Contiki Tours and Pre-Packaged Travel 7

A classic Contiki hangover

I was halfway down a picturesque river in the Ha-Giang province of Northern Vietnam floating peacefully on a bamboo raft when suddenly, the peace was shattered by the braying screech of what sounded like a donkey being set on fire. Birds took to the air in fright, children covered their ears and richter scales around the world quivered. It turned out just to be a large American lady called Judy floating about 500 meters further up the river. Over the next 30 minutes I heard a great deal about Judy’s private life from around half a kilometer away as did most of Vietnam given she was talking loud enough to embarrass an air-raid siren. 

This is my issue with packaged tours especially when I compare them to solo long term travel. I was lucky enough to take no further part in Judys’ life which can’t be said for her fellow tour goers who had to pile into a bus with this beast then spend the remainder of their tour learning more about her fascinating problem with lactose intolerance (not surprisingly even dairy products can’t stand her). These types of people are just one of the issues I have with a pre-packaged travel tour, it’s such a mixed bag and i’m not just talking about over 50’s tours like this one was but things like Contiki or other youth style tours too. I’ve never tried this style of travel before but I’ve heard very mixed things about them so I decided to put a few thoughts down on paper and nut out the pro’s and con’s of taking a Contiki tour, (since i’m slap bang in the middle of Contiki’s target audience i’ll focus on them).

Take this Contiki Tour as an example. While it certainly looks like fun and i’m sure I would still have a fantastic time, 25 days in 11 different countries would mean a whirlwind fast 2 days in each (not including transport time), not a great way to get to know each place or it’s people. The other major issue I have with this tour is the cost, which seems a little on the pricey side at $2,692 per person, especially given that it doesn’t include half your meals, entry and entertainment costs or flights. Suddenly 25 days in europe (from Australia) is now looking more like topping $5,000.

Contiki Tours picture

Inflexible? Check

The greatest issue I can find with packaged tours is the lack of flexibility in their schedules with everything including destinations, meals, accommodation and your group all being predetermined and locked in place before you even set out. This is my personal preference speaking as I like to have the flexibility to change my mind when I travel but if you’re happy to just go with the flow then maybe a tour could work well. In my opinion the thought of having no input at all in the journey and being locked into a roller coaster ride with the possibly of sitting next to your very own ‘Judy’ is enough to make me think twice about forking out the cash for one of these badboys. In Australia Contiki style party tours seem to be just about a rite of passage early 20 somethings take on their way along the voyage to adulthood and very often these tours are the first taste of travel young Australians experience, (probably due to their convenience and our drinking culture).

Pros vs. Cons of a Contiki Tour

 

Good
  • Can be a good first taste of the travel experience
  • No planning required (if you are happy to go with the flow)
  • Meet plenty of new people as you’re forced to interact and make friends
  • Fast paced travelling if that’s your thing
  • Less chance of theft or some other crime since you’re with a large group.
  • Includes experienced guides which can be handy
  • Very convenient
Bad
  • Risk of alcohol poisoning
  • Possibility of a ‘Judy’ being in your group (group incompatibility)
  • Inflexible everything (destinations, times, accommodation, food, group)
  • Expensive given what’s included (never cheaper than solo travel)
  • Hidden costs (things like entrance fee’s, entertainment costs and flights)
  • No input in planning
  • Less opportunity to mix with locals
  • Not enough time to explore things properly
  • Focus on touristy destinations only
  • Percentage of travel time spent in transit

Here’s a great post about some of the benefits of taking a good tour, which raises some good points that I really do agree with. I have used many tours in the past especially things like day tours, walking tours and other types of guided exploration. I‘ve found that taxi drivers seem to turn turn into makeshift tour guides when prompted with questions about the local area, which can be a great experience too.Generally I avoid packaged tours and prefer to go through a country solo and find my own way.

Tours v solo long term travel picture

My preference is solo travel

I do know lot’s of people though (my sister included) who have really enjoyed packaged tours but I’m just not too sure it’s the type of travel for me. I like having the freedom to change my mind, stay in places for extended periods of time, hang with the locals and the time get to know an area and it’s people before moving on at my own pace. I also really enjoy the build up and pre-planning process of a big trip. Contiki Tours, while providing the ideal opportunity to throw up all over someone you’ve just met are just too constrained for my liking and they also cost far too much money. I think packaged tours do have their place in tourism and can be a good starting point for a new traveller who might still be wary of solo travel but if your preference is slow travel or you want to have some input into where, when and who you explore these new places with, in my mind a packaged tour could never hope to replace solo travel, but that’s just me.

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7 thoughts on “Contiki Tours and Pre-Packaged Travel

  1. Reply Lesley Peterson Oct 4, 2012 9:36 am

    Great post, Peter. For some people, realistically, an accompanied tour might be the only way they can get out there, get past language barriers, reduce exhaustion and simplify logistics. In other words, make an ‘impossible’ trip possible for some. I prefer solo travel myself, preferring to remain flexible to linger if I feel like it. I do access local guides and niche experts when I can, though. Some of my most memorable travel experiences were four-hour jaunts with local experts, like the hole-in-the-wall foodie tour of Honolulu I took with food writer Matthew Grey. Fun n funky group of people on that one!

    • Reply Pete Oct 5, 2012 9:39 am

      Yeh I totally agree Lesley, I tend to get on a bit of a soapbox sometimes but I’ve had some fantastic tours in the past, I think as with most things it’s just personal preference. I also think that tours are so popular with younger people as it’s a great first step like you said. Your tour with Matthew Grey sounds fantastic!

  2. Reply jaklien Nov 2, 2012 5:29 pm

    I’ve done tours too when I was younger and a bit scared of travelling by myself. None of those toxic ones though!! :-)
    But I recently discovered that travelling alone is very refreshing!! Would never go back on a tour now.

  3. Reply Linda Nov 29, 2012 4:07 pm

    I recently got home from backpacking solo around Europe for two months. A lot of my friends and family weren’t keen on the idea at first, being a 21 yr old female it seemed risky, but I had the most amazing time, and the freedom was incredible. I could never be talked in to doing a contiki tour, far too scheduled and restricted for my liking. I’m looking forward to hearing about your travels!

  4. Reply John Dec 14, 2012 6:11 am

    I have experienced a Contiki tour, and although it was enjoyable, I would never do it again. Solo travel is far more rewarding. Flexibility is key!

    • Reply Pete Dec 16, 2012 4:20 am

      Couldn’t agree more. Although saying that, there are some valuable tours. Usually involve a local guide, in my experience.

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