Everything You Need to Know for Your First Contiki Tour (Plus 17 Trip Recommendations)
I recently took my very first Contiki tour along the coast of the Mediterranean – through Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, and the Vatican. As someone who travels equally as a solo female, a couple, and part of a small group, I am not the kind of person who’s tied to one dedicated travel style and I tend to appreciate the benefits each way of seeing the world can provide. Contiki’s was the first large group tour I’d been on since college, though.
As soon as I announced earlier this year that I’d be going on a Contiki tour, I was instantly met with 3 types of responses:
Praise – I love Contiki! I went on several tours / I’ve been dying to go (I specifically received more excitement than I expected to from people who are now 50 or 60 years old reminiscing on the Contiki tours they took in their 20s!)
Skepticism – What’s it like traveling with that many people? Isn’t it just one big college party?
Lack of Awareness – What’s a Contiki?
I actually fell into the last category myself! I had no idea what Contiki was until recently. And now that I’ve been on a tour myself, I so regret not having known Contiki was an option when I was in college and just beginning to dip my toe into international travel without my parents. But even now, a couple of years out of college, I still had a blast. Something about being in a karaoke bar in Florence at 2 in the morning really brings the ‘youth’ out in everyone, you know?
If you’re currently deciding between Contiki and another method of travel, what I hope to do is provide some exposure and answer some questions about Contiki that I wish I had known so I could’ve considered it as an option sooner. At the end of this post, you should have all the facts you’ll need to decide whether to book a Contiki trip, and which Contiki tour (because there are several!) is the perfect choice for you!
What is Contiki?
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. More recently, they’ve started gaining steam in the US too.
Today, Contiki operates over 350+ unique tours across 6 continents ranging from $179 to $9,000 in price. The tours run anywhere from 3 days to over 40 days, and either focus on one particular destination or a variety of cities and countries in close proximity.
Contiki Tour Structure
Contiki offers 8 different tour categories to appeal to a wide-ranging group of travelers with different interests, whether it’s traveling on a budget, seeking out local experiences, or squeezing in a quick getaway without taking too much time off from work or school.
*If you decide to book a Contiki tour, you can use code CONTIKIRACHEL to save 10% on any 7+ day itinerary*
1. Contiki Discoverer Tours:
What it Is: Discoverer tours are meant for seeing and experiencing as much of each destination as possible.
Availability: All regions except Africa and the Middle East
My Discoverer Tour Picks (Click to View):
2. Contiki In-Depth Explorer Tours:
What it Is: In-Depth Explorer tours are aimed at focusing on culturally rich exploration within a particular country or region.
Availability: All 6 continents
My In-Depth Explorer Picks (Click to View):
3. Contiki Iconic Essentials Tours:
What it Is: Iconic Essentials tours are focused specifically on essentials and a destination’s most famous sites, with the idea of giving you the most bang for your buck.
Availability: Europe only
My Iconic Essentials Picks (Click to View):
4. Contiki Sailing and Cruise Tours:
What it Is: Sailing and cruise tours are itineraries with an emphasis on water and beach activities.
Availability: Australia and Europe only
My Sailing & Cruise Picks (Click to View):
5. Contiki Short Trip and Festival Tours:
What it Is: Short, usually 3- or 4-day trips aimed at either attending festivals, taking a weekend getaway, or adding on to an existing trip you might already be taking.
Availability: Australia, New Zealand, Europe, USA, and Canada
My Short Trip and Festival Picks (Click to View):
6. Contiki Ski and Snowboard Tours:
What it Is: Ski and snowboard tours are centered around winter sports and activities.
Availability: Asia, New Zealand, Europe, USA, and Canada
My Ski and Snowboard Picks (Click to View):
On Contiki’s site, you can filter their 300+ trips by the above categories to narrow down your search. If you’re more of a solo adventurer, you can also filter the trips to only see itineraries with maximum free time (versus a structured itinerary).
Most, if not all, Contiki itineraries will list out a number of different 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.
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’ll either really enjoy or won’t want to miss out on (if the rest of the group is participating and there’s no better alternative, for example). 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.
What Kind of Traveler Would Like a Contiki Tour (and Is it Right for You?)
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 prime tour for both friend groups and solo travelers. 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 from your friend group needs to be tasked with the planning, logistics, or budgeting, which is often the most stressful and time-consuming part of traveling with other people. On the flip side, solo travelers have an advantage too, because Contiki allows individuals to visit new countries and cities with a guaranteed arsenal of companions along with a dedicated trip manager, which can be a huge relief, especially if you’re thinking of using Contiki as your first exposure to international travel. 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, 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.
The majority of Contiki tours involve a coach bus or minibus. Contiki coach busses are something the company takes great pride in because they are essentially the symbol and walking billboard of the brand. 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. However, it’s better than having nothing, and does get the job done if you’re just trying to catch up on texts or scroll through Instagram.
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.
Food & Drinks
You will have some meals and drinks included in your Contiki tour, while others will either be FTAs or free time to explore and eat on your own. 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.
To get an idea of what tips of meal FTAs are offered for the itinerary you’re considering, scroll down to the itinerary section of the trip description and click on ‘See Detailed Itinerary.’ This will show you all of the FTA meals available and how much they will cost!
For the meal inclusions, it’s important to also know that some of these meal inclusions will simply be whatever free food is served at the hostel or hotel you’re staying at.
The accommodations you’ll stay in range from hostels to hotels to what Contiki refers to as ‘Special Stays’ in unique lodging. Think chateaus in France and floating rafts in Thailand! Regardless of the accommodation type, expect to share your room with between 1 - 4 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 1 or 2 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 can be a huge pain and honestly not worth the hassle (speaking from experience!).
What I was really intrigued to learn that I don’t think many people know is that Contiki partners with the TreadRight Foundation to support and sustain people, wildlife, and environmental issues in the countries they impact. In addition to a number of organizational commitments (called ‘Contiki Cares’), Contiki has also created several opportunities to learn about sustainability and participate in volunteer opportunities while you’re on tour. Some of these opportunities include learning about bush medicine in Australia, supporting community building efforts in Ecuador, and visiting elephant rehabilitation sanctuaries in Thailand.
When making the decision to book a tour with Contiki or a similar tour operator, definitely pay attention to their values and the initiatives (if any) they’re supporting, 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, there are actually a number of itineraries on offer that focus instead on slow travel, cultural immersion, and contribution to society and sustainability. Now that I know about the Contiki Cares program, I personally would love for my next trip with them to be one that includes a community or sustainability initiative (I actually have my eyes on this trip, which includes a visit to a women’s co-op in Jordan).
To learn more about Contiki’s approach to conscious travel, go here.
Overall Pros + Cons:
Logistics figured out for you
Lots of partying, if you choose (pro and con)
Sustainability and conscious travel initiatives to participate in
Dedicated trip managers and drivers
Price & financing options
Lots of partying, if you choose (pro and con)
Price (listing this as a pro and a con, depending on how you look at it and depending on which trip you’re interested in)
I was selected as Contiki’s Travel Ambassador for the 2019-2020 year. That said, all thoughts and opinions are my own.