing time.

NomadicMatt

People do have fun on Contiki. We’re just saying there’s better tours. I would have recommended Gap Adventures for what you want but let us know how it goes with Contiki!

Nikki

Hi all,

This has been interesting. I have never been abroad alone before – only on girly holidays to party towns. Therefore I have chosen Contiki as it offers a big safety blanket for people like myself.

Why not go somewhere where it is all organised for you? I don’t call myself a ‘traveller’ or ‘backpacker’ however i do want to see the world.

Am i right in thinking Contiki is perfect for this?

Thanks, Nikki

PS Lisa I am doing the Croatian tour too in June hopefully – maybe see you there!

NomadicMatt

If you want to party and be shuffled from tourist site to tourist site, Contiki is perfect for you! If all you want is a safety net, there’s a million other better tour operators out there.

Susan

Yes, Contiki can be cheaper … when you compare 3-4 star hotels with Contiki versus 3-4 star hotels on your own (in the same locations in town). Comparing 3-4 star hotels to hostels and couch surfing is like comparing the Hilton to Motel 6. Yes, there are ways to go cheaper. But if you book the same accommodations on your own, Contiki can work out cheaper.

With that said no single travel provider (tour company, cruise line, etc.) is a good fit for everyone. So although Contiki caters to the 18-35 year old crowd, not every 18-35 year old will be a good fit for Contiki.

My daughter did Contiki at the age of 18, and we were glad she had the security of traveling with a group, tour driver, and tour manager, and wasn’t trying to “wing it” on her own.

NomadicMatt

No it can’t. I called them up and asked them what type of accommodation they used and then compared the same type. I’m not comparing the cheapest hostel in town to their 3 star hotel. That would invalidate my article. I used the same class of accommodation.

brad

did you use the exact same hotels, same bus companies and same tour guides too? I’m not dismissing your point but to be fair, all the details must be the same.

NomadicMatt

Of course. I made a point to otherwise my argument is not valid. I noted it in the original post.

nunya

@ Nomadicmatt

No, you didn’t use the same accomodation as Contiki for the European Horizon. Not all of the accomodations for this trip are booked in hostels, only 1 and this was in Munich. For 2 of the stops the tour is accomodated at a Contiki owned property (Tyrol, Austria and the Swiss Alps). You would not be able to get access for the pricing on either of these properties as they are only for Contiki. Also, there are nights where you are staying in a Contiki owned cabin, also only for Contiki.
Get all the accomdations correct then make your assesment.

NomadicMatt

I didn’t use hostels as the equivalent, I used accommodation on the same price level. The point here is that Contiki is not cheaper than solo travel. Tour companies have costs that solo travelers don’t.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and be one of the few people here who disagree with you. If you consider that the average Contiki-er has not been traveling the world for 3 1/2 years then it’s quite possible that it is actually cheaper for them to take a tour. When I was first starting out traveling when I was 18, I, for one, would have had no idea how to find the best and safest hotels for the cheapest prices in Europe. In fact, I made many mistakes and wasted a lot of money on stuff I didn’t need (as I’m sure you might admit as well). 30 day Eurorail pass that cost me $450 which I used 2 times is just one of many, many examples until I discovered Ryanair.

Think of it backwards. The tour buses, the operators and guides that you mention that drive up the cost for a solo traveler would be infinitely more if you tried to get them on your own, especially as a new traveler. Think of it as working at the Contiki level and not as the indie traveler level. Does that make sense? If you do, I’m sure you’ll see that it is, actually, cheaper to go with Contiki or other tour operators than solo in many cases and definitely for a newbie. Overall, I think this post is a little overgeneralized, exaggerated and most certainly biased. Not all people are backpackers or independent travelers. What makes this post even worse it that a) you’ve never been on a Contiki tour and b) I’ve seen several posters who are planning on going on Contiki who are actually questioning their trip now. Instead of planning on having a good time, they’re wondering if they’ve made the right decision. Seems pretty discouraging to me and not really in the spirit of traveling.

