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First Time Traveller Trying to Avoid a Contiki Tour

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I'm 18 years old and looking to travel to Europe next year for two months in June and July in 2016. I would be going with 3 other people whom I am very close with but the issue is none of us have travelled before. Obviously the most popular option for people our age is to go on a Contiki tour but I've read many mixed reviews with past travellers saying they were able to locate better accommodation in amazing places instead of low quality budget hostels up to an hour outside of the cities. I was wondering if anyone had experience either with self planning a holiday of this scale or even with a Contiki tour?
a 46 day Contiki Tour in Europe for around my ideal time would cost around AUD $6,000 so if anyone could tell me if it is possible to do this independently without a Contiki tour I'd love to hear from you!
Also if anyone has opinions on travelling young i.e wether it would be smarter to wait or anything at all please comment!!
The ideal places we would like to go are as follows:
England
Iceland
Greece
Italy
France
Austria
Amsterdam
Spain
Croatia

THANK YOU!!

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    Like you, I would be wary of taking a Contiki tour, based on feedback I've heard. Two months in the same group would wear pretty thin for me too. There are, however, many other tour companies around which offer a better choice, especially small group tours. Not all tour companies are the same.

    However, and especially if travelling with friends, I would not take a tour at all. Travelling in a small group of four would be easy, fun and cheaper than taking a tour. I suggest you share the planning or nominate a chief planner (and then no recriminations if they choose something you don't like!). There are lots of excellent guidebooks (from the library) and websites. If you need recommendations for booking or transport websites, come back and ask. Boring as it might seem, putting your plan into a spreadsheet does help. You don't need to have a plan fixed in concrete and pre-booked to the nth degree but having a plan is a good idea, even if it varies once you're enroute. Pre-booking can also save you money.

    Two months might sound like a long time, but I think you have way too many places on your list. You could never do that list justice in two months. However, you could have a wonderful time if you cut it back a bit. Don't think in terms of countries but more in terms of towns or regions. I would start with thinking about 3 nights (2 days) in each place and adjust from there. Choosing a 'base town' and taking day trips can be more relaxing and would more easily allow you to split up if you wanted to and meet back for dinner. Also factor in travel time (typically at least half a day between stops). I recommend that you mix up cities, villages, countryside and beaches, otherwise it can become a bit of a blur without enough differentiation.

    Last point, start thinking in the local currency when looking into accommodation, local tours, transport, etc.

    It sounds like a wonderful opportunity - enjoy!

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    Taking a tour is the last thing you should want. You're young. You're with the four of you. You speak a language almost everybody understands. You have the time on your hand.
    Every year hundreds, if not thousands of Australians are happily discovering Europe on their own, learn to find their way after perhaps making one or two stupid mistakes, and enjoy it.
    There are really only two practical things you'll have to manage: how to find suitable lodgings and how to use the public transport. That's no rocket science. There are things as websites dedicated to hostels (google on "hostel") and all public transport companies over here present their timetables on the internet (buses are not always easy to find, but with a little bit of patience you'll get what you need). Once you've managed that for one country, you'll find that all other countries have more or less the same system.
    But, if you feel a little bit unsure, why not contact fellow Australians who've done it? They'll love to share their experiences.

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    Putting all other issues aside (and there are many), I think getting a tour makes people lazy and easy to patronise. How to get from A to B? The tour has sorted this. What is there to see on X? Our tour gets us on so and so. What kind of research should I do before the trip? Tour takes care of most things, so lets focus on some light generic reading and never research further. But this attitude does not help you to gain real travel experience for future trips and you find your self hearded here and there by tour leaders and missing things which might be closer to your interests but you do not even know about and/or have time to check. And of course tour leader can steer you to whatever direction s/he wants for whatever reason without you even realising it.

