After my first trip to Europe, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about Contiki tours, and today I’m finally sitting down to answer all of those questions. For those of you who don’t know, Contiki is a tour company that caters to ages 18-35. They run a variety of different types of tours, from camping to hotel accommodation trips, all varying in length from 4 days to month long excursions. The company operates all over the world; however this review will be focused on their European tours. I have been on two Contiki tours myself, the European Discovery – 12 Day Europe Tour and the Berlin, Prague + Vienna – 9 Day Tour. The two tours I did were exceptionally different from each other; one was a high paced beast in which we were in different country every day, and the other was a laid back more “free time” centered tour.
This post is coming at a very exciting time too as Contiki is currently offering an amazing promotion on their trips. The #TravelGoals campaign is going on now and helping us to reach our own travel goals by offering incredible discounts. This 8 week promotion will give you the opportunity to save on a specific destination every week. This week Contiki is giving you the opportunity to save up to $970 on trips to Germany.
I’m certainly going to be taking advantage of this promotion, will you?
As stated previously, Contiki offers a variety of accommodation options: hotels, hostels, camping, and some tours which include a mix of accommodation styles. The two tours that I have been on were hotel accommodation. Contiki books three star hotels, so don’t expect the Ritz, however I found the accommodations suiting for casual travel. The biggest issue I had with Contiki’s accommodations was how far they were from the city. In big cities such as Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam we were in hotels located 40-60 minutes outside the city. Typically, as the quality of the hotel increases, the distance to city also increases. Personally, I’m in the hotel room only to sleep so I can deal with subpar quality, but if you’re someone who requires five star service to get to sleep, I’d recommend at least researching the hotels specified on your Contiki trip.
In our digital age I feel that it’s important to make a quick note about the internet situation on these tours. The coach does have WiFi available for purchase-do not do it, it’s ridiculously expensive, even your tour manager will tell you not to waste your money. As for the WiFi in the hotels, it was hit and miss. Europeans are very, very different from us in North America and do not feel he need to be constantly connected, thus WiFi is sparse. Some hotels have free WiFi available for a certain period of time, some only an hour, some for an entire day. Others only have free WiFi available in the lobby, and others have no WiFi at all. However, when you’re out and about, some of the coffee shops and restaurants will have free WiFi available, just be sure to purchase something from them as a curiosity.
Your tour manger is essentially the babysitter Contiki assigns to your tour; they are not tour guides. Although most of the Contiki tour managers have an extensive amount of knowledge about the cities you’ll be visiting, they’re not experts as the local tour guides are. Your tour manager is basically there to make sure everyone gets to the bus on time, they organize the group dinners, and help you pick and plan your excursions. I found that between my two tours, the tour manager can make or break your experience. Some of the tour managers are very knowledgeable and go above and beyond to ensure you have a great time on your trip. On my first Contiki our tour manager custom printed his own city maps with his top tips, and always gave us thorough information and directions before dropping us in the idle of a city. I swear this guy was a walking history textbook-I was floored by how much he knew! The tour managers will take you to bars and restaurants they’ll say are the “best in the city”, however you’re only being taken there because your tour manager will collect commission or get kickbacks for bringing you there. This is a common practice in the tourism industry, so it’s totally understandable; I only mention it to caution you to not be naïve, and do you research before you get to your destination. Don’t just blindly go along with everything the tour manager says; it’s certainly alright to break away from the group every once in a while.
Breakfast is included every day on your Contiki, however as one of my tour managers stated; “breakfast in Europe is a coffee and a cigarette”. I didn’t expect much of the breakfast anyway, and it usually was jut pastries and cereal, however sometimes you’d get lucky and a hotel would offer bacon and eggs as well. You’re on your own for lunch most days, which gives you the opportunity to wander about, unless you’re on a high-paced tour, then you’ll be eating lunch at wherever the bus stops between your next destination. Contiki includes a few dinners and most of the other dinners are usually included in some type of excursion. I was very pleased overall with the quality of the food on both tours I did.