stace

I’m agreeing with Jerri,
I found the article quite biased with the fact you had never actually been on one, you were relating your experiences with solo travel with “hear-say” of others who had been on trips, and focusing on the negatives. Above there are people who have commented that they had a great time and that it wasnt a drunken f*kfest as you seem to imagine. I personally have a friend who recently did a contiki of america and loved it, while she is a big drinker, she got along famously with the people on the trip and it was great for her as a first-time, solo traveller going from Australia to America all on her own. I’m considering doing a contiki tour of part of Europe later in the year and have been speaking with people who have previously done contiki tours and so far all the feedback has been positive. Of course you can do it cheaper on your own…but factor in the amount of time you would spend pouring the internet for hotels and deals and transport and special tours etc of all the areas you wish to visit (especially with no prior knowledge of areas and not living ANYWHERE near the countries), plus converting all this pricing into your countries currency (being from australia means i have no idea what a euro is equal to and whether or not im getting a good deal?!?) …so that time you took planning that trip, times that by how much you get paid at work by the hour and does it come out cheaper? as an example; if ive spent 50 hrs looking at information x $20, thats $1000 worth already of my time ive spent just searching for what cities i should stay in… so is booking a tour really going to cost you that much more when most of the guesswork is taken out of it?
My main consideration for booking a contiki is that I will be a first-time, SOLO FEMALE traveller in a country 25hrs flight away and in which i speak little to none of the language and have no friends or people to guide me. I’m not an “adventure-seeker” i dont find joy in the thought of possibly being “picked-up” on the side of the road by some random and being harassed or assaulted just because I could travel another country “cheaper” on my own. Also, what fun is travelling when you have no one to share it with? Contiki offers a certain age group a chance to meet others in their age group and share their experience with them, with them you know that you wont be the only 24yr old stuck on a bus with 80 yr olds. Not everyone on a contiki will drink like its going out of fashion and cost them the earth, i guess im lucky in that i feel quiet comfortable being sober amongst a group of drunken young adults, in fact i sometimes prefer it, knowing all the things they cant remember the next morning or feeling lively and up for anything while they are hung over and trying not to vomit.
While i realise that the world probably isnt as big bad and scary as it may seem at the moment (and trust me the thought scares the bejeebus out of me!), Contiki seems like a good way to go, accomodation is cared for and you have free days to do with what you please – i think this is a blessing, not a “contiki hasnt organised my WHOLE trip for me, down to the minutes that i can take a bathroom break, therefore i must be getting ripped off”. by the way i look at it, this allows you time to see what you really want to see, instead of having to march through le louvre in 45mins on a tour I can take 3 hrs to look through the amazing galleries if i so choose. there is freedom and choice along with a bit of structure and you never have to wonder how youre going to get to the next point of call. I’m hoping that my Contiki tour will give me an insight into a few different countries and show me a bit about some areas and show me what I can go back and spend a bit more time doing. It is a long way to travel from Oz and looking at a AUD$2000 plane flight to get there one way, id rather know im going to the right places and seeing the right things than to wander around thinking “where the f*ck am i going, what the f*ck am i doing” on my own and wasting that $4000 in flights alone.
In reading some of these past comments, I have actually had a look now at intrepid travel and their pricing for roughly the same trip I wish to take through contiki (only 1 day less) is actually looking at $600 more, im going to continue reading up but even if this includes your admission prices to tourist attractions etc, does it give me the option to say, no i dont want to pay for that, id rather have a lazy day on the beach in the french riviera?…well, we’ll see…

stace

hmm, id just like to add, that intrepid do not include the cost of any meals…so take ur piddly little food allowance per trip and bump that up to, ummm, say $375? (intrepid recommends allowing 535 Euros for food for 15 days) thats 30 meals you would have to fork out for instead of only 13 that would make up for what a contiki doesnt include… on top of the additional $600 its costing me for a smaller trip?
So as an example, thats;
Intrepid AUD$3100 for 15 days, vs. Contiki AUD$2500 for 16 days.
Intrepid NO FOOD (45meals to buy) vs. Contiki 27 m,eals prov. (only 21 to buy)
not sure intrepid is winning out, so why bag contiki as the most expensive and recommend another tour company which is no better pricing wise and no idea the type of people yuo will be matched with as a solo traveller?
Contiki gives you that little peace of mind that some other tour operators cant offer. I say go for it, i sure will be :)

NomadicMatt

I’m not against tour groups. I think they can be great for the reasons you listed. I encourage people who are nervous first time travelers to do tour groups as a way to get them comfortable with traveling. And I actually say that in the article!

But I can tell you it’s not that much time spent booking hostels and tours and when you are traveling solo, you meet more people in hostels than you sometimes want. You often cherish moments of privacy.

