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Contiki is 60! But have you heard our epic origin story?

Contiki coach in mountain

At Contiki, we love a good travel story. (That’s what six-two is all about, really). And bonus points if it’s wild, improbable, or hilarious. But did you know about the travel story behind Contiki? Well, you should, because it’s one of the wildest, most improbable and hilarious travel stories we’ve ever heard. It’s all listed in John Anderson’s mind-blowing memoir Only Two Seats Left. But if you don’t have time for all that, here’s a summary of how it all began…

It was the summer of ‘62…

And a young Kiwi named John Anderson made his way to Europe through 17 countries. (Clearly this Contiki thing was in his blood). He finally arrived in his destination, London, low in cash but high on a dream. To explore as much of Europe as possible. The only question was…how?

Then, this entrepreneurial explorer had a bright idea…because John didn’t just want to see Europe. He wanted to experience it with a group of like-minded people, just as hungry for adventure as he was. So he put a simple advert on a hostel notice board: “European Tour, Only two seats left.”

The tour quickly sold out. But there was a small issue: as things stood, there was no itinerary. Or accommodation. Or seats to fill, for that matter…


Contiki trip in the 70s
What was it like to travel with Contiki in the 80s?

What was it like to travel with Contiki in the 80s?

Dominic Oliver
by Dominic Oliver May 16, 2022

“Good luck!”

So John used the travellers’ deposits to purchase a red kombi minivan. He named it “Tiki” – Maori for good luck. And, considering he was taking 11 strangers across the entire continent of Europe whilst having no idea where he was going or what he was doing, he was probably going to need it. 

So the 12 young travellers set off, and started making memories across the most iconic sites in Europe. But then, halfway through, in Nice, France, John realised he’d ran out of cash (sensing a theme?). 

And this is where his “Tiki” came into play, in a big way. Whilst camping in Nice (and fearing that the rest of the trip was doomed), John took what little cash he had left and slipped out to a casino in the dead of night. He approached a roulette table and gambled the entire wad on black. It’s incredible to think how many lives – marriages, friendships, memories – would be different had that little roulette ball ended its journey slightly to the left. But it landed on black, and thus the first Contiki rolled on. In his memoir, John wrote that the experience was how he “learnt to take calculated risks.” (This is not financial/life advice…)

So, although he blagged the entire thing, everyone on the trip had such an incredible adventure that they begged him to do it again the next summer. Contiki was born.

Contiki trip in the 70s

Social travel vibes since day one

So now, here we are, 60 years later. From one battered minivan to 300+ trips in 6 continents. Since John’s inaugural adventure, we’ve brought millions (!) of young travellers together and shown them the world. 

And though John is no longer involved with Contiki, he’s clearly proud of how far the brand has come, and how the social travel spirit has remained the same.

In a recent interview he said, “It’s all about people. The real highlight for me is whenever I see a Contiki coach pass me by, anywhere in the world, full of young people having fun. I always look up and wave.

It’s that feeling of accomplishment that I’ve been responsible for giving so many young people the most incredible experience. In many ways it’s the highlight of my life.

People come up and say ‘I’d like you to meet my husband or my wife.’ They met on tour. They get emotional. I get emotional. They were total strangers. Their daughter’s travelled Contiki. It’s almost like a secret club that’s worldwide.  People say ‘I’m going on a Contiki’. Brands come on the market every day but only a few last the test of time.”

Truer words have never been said, John. We’re proud to continue your legacy as we look to the next 60 years of social travel. (We don’t think we’ll be betting trip money in Monte Carlo, though. We like to think we’ve got this social travel stuff on lock by now).

Want to create your own Contiki stories across Europe? Check out our European Explorer trip. 35 days. 16 countries. Endless memories to last a lifetime!

Contiki is 60! But have you heard our epic origin story?

Contiki is 60! But have you heard our epic origin story?

Dominic Oliver
by Dominic Oliver Jun 01, 2022

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