Group Travel Programs Reviewed: My Contiki Experience (Everything You Need to Know)

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Rachel Off Duty: My Contiki Review – Everything You Need to Know

I was a Contiki Travel Ambassador from 2019-2020. All thoughts, opinions, and photography are my own unless otherwise specified.

I hadn’t really considered the concept of group travel until Contiki. 

Sure, I studied abroad in college. 

And sure, I like traveling with my friends. 

But with strangers? On a bus traveling around foreign countries together for days or weeks at a time? 

Honestly, I wasn’t so sure. But I finally had the opportunity to be whisked into the world of group travel on my very first Contiki, exploring five countries in 10 days along the Mediterranean coast. It was a whirlwind to say the least! But was it worth it? Should you choose a trip with Contiki? In this Contiki review, I dive into everything you need to know about traveling with Contiki, along with my tips for group travel, to help you choose what’s right for you. 

I’ll start by saying I hadn’t even heard of Contiki until my mid twenties, and to be honest, I really wish I had heard about this company sooner, when I was in college and just beginning to dip my toe into international travel without my parents. At 26 years old (my age at the time of my first Contiki), I was worried I had “missed the window” and would feel too old on a trip marketed to 18-35 year olds. But sleep deprived and exhausted as I was, I actually had a blast. 

Something about being in a karaoke bar in Florence, italy at 2 in the morning really brings the ‘youth’ out in everyone, you know? 

If you’re currently wondering whether you should book that Contiki trip you’ve been considering, keep reading. I’ll break down everything you need to know in this honest Contiki review.

What is Contiki? 

Rachel Off Duty: My Contiki Review – Everything You Need to Know

Contiki is a social group travel company for ages 18-35. The company has been around since 1962 when it got its start in London as a minibus operation taking backpackers and holiday seekers from London to Europe on months-long expeditions.

Since then, Contiki has grown into one of the most popular travel companies in the UK, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. 

A lot of my audience here is North American, so if you haven’t heard of Contiki, don’t worry. I hadn’t either, and they’re only just beginning to gain broader awareness in the US. But if you grew up in Australia or New Zealand, Contiki is basically a rite of passage! 

Today, Contiki operates over 300+ unique tours across 6 continents ranging from $200 to $10,000 in price. The tours run anywhere from 3 days to 30+ days, and either focus on one particular destination or a variety of cities and countries in close proximity. 

There are many group travel companies out there, each with their own unique differentiation. So what makes Contiki different? In my opinion, it comes down to five key things: 

  • Age: Contiki is designed specifically for ages 18-35. This means you’ll be traveling with people around the same age as you who ideally share similar interests, travel styles, and energy levels. When I went on Contiki, the average age on my tour was 26, with the oldest person being 34. So, if you are thinking “is 27 too old for Contiki?” (or any other age >26), the answer is no! There’s usually a good variety because the tours have broad enough appeal for both younger partiers and those in search of a more culturally focused experience. 
  • Partying: Speaking of partying, yes, the rumors are true – Contiki does have a well-known reputation for more partying and energy than other group trip companies. It might depend on the destination you travel to, though. I was in Europe, and it’s easy to go out and stay out late while being able to walk or take public transit home. With all that said, nightlife is always optional and it’s up to you participate in it or not. 
  • Size: Contiki trips typically host between 20 – 50 travelers at a time. Not quite a small group, but not so big that you won’t be able to meet most everyone and form some really meaningful new friendships along the way. 
  • Pace: Contiki is known to generally have faster paced itineraries, which can be great for those with limited time or for those looking to tick a lot of things off their travel wish lists. On the flip side, it can be exhausting for some especially if your Contiki trip spans multiple weeks. 
  • Flexibility: This is a nice amenity you might not think of immediately when considering group travel. I think Contiki really understands and leans into the fact that it is designed for younger travelers with more volatile lifestyles, and caters to that with one of the most flexible booking policies around. Flexible deposits, the ability to change or cancel your trip (for a credit) up to 60 days pre-departure, and interest-free payment options are all available to help you make a trip decision worry-free.