Depending on the length of the tour, the destinations, and the travel style, Contiki tours range from $400-$7000. I think the price is right for these tours, you’re getting the most bang for your buck, so there’s no need to be concerned about getting ripped off; Contiki definitely gives you the best value. However, my only issue is that Contiki claims going on a tour with them is more affordable than going on your own, and that’s a blatant lie. If cost is your only concern, you don’t need to choose Contiki. You can do everything that a Contiki your does, on your own, for the same amount of money. It’s not cheaper one way or the other. The only difference with going on your own is that you’ll be paying the same amount of money, but doing all the leg work of booking hotels, excursions, dinners, etc. So if you’d like to just lay back and leave the planning to someone else, a Contiki tour would be a better value to you.
Contiki offers a wide variety of excursions that you can add on to your trip for an extra cost, and of course, you’re encouraged to do them all to ensure you get the most out of you trip! A lot of these excursions I do believe are once in a lifetime opportunities and worth the price: the cabaret show in Paris, the concentration camp visit in Berlin, white water rafting in Austria. You’re made aware of your excursions before your trip, so I would recommend researching them and seeing if it would be more beneficial for you to do it on your own. Keep in mind some of the excursions can be more fun with a group of people.
Depending on the tour you do, the coach will either be your home for a few weeks, or just a vehicle you see once or twice. In the high paced tours you’re on the coach for 6-10 hours every day as you move from country to country. It is a very comfortable and clean means of transportation, and depending on your tour group, it’ll either be a very fun 6-10 hours, or the worst 6-10 hours of your life. Most people spend their time on the coach sleeping off their hangovers from the night before, and as long as no one pukes, you’ll be fine.
You might have heard Contiki referred to as the “drunken orgy on wheels” and this nickname is not too far off. Pretty much every night you have the option of going to a club with the group and getting hammered with your new travel companions. While you will undoubtedly have a great time, I found after my first trip that I spent over 200 euro in alcohol, so it’s very easy to get carried away. For those who are just looking to party their way through Europe, or just have a great time and meet new people, this may not be a problem.
Speaking of your tour mates…they will be the highlight of your trip. The people you meet on Contiki are friends for life. I still talk to the people I met on my very first Contiki three years ago and actually have plans to travel with a few of them soon. Hold onto these friendships. The friends you meet travelling are the best kind of friends to have. And you’ll always have a couch to crash on somewhere in the world!
When you book your Contiki tour, tips are said to be included in the price of your trip. However, the only tips that are included in this price are the tour group dinners. All the local guides will expect tips at end of their walking tours, but of course it’s at your discretion whether or not to tip them. Your tour manager and bus driver will also be expecting a tip at the end of the tour. Within the last few days of your tour ending you’re given an envelope and told to write a note to your tour manager and driver with a tip enclosed and your name. I mention this because it caught me off guard on my first trip and I found myself scrambling for cash on the last day of my tour. My second tour I was a little bit more prepared and set aside my tip for the driver and tour manager at the beginning of my trip; which is what I would recommend everyone does, just so you don’t accidently overspend!
So should you go on a Contiki? Yes and no. I think Contiki is an excellent tour company for someone who is nervous to travel solo for the first time, or maybe someone who is looking to just have a good time and make some friends. Contiki is also a good idea for groups of friends as it takes a lot of the arguing out of decision making, since most of the decisions are made for you. The number one reason I would choose Contiki is if you don’t know what you want to see. Maybe you’re new to travel and know you want to go to Europe, but don’t necessarily have specific destinations or monuments in mind. Basically, if you know you want to go to Paris, bu can’t think of anything to see other than the Eiffel Tower, go on a Contiki. They’ll not only help you figure the logistics of your trip out, but they’ll educate you and open your eyes to things you could have never imagined. On the flip side, if you’re someone who is comfortable with travelling and have a good idea of what you want to see and do, I would ditch Contiki and do your own thing. You can still find local guides when you get to your destination, and plan your own excursions. I personally, do not plan on doing another Contiki anytime soon, because I’d like to challenge myself to go own my own, as well as plan a trip that is more directly focused on exactly what I want to see and do. However, long term solo travel can get lonely, and as I’ve said before, friends on Contiki are friends for life, so I may just go looking for some new pals again in the future!
Don’t forget to check out the #TravelGoals campaign! Save hundreds of dollars on Germany trips this week.