Hey guys! So today I am talking about my trip to Europe. I have mentioned before that I went to Europe for two and a half weeks in May, but I don’t think that I explained that I actually did a Contiki trip! In my post I’m going to explain everything about Contiki and my trip. And the end I will also give some general tips about travelling in Europe.
What is Contiki?
Contiki is a travel tour group designed for 18-35 year olds. They first started in Europe but now run tours all around the world. The tours vary in length, from 10 days to a month or more. They have more that 140 trips in Europe, so you basically just pick where you want to go and they organize everything for you. You travel with around 30-40 other people on a coach bus. They organize all the hotels and around half of the meals for you. On top of that, there are some included activities along with a bunch of add-on activities that you can do (which I will break down below).
Contiki, along with other travel groups for young people, have a reputation as being a party-bus. They are known as just being 18-22 year-old, mainly Australians, just getting drunk the whole time. Contiki is also known for being high-pace, with barely any time in the locations you are going to. Also some of the accommodations are not the greatest. I learned all of this through reading reviews on the website and also reading other blog posts.
So why did I choose Contiki? I was travelling by myself. All my friends were either still in school, too broke to travel or travelling other places. I decided that I didn’t want to wait all my life to travel, so now was the time. Of course my parents were extremely worried about me travelling by myself, so we settled on me doing a group travel trip. I choose Contiki because despite its reputation and a few bad reviews, the majority of the reviews were amazing. I also liked the trips they had compared to their competitor, Topdeck.
I did European Encounter in May 2019. I went to ‘ten’ (really nine because we only drove through Belgium) countries in 17 days. I was abroad for 18 days because I stayed another day in London after.
My trip was: start in London, Amsterdam for two days, Berlin for two days, Prague for two days, Salzburg for one day, Venice for one day, Rome for two days, Florence for one day, Cinque Terre for one day, Luzern for one day, Paris for two days and then back to Paris. I had the most amazing time in Europe, it was one of the best experiences of my life.
I really liked the route and the layout of my trip. Obviously there are still some places I would like to see, but I felt that I was able to see a lot of Europe. The three cities I felt that I didn’t have enough time in were London, Paris and Rome. T be fair these are some of the biggest cities in the world so it’s hard to see everything in two days. I think the trip was also good at picking out which cities we should days to spend one day in versus two days. For example, Venice is so small that I think if we had spent two days there I would have been bored.
Now to address the ‘reputation’ of Contiki. For some reason, there are a lot of Australians and New Zealanders who go on Contiki trips, and my trip was no exception. But there was a nice mixture. There was six other Canadians, six Americans, a couple from South Africa, and a girl from India. So I would say only half our of group was Aussies and Kiwis. The other thing was the average age of people on our trip was older than others. A few people on my trip had done Contiki before, and they said that our trip was older and more tame compared to the other trips they had done. I would say the average age was probably 23 or 24. There were a few 19-20 years olds and a few 30 year olds, but most people on this trip were around my age or older. There was also a lot of couples on this trip, six to be exact! Almost half the people on my trip were in relationships, which I think helped tame things down. We all liked to party and have fun, but it was not an every night type of thing. I think that the length of the trip and the destinations we were going to, along with the time of year, drew in a older group. All of this was fine by me because I wanted to have fun, but I didn’t want to be hung over every day.
I think the people were really the stand out part of Contiki. I liked the majority of the people on my trip. It was so cool to talk to people from all over the world. Not only was I learning about Europe on the trip, but also all the places people were from. I am so surprised with how close I got with some of the people on the trip, I am definitely planning to visit some of them soon!
The other great people on the trip were my trip manager and driver. A trip manager can really make or break a trip, and we got lucky with an amazing trip manager. The nice thing about doing a tour group besides solo travelling is that you have someone there on the trip whose job is to give you recommendations and make sure you are having a good time. My trip manager was amazing at giving good recommendations, and was very quick to solve any issues we were having.
Contiki has options to stay either in hotels, hostels or camping. Call me a princess, but I personally wanted to stay in hotels. I know hostels are cheaper and some of them are really nice, but since I didn’t have a say where we were staying I thought that the hotel option would be better. I noticed that some of the reviews were quite negative about accommodations, so I was a little worried going into it.
Overall I would say that I was pleasantly surprised. I would say everywhere but Italy – with the exception of Rome – we stayed in pretty decent places. I noticed that generally the nicer the places, the further away from the city centre we were. For example, my favourite hotels were in Amsterdam and Rome which were super far from the city centre. But in some cities, like Berlin and Prague, we were closer to the centre so it really varied city to city. The hotels in Italy were generally the worst, but they weren’t awful. They were only bad because they were really outdated.
The worst hotel was the one in Florence. We stayed in the Albergo Auto Park, and honestly don’t ever go there. When I first walked into the room it smelled so strongly of cigarette smoke, it was disgusting. I went down to the front desk and mentioned it, and they basically said just open the windows. Then as I was trying to take pictures of my room, I heard through the super thin walls that some had found bed bugs. We were all staying on the same floor, so every on the trip immediately panicked and looked for bed bugs. Luckily no one else found any, and the hotel was good enough to switch the guys who found bed bugs to a different room. The rooms were tiny, and everything was outdated except for the bathroom. The bathroom was redone, but they had done a pretty crappy job. Overall, I think you could find better places in Florence then this place.
A final note on hotels/accommodations. I had paid extra to get a single room, since I was travelling by myself I wanted my own space. But if you were travelling with other people they were really good about it. They had friends room together, and all the couples were able to get rooms together. The only funny thing was that I often got better rooms than the couples. For example, in Europe it’s cheaper to have two single beds pushed together than an actual double bed. So I would often have a double bed while the couples had two singles. But overall it wasn’t a huge difference in quality of the rooms.