As for not having an accurate view of Contiki because I’ve never been on them, I’ve encountered Contiki tours all the time and have been with people on tours at the pubs and asked them about it. I’ve had friends report back to me. I’ve had other travelers report back to me. I’ve never been part of the Taliban but I don’t need to be to know they don’t like music or women. Same here. I’ve gotten enough reports back to have a good idea about them.

Does everyone drink? No. There’s 45 people on these tours. Of course everyone isn’t drinking like the end is near. But are these tours geared towards going out and having a good time? Sure are. But my thoughts on Contiki style of travel is a totally different topic.

NomadicMatt

The point of this article was not to say “Contiki sucks, never take them.” I have had people take the tour and love it and I am not saying you can’t have a great time on it. They wouldn’t be in business if people didn’t have fun and recommend them to other. I even say that in the article (though Contiki isn’t my style of tour group). My point here is that it’s disingenuous of them to claim to be cheaper than solo travel when they are not. And all these tours you say drive of the cost of travel can be done by walking into the tourist office of any city and asking to book on a tour. I did a wine tour in Bordeaux. I had no idea which was good or bad so I walked into the tourist office, told them what I wanted, and minutes later I was booked on a tour.

I’m not opposed to tours in any sense of the way and if you want to Contiki, that’s fine but the company shouldn’t claim they are cheaper.

Alex

Nice article Matt! I’m in no way a travel expert, by my study-abroad year in Europe has familiarized me with things like hostelworld and RyanAir, which, if used correctly, can most DEFINITELY make for a cheaper trip than one organized by Contiki! But I see Jerri and stace’s points too. And, in my experience, planning a trip DOES take quite a bit of time! So, while I quite enjoy traveling alone (having done so in the UK and Ireland), Contiki can be perfect for a trip where you might not speak the language, aren’t 100% comfortable being alone (especially for a female) or just want a hassle-free, relaxing holiday. I’m doing a Greek Island hopping tour with Contiki for all of these reasons and I’m quite looking forward to it. So yes, I “would” Contiki, just not for every trip or every occasion! :)

Contiki is definitely not cheaper! I have done a tour with them and will never do it again. It was fun while it lasted but in hindsight it was kind of nasty :). It may have been a whole lot of countries but they zoomed past so quickly and I was hungover for most of them. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who actually wants to see anything. It is good if you want to meet people and go to lots of parties. For me it was fine since I used it as the jumping off point for a year RTW, to meet people I might travel with later and I had already been to most of the main cities so I didn’t have to run around and try to fit all the sights of Paris into one day. But seriously, it was almost every second day all day on the bus. And they treated us like school children. I had a fun time but it was only because of the people. Contiki just brought us together.

NomadicMatt

THANK YOU!

carina

went for the Highlights of Europe tour in 2007 after college graduation and to this day, thoughts of that HORRIBLE trip haunt me—every time I hear an ad on the radio for CONtiki, every billboard I see advertising for CONtiki—I feel like they are taunting me!

First of all, we spent MOST of the time on a bus, when we finally reached our destination, they made sure we lodged 1-1..5 hours outside the city to keep us trapped, so that our night-time activity was VERY limited… they also set up a bar at every place of lodging… so basically you are paying them to take you through Europe, show you what they want to show you, lodge you 1 hour outside of the place you’re visiting and make you spend $$$ on drinks they are profitting from—they are quite the CON artists!!!!

Aside from that little trap of theirs, they had us staying at the most shiteous places—a wooden tree house looking thing, a hostel with paper thin mattress pads, a trailer park!!!! They advise you to ONLY bring 2 suitcases (I think 60lb max)….. you’re better off taking ONLY ONE—as you will be lugging it around from place to place, sometimes through pebbles and stones (yah I broke 1 of my suitcases during this trip), and many times through numerous flights of stairs….. GUARANTEED— you will break a sweat and a nail or 2 every time you move locations!!!!

From the start of the trip everyone is divided in groups and every morning/night it’s a different group’s turn to help out with the meal (standard shitty camp food!!!): so you will end up cleaning tables, sweeping floors, washing dishes, etc) WTF? I thought this was vacay—I didn’t sign up for camp—I paid good money for this damned trip!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

For 2 weeks, I was on a bus with rowdy ass people who only wanted to get drunk, who did not seem to mind that we were staying so far from our destinations, and who happily spent their $ to drink at bars in campgrounds with a bunch of non-Europeans!!!! When I go on a trip I look forward to meeting the locals, and living like the locals…. This is soooo not what CONtiki promotes!!!!