Contiki does offer a ton of different travel styles to help you customize exactly what vibe, pace, comfort level, and price point you’re after. It can be absolutely mind-boggling to see all of the trip options on their website (there are so many!), so let me break down the key pointers on Contiki’s travel styles you need to know next. 

Contiki Travel Styles

Contiki operates over 300+ unique tours across 6 continents ranging from $200 to $10,000 in price. The tours run anywhere from 3 days to 30+ days, and either focus on one particular destination or a variety of cities and countries in close proximity.

There are tons of different ways of traveling with Contiki, and it can be overwhelming! In order to help you choose, Contiki has grouped some of their biggest categories of trips into different ‘travel styles.’

Here are some of the most distinct ones to look out for!

There are plenty more Contiki travel styles to consider, but in my opinion these are some of the best value propositions on Contiki to help you start dreaming up the trip you might want to take. As a frequent solo traveler, being able to go to a festival or go island hopping without waiting for my friends to join is mind-blowing. And now, as a thirty-something, having the option to travel with people closer in age and mindset and stay in more comfortable accommodations is all right up my alley. 

As you can see, with so many tour options and customizations, odds are there really is a Contiki trip out there for most people to find exactly what they are looking for.

Who is Contiki For?

Rachel Off Duty: My Contiki Review – Everything You Need to Know

While the Contiki brand markets itself as a travel company for 18-35 year olds, the average age of a Contiki traveler is 26. Old enough to have disposable income, but young enough to have the energy and stamina needed to sight-see all day and maybe even go out for a drink at night (and then do it all again the next day). 

Contiki is actually a fantastic option for traveling with your friends or significant other. Many tours are large enough for entire groups of friends to book altogether and be guaranteed space. Beyond that, tours like Contiki are great for groups because no one needs to be responsible for handling the planning, logistics, or budgeting, which is often the most stressful and time-consuming part of traveling with other people. Contiki handles it all for you!

On the flip side, Contiki can also be perfect for solo travelers, especially if you’re traveling solo for the first time. Solo travelers have an advantage, because Contiki allows individuals to visit new countries and cities with a guaranteed arsenal of companions and a dedicated trip manager. This can be a huge relief, especially if you’re thinking of using Contiki as your first exposure to international travel. 

If you’re curious about what this breakdown typically looks like on trip – about 45% of all Contiki travelers book tours with at least one friend or a significant other, and close to 55% travel solo. 

I love planning trips and figuring out itineraries myself, but one of my favorite things about going on my Contiki tour was not having to worry about a single thing for once! Everything from my transportation, to my hotel room, to my meals and activities was handled. All I had to do was show up and enjoy, which was such a nice change of pace from what I’m used to. 

What About Age? Is Contiki Right for Me?

Rachel Off Duty: My Contiki Review – Everything You Need to Know

Is Contiki really all about partying and is it full of college students? Well, it depends from trip to trip. But I personally did my first Contiki at the age of 26 and I had a blast. 

If you’re in your late twenties or early thirties and wondering whether Contiki is the right option for you, it will be if you’re looking for maximizing your time and experiencing as much as possible. The rest (going out, partying, etc) is really up to you. It’s always an option, but never a requirement. You can set your own pace no matter what Contiki trip you’re on as long as you’re showing up for the bus, train, or boat on time each morning! 

That said, if you’re specifically looking for a slower pace and more down time, or the option to work remotely while traveling around, Contiki might not be the right group travel option for you. I told you this Contiki review would be my honest take and it’s true – Contiki is for vacations and experiences. Not for relaxation or remote workations.

What You Can Expect When Traveling with Contiki

All Contiki trips include transportation during the trip, accommodations, some meals, dedicated trip managers and drivers, and some essential activities. Things like walking tours, sightseeing at famous landmarks, and activities integral to the tour (like white water rafting in Austria or taking a game drive in Kenya) are generally always included. 

You’ll also have the added, priceless perk of meeting tons of new travelers and friends from all over the world along the way!

