First off, let me say that when it comes to travel, I am all three of those adjectives listed above. The idea of exploring the country, let alone the world, often both enthralls and scares the hell out of me. There is more out there to be seen and experienced than one can possibly hope to accomplish in his or her lifetime, so how do you decide on the best way to tackle this endeavor? For me, the answer was Contiki.
Contiki is a company that is dedicated to helping young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 go on great vacations with like-minded individuals from many diverse backgrounds. I found Contiki almost two years ago on a whim; as I was scrolling through Facebook, I noticed an eye-catching advertisement on my sidebar that I just had to click on. When I got to Contiki’s homepage, the first things I felt were excitement and pure adrenaline. To reiterate, the thought of venturing beyond North America brings my anxiety level to an uncomfortable high. Traveling solo? Yeah, no. However, within ten seconds of being on the Contiki website my heart was pumping with something I had never felt before: wanderlust.
From the get-go, it is clear that Contiki has one great thing going for them: options. Trips are available in six continents, the length can range anywhere from three to 47 days, and prices (not including airfare) start as low as $299. The average price for a roughly 10-day trip usually hovers around $1350, which is extremely fair considering how much bang you get for your buck. For those who seek structure while on vacation, there are trips that include many sightseeing tours, along with additional activities and dining. For those who thrive on freedom, there are trips where you are basically dropped somewhere and told to have fun during your stay. Because this would be my first time traveling both solo and out of the country, I fell into the category of people needing structure.
I knew immediately that I was most interested in going to Italy. I am half Italian, I minored in Latin in college, and I had always wanted to see the Colosseum. Based on my need for structure and my desire to keep my first trip somewhat short, I chose the Italian Espresso trip. This tour was eight days long with stays in Rome, Florence, and Venice. It also included short visits to Vatican City, Verona, Pisa, and San Gimignano. The Italian Espresso was a ‘Superior’ tour, meaning that we stayed in hotels the whole time and either had your own room or shared with another individual. I selected the dates, arranged my flights, entered my credit card information, and pressed ‘enter’ before I could let the fear in my heart seize hold of my senses. I am so glad I did, because my trip to Italy was one of the best experiences of my life thus far.
My particular group had roughly 30 people in it. Most were Americans, but there were also a few Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, and one woman from Singapore. Because I am extremely introverted, I chose to share my hotel room with another woman for the duration of the trip. I figured this was the best way to ensure that I actually went outside my comfort zone and made friends. This was a really good idea and something I would suggest, as it made it way easier to acclimate to my new surroundings. I still keep in touch with her, along with several more of the friends I made.
The Italian Espresso was set up similarly to Contiki’s other available tours: all breakfasts were included in the fee, along with several dinners, sightseeing tours, and fun activities such as a glass-blowing demonstration. There were also some other ‘Me Time’ options that we could do whenever we had free time. These included going to a disco bar in Florence, riding a gondola through the canals of Venice, and an elaborate Tuscan dinner. It is worth noting that even on a schedule-heavy trip such as this one, there was LOTS of free time. The city tours usually only lasted a couple of hours, and then the rest of the day would be wide open to go grab lunch with friends, explore parts of the city we missed, hit the bars, or go back to the hotel for a nap. Some of my favorite moments in Italy came during these times.
In all, planning a trip through Contiki was definitely worth it for me. I met a lot of people, I saw everything I wanted to see and more, and I was fully immersed in Italy’s culture. Now that I’ve gotten my feet wet with international travel, I have a better idea of how I’d like to plan my next adventure. I no longer feel the need to have so much of a set schedule when I go abroad, and I think I’d be more open to a trip that includes somewhat less ‘traditional’ sleeping accommodations. My solution? Contiki’s ‘Croatian Island Cruising,’ hopefully somewhere in the very near future!
To check out travel deals like my trip to Italy, visit Contiki.com
Photos via: Eva Meierhoff