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Any advice on traveling with a tour group like Contiki??

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Any advice on traveling with a tour group like Contiki??

Old May 9th, 2003, 10:26 PM
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Any advice on traveling with a tour group like Contiki??

Hi. A few friends and I are planning a trip (approx. 10 days) to either Italy or a general Europe trip in July. I'm a 26 female, going with 3 other girls and 1 guy.. since we don't want to spend most of our time figuring how to get around, we are thinking of just booking a Contiki or Trafalgar tour.. does anyone have any recommendations/advice? Have you heard good/bad things about any of these groups? Trafalgar is offering a 2 for 1 deal on airfare right now and we want to take advantage of this.. but Contiki seems like more of a reputable tour operator. Pros/cons or just general opinions? Are there any good tour groups we are overlooking? Any advice is greatly appreciated as we are all using up our 2 week vacation time to take this trip, and a big chunk of change too and nobody can seem to decide on anything at this point.. thanks!!
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Old May 10th, 2003, 07:10 AM
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Travelgrl,

I have not taken a tour with Contiki, but can say a few things which may help you decide.

July is fast approaching, and of course high travel season. Budget accommodations are harder to come by (if that is what you are looking for), so a tour would be a relief in that area. Are you a planner? If you really don't want to spend time figuring how to get around, then a tour might be for you.

But...

It's easy to get around Europe by train. And trains are a lot more fun way to travel than by bus, which you will be spending a lot of time on, especially if you choose one of those "best of Europe in 10 days" type tours. Do you think you would want your freedom to come and go when you please? A tour will probably not give you that. Or, as far as contiki goes, does sitting on a bus, meeting lots of young people, and general partying appeal to you? If so, then maybe it would work.

As for cost, depending on what kind of airfare you can get, you could do it cheaper yourself. Tours tend to also book accommodations not in the thick of things, if that's important for you.

I am sure there a host of other points I forget to mention, but I know others will have plenty of opinions. My personal choice, in your case, would be to take the 10 days, fly in and out of Italy (choose a beginning point and an end), research a few budget hotels, and take the trains to lots of very fun places.

Have a great time.
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Old May 10th, 2003, 07:33 AM
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Check out Busabout at www.busabout.com, if you're interested in this type of trip.

Alternatively, hang out here at Fodor's for a while and learn how plan your own trip, a skill that will serve you well in the future--I agree with Crazymina. One of the first things you might want to consider (and there'll be lots of agreement here on this board) is limiting your 10-day trip to one country. For example, you may want to fly into Rome and out of Venice (called "open jaw") and divide your time among places you'd like to see between those two cities. AutoEurope was offering some great airfares a few weeks ago, so check them out at www.autoeurope.com.

Come back to the board, we'll help you out!
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Old May 10th, 2003, 02:16 PM
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travelgrl2003, the preponderance of contributors to this board are predisposed towards DIY. That isn't necessarily wrong but it does influence the advice you'll get.

A fully guided tour is efficient. You will see most of the "musts" whichever tour you take. You will have a guide to point out things of interest ("On the left side in one minute you'll see the Appian Way" and that sort of thing) and to give you some appreciation of the history and culture as you travel the countryside.

On the other side of the ledger, to get the efficiency there has to be some regimentation. If you're an art buff you won't spend enough time in the museum; if not, too much. This is the kind of compromise that has to be made by the tour operator.

For a first trip, I'd lean towards a guided tour or a package like gotoday.com. I would limit it to Italy. I'd book the most expensive tour I could afford. There will be fewer extras and better hotels more centrally located.

Enjoy.








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Old May 10th, 2003, 04:28 PM
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The organized tour vs. independent travel decision depends on your personal style. I love planning things myself, feel I save money, and get more closely what I want from the trip... plus would never want to be part of a group of strangers - on a bus, stuck with a planned agenda each day, when i get up, where i eat, what i see, etc. Having said that...

If no one in your group can decide or wants to take the lead, than a tour might be your best option. If you posted this question on a BB aimed at group travel, you'd get a different perspective than on Fodors where many people pride themselves on planning their own trips.
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Old May 10th, 2003, 04:41 PM
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Hi, travelgrl2002, it's me again.

Many posters to this site have considerably more experience than I so I don't hold myself out as the expert. Tho there may not be many who started before I did. In 1948 while in high school, I flew with my mother from Boston to London on a Lockheed Constellation - thirteen hours and stops in Gander, Newfoundland and Shannon, Ireland. We were issued ration books in the UK.

Since 1991 my wife and I have traveled to Europe about 20 times of which 3 have been guided tours: Bennett Tours to Scandinavia, Trafalgar CostSaver to France and Trafalgar CostSaver to Italy.

