*Note: This is not a paid or sponsored post.
In the past year, I’ve explored four countries alongside 60+ complete strangers. By the end of this year, I’ll add two more countries and 30+ strangers to that list.
The reason: I don’t have a world travel buddy, but that shouldn’t keep from traveling the world. Amirightttt? I’m so right. Except I really love the company of people while I travel. That’s why tour groups have become such a big part of my life.
As I mentioned in this post from a few months back, my significant other is not able to travel for as long as I am. He’s also not interested in seeing some of the countries I’ve been wanderlusting over since, I don’t know, forever? As for my friends – their lifestyles don’t allow them to travel with me for as long as I’d like to or when I’d like to.
For a long time, I allowed both of those things to keep me from booking all the flights I so badly want to book. But a few years ago a client told me about Contiki, a tour company that does high-energy trips for 18-35-year-olds from around the globe. She and her husband had traveled with this tour company several times, but, she said, most of the people in the groups were solo travelers and the experiences were awesome for them. That was what planted the tour group seed in my mind.
I found myself going back to group tour websites (there are so many of them) probably every other day, looking at trips, looking at my calendar and then X-ing out of the page. I wanted to do it. I could afford to do it. I had the time to do it. But damn, I was nervous. Traveling to an unknown country with a bunch of people you’ve never met can be a scary and intimidating thing.
Then one day, I saw a deal on the Contiki website, didn’t allow myself to overthink it, and just did it. “Booked,” the confirmation email said. My heart was pitter-pattering that whole day.
About 8 months later, I was on a 24-hour flight to Thailand. By myself. Every thought was racing through my head. Would anyone at the airport speak English? (Yes.) Would I be able to get a taxi just fine? (Yes.) Would I be safe? (Yes.) Would my luggage make it alright? (Err. It landed two days later. But that was the only hiccup, I swear.) And the biggest question I had: Would I enjoy traveling with these people I’ve never met? (Keep reading.)
Since this trip and my other recent one to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, I’ve had so many people reach out and ask what it was like traveling with a tour group. I’ve gotten so many “Should I do it, too?”, “What are the people like?”, “Would I like it?” questions, and the answers to them vary depending on who you are. Everyone likes to travel differently. So let me break it down for you:
What tour groups are out there?
So. Freakin. Many. Do your research and see which one is best for you! The reason I have stuck with Contiki is because of its age window of 18-35. That means I get to travel with people my own age, which is important to me because we are likeminded, have similar hobbies, and can go at a fast pace (no offense, mature and wise people of certain ages). G Adventures is another tour company that has tour travel for people in the 18-35 age group, and I’m considering them for future trips.
This will vary with every different tour company, but it’s usually pretty similar. With my Contiki experience, the tour cost includes: lodging; transportation to included tour sights (shuttle buses, trains, boats,vans); a tour guide who is young, enthusiastic & fun; and some meals. (Although most of the included meals are the standard breakfast the hotel provides.) Basically, the cost of the tour experience covers almost all the basics except the roundtrip flight. Contiki also offers “add-on” experiences they have organized for those who want to pay extra for them. I’ve always purchased almost all of the experiences and not regretted it! There also is free time for us to explore on our own, and I can really appreciate that because after a few days of being in a country, you gain enough confidence to go out and about alone.
What are the people like?
Ugh, they’re tolerable.
You’ll of course always encounter different people in different tours. If you are booking a tour that allows many age groups, you can expect to probably be in a group with families, young travelers, and older travelers – and that will all impact the flow, style and pace of the tour. (Not necessarily in a bad way, of course, just depends on your travel style.)
With Contiki and G Adventures (18-35-year-old tours) you’re likely to be traveling with quite a few Australians, New Zealanders and maybe a few Canadians and Brits. I haven’t encountered many Americans on our trips, and I think it’s because Americans don’t get a lot of time off from work. (Yay for being self-employed!)
