What’s a Contiki, I hear you say?
A couple months ago, I was sitting in my room working on my dissertation. The endless hours of data collection and report writing were slowly driving me mad, and the only thought of getting me through it was what I was going to do to celebrate finishing my final year at uni. Except… I had no plans. One thing I have always wanted to do was go interrailing. For those of you who don’t know, interrailing is where you buy an interrail pass, essentially a train ticket. This ticket takes you to multiple destinations and for can go for varying lengths of time. You can choose the cities you want to visit, how long you want to go for, and you get to all these places by train. I know – how lucky for us small country folk to hop over to the next country and be there within the hour. Anyway, back to me, dying to go interrailing and about to smash my head through a wall. Now, my main problem with interrailing was that I had nobody to go with. My boyfriend had already been to the countries I wanted to visit, one of my best friend’s had been interrailing, one didn’t have the money, another thought it sounded like a chore. You get the picture…excuses, excuses, excuses.
That really left me with one option: to go by myself. Except I am a young lady of 21 and I didn’t feel like being in bed by 9pm to avoid the creepy crawlies of the night. All you solo female travellers, kudos to you.
I decided to look into this tour company Contiki, an Australian company that specialises in tours for 18-35 year olds. It conducts tours all over the world, with different categories such as sailing, easy pace, in-depth explorer, camping, skiing…basically, it does everything. You travel around on a nice air-conditioned coach, which does have a little bit of WiFi and a few plug sockets. Take note of “a little bit” and “a few”. I was under the impression I’d get full WiFi on the coach for the entire trip, and every seat would have plug sockets. This was not the case, but when you spend the whole coach journey sleeping, it doesn’t really matter. Different tours have different types of accommodation from hostels, hotels, camping and more. And you’ll be with around 50 people from all over the world!
Still unsure about going travelling semi-alone, I had a look-see around the website. And then I found my perfect trip: Eastern Road. 13 days through Eastern Europe. It took us through all the countries I was craving going to, it wasn’t too long in case I didn’t enjoy it but long enough for me to get a chance to experience the cities, it was easy pace so I didn’t have to rush through all the places, and it had many 5 star reviews. After scrutinising the itinerary, I decided to email an adviser to answer a few questions. My questions included: would there be time to take photos, are the tours mostly walking tours or on the bus, how long are the bus rides (I have been cursed with motion sickness), how much spending money do they suggest each day, what do the ME Time activities involve, AND JUST SO MANY MORE. The advisers I spoke to were excellent. They answered all my questions, replying usually by the next day, and I really had no reason to prolong booking my trip. But I did. Something was holding me back. I think it was the fact that I would be doing this alone. Yes, there would be people my age and I do make friends easily – so really what was the problem? I eventually told myself to JUST DO IT (hey there, Nike). And I did it. I paid my deposit and had to pay the rest of the trip a month before departure. The prices obviously vary depending on the length and the trip you are doing. But I was going. Booked for a couple weeks after my final university exams, all by myself.
I don’t know what happened to those next couple of months but, before I knew it, I was stuck in traffic (even though it was 5 am) on my way to the airport. The trip started in Berlin at 5 pm and I had a couple hours to myself to go exploring. That’s when I felt truly alone. However, I got back to my hotel at 4 and met my roommates. I decided on a triple share room. A) this was the cheapest option (hello student). B) this meant a better chance of making more friends and rooming with someone I’ll like. You also got the option of a double room or a single room, prices increasing respectively. Anyway, I lucked out. I was sharing a room with 2 Australian girls of 19 and 21. We all got a long so well that I’d made new best friends in two weeks, and saying goodbye was incredibly hard. In fact, our whole tour group was just amazing. There were 53 of us!! Around a third had come by themselves (including both my roommates and myself), a third with friends, and a third as a couple. The average age was probably between 20-25, with a few fresh 18 year olds and a few more worldly 30 year olds. But I could not have asked for a better Contiki family. Our tour manager was fab, always helpful and friendly – she even told me where you can go get amazing clothes hand tailored in Thailand, after I was lusting for her skirt.
My tour took me to Berlin, with a stopover in Dresden. Next was Prague (my favourite), taking a trip to Kutna Hora to visit the Bone Church! This church is made of the bones of around 40,000 humans. Scary, I know. We then went to Vienna for a spell. On our way to Budapest, we stopped in Bratislava. From Budapest we went to Krakow. From Krakow we took a sobering visit to Auschwitz, and then onto our final destination of Warsaw. These cities each had something so special to offer us and I will be doing posts on what to do in each city for 2 days in the future. Yes, 2 days in each city might not sound long, but after those 2 days I felt like I had seen everything. I have never walked so much in my life! According to one of those step counters, we were averaging between 30,000-50,000 steps a day! We were up from about 8am to 12am most days, and this was meant to be an easy pace tour! I can’t even imagine what a fast paced tour would be like. But I loved it. The trip had certain inclusions in each city, for example in every city besides one, we had a walking tour by a local guide (they were all so funny and knowledgeable), we got breakfast every morning, and around 6 or 7 included dinners. You have the option of not doing any of the group activities if you don’t want to and can simply use Contiki as a way to get around and someone to tell you what to do. I loved the walking tours so I did them all. You then also get the option of ME Time activities. These are independent of the tour so you have to pay an extra fee if you want to take part. The cheapest Me Time on my tour was 9 euros and the most expensive being 65 euros (a classical music concert and dinner in a palace in Vienna!). Other Me Times on my trip included a Krakow salt mine tour, a river cruise in Budapest, a nuclear bunker tour in Prague, and many more! And when you’re not doing a group activity, you get free time! Which we did get a good amount of too. I was able to get my token shot glass in every city. That is what’s so great about Contiki: you can do everything or nothing.
The point of my post is: go do a Contiki! One of the best decisions I have ever made. With so many options for different countries, different accommodation, different lengths, different styles, there is something that will suit everyone. Contiki is the thing to do, if you’re like me and worried about going travelling completely alone. You’re bound to connect with at least one of the 50 people in the group, and they do put you in rooms with similarly aged people. This trip brought me out of my comfort zone and also taught me that I could potentially go travelling alone. It was the best way I could celebrate graduating from uni and I hope you all consider doing a Contiki trip!