Effffffffu CONtiki for ruining my life!!!!!!!!!!! It took me years to pay off the debt that you got me in…. And even now I am still suffering the emotional repercussions…. and to top it off, conditions throughout your trip were sooooo stressful that now my friend and I no longer talk to the other 4 girls we went on the graduation trip with—and it was all your doing CONtiki!!!!!!

tina

oh good gravy it is not a big drunkfest. yes, there are loads of people that choose to drink their faces off and neglect all the city around them in the afternoon/evening. but dont everyone preach at us that backbackers dont get equally wasted and that somehow booking a tour on your own means you dont indulge as much as the coniki-ers. first time travellers should have no fear about travelling with contiki, but it is definitely a great “door opener” to more independent travel like gap or intrepid or simply doing your own thing. but there is no requirement that says to be a legitimate traveller you have to go solo. yeesh! high horse!!

franz chong

I did a Contiki Tour to Vietnam last year and had a wonderful time.It is a little different in Asia as opposed to Europe in that the group I was with made up of a few older people and some 18 to late twenty somethings are there to take in the culture learn about the place and have a great time.As for the horror stories I was expecting about the travellers hooking up with their fellow companions plus all the time drinking and partying There was nothing of the sort.Next year I am doing an Insight Tour to Egypt as I was looking for a memorable once in a lifetime experience given my age(It will be about six months after my 33rd Birthday)holiday and wanted a high level and care to attention and in places like the Middle East and Europe No matter what the price difference is Always go for one of the better operators if you can at any cost.My agent recommended Insight and I don’t feel out of place

For anyone thinking of going on a Contiki tour, I wrote a travel blog day by day when I was on mine. I had a ball, I doubt many people would regret going on it, cost or not.

here it is…
http://pattoineurope.blogspot.com/

Hope I could help someone,
Andrew.

Canuck25

I did a Contiki Europe trip about five years ago (hotel version, not campsite version), and I had an awesome time. Yes there was a lot of partying, but it was not what a lot of people make it out to be, and you weren’t pressured into taking part. Being a single female on a budget, it was a great way to see Europe for the first time and decide which countries I’d like to see more of. I also met some awesome people from around the world on my tour (many of whom I am still friends with). As for cost, I spent under $3000 for an amazing two weeks in Europe (including airfare and spending money), and even came home with money left over. So I really have no complaints about the cost of Contiki.

cristina

@Canuck25 I agree! It’s a great way to see the world as a first-timer. It gives you the confidence to return as a solo backpacker!

Alex

My boyfriend has just taken apart of a European contiki tour…
He had some interesting things to say about the behaviour of the staff (bus driver and tour guide).
On one of the many drunken nights out, the bus driver slept with a highly intoxicated girl who was much younger than him. I feel sorry for the girl who had to get back onto the bus the next day.
The tour guide was giving her room number out to a new guy each week…
The staff weren’t the only ones up for a “good time”. One particular Contiki explorer managed to sleep with three different girls in the first week of the tour.

There seemed to be more focus on drinking and how many shots you consumed than how many sights you saw.

I certainly won’t be going on a Contiki tour after hearing about this drunken orgy around Europe. There are many classier options than this. Thoroughly unimpressed.

Steve B

So, people complain that Contiki is full off people that drink and are only there to be shunted around Europe between all the main sites and have a good time?

And what, exactly, is wrong with that?

How is that any worse than the legions of moronic backpackers haunting South East Asia? Or do gooder gappies that pay a fortune to do some BS volunteering work that really makes so difference anyway? You pays your money, you pick your experience. If you want what Contiki is – a wizz through Europe, ticking off the main sites, with entertainment weighted towards what 18-35’s are in to, well, why the hell not? But you can’t draw parallels with some specialised overlanding / 3rd world exploration / history / mature people tour operator that have a very different focus and audience.

