I’d like to share my experience with my first Contiki travel experience – nearly one month on the ‘Big Tiki’ in New Zealand… on a bus… with my husband, my sister-in-law… and 20 strangers from around the world.

I’ve been asked a lot what my ‘travel style’ is. It’s kind of like my personal style when it comes to my wardrobe… eclectic yet comfortable and practical. Contiki is just that for me. As a 30-something traveler who enjoys meeting new people, gaining experiences and exploring the far corners of our world while being able to stay connected with modern-day luxuries, the Contiki tour group fit the bill. One thing I learned while spending nearly a month travelling New Zealand on the ‘Big Tiki’ with Contiki is this:

Fjiordland National ParkContiki creates connections with like-minded people.

Out of the approximately 20 people we travelled with for the duration of our trip, we stay in touch regularly with almost half of them. In fact, even myself (a relative introvert on the grand scale of socialness) have stayed in touch and even hung out with people from the group in the months to follow to follow the trip.

Designed for people from ages 18 to 35, I’ll admit that I had my aprehensions about joining a Contiki at 31.

First Apprehension: The reputation. If you are single and looking to ‘party’… you can skip this part. The company and it’s tour groups have a reputation amongst those I sought advise from as being *ahem* (and I’m only listing a few)…  ‘an orgy-fest’, ‘a binge-drinking orgy-fest’ and… let’s see… ‘a bunch of young, single drunk people hooking up with eachother for days on end.’ The Big Tiki Bus

Is this true? Somewhat, yes. But.. and this is a HUGE BUT… the Contiki tour is what you make it. Sounds cliché, but it’s true. The tours tend to incorporate a good balance of the following:

  • group social activities (dinners at restaurants/parties at bars/impromtu karaoke nights)
  • free days/nights to spend as you please exploring the area
  • adventure activities and excursions
  • historical landmark visits and tours
  • cultural immersion through tours, activities and more…

I, for one, tend to lean more toward the historical/culture side of things, but when I wanted to throw down and get wild, I could opt-in to one of the group nightlife activities, and it was nice to have that choice.

Second Apprehension: The Price. I’ve always been a relatively budget-concious traveller. Not the grungy ‘will wash dishes to pay for my hostel meal’ traveller.. but the kind who’s cool to stay in a foreign hostel and take the local transit (when safe) to keep costs down AND immerse myself in the day-to-day life of wherever I may be. I’d done some surface-level research years ago on Contiki and flatly decided it was too expensive. End of story.

Moraki BouldersBut… I’ve since had a change of heart. Or, outlook, rather. Last year I circled back around to Contiki after my husband had a great experience with Contiki in Thailand that he would not stop raving about… and decided to give it a second chance. Sure – the prices are still on the high end when compared to roughing it yourself, but the VALUE is what I truly appreciate now. Having been a DIY traveller all over the world (Philippines, Japan, Thailand, Greece etc.) I have total appreciation for the amount of time and hard work that goes into coordinating a trip of such scale. From accommodation to transport, admission to local events and even something as simple as food – it can be a $#!T ton of work. Contiki looks after 95% of this for you. It’s built into their cost. After having travelled both ways (DIY and Contiki), here’s the reasons why I would choose Contiki again in a heartbeat:

  • They do the coordinating legwork (dates, times, durations)
  • They plan awesome itineraries that hit ALL the highlights
  • They handle all trip-related transport (besides your flight to/from) which can quickly add up
  • The guides and drivers are AWESOME (especially if they’re native to the place you’re touring)
  • Large groups often get better rates and access to things that you often can’t get as a solo traveller
  • You can be as social or anti-social with the group as you like
  • It’s safer to travel in a group, especially with a guide who knows the language (if not English)
  • You get to meet new, like-minded people and make lifelong friends (nyaw)

One thing I wish I understood more clearly when budgeting for my Contiki trip is this:

  • The excursions (with the exception of a few included items) are NOT included in the cost of your trip and are up to you to pay for either on-site OR the day or two prior to the activity. Contiki does, however, publish the activity options and their prices beforehand via the app or online for you to review and choose from. Also note that you do not need to decide which excursions you want to do immediately upon booking – our guide let us decide on the trip – in some cases even the day before the excursion (while some things, like skydiving, needed a little more notice). 

Contiki isn’t an expensive vacation. It’s a value-packed way to see new places, meet new people and become enriched with experiences without the stress of scheduling, coordinating and planning your trip.

If you’re on the fence about Contiki.. here’s my advice. I, as a budget-conscious very proud DIY traveller, would do it again, hands down. It’s worth saving for – to be able to freely enjoy yourself and travel with like-minded people – that is invaluable.

**One other BONUS thing is that it’s an awesome time (and a party if you’re up for it) wherever you go. If your Contiki group walks into a dead dive bar on a Tuesday night, it’s guaranteed to be a good time.. you bring the entertainment with you. You’re group IS the entertainment. I mean, how could you not be? Look at these faces!

Group photo with glacier in the background!