Real Talk

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

At Contiki, we love a good travel story. (That’s what six-two is all about, really). And bonus points if it’s wild, or 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 also wanted to experience it with other people, and share each memory with new friends looking for the same kinds of things. So he put a simple advert on a hostel notice board: “European Tour, Only two seats left.”

The tour was quickly sold out. But of course, as things stood, there was no itinerary. Or seats to fill, for that matter…


"Good luck!"

So John used the 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 ran out of money (sensing a theme?). 

And this is where his “Tiki” came into play, in a big way. 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. He gambled it all, one on spin at the roulette table – and he won. 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…)

And, 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. And thus: Contiki was born.

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 together 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 vibe 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).

Wanna join us for our 60th birthday party? Think: you, dozens of other travellers, a 16th Century Chateau, pool parties, nightclubs and all the Beaujolais wine you can drink. See you there in summer? 

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