Should I go on a Contiki Tour?

I recently returned from an 11-day Outback Adventure with Contiki. Was it what I expected? Not even close! Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Before I launch into the benefits of a Contiki Holiday, I feel I owe them an apology.

You see, if I’m being honest, I have to admit that I wasn’t convinced I’d enjoy an organised trip that much. After months of independent, mostly solo travel in South America and New Zealand, I’m ashamed to admit I’d become a bit of a ‘travel snob’.

Should I go on a Contiki Tour? - travel snob

I’d survived muggings, altitude sickness, pervy dorm mates, awkward conversations in foreign languages, 30-hour bus journeys and untrustworthy cab drivers. I thought a Contiki tour would be ‘too easy’. I assumed I’d be travelling with mollycoddled kids who lacked the courage or initiative to plan their own adventure. And at 30 years of age, I felt like I was probably a bit too old to get involved with the heavy drinking and crazy parties I know are often associated with these kinds of tours.

I could not have been more wrong.

Should I go on a Contiki Tour? - friends

During my trip in the Australian Outback, I met a fantastic group of lifelong friends, packed some incredible experiences into a whirlwind of an itinerary and enjoyed every second. The people in my group ranged from 18 to 31, were of many different nationalities, and everyone got on well. Despite our trip taking in Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I was actually surprised by how little people drank (although I’m pretty sure the remoteness of the outback had something to do with it). It was a blessing not to have to worry about planning every move, and the benefits of travelling with a tour company became increasingly apparent…

1. Value for Money

When you look at the prices of organised tours, they might seem extravagant, but part of the reason is that it seems worse when you have to pay for everything in one bulk sum. Adding up everything that was included, and taking into consideration the quality of some of the places we stayed, it would be very difficult to do it cheaper independently. If I’d been backpacking, I’d have stayed in the cheapest hostels I could find and while that might have saved a few dollars here and there, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as relaxing.

Should I go on a Contiki Tour? - Pool

Most of the places we stayed had large rooms with en suite bathrooms and the tour bus was comfortable and fully air conditioned. A lot of the activities and some of the meals were already included in the price and Contiki had deals going with independent tour providers and bars to ensure that when things weren’t included in the initial cost, they were at least discounted.

2. Travel Companions

While it’s usually not that difficult to meet other travellers when you backpack independently, it’s too often the case that their plans don’t match yours. You move from one place to the next meeting great people and then having to say goodbye the next day. On a Contiki trip, you can really get to know your travel buddies in the knowledge that they’re with you until the last day.

Should I go on a Contiki Tour? - Friends

After the initial night or two, you can choose who to bunk with and, after spending 24 hours a day with these people, friendships form much faster than in the real world. You also get to avoid having to share a dorm room with total strangers. The biggest advantage of this is that you all have to get up at the same time each day, so no one will annoy you with late-night partying on the eve of a sunrise tour or bag rustling when you finally have the chance to lie in.

3. Safety

When you have your own tour bus and driver, you don’t need to worry yourself with checking the reputation of local bus companies or ensuring that your taxi driver has a license. And you won’t find yourself behind the wheel of a rental car in the middle of the outback cursing the day you thought watching Wolf Creek was a good idea. When you visit stops en route to your next destination, you can leave your belongings locked safely on the bus and when you’re in your accommodation, you’re sharing with people you know and whose trustworthiness you’ve already determined.

Should I go on a Contiki Tour? - bus

The outback can be a dangerous place, with its creepy crawlies, crocodiles, relentless sun and, sometimes, unsavoury characters. If things do go wrong, you have a tour guide who’s trained in dealing with these issues and will give you hour-by-hour advice on what to carry with you and which places to avoid.

4. Entertainment

One of the great things about organised tours is that they put in a special effort to make sure everyone gets to know each other well and they aim to keep you entertained 24/7. Even if you meet plenty of people when travelling solo, you will find yourself struggling to stay sane on some of the longer journeys between popular destinations.

Should I go on a Contiki Tour? - party

On our first Contiki bus trip, we each had to take to the mic and introduce ourselves with a story of ‘fame’ or ‘shame’. Yes, it’s embarrassing, but everyone’s in the same boat and it makes the journey much more interesting. Later in our trip, we put together our own quiz by contributing two questions each – such a simple but effective way to kill time on the road. Every morning, as soon as we boarded the bus, our tour guide Bec would play the same song. The idea was that when we heard it in the future, we’d associate it with the trip and smile at the fond memories. She also showed us classic Australian movies depicting the places we’d been that day, and her rule of ‘no nesting’ when it came to seats on the bus ensured that we got to know each other quickly.

5. Time saving

You can fit so much more into each day when your bus follows your every move. There’s no waiting all afternoon for the next scheduled departure or hanging about while a transfer bus fills up. Sure, you could rent a car and take a road trip, but that’s only really an option if you can get a group together to travel with. You also can’t catch up on sleep if you’re behind the wheel. The Northern Territory is very, very big! If you planned on driving those distances, you’d need to factor in additional time to rest, which would eat into your itinerary.

6. Accessibility

Some destinations are made for guided tour groups, and I believe that the Northern Territory is one such place. Places of interest may be hundreds of kilometres apart and public buses are few and far between. Even if you do manage to book transfers between towns, there’s no flexibility in where they’ll stop, so you might have to miss out on some fantastic additional sights. Some of the highlights of our Outback Adventure were road side rest stops!

