Breaking Down Travel Barriers with Contiki

Breaking Down Barriers: Solo vs. Group Travel

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My very first big trip abroad as an “adult” was my senior Spring Break to Italy; a dozen or so classmates, my AP English teacher, the vice principal and a handful of our moms took us on a 10-day highlights tour of the country. We didn’t have to think about a thing: When they told us to meet somewhere, we did; when we had nothing on the agenda, we set out on our own to explore the bars our surrounds.

It was the perfect mix of planned and independent exploration, and I soaked up every minute of it.
Breaking Down Travel Barriers with Contiki

Then, I decided to go back overseas—this time, all by my lonesome—at the impressionable age of 20, to backpack around Western Europe before my semester in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh. I remember that first night in an attic hostel room in London, bawling my eyes out. I’d never felt so alone, suddenly didn’t understand why I wanted to go at this solo, why I didn’t just book a group tour like I’d come to find so many of my peers did as a way to explore unfamiliar territory.

Breaking Down Travel Barriers with Contiki

For the next six weeks, I flitted from city to city, tagging along with groups of travelers I’d meet on buses, in hostels, many of them traveling on tours with Contiki and other big travel brands. I envied them. I learned that while solo travel is indeed character-building, the extrovert in me simply needed companions.

And yet, I’ve always been fiercely independent (just ask my mom). Doing things my own way on my own terms has always been my jam. I guess you could say I’m exactly like Allison here, sparkling salmon vs. amenable lemming.

While I don’t regret that character-building semester abroad, subsequent travels in groups and tours have been every bit as rewarding and I often think the ease of hopping on a plane that globalization has granted us—and perhaps reading so many blogs written by people who have eschewed a cubicle life for one of permanent travel—have instilled this societal pressure for travelers to be brave, be bold, to go outside their comfort zone, to travel alone. Your travels aren’t as meaningful unless there are challenges to overcome and they’re riddled with the stress and turmoil that often accompanies solo travel, right? WRONG. So, so wrong.

Breaking Down Travel Barriers with Contiki

I’m working with Contiki to help overcome common barriers associated with group travel, so let’s put a few of these out in the open, shall we?

Tours are more expensive. That might seem like the case because you’re paying for everything in one lump sum, but in my experience of planning group trips for others, a la carte items add up to a lot more than the cost of a tour. Transparency is a good thing, and don’t you want to know what your overall trip budget is going to be before heading abroad with blinders on and being surprised at how much your day-to-day costs amount to?

But tour companies aren’t my travel style. Well, this sparkling salmon herself was guilty of thinking this very thing until I worked my first Semester at Sea voyage five years ago and took only group trips with various tour companies for four months straight. Sometimes figuring out all the logistics in foreign lands can be downright daunting; in fact, I’m already stressing over planning my family’s vacation to Bulgaria, Turkey, Austria and Czech Republic this summer and trying to make inter-continental flights, bus trips and train routes all line up seamlessly. Having someone else do the legwork for a change was magical, and though I was responsible for 20 or so college kids with Semester at Sea, for the most part I was just like them: I’d show up when the tour guide told us to and follow his lead. Every tour built in plenty of free time so SVV and I could go off on our own photo tours of the cities.

But I have limited vacation days. All the more reason to maximize the time that you do have. Too many Americans bank all their vacation time, roll it over year after year, and still never use the majority of days for myriad reasons: I feel guilty, I can’t take the time off work, things will build up while I’m away, my boss will hate me. You’ve earned that vacation time, now take it. Say it with me, guys: In 2016, I will use my vacation time. And if the taxing part of planning a trip is what’s holding you back, then you are the perfect candidate for a tour.

Fine. But I still need “me” time. Great! I need me time, too. Your fellow tour mate needs me time. Your guide definitely needs his me time. Plenty of tours combine the structure of a fun itinerary with the flexibility of giving travelers free time to explore in each location. Just because the details are all already worked out for you doesn’t mean you’ll be like little lost sheep, following your shepherd from one UNESCO World Heritage site to the next.

Breaking Down Travel Barriers with Contiki

I’ve long hoped to go on a Contiki vacation myself, and with just two years left until I turn the golden age of 35, I’ve been bookmarking all the experiences I’d like to have with them before then: island hopping in the Greek islands, exploring the Andes and Amazon, diving in the reefs and through the rainforests of Australia.

Breaking Down Travel Barriers with Contiki

Have you ever gone on a group trip? If so, what did you love about it? If not, what’s been holding you back?

COMMENTS
  • February 11, 2016

    sparkling salmon- adorable!

    I totally agree (not surprised) on tours. I need that interaction with other people, I get so lonely on solo trips!

