A Backpacker’s Take on Contiki
Think Contiki isn’t right for your backpacking heart? Hear how Contiki goes from a backpacker’s perspective.
Tour groups? No thanks. Fixed schedule? Pass. Eye-opening and life-changing experiences? Sign me up! As a backpacker to the core and more independent than I like to admit, the thought of a group trip sent shivers down my spine. I always understood how people could like them and that they could be a great travel style for many, but after backpacking more than 25 countries, I thought I was too advanced of a traveler and that Contiki wasn’t for me.. I don’t do this often, but I will happily admit that I was wrong.
When you work full-time and try to have some semblance of a grown up life, it’s hard to plan a quick vacation that maximizes your time, without leaving you feeling like you just want to sleep on a beach for a week immediately after you’re done planning. So, I did something I never thought I’d do, agreed to go on a Contiki trip.
I endeavored on my first Contiki in April and decided to go with ‘Sweet As’ South in New Zealand. I’d always wanted to go to New Zealand but had no idea what to do there, other than every kind of activity that brought me plummeting to the Earth quickly (skydiving, bungy jumping, canyon swinging etc.). This was the first vacation I’d taken where I didn’t even google “what to do in New Zealand” or research at all – so much so that I didn’t realize they drive on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD and quickly realized that if bungy jumping didn’t kill me, a car probably would when I looked the wrong way to cross.
Yes, I worked for Contiki and knew exactly how the trips work and encouraged lots of my friends to take them (my friends actually told ME about Contiki after going on one and loving it, that’s how I found out and got the job). However, when you’re the one going on a trip, you begin to question and second-guess things that you’d told people a thousand times.
Things I was scared of:
- Being stuck with people who could potentially suck
- Age differences
- Spending too much time in places I didn’t like
- Having too little time in places I love
- Spending all day on a bus
- No free time
Reasons I ended up loving Contiki:
- I ended up loving everyone (not literally, I can assure you). Luckily, my entire group got along famously with minimal drama. The people you travel with make the trip. I can honestly say that I gained friends for life. The thing I was most scared of was the thing that I enjoyed the most.
- Age really doesn’t matter. As strange as it sounds, people with a 12+ year age gap got along just as well as those who were the same age. We all were there for the same reason – to travel and have a good time.
- Contiki knows what they’re doing. Some nights are just necessary stopovers, so you aren’t spending time in places that are bad.
- I LOVED Queenstown. LOVED it. I got four full days there, which was enough time to do every adventure activity I wanted. Would I have liked more time there? Sure, but I’d have like a few months almost everywhere I’ve traveled.
- Traveling is traveling. You have to get from point A to point B and the coach is definitely the most comfortable and fun way I’ve traveled. Better than Europe train rides with a bunch of locals who won’t talk to you (and steal your stuff…). Plus, the Contiki bus stops every 2 hours or so at parks or quirky roadside attractions. Games, music, and friends really help the time go by and the scenery out the window isn’t bad either.
- I underestimated how much free time I’d have. There are activities scheduled, but if you don’t want to do them, you don’t have to. The only thing you have to do is be at the bus when it’s leaving… that’s IT! That being said, the scheduled activities are scheduled because they are worth it and exclusive. After hours brewery tour with 45 minutes of unlimited sampling? YES! Shotover Jet Ride that wakes you up? MHM! A giant labyrinth to get frustratingly but comically lost in? CHECK! Your TM will tell you what you should check out in each place if you have free time, so you will never be bored.
So what were some of the highlights of my trip?
Taking a swim in a glacial lake with 10 new friends the first night of the trip and immediately heading to the jacuzzi.
Jumping off my first bridge with 26 new friends cheering me on.
Dressing up like the characters of the Lord of the Rings (and nearly falling off a stool making me a tall Gandalf).
Taking a rainy day hike to and through Tartare Tunnel to see glow worms (our spontaneous adventure when the helicopter ride to the glacier was cancelled).
Eating more Fergburgers than I’m willing to admit to.
Flying to Milford Sound and seeing the most stunning scenery (and having the pilot point out which LOTR scenes were filmed where).
I could talk about how beautiful the country is, how incredible the friends I made were, and that it was the best travel experience of my life, but photos and videos might do a better job of convincing you.