    I was shocked to see a month ago a particular group of young people (not Contiki, but even worse, a students group which should be more focused on understanding local culture, no?) behaving really weirdly here in Delphi. People were very shy and reluctant to talk with anyone outside their group, seemed to look around anxiously all the time, were reluctant to enter local shops or cafes...When after several tries I made a girl to open up a bit, she explained to me that their tour leader told them Delphi is a dangerous place and to be very aware of their surroundigns and to be back on hotel early on the evening and she proimissed she will take them in a safe place next day in an other locations to have a drink. Obviously tour leader did not want group to roam around and see prices around and nightlife choices because she wanted to heard group on another place to buy expensive drinks and she getting her commision, but really? Delphi a dangerous place? A 1000 citizents, quaint, down to earth place dangerous? How anyone having done a decent research would buy this??? And why been taken to a place built in the middle of nowhere solely to host tour groups offers a better experience than getting in a local bar, having a couple of beers and socialise with locals and visitors and have a real idea of the place? Someone with some decent travel skills, common sense and research under his belt will have stand to tour leaders claims, but not those students who obviously have research no further than the tour brochure or history feedback on the sites visiting but nothing about modern Greece and local etiquette.

    Don't start your trips by been one of the people who can list dozens of places visited but in reality have no clue about them.

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    Hi there LHMC19,

    Firstly, good for you in upholding our fine Aussie tradition of spreading our wings & seeing the world early!

    Really, I think you would be able to do a better & probably cheaper trip yourselves. But you'll need to do some research to narrow down at least a rough idea of where you would like to go, travelling times between places. And cost out some of the major expenses like transport & accommodation.

    Have a look at what the peak tourist & holidays times are in your destinations, too. If you can avoid $$$ by flexing your times a bit, it can be a good saving & a better experience.

    ( you know how we roll our eyes at people who breathlessly tell us at the end of November that they're coming to Sydney for NYE & ask where they can find accommodation for AUD $50/night with Harbour views. And a good spot to watch the fireworks - but no crowds ...? ) A bit of research will save you from that.

    And yes - use the currency of your destination. It's not hard - just download an app.

    I think you'll probably find more contemporary info appropriate for your group on some of the backpackers' sites. Fodors, and to a lesser extent Trip Advisor, tends to be more populated by people who are in older age brackets and/or fairly experienced travellers.

    That's not to say you won't get good solid info here - but I think you'll find more contemporaries on sites like
    The Savy Backpacker
    Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree
    Aussie backpacker
    The Aussie Nomad
    Hostel world

    There will be others & no doubt better sites, but these will give you a start.

    Join YHA & also have a look at Hostelling International.

    Other good sources of accommodation - Airbnb.

    You might choose to so some short tours here & there. Sometimes there's a good package that makes sense.

    You can also use some of the tour operators' Itineraries to get an idea of the popular things to see & do.

    You have a year to do some research & work out a rough plan. Let it be flexible - just book the first couple of nights' accommodation before you go so you can get your bearings. That will work better in off-season than peak, obviously.

    I'd also suggest you do a couple of short trips away together if you aren't regular travelling companions. That will help you suss out each others' quirks around sleeping / early risers / night owls; neat freaks/ mess monsters; $ & how you each react to being our of your comfort zones.

    A cheap week or long weekend somewhere none of you has been can be a useful trial run. Many a friendship has foundered ( and been forged) on the "big trip".

    Have fun, do some research & by all means come back if you think we can help. I'm not meaning to discourage you by pointing you towards the other websites - just know I travel a lot differently now than I did when I was 19. Haha

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    You're asking this question to a forum occupied by fuddy-duddy 50 year olds or worse - people the same age as your parents. Of course everyone will tut-tut about Contiki.

    I think Contiki are fabulous. It is cheap, well run, you see the length and breadth of Europe (even Gallipoli) and all without hassle or stress.

    Think of it as an immersion. You get to see all these amazing places and then you can go back for longer if you choose.

    My son has done the enormous 'Big Chill' tour and he had the time of his life with Australians, Americans and Canadians - even some Italians (as he is 'half' Italian) and he loved every second.