    • February 12, 2016

      This is why we travel together! =)

      Us on a Contiki tour = my dream. Maybe for our 34th birthdays?

  • February 11, 2016

    I did my first Contiki trip last year to the Greek Islands. While it was a bit “spring breaky,” the people in the group were incredible and a few of the girls are now my fav travel buddies.

    • February 12, 2016

      That’s the one I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do! My sister and I were looking at it when she finished grad school, but life (i.e. her grown-up job) got in the way. Now I’ve just got to rope her into joining me before she has babies 😉

  • February 11, 2016

    This just reminded me I have about 9 months until I age out of Contiki. Let’s do this thing!

    • February 12, 2016

      Maybe we should go end of October to celebrate your last Contiki fling!

  • February 11, 2016
    SVV

    When I first started traveling I was always of the mindset that going it alone and figuring it out myself would yield the best experience. In reality, after doing sign language in the winter in Czech while trying to find a hotel for the night or trying to navigate St. Petersburg with a Waze app, those perceptions have been flipped on their collective head! (Cyrillic anyone?) To get the most out of my trips now I’m totally down with group trips, typically of the smaller kind found within Contiki or others. I’ve spent countless hours in frustration trying to find that ruin in Azerbaijan, brew pub in London or open-air market in Budapest and frankly, while there is some value in learning how to deal with that frustration, who has time for that? There are always plenty of other complications with language, culture etc to build your character.. Read the reviews, do some research on your destination, coast along with a group trip and break away from it when you need to experience the magic of traveling.

    • February 12, 2016

      Group trip to Europe this summer?

  • February 12, 2016
    Jub

    Interesting post. I have had a mix of group travel, solo travel and travel with friends.

    When I travel as a group, I’m definitely more productive in terms of seeing all the sites in X days and not staying in bed all morning before adventuring out.

    As long as there is some flexibility in the group travel I’m all for it!

    • February 12, 2016

      That’s a great way of looking at it, too. I’m definitely more inclined to see as opposed to eat (and drink) all day if someone else is leading the way 😉

  • February 12, 2016

    “She doesn’t want to be a lemming, she wants to be a sparkling salmon.” Hahaha great analogy! 🙂

    I’ve never been on a group trip (apart from Student Association trips), even though I’ve been considering it quite often. What’s holding me back is the fact that you never know what kind of group you could end up with; what’s driving me to want to try it is to visit areas I wouldn’t really want to visit alone. I’m sure that I’ll end up booking a short group tour at some point this year to try it out!

    • February 12, 2016

      Great point—the group can make (or break) the trip. Luckily, I’ve had only great experiences, and when there’s been a bad egg, they seem to distance themselves from the group anyway 😉

  • February 12, 2016

    We took our first group tour last year and loved it. We are usually DIY people and take several trips a year. This gave my husband a break from helping to plan one of our trips so now we are trying another one this year.

    • February 21, 2016

      That’s about our schedule, too: A group tour every other family trip so it gives me a bit of a break as the planner of all our family vacations =)

  • February 13, 2016

    Great post Kristin!

    Yep! I’ve been on group tours and I don’t mind in the least!

    As you know, I’m as independent as they come lol but sometimes, it’s quicker, easier, cheaper & very much depends on the company itself!

    In fact, I’ve travelled with Contiki once. Before my son was born. It was so much fun! And funnily enough, I was the only European there. Everyone else was American or Australian!

    I did Spain, Italy, France, Monacco & the Vatican. And it was pretty cheap for me as I flew in from Berlin to Madrid & flew out from Rome. In fact, I’m still friends with a Korean girl & a Canadian girl!

    I’m taking my family to India next year and even though I did solo travel there, it was pretty stressful so I’m booking a tour group for independent travellers lol!

    • February 21, 2016

      I definitely think Contiki is hugely popular with the American crowd (which is why I need to get on one before I’m too old, ha!). We also did a group trip in India, and now I can’t imagine navigating such a vast country without a guide!

  • February 13, 2016

    I loveee your blog! I’m a beginner in travel blogging and you are such an inspiration for me! Gorgeous photos! 🙂

    http://lavieenrosemp.blogspot.rs/2016/02/hotels-top-5-boutique-hotels-in.html

    • February 21, 2016

      Thanks so much! And best of all in your blogging!

    • February 25, 2016

      Your blog is nice, keep going 🙂

  • February 13, 2016
    Brandy

    This is such a timely post for me! I almost always travel solo, but my last few trips I’ve wished that I had someone with me. Maybe I’ll give group travel a whirl on my next trip. Contiki does have some great itineraries – I’m 33, though, I wonder if I’d be the grandma of the group? Haha.