We were pleased with the itineraries, the sights we saw and the tour guides of all three tours. The hotels were all fine and the meals were good to very good with a couple in Scandinavia excellent. The two Trafalgar tours did use some hotels that were far from the city center and had as extra cost options that I felt should have been included. Obviously, not so bad that it deterred us from using them a second time.

We enhance the tours with extra time on our own either before or after the tour. They just didn't give us enough time in Rome or Paris.

You've got to kill your own snakes but maybe these comments will help.
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Old May 10th, 2003, 05:05 PM
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I have traveled twice with Trafalgar. They are a reputable company. However, please be aware that many people on tours are retirees. In my twenties, and even at 32, I was the youngest person on both Trafalgar tours. The more expensive the tour, the more likely this is to be the case.

Budget tours such as Cosmos will usually have more people your own age. However, the Cosmos European tours tend to stay at hotels out in the boonies. Prices are low because very little sightseeing or meals are included. Once you add in the cost of "optional tours," meals, transportation to the center of town, and the inconvenience of being off the beaten path, the tour price is not as cheap as it first appears. Despite that, of the eight Cosmos tours I have taken, the one to Italy was the only trip that I didn't think was a good value.

When evaluating tours, please pay attention to the amount of time you spend on the bus. If you are seeing several cities or countries in a short period of time, you could end up spending as much time traveling to and from cities as in the cities themselves.

I have not take a Contiki tour, but have heard that even though they are for people 18-35, they generally cater to a partying college-age crowd. At 26, this may not be to your liking. If you do a Google search, several people have posted their Contiki trips on the web. These may give you an idea of what to expect.

You also might enjoy one of Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door tours. His website www.ricksteves.com has a wealth of travel information,including a message board on tour companies besides his. Cosmos, Contiki, Globus, and others are discussed there.

Please type "escorted tours" in the text search box above for previous discussions on this forum. You can also find info at frommers.com. Click on Community, then Packages and Tour Operators.

Have a wonderful time in Europe!
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Old May 10th, 2003, 07:00 PM
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I should start by saying that I have never been on either a Contiki or Trafalgar Tour and I haven't been on a guided tour since I went on a "teen tour" years ago. However, I am your age and I like to travel and I understand how difficult it can be to organize 5 people while traveling. I agree with the other posters in that if you want to meet people the tour is good but otherwise, I'd definitely do it on my own. Traveling around Europe is so easy and (in my opinion) you will have a much better time on your own. If you are going to Europe, who wants to spend their whole trip with a bunch of other americans that you don't know?? Those escourted trips seem great for people traveling alone or to places where it is difficult to get around but Europe is so tourist friendly, I don't think the a tour is really necessary.

It is easy to travel in Europe because so many Europeans speak english. In most of the big cities in Europe you can book your hotels through email and buying train tickets is easy. I think the biggest difficulty in not going on the tour would be getting all 5 of you to agree to an itinerary.

You aren't going to be able to see all of Europe in 10 days so, like the other posters, I'd pick one country and go to a few spots. If you book your hotels ahead of time, your basic itinerary will be set. From there, just get a good guide book and you won't have any problems finding the sights you want. With a group of 5 you can also split up if people want to do different things. Meal times can be hard, so you should make a system for deciding where to eat dinner. Maybe switch off each day and have one person chose the restaurant. Or pick a place that you walk by during the day.

Look on Orbitz, Autoeurope or if you are a student, STA, for good airfares. Rick Steves, Let's Go or the Rough Guide all have decent budget hotels and good information on transportation between cities.

Have fun!
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Old May 11th, 2003, 03:30 AM
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I've actually taken tours on both companies. The one on Contiki was for London, Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris. It was for a Rome weekend on the Trafalgar tour. I found both to be reputable companies. The hotels these tours stay in are a mixed bag. Some are actually quite nice and comfortable, while others are small and dormitory like. You won't get as much time as you want to spend in the places that you visit sometimes. But you do get plenty of time on your own so use it wisely. I still suggest doing a little research on the cities in your itinerary since you might be missing a few interesting sights not on the itinerary. Since you will be getting free time, learn how to get around the cities (public transportation). The main difference between Contiki and Trafalgar is that Contiki is geared for 18-35 year olds. I had fun with Contiki because the people there were around my age and had similar interests. I met people from Australia, Puerto Rico, Japan, Spain, Canada, South Africa, as well as my fellow Americans. The Contikiers were a lot more outgoing and sociable and stay out late in the night. Since you are already going with a few people, you can always hang out by yourselves if you want your own space.

Contiki and Trafalgar gives you a good overview of Europe if it's your first time. I still strongly advice that you do pre travel research before your trip.
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Old May 11th, 2003, 12:23 PM
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Last reviewer is spot on. I know 2 people that travelled Contiki who were not huge fans as they did not really enjoy the rather noisy screwing in the bus that one couple got up to. This was a tour where people had to sleep on the bus, so others did not sleep so well. Probably less of an issue on tours where hotels are being used.
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Old May 11th, 2003, 01:10 PM
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Lots of good advice here, especially from Tobias and arr.