What’s Not Included in Your Contiki Trip?

Contiki tours do not include your flights at the beginning and end of your trip. They also do not include all meals (you will have free time to go explore local restaurants for some lunches and dinners throughout). Last but not least, some extra experiences – ‘Free Time Add-Ons’ and ‘Make Travel Matter’ experiences – will be available to book on your tours for an additional cost. 

Contiki trips are generally made affordable by being flexible and customizable. I personally did every single Free Time Add-On available on my European Contiki tour, but you don’t have to. Especially if you want to travel at a bit of a slower pace and save some money! 

To help you wrap your head around all of this so you can know exactly what to expect, I’ll break down each of the core features next in my Contiki review below.

The Transportation

Rachel Off Duty: My Contiki Review – Everything You Need to Know

The majority of Contiki tours involve a coach bus or minibus. Contiki coach busses are basically a symbol of the brand and a core part of its origin story. Because of this, each Contiki coach is outfitted with bright colors on the outside, and plush seating arrangements on the inside. The busses have AC, a TV, WiFi, USB charging ports, and individual tray tables at the back of each seat. I’ll admit, the WiFi isn’t the best (you only get 100 MB of free WiFi on each device every 24 hours, and while you can purchase additional data, it’s spotty at best). If you don’t need it, maybe save your money. However, it can get the job done in a pinch if you’re lucky. 

Depending on your itinerary, you will be spending a lot of time in the coach. So pack a neck pillow, a book, and plan to spend this time catching up on sleep, work, reading, or getting to know the other travelers on your tour! The coach can be a pretty fun experience in itself. Also, Contiki’s drivers are top-notch, safe, and incredibly precise. I absolutely adored Paolo, our driver for the week we spent in Europe. 

Outside of the famous coach, Contiki includes all internal transportation during your tour. This means if your itinerary requires a boat, a short flight, a train, or anything else to help you get from point A to point B, it will be included as part of your trip cost. 

The Meals

You will have some meals and drinks included in your Contiki tour, but not all. Each itinerary on the Contiki site will list out the meals included so you can get a decent idea of what you’ll be responsible for while you’re on the trip. 

Breakfasts are generally pretty basic and will consist of whatever included food is served at the hostel or hotel you’re staying at. I’m not a big breakfast person so I’d usually skip these in favor of sleeping in. But they are always available. 

Your Contiki tour might offer some Free Time Add-Ons focused on food, like a cooking class or winery visit. If you opt in for these additional experiences, you’ll get another meal out of it! I did a pasta-making class in Rome on one of our last nights in Europe and it was one of the most fun experiences ever. The wine was flowing, the hosts were incredible, and we got to try three different delicious Roman pastas that blew my mind. 

The Accommodations

Rachel Off Duty: My Contiki Review – Everything You Need to Know

The accommodations you’ll stay in range from hostels, to hotels, to what Contiki refers to as ‘Special Stays.’ Special Stays are typically ultra-unique accommodations – think chateaus in France and floating rafts in Thailand! Here is an example of a hostel you might stay in on a Contiki tour in Europe.

Regardless of the accommodation type, expect to share your room with anywhere from one to four other travelers throughout your trip. This may be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you view it, but hostel-hopping is an extremely common practice outside of the US and an incredibly easy way to meet new people. In my experience, despite having limited space for luggage, I got along with my roommates right away and we ended up banding together for the majority of our Contiki tour which was great since we all went into the trip as strangers! 

If you’re considering a tour that moves around frequently and doesn’t spend more than one or two nights in any location, I’d strongly recommend not bringing more than a carry on with you on the trip. All that moving around with a check-in luggage, coupled with the limited space you’ll have when sharing a room with others, can be a huge pain and honestly not worth the hassle (speaking from experience!).

If Special Stays sound intriguing to you, you can get an idea of what Contiki has to offer by reviewing their unique accommodations by destination here

The Trip Managers and Drivers

All Contiki tours have an expert trip manager and driver assigned to give you the best possible experience. They will be with you from start to finish taking care of everything on your itinerary, answering any questions you might have, and providing recommendations along the way.

