Tag: Contiki

Everything You Need to Know About Contiki’s European Inspiration Tour

Humans are an extremely curious bunch. They LOVE to know as much information about a topic as they can manage, even when they are about to find out for themselves anyway. I say this because I find that I get asked quite a number of questions in regards to my travels with the tour company Contiki. I know that whenever I go on a tour myself I spend at least 3 weeks worth of time researching what I am about to experience – so don’t worry, I 100% understand and relate to your curiosity. That’s why today I am going to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly of Contiki’s three-week European Inspiration tour. (I’ll even share with you some handy hints about how much money you’re going to need!)

Ethan and I decided that we wanted to go on our first big overseas trip together. We knew we wanted it to be in Europe but we didn’t know where, when, or how long for. I suggested that we travel with Contiki as I had previously been to Asia with them and loved every moment. I thought it would be a great way for us to get a taste of a few different European countries so that we could plan all future trips with firsthand experience.

We chose the European Inspiration tour from Contiki’s “Discoverer” range. Contiki offers seven different styles of travel including the Discoverer. This is awesome as it allows you to find the type of tour that suits you and your travel goals. They describe a Discoverer as:

“See it all, do it all – if you’ve been dreaming of exploring your entire life, you have to go Discoverer. Our most popular travel style, these trips are designed to cover lots of ground visiting many destinations on one trip, with a wide range of experiences included in the cost.”

We knew we didn’t want to be rushed and Discoverer tours are known to have an extra night in each main city. Ultimately, we chose this tour based on the number of countries we would visit (10), the length of the trip (just under 3 weeks), and the Discoverer style allowing for maximum adventure.

We decided to travel in the thick of winter and it was a perfect choice for us. We live in a very tropical climate and our winter doesn’t really exist. So leaving our boiling hot summer for a snow-covered winter in Europe was a dream come true.

Let’s get into it!

How much did we spend?
This is definitely the most popular question I am asked. (I am from Australia so please remember that all amounts listed will be in AUD!)

FLIGHTS AND THE TOUR ITSELF
I am not a big fan of travel agents – at all – but Ethan had a guy he’d used in the past so we decided to see what he could do for us. I went and organised the tour through him with no worries as I knew that it wouldn’t have any mark up on it (considering I could see the regular Contiki prices on the website!). I also got 5% off my share of the tour as I was a past traveller with Contiki, so that was a win. We decided to split the cost down the middle though, so we each got 2.5% off.

In total, we each paid $3549 for the tour. This amount included accommodation for 18 nights (all hotels, no hostels), travel for 19 days (complete with a Contiki coach and expert driver), all breakfast while on tour, eight of the dinners, a knowledgable Contiki trip manager, and twenty-four included experiences – a wine tasting in Tuscany, for example.

If we divide the amount of the tour by the length of the trip, we get approximately $185 per day – this isn’t too bad when you consider the regular price of a hotel room per night and then build from there. All in all, I feel that the price of the base tour deserves a tick. It is definitely reasonable.

The flights were a different story. We decided to do a round trip – home to London, London to home. The travel agent argued with me that his quoted price of $1930 per person was the cheapest possible (it included TWO layovers on an already very long journey) and that the only other option was $2630 per person (WHAT!?) with a “great connection in Hong Kong of only one hour”…

I’m sorry, I’m pretty passionate about this as it gets me very fired up so we are going to take a small detour to allow for this rant. This agent has been in the industry for 14 years and he thinks a one hour international stopover is a GOOD idea!? I’ve been in airports where the journey from my arrival gate to my departure gate is 40 minutes itself! This, paired with a possible flight delay, is an absolutely BRILLIANT example of why a one hour stopover is the worst idea ever. I was shocked. Back to the point!

I wasn’t happy with the offer from the agent – as I’m sure you’ve guessed – so I went ahead and organised everything else myself. The flights we ended up booking came out at $1795 each ($135 cheaper per person than the agent’s cheapest offer) and we flew with Singapore Airlines. We had only one layover each way! They were both eight hours, but they were at the world renowned Singapore Changi Airport, so we were happy as we knew how much there would be to do while we were there. This worked out well.