I've seen the Contiki groups frequently in my travels. One tour stops in St. Goar on Germany's Rhine River and has some kind of special wine-tasting arrangement with a private cellar in the heart of the old town there - they seemed to be having a lot of fun.

But it seems to me that the primary purpose of such groups is to provide a built-in peer group for singles and maybe two-sies (probably a few couples/friends) who would otherwise feel isolated/lonely striking out on their own. For them, it's a trade-off - put up with bus travel, someone else's itinerary, and the occasional oddball so that you have someone to party with. I'm not sure why your group of 5 should do this if you enjoy each other's company.

With 10 days, you almost don't need an itinerary, and I can't imagine you'd be in a whole lot of disagreement about anything if you can narrow things down to 2-3 places. Just go there and have a good time. Sign up for a city tour once there if you're in a big place and you want to be sure to see the "biggies". You could focus on some cities that aren't too far from one another, thereby minimizing your expenses (you probably wouldn't even need a railpass - just get point-to-point train tix.) Example: Paris (4-5 days) - Bruges (2-3) - Cologne (2-3). Trains are pretty simple to use and drop you in the middle of the action, most of the time. Much nicer than a tour bus. The above might be tight in 10 days even on the fast trains, but you'd get some variety by doing some such plan.

I really think you'll find such a trip among friends more memorable than a generic package deal.

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Old May 11th, 2003, 02:48 PM
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Hi,
I took a Contiki trip to Italy with a couple of friends after college graduation. I wouldn't recommend this company. The hotels were way out the cities and we spend too little time in each place and too much time getting from place to place. For example, from Florence to Rome it took 5 hours after all the bathroom/souvenier stops, it would've take 1.5-2 hours on the train. Moreover, Contiki has a tour director rather than a tour guide and that is a big difference. The tour director didn't provide any information about the places we visited. The only thing he did pretty much was call in the afternoon to confirm the hotels, give out keys, and photocopies of city maps. Oh yea, he recommended a "nice Aussie bar" in Florence.
Maybe we had some bad luck on this tour. We didn't have any other nationalities except Americans. In fact majority were girls and from one state - NJ. It wasn't a terribly adventurous group. After this tour I only traveled independently and enjoyed it much more.
Some friends of mine went on a Cosmos tour of Italy last summer, and they said they had a very knowledgable guide and a very diverse group. Plus Cosmos took care of their luggage which Contiki doesn't do.
If you're up for going independently you can look at tour group itineraries, and maybe take out a little so you can go at the pace you want. Going by train is fun, you can meet other people this way.
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Old May 11th, 2003, 02:56 PM
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I haven't take either one of those so can't comment as I think others have covered them pretty well. Except I know Trafalgar is a very reputable company.

I just wanted to say in reference to the last complaint, that it is my understanding that in Italy there are regulations that the tour directors cannot be guides and aren't supposed to be lecturing or doing that job. Really, I think it's a law because they want them to hire local guides. Now, I have been on a couple other tours and the tour directors were not always guides on them, either. I considered that an advantage as they had separate knowledgeable guides who specialized in art, history, etc to do the "guiding". The tour directors job is really more mother-hen, trouble-shooting, etc. There is nothing wrong with that. However, if Contiki did not have an additional guide for some of the particular historical excursions, then that would not be as good as tour as others I've heard of and been on. There should be someone knowledgeable about art and history and the local area, but not necessarily the tour director.

Cosmos might be a good idea. I also think you are more likely to get a younger crowd on the more budget tours. That Trafalgar deal is a good one, though, I read about it in the paper today. I'm sure there are lots of good tour groups out there. www.osolomio.com has an Italian itinerary, I think, and has a younger and older age group so you might look at theirs.
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Old May 11th, 2003, 03:42 PM
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After reading "travel horror stories" I felt like I had to comment on THIS thread instead.

Traveling with a group of 5 on your own can be tough, especially if you're going to be moving from place to place. All it takes is ONE person to be late...and you've all missed your train. Things like sleep schedules, "getting ready" time, different interests, different diets, different ideas on how much money one wants to spend, decision-making (Will there be a leader? Will she be resented by the rest of the group?)...all of these things lead me to believe that a tour group may be the best way to organize a trip with a group this size!

I have not traveled with Trafalgar, but a friend did, and at age 30 she was by far the youngest on the tour. I also have a friend who traveled with Contiki at age 21 and had a blast. Most people on those tours tend to be right out of college, so they do party a lot...and yes, the schedules are tight...you do spend a lot of time moving from one place to the next. But if you're with a group of friends, I think it could be pretty fun!
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