And you CAN’T do it cheaper. As someone who spent 4+ years travelling independently, yes, i can get myself around the same route for less, and eat and see things. But that’s not comparing like with like. Hotels, point to point transport (that stops at intermediate sites, between cities), breakfasts, guides, some entrance costs, some dinners – and, finally, a team that take the brain-work out of it. I dare say half the appeal is their average passenger can leave their brain behind (willingly!) in Sydney and still see and experience all of Europe. You can’t do that as an independent traveller – so, lets be honest, you’re paying for someone to look after you, sort problems, and show you good time. Which costs money as they have to be competent. As an independent traveller, you get none of that. And maybe save a little bit, but your comparison is biased – you exclude the intangible value added and underestimate many costs.

NomadicMatt

I stand by my math and my argument against what they claim is “cheaper travel.” Yes, you pay more for having someone look after you. But that is exactly it – you are paying MORE not less like their claim.

Matt

My fiance and I just “won” a free trip for 2 for the espresso italy trip. Baring in mind our wedding is in 9 months we have to use the trip prior to December. This is both of our first times to Europe and we haven’t accepted the trip yet as we are unsure (even though the trip itself is free) if it’s worth the $3K in flights/spending money/etc. All reviews above were great help. At this point we are 50/50 in the decision as it seems very “cruise-esque” which we are not a fan of. Personally I’d rather wait til after the wedding and spend the $2k more to do it on our own. Any thoughts would greatly help. Thanks all!

NomadicMatt

I’d rather spend my honeymoon with my new bride alone but that’s just me.

I’ve never been on one of these tours – nor do I plan on it – but I was doing a bit of research for a story and stumbled upon this. From what I’ve heard, Contiki is like a giant blur of various countries, with vague sightseeing in between being drunk and being hungover.

It’s like, “how many Jagermeister shots can I have/people can I sleep with/famous landmarks can I throw up in front of?” in a 30-day timeframe.

Have you ever heard of the “Contiki cough”? Apparently it’s an unavoidable, infectious sickness that gets passed between buses. I wonder if there is also the “Contiki clap?” Ha!

– danikawilkinson.wordpress.com

Alexandra G

As a traveller rookie, my first time in Europe will be in about 3 weeks and already im scared even though im usually the “adventurous, take on the world” type of girl. I will be travelling by myself with little to slight knowledge of the local language and customs (Italy) and i truly want to see and learn as much as i can, however on a fixed budget of course (i just graduated from university, so im a little above being broke lol). I’m quite confused, on one hand i understand Matt’s argument but on the other, Contiki users seem to all agree that the tour makes a really good choice for newbie youngsters travelling on their own which would be a definite plus for the trip as its easier to actually visit more places with company than solo, however its also important that what you pay for is actually worth it and that is where my confusion comes in. I really dont mind taking the contiki tour or doing it on my own but what i truly need is a little more guidance in this sense.

Jenna

I have to start by saying good job to Matt for the blog topic that has lasted almost 3 years! :) Not sure if that was your intention haha, but people seem to love commenting on this.

I have to say that I respectfully disagree with your blog.

Contiki trips are not cheaper ALL the time, I’ll give you that. Want to spend a week in London? Don’t do Contiki. Want to embark on a relaxing 1 or 2-week getaway in Italy? Don’t do Contiki…you can find that cheaper.

BUT…if you want to do a multi-country trip through western Europe, East coast Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, or anywhere in the USA…Contiki is HANDS DOWN cheaper. They have been doing their trips for 50 years and basically built up bomb ass relationships with their vendors. That’s how it is possible for them to still make a profit while still giving us a better deal than what we can find on our own. They have good relationships with hotels, sightseeing companies, etc…not to mention even those optional extra trips you mentioned are discounted compared to what it would be if you got it yourself. People know them, and that is where they have an advantage. You bring 50 people to my hotel consistently? For 50 years? Well yeah, I’m gonna give you a good deal then :)

I do agree that they shouldn’t call something a “12 day tour” when it is really 10 though…so you were smart for catching that and factoring in the new price. That is annoying about them. Even with that though, I swear to you it’s cheaper sometimes, probably with about half their tours. You just have to research the destination you are visiting with them and you will be surprised. Again, stay away from the trips that just go to 1 or 2 cities because those you can probably do cheaper. Bring out the bigger ones with a bunch of destinations…thats when ur saving.

I have to admit…I did a Contiki last year to Europe :) It was amazing…I am 28 and have travelled to other parts of the world like all over the USA, Latin America, and parts of Asia (independently,I might add).but never Europe. It was the best decision I made and couldn’t have been happier about how much money I saved compared to trying to buy everything on my own. Plus, the people I met were amazing and we seriously are like family. I could never go back to independent travel, personally.