So! All together we spent $5344 each on our flights and our Contiki tour. Not bad for the base amount of one month in Europe over the New Year period!

CONTIKI ADD-ONS
If you haven’t done a Contiki before, you might not know that there is always a list of extra experiences and adventures that are NOT included in your tour price. However, Contiki will organise these for you if you pay extra. My BIGGEST tip for this is to look up the experiences ahead of time – easy to do on the website – add together all of the costs and save that amount of money SEPARATELY to your spending money. This was something I did differently on this trip that I didn’t do on my first Contiki and it was so, so, so much better.

Everyone always says to do all of the add-ons… #noregrets. On my first Contiki I would have agreed! But on this one… not so much. But I’ll get to that (and a few other tips about add-ons) later on! I worked out early in the game that to do ALL of the add-ons it would cost us roughly $950 each. We knew this and we added it to our budget, and once we saved it we moved it away from the rest of our spending money. When the time came on the tour to choose and pay, it was simple. We already knew what we were signing up for and how much it was going to cost. Boom. Tick.

SPENDING MONEY
I’m not completely sure about Ethan, but I had $3900 in my account when we left Australia. I was paid an additional $2800 while we were away thanks to all of the annual leave that I had accrued. So technically, I had with me a grand total of $6700 for spending money.

While we were away, we made the decision that if we saw something we wanted we would buy it no questions asked as that is what we had saved so hard for. Because of this we didn’t exactly travel on a “budget”, we just did what we did when we wanted to do it. And trust me, if you are able to do the same, I would highly recommend it. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with travelling on a budget, but it was so exciting to feel so free. We worked really hard and sacrificed a lot of other things while we were at home to be able to do this, but it was so unbelievably worth it.

I came home with $700, so I guess I spent around $6000 in a month. Keep in mind though, our bills were still coming out at home, so it didn’t all go towards the trip. This works out to around $220 spent per day we were away which was pretty close to what we thought we would spend when we were planning at home. (We went with a plan of 100 euro per day, and this works out to about 140 euro per day.)

OTHER ACCOMMODATION EXPENSES
We spent one night in London at the beginning of the tour, which is what most people have to do. There is a Kickstart meeting the night before which is one reason to be there a day early, but the main reason is that the tour starts at 6am on the first day so you’re going to want to be well rested (and definitely not running from the airport!).

Instead of staying at the recommended Royal National Hotel (this is where the Contiki Basement is situated), we stayed literally down the street and around the corner at the Tavistock. From the reviews we read online it sounded like the Tavistock was a better option for a quiet night’s sleep. This was confirmed by our new Contiki friends who said that the Royal National was a bit rough – so another tick for us. We spent $105 each on our one night at the Tavistock. We were happy to spend that little bit extra to have a slightly nicer hotel that still made it super easy to get to the coach at 6am the following morning.

We also decided to stay a week in London at the end of the trip – kind of like a holiday after our holiday. We were really glad that we did! This is another thing I wholeheartedly recommend doing as it gave us time to unwind after a whirlwind tour.

For this extra week, we wanted to go all out. We didn’t look for the most expensive but we definitely didn’t want the cheapest, so we booked 5 nights at the Park Grand Paddington Court Hotel for a grand total of $538 each… really not that bad, right!? It wasn’t a great hotel but I think that might just be London. Luckily we were a couple so we were used to living in each other’s pockets but for those who might not want to live on top of their travel buddy, definitely check room sizes when booking. Staff weren’t that friendly, laundry was a rip off, but the location was good. Half a tick for that one.

So in total I spent just under $12,000 to see 10 European countries in one month. 
This could definitely be done for either less OR more, but this was my specific experience and I felt it was really reasonable for the adventure I had.

FAQs

Here we are going to go through all the other questions I get! If there is anything you would like to know that I don’t cover, please leave me a comment and I will be happy to help!

