If you’re looking for a great first way to explore and experience the United States, I highly recommend a USA Contiki Tour. Back in June of 2015, I did the Best of USA Contiki Tour. It was my first time embarking on solo travel, and I spent a long time finding a reliable and decently priced company. I had visited theUnited States before with my family, but I hadn’t yet ventured overseas alone. I’d heard great things from friends and family who had traveled with Contiki. So after doing my own research, reading reviews and searching through their available tours, I eventually settled on Contiki!
I’m going to put this out there straight away: Contiki Tours aren’t for everybody. You sort of need to have an open mind to fully enjoy what Contiki has to offer. But if you’re up for a good time, want to explore a new city or country with a bunch of strangers, then sit back and take note! I’m about to share everything I think you should be aware of.
Table of Contents
- What to Expect on a USA Contiki Tour: A First Timer’s Guide
- How to Choose the Perfect Tour
- After You’ve Chosen Your Tour
- Once You’re Ready to Book
- Things You Should Know & Tips for your First Contiki Tour
- People Do Drink – A Lot
- There Will be Differences of Opinion
- Your Group Will Probably be Mostly Younger People
- Make the Most of your Me Time
- Take Plenty of Spending Money
- Pack Light
- Tipping is Sometimes Included in the Cost
- Some of your Meals are Included
- Always, Always Make Sure You’re On Time
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What to Expect on a USA Contiki Tour: A First Timer’s Guide
How to Choose the Perfect Tour
When you first open the Contiki website, in the left hand side column, you’ll see a tab that says ‘trips’. By clicking on this link, you can search via a few different filters. If you already know which part of the world you would like to visit, they make it easy by listing the regions that Contiki currently travels to.
These regions are:
- New Zealand
- Latin America
Clicking on any one of these options will bring you to a new page, listing all the separate tours within that country or continent. If you are unsure about which region you would like to visit, but know what your travel style is, there is also a filter for this too!
There are quite a few options within this travel style category, such as:
- Easy Pace
- In-depth Explorer
- Short Trips & Festivals
- High Energy
- Sailing & Cruise
- Winter & Ski
This is a cool way to narrow down your options, for people who maybe prefer a winter trip over a summer trip, or an adventurous trip over an easy-going one! Choose the style of travel that suits you, and you’ll have a list of suitable tours right in front of your eyes!
You can also filter your search by length of trip, departure date and the budget you’ve given yourself. For instance, if you are only willing to spend up to $3,000, and want to be travelling for two weeks, select both of these options in the right hand column, and all of the available tours with those specifics will be listed for you!
After You’ve Chosen Your Tour
Once you’ve picked the tour that’s right for you, a new page will open with all the information you need to lock in your selection.
At the top of the page you will find:
- The name of the tour you’ve chosen
- The countries the tour will take you to (some tours will take you to more than one country, such as any North America based tours!)
- How long the tour goes for
- The tour cost
- How much you save when you book with Contiki as opposed to booking on your own
When you scroll down, you’ll come to the itinerary section and all of the awesome things included in your Contiki Tour cost! The itinerary tells you how many days you spend in each city, what you’ll be doing as part of the tour group, and the inclusions and ‘me time’ that are offered.
Note: You get a certain amount of ‘Me Time’ each day. This means, most of the time you’re traveling, you’ll be given either half a day or a full day to go off and explore on your own. Everyone has a list of things they want to see while traveling, and those things may not be included on the itinerary that Contiki has created for you. This is where your Me Time comes in! On those free days, head off on your own (or with your new friends) and visit those places that are on your bucket list! Contiki has a huge range of suggestions too, if you’re unsure of where to start.
If you keep scrolling down the page, you’ll come to the ‘What’s Included’ section. This tells you how many nights accomodation you’re paying for, information about your Tour Manager and Driver, how many meals are included, the cool extras that you can experience at a discounted price, Me Time suggestions and transport information.
Once You’re Ready to Book
Next comes the exciting part. Once you’ve chosen your dream tour, it’s time to book. At the bottom of the screen you’ll see a button that says ‘Book Trip’. Clicking this button will open a pop-up page with a calendar. Here, you’ll be given the available dates that your tour will be running. Choose an appropriate time of year, and follow the prompts! You’ll be jetting off on the trip of a lifetime before you know it!
Things You Should Know & Tips for your First Contiki Tour
Now that you’ve booked your trip, I’m sure you’re wondering what to expect when you arrive at your first destination. Right? Duh, of course you are! I know I was.
Contiki is well known for its party scene, people getting drunk and passing out on Hollywood Boulevard (okay, maybe that was just me), and crazy antics that no one ever remembers the next day. Sure, that’s all true. But there are so many other cool experiences you’ll have if you choose to book a Contik tour.
I didn’t know what to expect when I stepped foot into my hotel in Downtown Los Angeles at the beginning of June 2015. I had done quite a bit of research prior to my trip, and I had joined a Facebook group started for my specific Tour group, but I was still somewhat in the dark about what Contiki was really all about. So here are some things you should know, to prepare you for your first Contiki Tour!