Our trip manager Mikael and our driver Paolo were a dynamic duo that became a welcome sight each morning as we lugged our luggage back into the coach to start our next day. They always brought the good vibes no matter how tired we were!

Should You Tip Your Trip Managers and Drivers on Contiki?

Though not required, tipping is politely requested at the end of every Contiki trip. You may also feel compelled to tip your local guides throughout the trip as well. All of this is at your discretion and you won’t ever be pressured, but these guides do work incredibly hard round-the-clock for the length of your tour to give you the best possible experience. So, if you have the means, plan ahead and save some cash for the end of your trip! 

So, how much should you tip your Contiki guides? My general rule of thumb for tipping is around $3 – $10 USD per day for the length of your trip. My first Contiki tour was on the shorter side at just nine days, so I ended up tipping around $8 per day for my trip manager, and $5 per day for my driver. With around $3-5 per local guide throughout my trip as well, this added up to about $120- $130 USD on tips. Someone else on my trip did around $5 per day for the trip manager, $3 per day for the driver, and $3 per local guide which came out to around $80 all-in.

The Free Time Add-Ons

Rachel Off Duty: My Contiki Review – Everything You Need to Know
Rachel Off Duty: My Contiki Review – Everything You Need to Know
Rachel Off Duty: My Contiki Review – Everything You Need to Know

Most, if not all, Contiki itineraries will offer some Free Time Add-Ons (FTAs) that are not included in the base price of the trip. This is something you should be aware of and budget for upfront, because you will only be able to pay for these FTAs while you’re already on the trip itself. You can pay for them with cash or card! 

Of course, you can opt out of any FTA you don’t want to do. But from my experience, there will be at least a handful of add-ons that you won’t want to miss out on. These FTAs can be anything from a special meal to a full-day excursion.

On my Contiki trip, some of the most fun FTAs we were offered included a tour of a monastery and a Tuscan dinner experience, a pasta making class in Rome, and a bike tour of the city in Nice. The bike tour was, without question, one of my favorite memories from the entire trip and something I would have never done alone!

The Commitment to Responsible Travel (Make Travel Matter)

Contiki has taken strides to make sustainable travel an integral part of their brand. As a travel company specifically geared towards creating lifechanging experiences for young travelers, this is one of my favorite aspects of Contiki. Their mission, called Make Travel Matter (MTM), is designed in partnership with the TreadRight Foundation to encourage responsible travel through education and experiences that positively impact people, planet, and wildlife. 

Most Contiki tours will feature MTM experiences that are either included or offered as a Free Time Add-On! 

So, what can you expect when participating in a Make Travel Matter experience on Contiki? Here are just a couple of examples of incredible experiences you might find: 

Contiki recently rolled out a pretty robust 5-point Climate Action Plan to reach Net Zero status for carbon emissions as a company by 2050. MTM experiences are just one piece of the puzzle. If you’re curious to learn more about their sustainability goals as a company, you can read up on their plan here

When making the decision to book a tour with Contiki or a similar tour operator, pay attention to their values and the initiatives (if any) they’re backing, as this is essentially what your dollars will be supporting. While many people associate Contiki with lots of partying and quick-hit trips through countries, if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll see that they are doing a ton in an effort to bridge the gap between wanderlust and positive impact – and I think they’re doing a pretty respectable job for the size of their operation.

The Cost

Contiki tours can cost anywhere from $200 to $10,000 depending on the trip, the travel style, and the amount of time you’ll be on the road. 

I won’t break down cost comparisons in this Contiki review, because it can change drastically from place to place. But, if you were to itemize all of the things a Contiki tour includes, odds are, you can find a way to DIY the same trip for cheaper. However, what Contiki offers that you might not get on your own comes down to its knowledgeable trip managers, having all of your trip logistics handled, and being able to meet a built-in community of like-minded travelers while touring some of the most incredible places on the planet. 