No disrespect to the backpackers, I think you guys are great in your own way…but be careful about jumping to conclusions about tour operators. You would be pleasantly surprised if u researched a little more of their trips and how doing this for so long really gives them an advantage ;)

Liam

Great forum, I also have done a lot of solo travel doing most of Europe on my own and have done one Contiki. I think a lot of backpacks don;t really understand what tours really are. Doing a tour vs. backpacking are two different experiences. Neither is better than the other, they are both amazing.

Solo travelling is amazing you get pushed out side of your comfort zone, meet amazing people and it can truly be life changing.

But tours are also great, when you get suck with the same people for 3 weeks you get amazingly close to them and by the end everyone is one big family, its great! You can never get this sort of connection from a few days in a hostel. I did a 10 day Contiki and it was amazing! Yeah we went out every night, but you dont have to go where the tour guides tell you, the bus drops off at a pre orginsied bar at 11pm each night, but you don’t have to stay there. A group of 5-6 of us would explore on our own and experience the cities true night life, meet locals and have a great night, is this not a truer way to a cities culture? For me Contiki tours are one big adventure, you never know what is going to happen next, a night at a random town on the way to a proper destination could end up being one of the best nights of the whole trip.

In summary for me you cant really compare the two, for me a perfect trip is a combination of both solo travelling with a short tour mixed in. My advice for “hardcore” travellers, give a short tour a go, try a week long tour and go in with an open mind, you might be surprised.

franz chong

In Response to Alex I would like to say there are way better methods to do Britain and Europe as part of a Coach Tour.I am now 35 and some Eighteen Months Ago I did an Insight Tour of the UK in which I got a great group who were all keen to take part in the activities and see the sights,Drinking here usually meant a Wine or Something Else with Meals and speaking of which everything except Lunches was included.I had many memories that will last a lifetime.As for the smell of spew on the bus amongst all the crazy things the Contiki lot get up to on their tours It didn’t exist.I never thought I could imagine myself doing an open aged tour(With the exception of the Over 35’s who brought their teenage/twenty something kids with them)I was like the seventh oldest person on the tour.Call me an oddball but that’s sadly the way I have to do my tours from here on in.

kayla

i agree completely with you Jenna. i would just like to say that i am booking a tour of USA next year with contiki. Yes, traveling alone might be cheaper in some instances but not others. for example the USA tour that goes for a month and you see half of america, all the awesome optional extras, included meals, places you stay which arnt half bad, transportation etc. there is no way, and i have researched this just the same, no way in hell i would be able to do that by myself for under 5000. yet with contiki i can. i think the point to make is that while you are right, some of the tours are more expensive than doing it solo, the point is that contiki is value for money. yes you may pay more, but you cant just compare the price. you have to compare the experience. when they say its cheaper its because it is but not necessarily in the sense that you pay less. its bang for your buck.

Nicole

Wow, this has gone on for quite a while…
I love contiki, for me its not about the price, who cares if it cheaper or more expensive.
For me its about being a single female travler wanting security and wanting to meet people in a similar age group. (not joining a tour where i could possibly be stuck with people 50 and older) I don’t have the luxury of having friends or a partner to travel with me all the time so when i go alone this is the best option for me.
I did a contiki throghout europe in 2006 (european whirl) I had the most amazing time, met some fantastic people and saw the most amazing sights.
Yes my tour contained some people hooking up and people drinking but it was never a massive shagfest, I guess it depends on who you get on your tour, (the people who actually hooked up on the tour are now married :-) ) I never encounted people being hung over or vomiting on the bus and most of us were very low 20’s at the time.
I am now about to go on my 2nd contiki (vietnam experience) and i am sure i will have a fantastic time again if not better.
So please if you are a single travler and like the idea of being able to meet and travel with people of similar ages don’t be scared or question contiki. You will have a fantastic time, and like in everything life is what you make of it, you will enjoy contiki if you let yourself.

Willsy

Im heading over to Europe in September with my girlfriend, doing the European Whirl. The only reason we are doingh Contiki is because we only have a short time and it’s her first time to Europe. I’ve been and done a lap of Europe with mates and we did it our way, and partied as hard as an Contiki, but this trip will be different, and takes some of the stress out of all the booking and deciding where to go, while giving my GF a taste of Europe. We will def go back in future and do it our own way, but this way we get to see some sights and make new friends along the way.