Suitcase or backpacking pack?
This is SUCH a personal thing. However, when I travelled to Italy in 2011 I took a brand new soft suitcase and the cobblestones destroyed two of the wheels. It made for a very difficult trip when I could no longer wheel my 20kg suitcase and had to drag it instead! Because of this experience, Ethan and I both decided to try packs this time around. I bought the Osprey Fairview 55 litre and Ethan bought the Osprey Farpoint 55 litre. They are essentially the same pack, but the Fairview is optimised for women so that it sits a lot more comfortably on our hips. These packs each came with a detachable daypack which was really handy. We used packing cubes inside the packs to keep everything organised and to compress it all, and we were really proud to get on the plane for a month of travel with only 8kg each. This style and size will not be suitable for you if you are a big shopper or if you really tend to overpack. Despite our packs being only 15kg each on the way home, we did have to buy an extra carry-on bag each so that we could fit everything. I would travel with a pack again though, I would just take even less with me in the beginning! (Backpack gets extra points because everyone we travelled with was so impressed that it was all we had with us and that made us feel warm inside.)

What did you pack?
I will be doing another post very, very soon that will go into full detail about everything we packed and I will link it here when it is done!

Is Contiki really strict on suitcase size and weight?
The short answer is yes. If your tour is starting from London your bag won’t be measured but it will be weighed. It won’t be measured simply because these people are so experienced that they will know just by looking whether or not your bag is within the specified dimensions.Now, we happened to depart on a day when TEN OTHER TRIPS were departing (which is so crazy that it’s nearly unheard of in Contiki world) so they didn’t have time to weigh ours but that is not a common occurrence. Besides, the weight limit is 20kg for a reason – your driver does ALL of the driving as well as loading and unloading of the bus. If you’re thinking about packing more than 20kg, think about your driver and then think about whether or not that is a decent thing to do to them. (Pro tip: it’s not.)

Should I do all of the add-ons?
We didn’t feel that the Prague bunker tour was worth doing. The guy who ran it was awesome, but unfortunately it just wasn’t exciting enough to enjoy so we wouldn’t waste our time doing it again. We also didn’t think that the Swiss fondue lunch was all that great – the fondue cheese was kind of gross and the chocolate fondue was only dark, so not to everyone’s taste. Space Electronic Disco is just a night club, so maybe wait to pay for it until you know whether or not you feel like going out that night as entry on the day isn’t too much different to purchasing it as an add-on. We paid for it in advance and then didn’t go because we were exhausted and wanted to sleep that night. DEFINITELY do the Swiss Lake cruise, it was beautiful. The Tuscan evening is also one of the best nights on tour in our opinion.

Is there anything I should book in advance?
THE ANNE FRANK HOUSE. Booking for the Anne Frank House opens exactly 2 months before and if you don’t book you will NOT get in, the line is just so long and you will waste your time. It was a highlight of our trip. We ended up missing the Cheese and Clogs inclusion as well as the Volendam Dinner add-on to do it but we have #noregrets. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. We also booked the Amsterdam Ice Bar as well as the Paris Catacombs in advance and they were both fantastic too.

What was your highlight?
Our highlight was unique as we were in Berlin for New Year’s Eve, so we got to go to the famous Brandenburg Gate NYE Party. It was AMAZING. That was definitely the best night on tour. However, as I said above, Anne Frank was also a huge highlight for us.

Is it enjoyable if you are travelling as a couple?
This tour is frequently recommended to couples, so there should always be at least one other couple on it. On our specific tour we were one of 14 couples, so there were actually more couples than singles. It was very enjoyable and we became what I’m sure will be lifelong friends with three other couples from the very first night.

Is it enjoyable if you don’t drink very much?
I am not much of a drinker at all and I had a great time. I definitely drink more when I am travelling than I do at home, but not that much compared to everyone else. We didn’t go out very many nights at all and we still had a ball. Don’t let the trip manager or other travellers make you feel like you have to go out every night (or even at all!), because you absolutely do not have to. We were always up early in the morning and feeling great because we weren’t constantly hungover. Nothing wrong with getting drunk and partying every night if that’s your thing, but if it’s not? Totally fine. It wasn’t our thing either, and we had a fantastic time.

