For only my second time ever out of the country I chose to spend a total of close to 3 months away during the summer of 2011. This consisted of about 3 weeks in Europe and 2 months in Thailand. The Euro-trip was pretty spontaneous, decision-wise. In the spring, a college friend of mine said, “Hey, me and a friend are thinking about Europe this summer. Do you want to go?” and I was like “F#€$ yeah!” Simple as that.
The trip was a Contiki tour. I had never heard of this company or concept before I went. Contiki is a company that facilitates tours, their target group is 18 to 35 year olds and they do Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and North America.
Contiki, contiki…where do I begin. I had ‘no’ idea what I was getting into. This whole trip was one non-stop party. I had too much fun and the tour span of 16 days felt like a week.
The main locations that were included in this trip were Paris, Nice, Monaco, Florence, Rome, Venice, Munic, Amsterdam.
Great times were had, dope memories. And I met some pretty cool peoples that I don’t think I would’ve met under different circumstances. There were Aussies (Australians), Kiwis (New Zealanders), Singaporeans, Canadians, Japanese, South Africans, and Americans. If I could do it all again starting tomorrow, I would without hesitation.
However, I will say this…
There would be a couple of tweaks to make for a better trip. If you’re planning to Contiki it up soon, this may help you.
Contiki offers different variations of tours that visit different cities with different modes of travel. For the el’ cheapos, you can go for the bus. For those balling outta control, you can opt for the train or plane travel mode. During a 16 day trip, we had to have been on that damn bus for a sum of 4 days. It seemed as the pattern went like, arrive in new city, check stuff out, go on walking tour, get some food, drink, snap some pics, drink, party, sleep, get up at 7am for the bus, try and sleep-off your hangover while avoiding leg-cramps. Next city. Repeat.
Don’t be stingy and spring for the non-bus option. With this option, you’ll have less road time, more in-city time. Otherwise, you better bring a good-ass neck pillow, and an iPad with beacoup movies pre-downloaded from iTunes.
Some of the hostels and hotels that Contiki contracts with in select cities aren’t quite up to snuff. Your digs can range from “home sweet home” to “I’d rather sleep under the stars in my drawers”. On my trip, there were quite a few cases of bed bug attacks. Seeing how those bites looked on people turned my stomach. I was one of the lucky ones that wasn’t a victim.
Contiki gives you a new sleeping bag for your trip. Use it ‘always’. The reason for the sleeping bag, they say is because all of the accommodations don’t have bedding sheets. Which they all didn’t. But what they’re indirectly stating is, “some of the hostels and hotels are filthy, so you might just want to use this at all times”. I always slept in my sleeping bag and even fully clothed at the dingiest places. I was good to go.
Euro Wall Outlet.
Sometimes you may be sharing a room with 3 other people and there is only one damn outlet in the whole place. Everyone wants to charge their iPhones and DSLRs at once. Not happening.
Bring a multi-outlet extension cord. Just a small one that is around 4 feet would do and that has about three receptacles on it. In those worst-cases you’ll need the length to plug-in behind some furniture. And of course, don’t forget the outlet adapter. Get a universal one.
I took my MacBook, iPhone, iPod, iPad (call me a fanboy, I guess) because I wasn’t going home for 2 months after Contiki. However, please believe me when I say, don’t bring anything of major value unless you really have to. When you’re sharing a room with others who may have a guest with sticky fingers, or have them themselves. It’s best not to have anything of major value. I did have a cable-lock for my MacBook, but I preferably wouldn’t have had any of my pricey stuff with me at all. These things stayed on my mind.
Don’t bring anything that would kill your entire mood for the trip if it got lost/stolen.
I thought I was being smart by only bringing a carry-on suitcase and backpack with me on this trip. I precisely folded all of my stuff and surprised myself with how much I was able to get in them. I only brought carry-on luggage because I didn’t want the hassle of baggage-claim-wait and customs-exit during connecting international flights (if different carriers are used). I was too smart for my own good. Because I had to play Tetris during the mornings when it came time to leave for the next city.
Bring a large luggage piece, fill it with as much as you can while staying under the 44 pound limit that Contiki enforces. You should also leave room to bring some stuff back, if you want.
Skip the souvenirs, everything is going to seem so cool at first. You’ll want to impulse buy a bunch of stuff. But chances are, you’ll get home and never wear or look at it again.
Save your souvenir money and spend it on an experience. They’re much better than tangible things. Splurge on that really nice restaurant for lunch, bet the team of kids on the streets hustling that you can break-dance better than them, pay to have a dozen doves released. Whatever you’re into.
Many times, you’d be better-off wandering around on your own and checking stuff out. Walking tours are exhausting. They feel like a job to me. Like I should be getting paid to follow you while you walk backwards and say things that I can barely hear anyway. Besides, a lot of the stuff that is learned, you may just forget in like 2 days anyway.
Don’t just do tours because it’s what you’re supposed to do. Do them because you genuinely have an interest in the architecture of the house Michelangelo grew up in.
Do fight the temptation to sleep-in or go to bed early while the rest of the group is out having a blast. I promise that the rest will not be worth missing all of the fun. And the best stuff always happens when you miss-out.
Man-up. Go with the group, even when you’re tired. I made the mistake of going to bed early one night and was mad jealous when I heard about the eventful night had. Don’t do this. Sleep when trip is over.
I believe Contiki has a contract with all of the hostels/hotels that are a part of the trip. Most of these places have a bar with music and many times, there would just be multiple Contiki tour groups at these places. Primarily this was the case because the site was far from the city-center. This is fine and all. But it kind of sucks to be in Rome and be around a bunch of Australians.
Hire a cab and go on a random excursion in a particular city with some of your tour mates. Find a local hangout. Go where there is a language barrier. This option would definitely trump some of the canned-events that Contiki would have. I regret not doing this.
Contiki tours are known for the party aspect. And when I say “party”, I mean the indulgence in adult beverages. AKA Booze.
If you’re going to lush it up, I’d suggest getting a couple of handles at the airport, duty-free. This way, you’ll save some cash. And you won’t have to pay the equivalent of bar prices just to pre-game. Nah Mean.
Nearly everyone on this trip got sick. They called it the “Contiki Cough”. After a while of always being on the move, sleep deprivation, binge drinking, and loads of time on a bus with poor air-circulation. Your body might just cry foul.
Be conscious of your health always and still choose foods that are proper for a good immune system. Don’t drink excessively. And it might just be a good idea to bring your own asprin, pepto, nyquil, hot toddy,first aid kit, and etcetera. You definitely don’t want to have to hunt for meds when you’re under the weather.
If I had someone tell me this stuff in advance, what was a good experience could’ve been mo’ better. A Contiki trip will give you just a glimpse of multiple areas. This is a good way to sample different locations so you can decide later where to return to for a longer period of time. There are some with bias towards backpacking independently and some towards a tour group. There are pros and cons to each, but I don’t think you could go wrong with Contiki, especially if you’re new to the concept of international travel. It has definitely opened my eyes and given me the desire to see more of the world and create new experiences.