I’ve scoured the web, trying to find Contiki reviews focussed on the USA tours, as opposed to the amazing Europe tours that everybody seems to prefer. Back in June 2015, I did the Best of USA Contiki Tour (you can read all about this tour, by clicking here). It was my first time experiencing solo travel. I had been to the United States before with my family, but I hadn’t yet ventured overseas alone. I spent every day umm’ing and ahh’ing about whether I wanted to take the plunge into solo travel. It proved to be a difficult task, trying to find decent reviews about Contiki Tours that weren’t the hostel staying, day long bus rides tours around Europe.
So I thought what better, than to write my own! Contiki Tours aren’t for everybody. You need to be pretty open-minded to fully enjoy them and understand what they’re about.
The first thing I noticed, when the members of my group started to roll in on the night before 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. But I suppose being a tour across the USA, wouldn’t invite a huge array of different cultured people.
If you’ve read this far, I bet you’re wondering what the good and bad things are about embarking on a Contiki Tour across the United States? Well first, let me give you a basic run down about how Contiki as a tour company works.
HOW TO FIND 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 countries and/or continents that Contiki currently travels to. These are: Europe, Australia, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Asia and 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 what 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: camping, easy pace, in-depth explorer, short trips + festivals, discoverer, high energy, sailing + cruise, winter + ski. This is a cool option for those who prefer a Winter trip over a Summer trip, or an adventurous trip over an easy going and relaxing one. Choose the option that suits you best, and you’ll have tons of tours listed 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 three thousand dollars, and want to be travelling for up to two weeks, select both of these options in the right hand column, and all the available tours with those specifics will be listed for you!
ONCE 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’ll need to lock in your choice. At the top of the page is the name of the tour you’ve chosen, the amount of countries the tour takes you to, how long it goes for, the tour cost and how much you save when you book with Contiki as opposed to booking everything separately. If you scroll down, you’ll come to the itinerary section and all of the cool inclusions that come with the 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 you get!
Note: Each day, you get a certain amount of ‘Me Time’. Essentially, this means that you are 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 when travelling, and these things may not be included in the itinerary that Contiki has created for you. So during this time, hit up the spots that you’re keen to check out! There are tons of suggestions too, if you’re unsure 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. After all, it’s good to know that you’ll be taken care of, while you’re overseas having a blast with all the cool new people you’ll meet!
WHEN 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!
SO, YOU’VE BOOKED YOUR FIRST CONTIKI TRIP. HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT.
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 it’s party scene, people getting drunk and passing out on Hollywood Boulevard (I’m guilty of that one), and crazy antics that no one ever remembers the next day. Sure, that’s all true. But there’s so many other cool parts of embarking on a Contiki Tour.
I didn’t know what to expect when I stepped foot in my hotel in Downtown Los Angeles at the beginning of June 2015. I had done some 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 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 have a cocktail every day with breakfast, and some who decide not to drink at all. Once you get settled in and start mingling with the people in your group, you’ll find the ones who you click with the most, have more in common with, and therefore will have a more enjoyable time 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 bunch of adults who are there to have an amazing and memorable time – just like you!
THERE WILL BE BITCHINESS AND DIFFERENCES OF OPINION
Being thrown into a group of people from different places around the world, varying 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!
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 days. Head out first thing in the morning (sleep is for the weak!) and hit it up first. You can then plan the rest of your free time accordingly. Spending as much time getting 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 I was in New York City on the Best of USA tour, my lovely Tour Manager Steph, told us we had the chance to go to a Yankees game! This wasn’t something I had anticipated happening, but luckily I had enough spending money with me to be able to go. Don’t be caught short if something cool and unexpected happens, you’ll regret it later! It’s always better to have more money than you think you’ll need. You can always convert it back when you get home!
The Best of USA tour isn’t like the regular Contiki tours. Most are road trip style. 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 love a good road trip, especially in a place you’ve never been. But I personally loved the fact that being a air transport 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 TOUR 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 highly important! On the first night of the Best of USA tour, Steph (my tour manager, if you weren’t paying close enough attention earlier 😉) 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 Manager 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 won’t wait for you. You’ll then need to find your own way to the group’s first activity for the 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!
This also applies throughout the day, too. I remember on my own tour, one of the guys in my group was late back to the bus, after the couple of hours we had of free time to explore Hollywood. Our Tour Manager gave us an exact time to be back on the bus. After waiting ten minutes, and still 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!
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 this awesome company is to give you the freedom of choice.
I would recommend Contiki for someone who is relatively new to travel. It’s also an awesome way to meet people if you’re a solo traveller. If you follow my tips, I can guarantee you’ll come home with enough stories, photos and drunken bruises to last a lifetime.
Have you done a Contiki tour before? What one did you do? Tell me what you thought in the comments below! 💭