Did you feel rushed at all?
Yes, we definitely did. It’s just not enough time to see these big beautiful cities that are full of so much history. In saying that, we were constantly thanking our lucky stars that we booked a Discoverer so that we had the double night in each major city. There is a LOT of time spent on the bus. You probably already think you know that… but then you do it and it is next level. Drive days are every second day and I think our shortest drive was something like 6 hours. Drive days are exhausting. On the night when you get to the new city, you have dinner at the hotel followed by the option to go out or go to sleep. The following day (your second night) is the only full day you get in that city so it pays to be super prepared and know exactly what you want to see and do so you don’t run out of time. This trip is FANTASTIC for a taster of Europe, and we now know all the places we want to go back to and where we feel we’ve seen enough of. But if you are only planning to go to Europe once in your life? Maybe reconsider a tour like this, or just book an extra spontaneous month afterwards to do your own exploring through the cities you really loved.

If I go in winter, will I see snow?
We saw the most snow our trip manager had ever seen on a Euro trip. We were so, so lucky. Because it is a natural phenomenon it definitely isn’t promised, but we were there from December 28th to January 22nd and we saw snow more days than we didn’t. It was amazing.

 

Other things that are just handy to know…

  • Switzerland is SO expensive that nothing you do will prepare you for the shock.
  • Always have coins on you because you will need to pay to use the toilet.
  • Table water will sometimes cost more than your meal.
  • Pickpockets are everywhere and they will be able to tell that you are foreign, so be really switched on and keep an eye on your belongings more than you would at home. If you do that you won’t have a problem.
  • Same kind of warning as the pickpockets – if someone tries to give you a rose or a bracelet for free and they insist you take it, DON’T. I will just drop it on the ground or not even put my hand near them. They will come back about a minute later and tell you to pay for it. Just be really aware of this. It mainly happens in Italy.
  • If you’re going in winter, for the love of all that is good – PACK THERMAL UNDERCLOTHES. Also for the ladies: no heels and no dresses. You won’t wear them, trust me.
  • If you are travelling as a couple – book a photoshoot! We had a one hour session with a photographer in Paris and we are so glad that we did!! The photos are amazing.
  • Probably the most important: Get out of your comfort zone! Do not go halfway across the world just to do the same things you would do at home. Eat the frogs legs, dance with the Italian opera singer, wake up early to see the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum or the Brandenburg gate with the sunset behind it. #noregrets

Now for some quick and easy Pros and Cons of the European Inspiration and travelling with Contiki in general!

PROS
  • So efficient – it’s all set out for you, you don’t really have to think. Just be where they tell you when they tell you and off you go!
  • Skipping lines – Contiki will get you into some major attractions much faster than you would be able to if you were travelling alone. The Vatican is a great example of this!
  • Experienced and knowledgable driver and trip manager to pass on tips and tricks you wouldn’t always be able to get from Google.
  • Fellow travellers! You will meet people from all over the world (though on our trip only Australia and New Zealand was represented) and some of them will become lifelong friends.
  • Value for money – I would be interested to do an extensive study on this, but from my experience I feel that you really will save money travelling with Contiki as opposed to trying to do everything that they so expertly manage to fit in on your own.
CONS
  • Rushed – it is a whirlwind, you will be tired to the point of exhaustion and you will miss things that you always wanted to see. There is just no way you can fit everything in… even though you do see a LOT.
  • If you go in winter some major attractions will be closed and there will be nothing you can do about that. We couldn’t go up the Eiffel Tower or into the Louvre, for example.
  • Not so comfortable – the bus is pretty cramped and you’ll get sick of sitting, especially if you’ve done a long flight to get there. Also, your feet will get seriously sore if you don’t have awesome shoes… this one is worth it though, in my opinion.