Faz

In have booked a Contiki tour for the end of this year with a mate I have met in the Australian country doing my country service (Teacher). Sorry but most of you sound rather stuffy. I have been teaching kids in the outback for 2.5 years and before going back to the city I would love nothing more than to go on a big party tour. I consider myself mature enough to not go to hard if I don’t want too. Yes I will have days where I don’t want to party but I’m sure I will want to more than 50% of the time. This negative blog hasn’t changed my mind :)

Halz

Hi
This has been an entertaining read for me.
I have done 2 contikis, 1 geckos, 1 Busabout and 1 intrepid trip, as well as lots of independent/backpacking and am in the process of doing a 6 month round the world trip using both organised tours and independent travel. I think the interesting thing that you forget to factor into your costings is the price of the “experience”. Tours are what you choose to make of them; if you want to drink all night and sleep on the bus all day than you can, or if you’re like me, you get to be “independent” while in a group environment. I get driven around and don’t have to worry that I booked into a nonexistent hotel or that there will be no hot water- I’m a single girl and I like my showers! But you choose what to do with your free time. I have met some incredible people, seen great sights and best of all had no stress. I think that experiences and stress free are things that can not be factored into the basic price. So in summary contiki is what you make of it and it is a cost effective tool to get around. Really some people need to do a tour before they can judge the tour. Also if you are looking to plan your holiday have a look at the great website viator.com this site gives you great day tours and also has access to extended tours which are reviewed by real travellers and are in you local currency so it takes the guess work of conversion out or you. But no matter how you travel the important thing is that you have actually got off your arse and done it.

I took a Contiki tour through most of western Europe back in 1995. It seems nothing has changed. While Europe was fabulous, Contiki was just a bus full of drunks and a ‘tour guide’ who’s main job seemed to involve pushing us into tourist trap shops to buy over priced junk.

Early in the tour, I decided to simply use the bus and hotel accommodation provided, but go off and do my own thing through the day (as suggested we could do at the beginning of the tour). This proved much more fun, but the tour guide got really cranky with me and almost became violent towards me at times for refusing to spend money at the tourist trap shops! He was constantly trying to chat up some of the more attractive girls on our tour and they thought he was disgusting.

If you’re considering Contiki, consider something else.

Hannah

Has anyone ever done an EF trip? I took the EF College Break trip during college (1 tour around Europe over 2 weeks about 5 years ago, the second all over Spain 2 summers ago) and had a really wonderful experience going around Europe, got an awful cold (lack of sleep, excitement of first time abroad, cramped whirl-wind bus trips..), and still keep in touch with some of my “mates”! Curious to hear if anyone else has used them?

I have to say I went Contiki, twice and would recommend it. Especially if you are traveling alone.

My tour guides told me loads about the locals, customs, helped with language barriers and are there to help you out if you run into any trouble.

I did the Spotlight on Greece tour and Simply Italy, and I made loads of new friends, Ate some amazing food, had tour guides who where truly passionate about the countries. Of course you will get bad experiences everywhere and bad tour guides too/ But its all about the experience and what you make it. You don’t HAVE to stay with the tour bus all the time, one girl on my tour completely skipped a load of sights and went straight to another part of the country a few days ahead of us, the tour guide will help you plan such things.

And if you don’t want to go see something you are not FORCED. you can always go find something to do after all, that’s what I did! :) xxx

by the way if anyone knows of any other companies let me know!! be fun to try others!! :)

Jacko

Back in 1996, I did the Grand northern contiki tour of USA. Having done the Grand southern a few years earlier and having a fantastic time, I went in thinking this would be just as good.

While I loved the places we went to….I had to travel with a busfull of miserable drunks. Forget about partying…this lot were like a bunch of zombies. Every night it was…lets sit in the corner and get pissed. If you got up and danced, you would be the subject of ridicule the next day. Also one guy was a Psycho who would keep you on edge…and another was a very weird german. Oh and if you told them how little you thought of them…you were considered offensive???. By the end, I couldn’t wait to get away from them.