People Do Drink – A Lot
The rumours are true, there’s a lot of alcohol involved in the world of Contiki. But that’s okay. Whether you drink alcohol or not, you can still have an epic time. Your tour group will consist of a wide range of people. There will be some who enjoy a cocktail each day with breakfast, and some who decide not to drink at all. Once you’re settled in and start mingling with the people in your group, you’ll find the people who you click with the most and have more in common with. Stick to what your gut is telling you. Don’t fall into the trap of ‘trying to fit in’. It isn’t high school. You’re with a group of adults who are there to have an amazing and memorable time – just like you!
There Will be Differences of Opinion
Being thrown into a group of people from all over the world and different ages and personalities, there’s bound to be clashing amongst one another. But if you’re mature about it and don’t let it ruin your trip, you’ll be fine. You may be in a group environment, meeting new people and making new friends, but it’s still YOUR trip. So don’t let anybody pressure you into doing something you’re not keen on. Do your own thing, and you can always catch up with your new friends later!
Your Group Will Probably be Mostly Younger People
The first thing I noticed when my group started to roll in on the night before our Contiki tour officially started, was that we were all on the younger end of the scale. Considering the age bracket for Contiki is eighteen to thirty five, the small amount of older group members was surprising. Something else that surprised me, was the fact that most of the members in my group were Australian! I was expecting to walk in and be greeted by people from all over the world. That wasn’t the case in my particular Contiki group unfortunately!
Make the Most of your Me Time
One of the things I didn’t like about Contiki, was the lack of Me Time. Sure, on the longer trips you get quite a few days to explore and do your own thing. But most of the time, there’s a set time you need to be back to attend group events and things you’ve already paid for. If there’s something that you’re dying to see, make it a priority on one of these Me Time days.
Head out first thing in the morning (sleep is for the weak!) and cross it off your list first. You can then plan the rest of your free time accordingly. Spending as much time heading out exploring the city and crossing off those bucket list items, will ensure you make the most of all your time on Contiki!
Take Plenty of Spending Money
The inclusions and even the ‘extras’ that are listed on the Contiki website or in one of their booklets, aren’t the be all and end all of your trip. Those booklets and the website aren’t updated regularly, so there’s bound to be some opportunities that present themselves, that you wouldn’t have planned on.
For example, while we were in New York City during the Best of USA Contiki tour, our lovely tour manager Steph, gave us the opportunity to go to a Yankees game! This wasn’t something that I had anticipated happening, but lucky I had enough spending money with me to be able to go. Don’t be caught short if something cool comes up. You’ll definitely regret it later! It’s always a good idea to have more money than you think you’ll need. Remember, you can always convert it back when you get home!
Related: Click here to read about my 5 days in New York City
The Best of USA tour isn’t like other Contiki tours. Most are road trip style. You know, where you’re stuck on a bus most of the day or night, on your way to the next destination. This is cool if you like a good road trip, especially in a place you’ve never been. But I personally loved the fact that being an air travel tour, we had more time up our sleeves in each city, as our travel time was significantly shortened.
Whether you’re doing a bus or plane tour, it’s always a good idea to pack as light as possible. Not only will is cause less back aches and sore arms from carrying all your luggage, but you’ll also have lots of room to shop!
Tipping is Sometimes Included in the Cost
If you’re new to the concept of tipping, don’t worry, sometimes a percentage of this is covered in the cost you pay upfront for your Contiki Tour. However, you will still need to tip for your own personal meals and any services that you receive when you are not with your group. So make sure you’ve got plenty of small bills on you to cover the cost of individual tipping. In a lot of countries, tipping is essential.
Some of your Meals are Included
Meals also tend to be included in the overall cost of your Tour. Most of the time, breakfast is one of those included meals. This gives you the chance to fuel up for a busy day of exploring, shopping and drinking! Dinner is also another frequently included meal. Usually, you’ll eat dinner out at a fancy restaurant with your group and tour manager! Most of the time, however, you’re on your own when it comes to lunch.
Always, Always Make Sure You’re On Time
This is super important! On the first night of the Best of USA tour, Steph (our tour manager) told us how important it was to be on time. Generally, you spend each day in a new city with your tour manager and tour group. Your tour tanager will give you a specific time to be up, ready and waiting in the lobby to leave for the day’s activities. If you’re late, the group will leave without you. You’ll then need to find your own way to the first activity for the day (or the airport if it’s a travel day!). This can be especially difficult if you’re in a city you’re unfamiliar with – so always make sure you set plenty of alarms the night before!
I remember on my Best of USA tour, one of the guys in my group was late back to the bus after the couple of hours of free time exploring Hollywood. Our tour manager gave us a specific time to be back on the bus, and after waiting ten minutes with no sign of him, the bus left. He had to make his way from Hollywood to Santa Monica Beach on his own. Always make sure you set alarms for everything, to avoid being caught in this situation!
Related: Read about my experience on the Best of USA Contiki Tour, hereHere are some tips and tricks for anyone planning their first @contiki tour! Click To Tweet
Everyone has a different experience on their Contiki trip. Whether you’re a heavy partier or prefer to spend your free time exploring museums, the point of Contiki is to give you the freedom of choice. I would recommend Contiki for someone who is relatively new to travel. It’s also a great way to meet people if you’re a solo traveller.
Have you done a Contiki tour before? Which one did you do? Tell me what you thought in the comments below!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on certain links within this post and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I will always only share my 100% honest opinion, and will never endorse a product or company that I would not personally use.
Originally published in February 2017. Updated October 2017.