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Cupid is real and he works for Contiki

A real love story unfolds as the bride and groom share a tender kiss in front of their exquisite wedding cake.

Many of us dream of that holiday romance you see in the movies. You know the ones: where the pair meet in Italy and fall head-over-spaghetti for each other? Well…spoiler alert: it actually happens. When Texas native Ashley set out on Contiki’s European Quest she never expected to meet the love of her life. She locked eyes with Brenton, a New Zealander with a strong Kiwi accent standing in line for a sandwich. How’s that for a meat cute. “I kind of avoided him at first because I was embarrassed… I couldn’t understand what he was saying.”

Brenton, meanwhile, spotted Ashley her first day on the coach, “I was on my own personal journey. One of the cool things about travelling is that you don’t know anyone: you can just chill out and be yourself. There’s no sense of pressure or expectation. When Ashley came on the bus I was just like, ‘why do I all of a sudden care more about what people think of me?” What seemed like a rough start (because of Ashley’s inability to understand his thick accent and Brenton catching a cold) the French riviera passed by in a blur.

A real travel love story captured with a group of people posing for a picture in front of a castle.

But while France is romantic in its own chic way, Florence, in its ancient, architectural glamour, is where flames ignite. The young travellers’ night started with Trip Manager, Mike, leading the crew to a night of karaoke at the Red Garter. Maybe it was the fun vibes of belting out tunes with fellow Contiki travellers, or maybe it was Italy’s faded elegance, but something sparked that night. Brenton and Ashley started chatting and walked back to the hotel through the city streets, “We never stopped talking after that… the next day in Capri, Brenton and I spent the whole day together, just us two.”

A real travel love story unfolding as a group of people walk down a street in Rome.

Capri is an island off the Amalfi coast, known for mountainous views that meet the warm turquoise sea. With these impossibly romantic vistas, it’s understandable that the couple fell in love so quickly. “It was a really cool first date,” Ashley says about her island experience. They took chair lifts around the island to explore and sipped on fresh orange juice under the spotless skies.  “Contiki can be very fast-paced but if you’re spending time with someone, everything you’re doing is an incredible event.”  We’re inclined to agree.

“We’ve travelled to a lot of other places but Italy’s been our favourite so far,” says Ashley, who even has a print out of a Florentine map that reads, ‘where it all began’ hanging up in their home. “That’s a testament to Contiki. They drove us around and showed us everything and we didn’t have to worry about the language barrier… all of that made it so effortless for me and Brenton to get to know each other.”

Real love story map print.

When they said their goodbyes, Brenton wasn’t sure he was ever going to see Ashley again. She lived in America; he lived in New Zealand. It seemed impossible. To commemorate their whirlwind romance on Ashley’s last day in Rome, Brenton got a tattoo to match the one already imprinted on Ashley’s wrist. Brenton insists that at the time it was meant as, “A positive memento that good people were out there,” whereas it gave Ashley pause…“He must be serious,” she remembers thinking.

They continued to talk and promised they would visit each other. Two months later Ashley flew to New Zealand, “My family was like you met some guy in Europe for 3 days… you’re insane.” After Brenton showed Ashley where he grew up on the South Island, it solidified their feelings for each other. A few months later, Brenton visited Ashley in Texas for Christmas and proposed to her on New Year’s Day. “This was all within 5 months of the Contiki,” Ashley laughs, “people thought we were absolutely crazy.” (We personally think they’re legends).

A real love story unfolds as a bride and groom stand in front of a small white house.

But what seemed to be happily-ever-after was interrupted by border control and the COVID Pandemic. “The process was kind of horrific,” Brenton says. Ashley decided to move to New Zealand on a working holiday visa while they waited for Brenton’s visa for the United States. “COVID, exploded and New Zealand shut the borders, so people couldn’t come in and out. Ashley made it two weeks before the borders closed.” Meanwhile the couple started the visa process for Brenton, needing, among other items, a signed affidavit confirming their love was for real.

Who could provide such a document? To Ashley it was a no-brainer: “The best person to vouch for us meeting on the trip was Mike.” Yep, remember Trip Manager Mike? The one who recommended the Red Garter karaoke bar in Florence where it all began?! “I asked him and he was totally on board to do it.” It’s true: Trip Manager Mike signed an affidavit to confirm their love. Talk about going above and beyond for your travellers (we definitely didn’t put “cupid” in his job description).

A heartfelt letter of support for Brian and Kelly, a real travel love story.

After a nearly two-year visa process Brenton finally moved to Texas in June 2021. And they were married one week later! “We invited Mike to our wedding but he couldn’t come because it was peak COVID.” Says Brenton. And although we’re sad Trip Manager Mike couldn’t be there for the wedding day, he helped make it all possible. (We reached out to Mike and he said he’s been captivated whilst following their romance on Instagram every step of the way). We love you Contiki Mike! 

Ashley and Brenton now live together in Texas and will be celebrating their second wedding anniversary in June! They are actively travelling together and seeing the world with their next destination being Fiji (though they say they’ve also been eyeing up Contiki’s Croatia Island Sail.) “When we get to tell people how we met it’s really cool that it was through something we’re both passionate about,” Ashley says looking adoringly at her hubby. When asked if they’d recommend Contiki as a way to find love Brenton answered: “Absolutely! In terms of the variety of people you meet, if you go in with an open mind you’ll make incredible lifelong relationships.”

Somebody pass us a tissue…

A real travel story featuring a man, woman, and their beloved corgi dog posing together.