    • February 21, 2016

      I’m 33, too (well in 24 hours I will be, ha). Let’s go on one together! How does Greece in fall 2016 sound? 😉

  • February 14, 2016

    Like you, I have always been a really independent traveler and love to plan and do everything myself. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about group tours. I have a friend who’s leaving soon on an Intrepid Travel tour through Central America. That seems like a very practical way to travel there, and I’m sure he’ll make a lot of interesting friends!

    • February 21, 2016

      Yeah, as someone who has done solo travel through Central America, I would definitely recommend the group route, if for nothing else the transportation part. It was SO hard for Scott and me to line up all our bus, plane and car journeys from city to city in Honduras and Guatemala!

  • February 14, 2016

    I like a mixture. I’ve done a couple of group tours and really enjoyed them! I’ve done cruises and really enjoyed them as well. And I also love to by just my hubby and I. I think it is like anything else in life – moderation so you have the opportunity to try all kinds of experiences.

    • February 21, 2016

      Totally. I like one group tour, one independent trip, one group tour, one independent trip—helps give me the mental break from planning, ha 😉

  • February 15, 2016

    Tour groups were a part of my childhood, but since my adolescence I’ve traveled alone a lot. It does have some benefits, but most of the time you yearn to have other people around to chat about different things.

    In some of those vacations I’ve found some of my best friends, so yeah, I’m all for group vacations.

    • February 21, 2016

      Same! I’ve made some awesome friends on group tours for the past 10 years. Highly endorse it for the friendship aspect alone!

  • February 15, 2016

    I like a bit of both. I enjoy traveling solo, and I occasionally join a group tour for bits and pieces of my trips. It works out fine. There is this big stigma over group travel, this myth about solo backpacking and independent travel, that I can’t stand. To each their own, really. But I think backpackers obsessively searching for a unique experience, uniquely experience almost nothing 😉

    • February 22, 2016

      Agreed! I was a backpacker in my early years simply as I had no one to travel with and it was the cheapest way to do that. It’s great for some, but now that I have a bit more income to work with, I don’t think I could revert back to that style of travel!

  • February 16, 2016

    Okay, some good points here. My wife and I travel together (we are both so lucky!) and it might be nice to have others to interact with sometimes. I gather we are way too old for Contiki thoiugh (in our 60’s). But, we might give group travel a whirl if the price was right and they had plenty of time for us to go off on our own. The times we’ve had a “group experience” snorkel tour, a tour through Rio Secreto we were unhappy with the pace and didn’t feel like we saw everything we would have if we had been able to do it on our own. But…maybe.

    • February 22, 2016

      My parents are in their 60s, and they love group travel. We do a group tour as a family every other year (the company varies each time), and my mom’s thinking about going on a few solo in the coming years as there are all these trips she’s dying to take and doesn’t want to wait around for the rest of us to go on them with her 😉

  • February 17, 2016

    Ha – I guess I’m too old for Contiki 😉

    I’ve done a fair amount of group tours, but mostly where it’s the only option. I’ve done 4 whitewater rafting trips – not exactly something I can pull together on my own. Same for the Galapagos – if I waited until I had my own yacht, well….group tour it is! As much as I love planning travel down to every last detail, sometimes it is nice to just fork over a credit card and let someone else figure out the details!

    • February 21, 2016

      I LED a group tour to the Galapagos, which is a little different than going on one (89 people in my care, including three VIP/politicians!) so I think I need a redo of a group trip with me actually going on vacation 😉

  • February 29, 2016

    I like both group trips as well as solo travels. It depends on my mindset and where I want to go. If it’s a nature trip, sometimes I enjoy it better on my own, while exploring a new city with friends or a group is more fun.

  • March 6, 2016

    It is totally different when you travel solo but you learn to get to know your self better

    • March 17, 2016

      Agreed. I like a mix of both because solo travel presents a new set of challenges and then I’m ready for group travel to relax and have someone else take the wheel =)

  • August 10, 2016

    Awesome post, as always. Traveling is so incredibly exciting, but it can also be extremely nerve wracking, especially when you are anxiety prone. It’s really important to take all the steps you address here in order to preserve your sanity while you’re away. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • September 10, 2017

    I never considered the idea that travelling with a group could help with the costs. I have been looking into a lot of travel opportunities lately, and I think it would be fun to do all of those trips soon. I have been hesitant to do group trips like this, because I don’t know anyone I could go with, but it sounds like I could still sign up for tours and activities, and just get placed with other travelers like me. I will definitely be looking into this option for at least a few of the trips I would be taking.

  • April 12, 2018

    oh you remind me my past. thanks for sharing this post

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