Travel

Europe: Contiki Tour vs Self Guided Travel

The northern hemisphere is about to heat up and the European summer is well on its way.

To my absolute dismay, it’s going to be another year that I am forced to live vicariously through the travel bloggers, gappys and friends that I follow on Instagram while I try to be positive about my mid year exams featuring some rather unpleasant Auckland weather.

I can’t make the European summer this year but what I can do is provide advice for anyone who is currently anticipating the 28 hour flight up and over to the magical land of Europe during our chilly months (the jealousy burns!!!!).

Since my return from a pretty insane (to say the least) three month expedition over to the UK/Europe, the most common question I have been asked is whether to do a Contiki tour OR if they should just organise all of their own travel themselves.

To keep things pretty simple, it really all depends on who you are as a person. I knew right from the get go that I wanted to experience both types of travel, so that’s what I decided to do. If you’re tossing up one or the other, I’ve put together a pros and cons list for both a month long Contiki Tour as well as self organised travel.

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EUROPEAN CONTIKI TOURS:

Pros:

  • Pre organised transport, accomodation & majority of meals (transport/accomodation organisation is easily one of the most stressful aspects of travelling)
  • Meeting new friends for life – when you’re stuck on a bus for hours on end, it’s pretty hard not to bond with your fellow 30 other travellers! Also, shit gets weird in Europe and you only have each other.
  • You visit incredible, tiny little villages and towns between the big city destinations that you wouldn’t of had the opportunity to visit if you had organised the travel yourself. Google Český Krumlov, my favourite in-between city destination that we stopped in during our drive between Prague and Munich!
  • You’ll never have to worry about getting in trouble – being a girl (especially at 18 when I decided to go), Europe is a very scary place where a lot of evil things happen. The boys in your tour group naturally feel obliged to look after you which can really save your ass in some situations, especially out on the town. I was lucky enough to develop brother/sister like friendships with a bunch of the boys on my tour who would always keep an eye on me and made sure that I was okay!
  • Tour manager and coach driver inside knowledge – the Contiki tour managers and drivers are full to the brim of European knowledge whether it’s to do with a cities history, heritage or even just where the best places are to drink and party! Super helpful when you’re in a city where hardly anyone speaks english.
  • Contiki drinking/partying culture – This will either be a pro or a con depending on which kind of person you are. For me this was a huge pro but for a few others that were on my tour, it was a big con. The reality of a Contiki tour is the fact that it really is a lot of drinking and partying pretty much nearly every single night, so if you’re a big party animal and want to experience as many different European cities club scenes as possible then a Contiki tour is definitely for you!
  • Always having pals around you to enjoy what Europe has to offer – for me this was one of the best parts of the Contiki tour. Having a huge group of friends to fall in love with Europe with is such an invaluable experience!

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Day 1 of my Contiki tour: Beautiful, mysterious Paris shot from the top of the Arc De Triomphe

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Cons:

  • Fast paced travel isn’t for everyone – Contiki tours generally have a routine of one driving day, one city day (two if you’re lucky, our tour did!) and for a lot of people this is an insane speed to travel around such a huge continent. If you have a problem with full days of coach transport followed by one of two full days of exploration, a Contiki tour is not the option for you.
  • Budget type travel – the reality of a Contiki tour is that they are mainly organised to help you see and do as much as you possibly can on a budget. This means that the accomodation is at a budget rate, the food is pretty basic and your transportation between cities is relied upon a coach bus rather than a plane. As I mentioned previously, this is one of those things that will be viewed as a pro or con depending on the person! (I personally think it’s the coolest way to travel).
  • Your days are generally planned out for you – most city exploration days are already organised and planned out with the occasional ‘free day’ where you have the opportunity to go and visit a particular monument or tourist hot spot that perhaps isn’t on everyone’s to-do list. If you’re a fan of doing what you want, a Contiki may be a bit of a pain for you.
  • If you’re a pretty stubborn introvert, you’re going to struggle. Being a sociable human is kind of essential in a tour situation, especially on a month long tour. I’ve heard a lot of stories about people who struggled to make friends because they didn’t put themselves out there enough, befriending your tour mates is key for an enjoyable Contiki experience.
  • The contiki cough – everyone gets it. Do not attempt a month long Contiki tour thinking that your immune system is going to cope alright, it won’t. I promise.

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SELF ORGANISED TRAVEL:

Pros:

  • The continent is your oyster – with this type of travel you have the freedom to go wherever you want (I missed out on so many cities because of my tour route!)
  • The freedom to be spontaneous – you can choose to stay in a particular city or town for longer if you want to! (HUGE advantage).
  • If you get sick, you can take time to recover. On a Contiki, you go hard or go home, whether you’re on your death bed or not.
  • If you make friends along the way, you can change your mind about your chosen destination. Say you never planned on making it to Budapest, but you met a fellow traveller in Vienna who convinced you that it was a must! Book the train ride and you’re off to Budapest!
  • Meeting other travellers that are also outside of a tour – we met so many incredible people in the various hostels we stayed in while we were in Greece and Spain! On a Contiki you sleep and stay with everyone that is on your tour/on another tour so there is no opportunity to meet solo or small group travellers

Cons:

  • There’s no guidance – when things go wrong, you’ve got to sort them out yourself. My friend and I got ourselves into a pretty annoying (but hilarious) situation where got off the ferry in Greece on the wrong island.. after hours of panic calling and cancelling/organising new accomodation we were lucky enough to unexpectedly explore the Island of Paros!
  • If you’re solo travelling – things get pretty lonely
  • If you’re travelling with a friend – fights are inevitable
  • Organising your own ferry/train/plane/bus rides and accomodation is far more stressful than you think it is. When you’re planning to sit down and organise it all make sure you set aside an entire day, at least!

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Details in Venice, Italy 

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One of my favourite European Monuments – The Florence Cathedral, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Italy

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As I mentioned at the beginning, it really depends on what you view as a pro or a con in both of these travel situations. Whether you choose to do one or the other, or even both like I did, your experience will be absolutely out of this world 🙂

 

Ash x