    Mariha2912 -you're being ridiculously harsh - some of these people are barely out of high school on these tours - hardly worldy wise - of course they will listen to tour guides. I've seen 60-70 year olds in Rome also looking around in fear as their tour guide told them Rome is full of pickpockets. Anywhere strange demands caution.

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    The suggestion of a test run with your mates, like a long weekend away somewhere, is almost as important as working out an itinerary. Two months leaning on each other's shoulders could prove too much togetherness, however friendly you are (or were.) Proof? Look at the divorce rate. You may discover on a three-day trip that you don't all want to do the same thing all the time, with the inevitable personal compromises. How much independent action can your and your friends be comfortable with? Can you visit a particular interest on your own without offending the others? Worst case, prepare for someone to bail out and go home while remaining friends later in life.

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    Mariha is right !!
    Had to laugh when I read that Delphi was a dangerous place !!! Delphi?
    Knowing exactly how group leaders often behave, I wouldn't be surprised about what Mariha expressed.

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    IMHO Contiki is a sure way to spend more, get less and waste a lot of time.

    18 is absolutely not too young to travel alone as long as you use basic common sense and do enough planning up front. I went to europe with my BF the first time when I was 19 and our 19 year old DD went with 2 friends a couple of summers ago.

    That said, I'm not sure of the value of the A$ - so can;t comment on your budget. If you look at the student guides - start with the Let's Go Europe - they will tell you an absolute basic budget is 60 euros per day - and that does not include flights to/fro europe or intercity trains or planes within europe. Also with that budget you need to be careful of:

    Sightseeing - some major sights cost 20 euros just to enter
    Alcohol - while wine and beer in student pubs or cafes is cheap mixed drinks o liquor is usually very expensive
    Shopping is not included
    This will include a lot of street food/picnics or getting sandwiches, etc from local markets

    Oh, and 9 countries in 2 months is just too much. My DD is 8 cities (not countries) in about 6 weeks and found that was too rushed and they missed a lot. Suggest you focus more on what specific places you want to see and what activities you want in designing your itinerary.

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    I spent a couple months in Europe many years ago when I was just a couple years older than you are and relied on "Europe on $5 a Day" (that tells you how old I am). Today there are similar guidebooks (and websites) aimed at your travel demographic. That was in the day before the internet with all of its easily available information, and we had a great time. I'd say go for it, but others are right in that this is not the best travel website for you.

    The advantage to being on your own and being flexible (which you can't be on a tour) is that you can choose to avoid places that don't call to you and you can choose to stay (or return to) places that you really like. And, you won't be bored to tears when your tour group takes you to a place you are not at all interested in (I've seen this with groups of people your age in many famous attractions). I ended up spending 3 weeks in Florence, something I would never have planned ahead of time and something that would not have been possible if I'd been on a structured tour.

    All young people are likely to speak English, so that is in your favor. Depending on where you go, older people may or may not. So, get your toes wet for travel where it is easy and language is not a barrier--England and Amsterdam. Then, proceed to the places where it might be more of an issue.

    Another disadvantage to traveling with a tour is that you become your own, little tight-knit group and are likely to form a little wall around your own group and are much less likely to be able to have those spontaneous encounters with other young people (local or travelers). OTOH, after a few weeks living and traveling together you may find that you and your friends are really getting on each other's nerves. And, those friends and companions you were so dying to share your trip with may need some space from each other. Here also not being in a tight cluster is to your advantage since you can branch out, be approachable and find other temporary travel companions.

    Try to plan your trip in shoulder season so you can save on costs. You don't need three meals a day in restaurants like tours are likely to plan around. Go to the grocery store for cheap meals, pick up a sandwich here and there. Hostels typically have kitchen facilities you can take advantage of.