I hope this has been helpful! Don’t forget to leave a comment if I’ve missed anything you would like to know! Or, if you’ve done this trip already, did you agree with everything I said? Let me know!

Also, check out our trip video below for a look at all the incredible adventures we had. The whole video was filmed on our GoPros, so you’ll almost feel like you’ve been there too!

 

Katie

 

Why Laos is My Favourite Country

Laos is a magical place. Unlike anywhere I have ever been before Laos managed to make me feel like I was on one of the biggest adventures of my life while also making me feel like I was completely at home. I didn’t know a lot about the country before I ventured to Asia in 2017 and thank goodness I did because Laos is now officially my most favourite country I’ve visited… so far, anyway!

The Scenery
The views are incredible. From the mountains and the greenery to the rivers and the waterfalls, Laos does not disappoint. My favourite moment was visiting Pakbeng, a small village in between the Thai and Lao borders. I remember waking up before 6am to stand on my balcony and look over the mighty Mekong River to see wild elephants enjoying themselves by the water. A memory I will never forget.

 

 

The People
I think the Lao people were the nicest people I’ve ever met bar none. So sweet, kind, and happy to help. I only spent seven days in Laos but our Contiki local guide is now my friend on Facebook! He was the best and we all grew incredibly close to him after playing cards on a slow boat for two days straight. Ahhh, the epitome of serenity.

The Currency
Ever wanted to feel like an absolute baller? Go to Laos. Taking 1,000,000 Kip out of the ATM will feel awesome. (That’s only $150 AUD!)

The Pace
Time goes slowly in the best way possible in Laos… it’s relaxing to be there. I loved every slow minute and wish more and more every day that I could be back on there and on Lao time.

The Adventures
Want to go cycling through the streets with no helmet on after a shot of the strongest whiskey you’ve ever tasted made from fermented lizards and snakes? Laos. 

The Story
The history of Laos is not common knowledge. That’s why the bombing that occurred there in the 1960s and early 1970s is referred to as the American’s ‘Secret War’. By the time the war campaign ended in 1973 a tenth of Laos’ population had been killed. Laos is the most heavily bombed nation in history. Conducted during the Vietnam War, the US military dropped 260 million cluster bombs onto Laos. This is equivalent to a planeload of bombs being unloaded every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years – nearly seven bombs for every man, woman and child living in Laos. Can you believe that during the war Laos was supposed to be neutral?
When I was learning about the history of it all while visiting the COPE (Co-operative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) Centre in Laos it was explained to us that the only reason these bombs were dropped was because the US military had to get rid of them before they landed back on US soil… Laos was just a dumping ground. There are still millions of unexploded bombs, grenades and landmines left with at least half of Laos still covered by them causing 300 new casualties – mostly children – per year due to accidentally stepping on or playing with an unexploded cluster bomb.
I was really proud of my tour group when we donated enough money to the COPE Centre to fund two prosthetic arms and two prosthetic legs for the victims of the bombs.
Knowing all of this, visiting the COPE Centre and viewing the documentary films there, and then realising how beautiful and kind the people are in Laos… that’s what makes this country so worthy of all of our love and visits. I bought a ring at some Lao markets made from the materials of a detonated cluster bomb and I have not taken it off since I bought it. Laos is very special to me and I can’t wait to go back.

 

 

Have you been to Laos? I’d love to hear stories from other travellers who have experienced this beautiful, wonderful, incredible place!

Katie

Travel Diary: Thailand

DAY FOUR. 

Today has really just been a full day of travel. I checked out of Tokyu Rei Hotel at 7am and made my way to Osaka Station. I found my way to the JR for the express service to Kansai and hopped on. Being inside the airport was amazing because of how much warmer it was! I checked in and found out that my flight was delayed two hours. Not great, but not terrible. At least it wasn’t cancelled! I caught up with an old friend from Sydney because she was at the airport too, on her way home, so that passed some time.

