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Contiki vs Solo Travel – Two Extremes

I’m currently in the process of packing up my life before venturing out to travel the world solo, and no joke, some people look at me with evident horror when I answer “no” to their question of “are you going with anyone else?” They even follow it up with: “and you’re ok with that?” Well duh… That’s why I’m doing it. I’m not just ok with it, it’s my preference.

Now I get that solo travel is not for everyone. I went to the beach yesterday and someone at work asked who I went with. When I answered “me!” she came back with: “you’re so lucky that you can do things on your own, I always need to have people around me”. What a nightmare! I can’t imagine always having people around me. I have what I call Social Claustrophobia. I love spending time with my friends, don’t get me wrong, but after spending a significant amount of time with a group of people I’m always ready for some ‘me time’. Which brings me to the first topic of this post:

Why I Will Never Do Contiki Again
To say I hated my Contiki tour is probably a bit extreme. I quite enjoyed most of it actually, and I made some great friends that I still (albeit very rarely) keep in touch with. It also achieved for me exactly what I wanted out of it: to see as many places in Europe as I could during my two weeks between other plans. I think of it as being similar to a tasting plate, I tried as much as I could in bite sized amounts and now I know what I like and what I don’t. I don’t like Berlin. I do like pretty much everywhere else we went. Hmm… Lots of places I have to go back to for the full experience.

So those were the positive experiences of my Contiki tour. Now the reasons why I would never do it again can be summed up like this: if I wanted to get drunk every night, walk around trying to function with a hangover after a 7am wake up every day, spend half my life on a bus, and be surrounded by a constant group of 50 Australians the whole time, I could easily do it at home in Melbourne for a quarter of the price. But I don’t want to do those things.

I know a lot of people love to party when they travel and I don’t see anything wrong with that if that’s what you want to do. But personally I would rather go to bed earlier, get up earlier, and spend more time seeing things during the day. I can get drunk anywhere in the world but I might only be in Vienna once. I was really lucky with my travel buddy in South America because we both had this same mindset, saw some amazing stuff while other people in our hostels slept off their regrets from the night before. Having said that, we did have a few messy nights, a couple of messy afternoons as well, thank you caipirinhas!

And I know what you’re thinking, “just because you’re on a tour doesn’t mean you have to go out drinking every night”, and you’re right. But there is such a culture to join in every activity, when you have 50 rowdy Australians* around you ready for the shots bar in Kraków you definitely look like the party pooper if you don’t want those four-zloty shots.

The other thing you need to be prepared for is that you will pay for close to, if not all, the extras. The price you pay to book is not the price you pay for the tour. Factor this into your budget. I was adamant I wouldn’t do certain things but when everyone is so excited it ends up sounding like a good idea. The only ones I didn’t go in for were the orchestra performance in Vienna (because I didn’t want to pay an exorbitant fee to pretend I was interested) and the gondola ride in Venice (because I’d already paid an exorbitant fee to do it a few years before and I had better things to do).

Is this an opinion piece or an advice post? I don’t even know anymore.

That Day In Bologna When I Fell In Love With Solo Travel
I spent 5 days in Dublin just before my Contiki, it was my first experience of solo travel and I loved it, but I didn’t realise what solo travel meant to me until a week after the Contiki when I jumped on a train to spend a day in Bologna, Tuscany. The main reason I went to Bologna was to try some original Bolognese. I joke! Actually it was a much more nerdy reason Bologna was the first city to establish a university, and being a mad history fan and having heard about this university a fair bit in my own studies I wanted to check it out. Long story short, I got my info wrong and ended up at the modern university which was very underwhelming, but I went back a week later and found the one I was looking for and it was everything I wanted it to be and more.

While spending an entire day trekking around Bologna looking for something and not knowing where it was but not really caring because there were so many other things to see anyway, that was the moment I developed a deep appreciation for solo travelling. Can you imagine? “Why do we have to search for this ancient university again? I want bolognese. I’m bored, we’ve been in this archaeology museum for 2 hours! Why didn’t you look at the map properly? It’s 39 degrees, there is NO WAY I’m climbing that massive pointless tower that is leaning at such an alarming angle!”

Well I did climb the tower, despite the heat and the fact that it really was on a very disturbing angle. And I really enjoyed it. And then I went across the road and had a burger and a pint in the Irish pub. Throughout the day I had this feeling inside me that grew and grew: freedom and flexibility. That’s what solo travel is. The thought that came to me that day is that travelling is selfish (not necessarily in a bad way!), you spend thousands of dollars to make sure that you have an awesome experience doing things that other people only dream of. And if you’re going to spend that money then why would you travel according to someone else’s agenda? You’ve worked your arse off, you’ve saved your money, you will bloody well climb that tower if that’s what you want to do, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise… Unless they’re a security guard, of course.
*Number of Australians may be exaggerated, but not by much.

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4 thoughts on “Contiki vs Solo Travel – Two Extremes

  1. Xavier Caixal says:

    I love this post, Maia. I fully share every single bit you say in it.

    It’s obviously not dedicated to me because the question of whether you are “ok” travelling solo has never even crossed my mind. Nevertheless, it answers a few questions I have lately been thinking of. I’ve been wondering if you had your Contiki tour in mind and how much your attitude towards travelling might have developed after your South American trip. I had seen a development already, but I can see it much clearer now.

    Those who find it difficult to understand or approve what you are doing don’t have your experience. You learn with experience and you build it yourself. Nobody can do that for you. And that’s what you are doing. Good on ya mate!

    Like

  2. girlinafairytale says:

    While I don’t think I would ever be up to an extended period of solo travel, I can completely see why you love it so much! The Contiki tour really doesn’t sound like something I would enjoy – I really don’t think there is much difference between drinking in a bar in Australia and drinking in a bar anywhere else in the world, and I’d much rather spend more time at night sleeping, so that I could spend more time in the day exploring! I am going to be going on an Intrepid tour later this year, and I am hoping it will be the perfect middle ground for me, as there has been no mention of alcohol, and numerous mentions of food tours!

    I think this is a brilliant post, and I imagine it would be genuinely helpful for anyone considering solo travel but not quite sure whether it is right for them.

    Like

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