As for what these people have been like, I can honestly say they’ve been so awesome, interesting, upbeat and likeminded for the most part! Some of us have really bonded and it’s neat to have friendships across the world. Disclaimer, though: Contiki has a reputation for attracting “party” crowds because of the younger age demographic. Yes, there are a few young’ns who want to travel the world purely to drink and hook up in lots of countries, but most of the people truly are young nomads who are curious about different cultures and ways of living. And if some of them want to drink and hook up around the world, who cares, you do you, boo boo.
What kind of experiences are included?
With Contiki, the travel experiences have been a mix of some tourist-y stuff and some
really great, off-the-beaten-path exploration. For example, yes, we’ll have a few instances in which our bus pulls over so we can all hop out, look at a view, get a brief explanation of what wonderful scene we are looking at, snap a photo, then get back on the bus and go. I don’t enjoy these moment as much as the more in-depth exploration stuff, but I do appreciate them and they do have their place in traveling sometimes. Then, there are the moments like in Fez, a non-touristy part of Morocco where we explored the maze of markets and got a real view of the culture there. We get enough of these experiences to make my heart happy. It’s a good mix, and the good thing, is that if you are up for exploring on your own and making your own day itinerary, you can do that as well.
What I love most about organized travel
I love the ease of it. I book a flight, book a tour group, read about my destination – then go. I don’t have to book hotels or transportation in countries that are so unfamiliar to me, which is big for me especially during trips in which we are crossing the border from country to country. (I’ve done this before and its quite the task.)
I also am not yet confident enough to do solo traveling for weeks. Although I’ve done it for a few days in several locations, I do like having the company of people, and tour groups provide me with that. Lastly, I love the roommates I have had with Contiki. Yup, they give you the option to have a roommate for the entirety of your trip, and I really have enjoyed that because they’ve become my travel besties during the trip. (Knocks on all the wood for future roommate luck.)
What I don’t love about organized travel
Of course, with organized travel, you do have to stick to the itinerary at times. This means sometimes doing activities you’re not really all that into. For example, during my trip to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, we visited A LOT of religious buildings. Castles and churches and mosques and synagogues. The first few were so incredibly impressive and I was so in awe. These places have so much history and beauty to them. But by the 8th or 9th one, I didn’t want to see another religious building for months. That said, I did make the most of every freakin’ place of worship we went to, and appreciated their history. But the good news, I remind you: you’re allowed to make your own itinerary at times if you want to.
How to choose the tour group for you
Of course, everyone has different styles of traveling, and it important you choose a travel group that’s right for you. Contiki is right for me at the moment, but it may not be in a few years (you know, as I get bloody old), so I’ve already begun looking at other companies like G Adventures and Intrepid.
My recommendations for how to choose the perfect tour group are as follows:
- Figure out the group dynamic you want. Do you want to travel with families? Young people? Are you wanting a quiet, slow vacation, or something high-paced? Do you want to travel with a small group, or 60 people? Really think about these things, because this will help you know in which direction to go in. If you’re looking for something relaxing and quiet, with a group of 10 people or less, Contiki won’t be for you. Seriously, forget the word Contiki.
- Stay safe. You’ll want to make sure the tour company you are looking at is reputable and follows safety standards. Are they accredited by their government? Do they have bad reviews? Do they offer travel insurance? Look for all of these things.
- Don’t spend your money blindly. I have made this mistake. Make sure the company is giving you your money’s worth. Ask them questions about where you will be staying and what the mode of transportation will be within the country. You don’t want to find that you’re staying in hole-in-the-wall roach motels and traveling via a bus that has no air conditioning. Also, very important to keep in mind: sometimes tour guides make a profit when they take groups to certain shops or tourist destinations. That means the price of things are spiked up so that the guide can make his or her cut. Ask about this, and don’t be tricked into it.
Wherever you go, and however you travel, I hope you explore, learn new things and let travel be thy teacher.
Happy explorations, guys.