My flight to Kuala Lumpur was the BEST. I have never been so content on a flight. Great service, great food and a comfortable setup. I watched a bunch of movies thanks to Malaysian Airlines’ great film selections. I was very relaxed .

We landed in Kuala Lumpur at 7:15pm… and I had to be at my next gate by 7:30pm! Which was all the way on the other side of the airport. If you haven’t been to the Kuala Lumpur airport… it’s VERY BIG. That experience was not so relaxing. I legged it through the terminal and ended up being the very last passenger let through the gate. Thank goodness! I got a window seat and a row to myself so at least I had a comfortable flight setup again.

DAY FIVE.

I’ve been so busy that this diary entry will just be dot points!

  • Arrived in Bangkok and my luggage was lost, so I had to deal with that for the first time ever! Luggage has officially been in Malaysia longer than I ever have.
  • The airport transfer that I’d booked and paid for didn’t arrive so I had to get a taxi to my hotel instead. Turns out the taxi was extremely cheap and I’d been way over charged for my transfer anyway!
  • I met some of the Contiki gang in the lobby (after they walked back from a bar where they’d been held up by police for drinking on a religious holiday!) and we all stayed up chatting until about 2am when my luggage arrived – yay!
  • Breakfast at 9:30am the next day before exploring Bangkok.
  • There were eight of us from the Contiki tour so we went to see Wat Arun and Wat Pho (temples).
  • Had lunch at ‘Slow’ across the road from the hotel – Pad Thai, of course!
  • Relaxed by the pool and met my Contiki roommate before the 6pm Kickstart meeting where we met our tour manager Jess.
  • We went out for a night – a crazy night! – on Khao San Road! We ate dinner in a big group at the Nat Guest House, went to Lucky Beer Bar and met Jess, danced on the road, ate Scorpions, went to Rastafarian bar, and went to a Ping Pong show in a tuktuk! CRAZY!
  • Went home for some sleep but I stayed up to repack my bag and do the first of many discards – this time I chucked out my $3 boots and a turtle neck.

DAY SIX.

  • 7am breakfast at the hotel, followed by checkout.
  • Guided tour of the Grand Palace with our local guide, Nutty!
  • Private boat ride along the river where we fed the hundreds of Catfish bread.
  • Walked home and we all had lunch at Jade’s House.
  • Went to Khao San Road for shopping and Fishy Foot Spas!
  • Caught the coach to the train station and got on the very cool Sleeper Train to Chiang Mai!

DAY SEVEN.

We woke up this morning at 6am on the Sleeper Train to a little man yelling “You wake up please! Wake up!”. He swiftly moved through the cabin and turned all of our beds back into chairs. We had a bit of time to mingle before arriving in Chiang Mai! We were taken from the station in our new coach to our Chiang Mai hotel, The Empress, where we had the best breakfast imaginable! Waffles, omelettes, fruit, bacon, potatoes, juice… you name it, it was there and it was awesome. After breakfast we were all very excited to get ready to go and see the Elephant Sanctuary. It was an hour and a bit away so we all boarded little safari taxis to get there. When we got to the sanctuary we made elephant food out of tamarinds, salt and rice and fed them. The youngest elephant we saw was 6 and the oldest was 65. After they had eaten we took them down to the river to have a swim and a bath. The experience mixed with the scenery was unreal. It was a major highlight and I’m so glad I did it.

The next activity on the agenda was our Thai cooking class. We met our instructor Perm at the markets first where we spoke about all the ingredients we would be using and then we all went to his house where he taught us how to cook four traditional Thai dishes. We made Tom Yum soup, Pad Thai, Penang curry and chicken cashew nut. My Pad Thai was burnt but the rest was really yummy! I enjoyed the class a lot.

Afterwards we went to the markets to see the Ladyboy Cabaret! AMAZING! They were awesome and very funny. The best part was when four of the boys from our tour had to get up and be dressed in drag to be part of the show! Extremely hilarious.

We all went home after the show for a well deserved sleep. Party Night in Chiang Rai tomorrow!

DAY EIGHT.

Coming one day… if I ever remember to update…