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    Blueeyedcod, as you seem to single me out for some reason, I stand by what I say and let me expand a bit.
    Exactly because those people may be out of high school they should feel more adventurous and try to get some understanding of the world around them. They are more technology savvy than the 60-70 years old you mention and rather than spend half their trip on facebook, they could log in on a decent travelers forum and do some basic research on local trivial and etiquette or something. They could make a point to see how people around them live and socialise and learn before hand how to be polite rather than appearing like arrogant b*stards. They could research beforehand a couple of activities or attractions on each area that are not included on their tour but might feel interesting to them and work on how they could check them out.

    And excuse me but I find it absolutely rediculous when someone is privilleged to travel on the other side of the world and open his mind but completely wastes the whole opportunity. One week ago, here in Delphi,I had an American teenager asking me where he could find a localy made coconut wood ring. And no, I am not making this up!
    I was here interacting with visitors since years ago, I am here now, and I can tell that all I see is people's attitudes, intelligence and motivations go downhill year after year. Trying to light a spark on someone planning to start his travels soon and pointing out the stupidity of many who do it wrong is not hursh on my opinion. You may feel differently.

    By the way, I am not a fuddy-duddy 50 year old or the same age of OP's parents but on my early 30s. And I am in a very good position to know many behind the scenes details about group tours that your averrage traveler can not know.

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    My nephew graduated high school in mid june.. on june 23rd he turned 18. At end of june he was off , on his own to Europe .
    He grew up in a VERY rural area.. never even had used public buses ( there are none where he lives).. and only had some summertime visits to our small city to stay with us( auntie and cousins, and his grandmother).
    So completely unworldly.

    He took a Contiki tour.. but booking it himself he screwed up a bit and booked a tour that started 10 days AFTER his plane ticket set him down in London. .lol.. well at least an English speaking country. He had to deal with being on his own in a foreign city for 10 days.. and learn the tube and buses.. and everything else. He did just fine .

    He then took a two week tour with Contiki.. sort of highlights of Europe .

    His thougths were.. Contiki nickel and dimed him to death.. intial price looked cheap.. but so many extras.. if you wanted to hang with group you basically ended up doing a lot of the optional stuff.
    They drank ALOT... it was a party tour for sure.. consequently he doesn't seem to have clear memories of all the places they ran through.Hangovers made getting up at 6 to be on the bus almost every day not so fun either.

    I also have two young co workers( girls).. they were 20 and took at 4 week Contiki tour.. they did not drink themselves into early liver failure.. but admit their was still a fair amount of partying.. and a lot of rushing about.. never more then one or two nights anywhere. They also built in an extra few weeks at end of tour( smart), they felt that doing the tour first helped them in that way as it made them comfortable with travel .

    Both my nephew and coworkers felt the hotels were often poorly located.. limiting what they could do in their very limited free time.

    My 19 yr old daughter is going to Europe next spring for 2 months. She will go on her own with a friend. Her choice and I endorse that .. shes perfectly capable of planning her own trip ( with help from guide books, forums like this, and me of course..lol )

    I did 3 months in Europe when I was 23.. and that was way before cell phones etc. Managed just fine.

    I believe you can plan your trip on your own and within your budget. You have the time to plan it. Take it one step at a time. Plan your arrival date and place. and departure time and place ( booking a multi destination ticket will help so you don't have to backtrack) .

    Then start by paring down your list.
    I am against 1 or 2 night stays unless just in transit.. two nights in a place is only one full day.. if a place is only worth one full day, maybe eliminate it all together so you can spend your time in other places you feel are worth a bit more time.

    You can do this. Step by step.

    Also , check out Lonely Planets Thorntree forum and tripadvisor.com forums.

    Good luck and come back with questions .

    PS While hostels are touted as being cheap, in some places the cheap hostels are not very nice and its better to splurge on a cheap hotel room.. which.. considering in some big cities the hostels are running 30 or more euros a night.. a cheap room for two is not that much more to spend . Break it up.. a week or two in hostel.. then a few nights in a hotel.Sharing showers gets old after a while.
    Also.. book the good /well reviewed hostels well in advance. they are popular.

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