Below I have a slideshow of all the pictures of the rooms that we stayed at. I have included the names of the hotels and also just my thoughts, in case you are looking for places to stay.
As a part of Contiki, there are some included experiences along with a list of ‘free-time add ons’. These free-time activities are not free though, you do have to pay. Some of our included experiences were a number of dinners, which you would get free food but would have to pay for any drinks. The quality of these dinners would vary, but overall pretty good. Some of the other included activities were a bike ride in Edam (small town outside of Amsterdam) and in Prague, a bunch of free walking tours, a leather demonstration, a Swiss watch demonstration and a perfumery tour.
The free-time add ons basically feel into three categories: dinners, tours or others. There were six dinners, and I did half of them. I didn’t do all the dinners because I had heard mixed reviews online and they were expensive. The nice thing about the dinners is that the alcohol is included and endless, so you can really get your money’s worth if you drink a lot. The food at the dinners were generally above average but not the best I’ve ever had. The nice thing is that they always feed you a lot, I never left those dinners hungry. For choosing what dinners to go to, I would recommend picking the ones that you think you would like the food the best. I did both of the Italian ones but passed on the Dutch, Czech and Austrian ones.
The tours are generally ones that are above your average walking tour. Some of them had food included, like in Berlin and in Venice. In Rome, to go into the Vatican and Colosseum we had to pay, but the nice thing is that we got to skip the lines. As a history person I would definitely recommend these tours, because I got to learn so much from them.
The final type of add ons were the ones that were unique to the cities but super cool experiences. In Amsterdam there was a canal cruise, in Venice a gondola ride and in Switzerland a lake cruise and a ride up to the top of a mountain. These were some of the best experiences I had on my whole trip. They are not things you can do anywhere else in the world, and so it was so cool to do it. The canal cruise in Amsterdam was such an amazing way to see the city, and we also had an open bar! Going to the top of a mountain in Switzerland was super fun to do, because for a lot of my friends it was their first time seeing snow!
The final thing I liked about these add-ons is that the fact that you are doing them with your group. Yes it’s possible to find your own restaurants or book some of these tours yourself, but it can be hard to do with a big group. The nice thing is that you are with all the new friends you have made. When trying to decided what activities to do, I would just pick what interests you. I would say the majority of the add-ons were worth it, and I enjoyed them.
Overall Thoughts and Recommendations on Contiki
I friggin loved Contiki, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. Contiki is definitely meant for extroverted people. Yes it’s possible to leave the group and do your own thing, but you are still spending many hours on a bus or at dinners together with these people. Most of the time you get about an hour in the hotel sometime during the day to freshen up, and then whatever time at night before you go to bed by yourself. You are with people 24/7, so if that’s not your thing, then Contiki can be very draining.
Contiki is also very fast-paced. We stayed a max of two days in a city before moving onto the next one. It can be very tiring to constantly be moving. While I was sad that my trip was over, I was definitely started to get burnt out by the end. If on your holiday you want to spend more time in one place, then Contiki isn’t the way to go.
I think I should also mention that on Contiki you do spend a fair amount of time on a bus. There are some large distances between places that can take a time to cross. I personally didn’t mind the busing. My cottage is 7 hours away, so I have no problem sitting in a car all day. I also spend most of the time talking to my friends or playing games – one of my friends brought a card game and we would play multiple games a day. I also watched a few movies. My trip manager was also great at using this time to talk to us about the places we were going to. You can also nap on the bus as well. I would just recommend bringing some ways to keep yourself entertained on the bus and also some stuff for motion sickness if you are prone to that.
Something I didn’t do, but a lot of my friends did was add time in a city before or after their trip. I would definitely recommend this. People either came a few days before and toured London, or stayed after in Paris or London. Because we didn’t really stay much in London, this is the only way to really see the city. It can also be nice to actually stay put somewhere after moving around for so long. I would personally recommend doing this after the trip, because then you can hang out with the people on your trip if they happen to be doing the same thing. Some of my friends were stayed in London after, so I was able to hang out with them the one extra day I add.
General Europe Travel Trips
In North America, it is way more popular to use cards to pay for everything but that is not the case in Europe. Definitely bring cash and use it. Especially for paying meals, it’s way easier to use cash because they don’t split the bill. What happened is that usually either everyone would pay cash, or one person would pay the full bill with their card and everyone would pay them back. This happened quite often with Ubers and cabs as well.
Try and get a good data plan. While in North America there is wifi almost everywhere, wifi isn’t that great in Europe. Even in hotels it can be crappy. It is way easier to have data to be able to get Ubers, look up directions, look up places to eat, etc.
My two favourite places were Berlin and Prague. I liked Berlin because there is so much history but there is also such a fun party scene as well. All of the Holocaust/WW2/Cold War museums are free, so it is really easy to learn about their history. In Berlin, I highly recommend going to karaoke because it was so much fun. I really liked Prague because it was pretty and cheap. Prague has a very cohesive look to it, so it feels like you are back in time. Prague is also really cheap, so you can go out and eat well while you are there.
If you want to do shopping, Prague is a pretty good place to go because it’s so cheap. If you are looking to get makeup, I would definitely recommend France especially French brands because they are way cheaper than back home.
I don’t have a ton of restaurant recommendations, but I would recommend Lokal in Prague, Ristorante Wanted in Rome (right near the Colosseum) and Carluccios in London for brunch.
But ya that was my trip! This was honestly the trip of a life time, and I definitely have caught the travel bug now! Can’t wait to go somewhere else! If you guys have any questions about any of the places that I went to just let me know and I have answer them/offer some suggestions 🙂