Also our driver Lou nixon decided to bring his girlfriend on for the second half of the tour. I was like WTF????. I let it go and I shouldn’t have. Also on the last night, neither driver nor tour manager wanted to go out with us (though the manager at least came for the dinner)

Was not a very happy experience at all. But I have had happier ones with contiki so I wont rule them out

Jeff

I think all these solo backpackers just sound like a bunch of jealous loners. They always get defensive when you say you prefer contiki over solo. I never hear people from contiki tours complain. Everyone on my trip said it was the best time of their lives. Here are some other things to make clear:

1. Meeting travelers in hostels IS NOT he same as the life long friendships and bonds you build from spending 24-7 with a group of travelers. I’ve done the solo hostel thing and it is not the same at all. The contiki was like a family and felt like we were in a fraternity together. We had huge parties where I already knew everyone and I had people to go out and laugh with. In a hostel, I would have just gone back to my hostel alone every night and maybe chatted with a roommate or two.

2. The cost of the tour guide was well worth it when you figure it is split between 50 of us! She knew everything about everywhere. They took us everywhere and I never could have learned or done so much on my own. And yes, I did a lot of research beforehand.

3. We aren’t forced to do anything. At each city, we were educated about what to do, and then we split up in groups and did what WE WANTED and then met up later. We were then transported back to our hotels. Did you cost analysis include transportation to and from your hotel and the bars at night?

4. Hooking up and drinking is a bad thing?!? Seriously!? You have a bunch of 20 something’s on the vacation of their lives with people they probably won’t see again. This was a BONUS! This was half the fun of the tour.

Oh I’m so glad these comments are still going!

I travelled to Europe the first time when I was 19 and did a 42 day Contiki tour. I don’t believe I was lazy (but there are other people I know who have done them that I would call lazy) but I think I was naive and a little nervous to travel completely solo.

I had a great tour guide (very knowledgable) and driver and I am still in contact with many of my tour mates.

I was in a relationship, but went on my own, so I didn’t go ‘girls gone wild’ however A LOT of other people did. A LOT of other people also drank, all the time.
I caught a cold on the tour and struggled to get well again so I felt left out, which is how I think I would’ve felt if I tried to do my own thing like some people suggest.

I think people that say you can go off and do your own thing on your tour maybe have more energy than me..? Sorry but if I decided not to spend the day in Paris with the group seeing the sights, and go to disneyland instead, when on earth was I going to see Paris?! There’s just not enough time. Not to mention, how the hell would I get back from the city to our accommodation out in goodness knows where (as someone else pointed out).
I can also comment, that at least on my tour, accommodation standards were pretty poor. There were only a handful of nice places, and surprise surprise they were actually hostels.

I have since traveled with my boyfriend on 2 RTW trips (including Europe, I’m commenting mostly on that part because I’ve done a European contiki tour) one 12 months long and the most recent one 10 months.

Both times we have stayed in mostly hostels, but some hotels (better then contiki) and apartments – with the rise of air bnb, which as a couple we love! That is bang for your buck! – and this last time we rented a car for a month in America (under 25). Our first time we scrimped a lot, and we both think we were too tight, this last time, we didn’t forgo much (which is why I mentioned the above, so you know we weren’t hitching or sleeping on random floors) and still travelled for as long as we did.

Our first trip we met some great guys in our hostel dorm, who we have stayed with since, at their homes on both trips – so I certainly don’t buy not being able to make life long friendships in hostels, and that’s as a couple! Sorry Jeff.

Compared to my Contiki… I spent half of what I spend on a years worth of independent travel (I say independent, compared to solo, as I am in a couple) in less than two months on my Contiki tour! Less than TWO MONTHS!
I did go pretty crazy spending on my tour, but I did that with the tour plus what they recommend as a budget (on their website). And while logistics weren’t always an ease, accommodation standards, meals, and attractions were all far cheaper and better value when I’ve travelled independently.

I don’t regret my tour, I would not have realised how easy and how much cheaper it is to do it myself had I not done that tour. And for nervous travellers I agree they can sometimes be the answer (well group travel) but I wouldn’t do one again.

On my last trip I travelled with my best friend for part of it, and we realised we have very different ideas about traveling. She came away saying to me she would do a Contiki again (as she has done one too) as she appreciates the ease, getting to know the tour group etc. I stand by the above that I wouldn’t do one again. And that just highlights that everyone is different, and there’s no right or wrong way. But it sure is frustrating when people are under the impression this is the cheap way to do Europe, and I really appreciate this article!

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