Those value-adds can be well worth the extra couple hundred dollars you might pay to travel with Contiki vs on your own. It’s nice to not have to handle all that legwork yourself! 

When it comes to comparing Contiki against other group travel companies on cost, Contiki is definitely one of the more affordable options out there. Some contributing factors include their company’s longstanding relationships with local operators around the globe, their average trip size, the room sharing at accommodations, and the flexibility you have to add on experiences on top of the base price.

What’s My Final Rating?

Rachel Off Duty: My Contiki Review – Everything You Need to Know

All in, I give my Contiki travel experience a 7.5/10. 

  • 8/10 for the experience 
    • Why: Contiki is a sensory overload in a lot of amazing ways. But you will be overloaded! It’s a lot to take in and it can be very fast-paced. 
  • 7/10 for the accommodations 
    • Why: Most of the accommodations were incredibly well-located, but because of sharing a room with 2-3 girls at a time (each with our own checked luggage), it could be incredibly cramped. Learn from my mistakes and take only a carry on! 
  • 9/10 for the community 
    • Why: Because of the size of Contiki tours, it’s easy to make friends. You’re surrounded by other travelers itching to explore, which is one of the best feelings in the world. I find the people I meet on group trips to be some of my fastest friendships. 
  • 5/10 for the group size 
    • Why: The downside of the size of these trips is that traveling with 40+ others can be a lot. A lot of people to wait up on when boarding the bus, a lot of people to descend upon a town or landmark at once, a lot of people to help take photos of. I personally don’t like being a part of groups this large when I can help it. BUT, Contiki is a pro at managing large groups and they operate like a well-oiled machine. So, you may not really feel or notice this as much as I did. I just personally like to keep a lower profile, size-wise, while traveling. 
  • 6/10 for the pace
    • Why: Most Contiki itineraries are jammed-packed, especially the ones designed to give you a taste of multiple countries or cities in one trip (like the one I did). I had a blast, but I was absolutely toasted by the end. When you do a Contiki, make sure you plan a buffer day or two of recovery afterwards 🙂
  • 10/10 for the company 
    • Why: The vibe of the company itself always influences my overall rating. I love Contiki’s origin story, their values, and their commitment to sustainability. They are a fun brand overall and their reputation is hard-earned. 

Is Contiki Worth It?

You might hate this answer but it’s my honest one and I promise it’s not a cop-out! It ultimately comes down to you and what you’re looking for out of your trip. 

While I prefer smaller group trips and solo travel over traveling as part of a larger group, I do sorely wish I had learned about Contiki earlier in my twenties. I would have loved to have more of these experiences fresh out of college! It would have also been nice to get a crash-course in lots of different places at once right when I was beginning my own journey as a traveler. 

Contiki can be a fantastic option for friends that don’t want to handle travel logistics, or solo travelers nervous to go abroad alone. You really don’t have to worry about anything once you’re booked onto a trip. 

With that said, I do consider Contiki to be more about the experience of the tour itself versus truly getting to intimately know the places you visit. You move quick, and you see so much more than you can absorb at once. Contiki is like a sampler platter of experiencing places you might want to return to in the future, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

All that said, if you’re looking to maximize your time off and experience as much as possible, you want your logistics handled for you, and you don’t mind the faster pace or the larger group, I say go for it. Worst case scenario, you come back from your Contiki trip absolutely exhausted but with a ton of new travel friends you’ve met along the way 🙂

Where would you travel on your first Contiki? Do you have any other burning questions I didn’t answer in this Contiki review? Let me know below!

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Rachel Off Duty: My Contiki Review – Everything You Need to Know
Rachel Off Duty: My Contiki Review – Everything You Need to Know

Hey there! I’m Rachel, a travel writer and a full-time advertising / marketing expert. In 2019, I traveled more than 25 times while working 9 to 5, and since then I’ve committed myself to living a more adventurous life, even if it means bringing my laptop along for the ride.

Are you hungry to travel more, but overwhelmed with how to juggle work and play? You’ve come to the right place!

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