Should I go on a Contiki Tour? - Daly Waters

Your Contiki guide will also have the contact details of all of the places you intend to visit, and they’ll call ahead to confirm your plans. Chances are, their knowledge of the area will enable you to fit in as many activities as possible without having to contend with last-minute cancellations. Also, with the outback being so vast and remote, sometimes tours won’t run unless they meet minimum numbers. There’s no better way to guarantee a small crowd than to travel with a tour group.

Of course, I understand the excitement of travelling independently and the anticipation that comes with never being sure what the next day might bring. I value that sense of accomplishment you get from knowing you planned an entire trip and had no major pitfalls, and I love meeting new groups of people in every hostel. But sometimes, it’s good to take a back seat and enjoy the ride and I have absolutely #NoRegrets about joining Contiki in the Northern Territory. I’ve swallowed my pride and I hope to have more opportunities to join organised tours in the future.

My Outback Adventure was sponsored by Contiki. While they requested that I write about my trip, the choice of topics has been left entirely up to me. Any opinions expressed are a genuine reflection on how I felt about the experience. 


    • says

      Yes, exactly! I think the Northern Territory is the perfect place to join a tour group. But I also realised I liked being on an organised trip a lot more than I thought I might. I’d definitely do it again.

    • says

      Yes, I think there are benefits to both. It really depends what you want to get out of your trip. I had a fantastic time in New Zealand trying out all sorts of activities, but I got a bit lonely, because it was one of those countries where it’s not quite as easy to meet people in hostels and it’s a lot less common to form random groups that travel together. I’m glad I did South America independently though. Either way, you’re travelling and experiencing new places, so you can’t go too far wrong in my opinion!

  1. says

    I’ll need some more convincing. I don’t mind a day tour, 11-days, I’d really need to see the itinerary. I suppose being with the right crowd helps though.

    • says

      I honestly wasn’t sure myself Shaun, but I really enjoyed it. The itinerary was great. They fitted in a lot more than I would have if I’d gone by myself. I think, to an extent, it comes down to where you’re travelling and what your alternative means are. I wouldn’t have been able to see the Northern Territory very easily as a solo backpacker who can’t remember how to drive! And I wouldn’t have met many people either. Some destinations are made for group tours, and the NT is definitely one of them.

  2. says

    Travel snob, what?! You’ve never been anything but a sweetie since I met you, Arianwen! I’m glad you gave the tour group your thumbs up because that’s what I’ve been looking at for Europe. And some co-workers have taken the same groups and said they absolutely rock. That was sooooo cool to actually get to SEE you throw the boomerang in the video! Really good post. Oh and I just now put Sneaky Sound System’s “Big” into my music library. I watched the video 3 times before then because it’s great and also wanted to hear the song again lol! :)) Great picture of you and the other gal with Ayers rock behind you :)
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    • says

      You don’t hear what I say about people offline… (jokes!). I just meant that I was starting to feel a bit superiour when it came to travel – like I’d gained enough experience to know that my way was best. I was definitely judgemental of people who didn’t organise things themselves. In my mind they were a bit lazy or indulgent or unadventurous. I’ve got to remember that no one way is the right way to travel and, now that I’ve sampled an orgainsed tour, I wouldn’t be surprised if I go back for more!

      I hope your plans for Europe work out, and I’m glad you like the song!

  3. says

    I have done a few organized group tours as well. Sometimes you are lucky with your tour group and sometimes you can be unlucky and get a bunch of immature, alcoholic backpackers, but it never spoiled any of my trips to be honest. Usually the destination is such a highlight that I soon forget about some annoying travel companions. I think if you haven’t got much time then group tours are the best bet, but if you have a lot of time I prefer self organized trips.

    • says

      I was definitely lucky with the group I had in the NT. I suppose that even when there are a few less desirable characters, you can find some people who are more to your taste. And travelling solo is a gamble too. You don’t know who you’ll meet, or even whether you’ll meet enough people to keep you sane! I found NZ a bit of a challenge on my own, because some of the places I visited were really quiet and a lot of the travellers were much younger and only on short trips. But one thing I will say is I’ve never regretted any of the trips I’ve taken, whoever they were with :)

  4. says

    Great article. I did a 4 week trip with G Adventures around Central America at least 5 years ago now and I loved it. Great mixture of people and not really any massive amount of partying. However this is the only organised trip I’ve been on so I’m not sure if they’d all be like this or if I lucked out. I’d hate to get stuck with a bunch of 18 year olds that are more interested in getting wasted then exploring the country.

    • says

      I’d love to take a trip in Central America. That sounds amazing! It sounds like we both lucked out, but I’m also starting to think that the majority of the tour groups really aren’t that bad. I’ve met Contiki groups on nights out before, and they were a bit wild, but I got on well with some of them. I think you’re always going to be able to find at least some like-minded people.

  5. says

    Interested to read how you got on with Contiki – I did a few different tours with various companies when I was in Australia and really enjoyed them all. The convenience is a big thing, especially if you’ve got a limited time. You are a bit at the mercy of who you get put in a group with and you really need to be up for being sociable. I’m not sure I’d do it now, 10 years older, but having said that I did a Costa Rica group trip a few years ago and the oldest person was 75!
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    • says

      Haha. Wow! 75?! I don’t think age is such a barrier when you’re travelling. I’ve done shorter tours with solo travellers in their 50s and equally become good friends with people 12 years younger than me. Everyone shares a common passion and people are generally in a great mood because they’re on holiday. I bet there are very few trips where the group doesn’t get on.

    • says

      I hope it works out for you! They really are a great option. Even though I like the excitement of being fully independent, it’s great to know you have people around you the whole time. It’s much more relaxing than doing it all yourself. Have a great time!

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