Contiki horror stories from someone who's experiencing them right now

January 01, 2016
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I had two months before I began my exchange program in England to see as much of Europe as possible. So, I chose a 45-day high energy Contiki tour, dubbed the "Ultimate European", where you visit 16 countries and pack as many activities, historical tours and cultural experiences in as humanly possible.

"Why not?" I thought. I had never considered Contiki before but as a solo traveller it was such an enticing option. Everything is already organised – transport, accommodation, most meals and a walking tour around each city to ensure you see all the highlights each new place has to offer.

I did not anticipate to experience any ‘horror stories’ while abroad. Although they were just a minor part of my travels, here’s what anyone considering Contiki needs to read.

Coughs and gastro

I had absolutely no idea what "Contiki cough" was, nor did I anticipate just how sick I would become on this trip. About two weeks in, many of us started to drop like flies. A whole bunch of people on my tour, including myself, were diagnosed with chest infections. Yuck.

Towards the end of the tour, in fact it was in the last four days, a strain of gastro took about 10 of us out. I can safely say the day I caught that bug was the worst of the 45 days spent on tour. We were all stuck on a coach, healthy people scattered amidst others as pale as sheets. It was a relentless 24 hour bug of fever, weak muscles, shaking and nausea. We were driving from Switzerland to Germany and had to make an emergency stop to accommodate for all of the vomiting. The one tiny bathroom on the coach wasn't enough for the 10 people lying on the floor in the aisle of the coach, double bagged plastic bags in hand.

So prepare to get sick if you embark on a Contiki adventure because running around all day and then partying all night will take its toll at some point!

Gossip

Contiki tells you from the beginning that your tour group is your, "big new family" and apparently everybody will get along as you are all experiencing so many cultures and living this Contiki experience together with an attitude of "no regrets".

While the majority of people on my tour were kind, there will always be gossip. Especially when you throw together 50 random people between the age of 18 to 35 years old, who all value different things and see the world through different sets of eyes.

What shocked me was the vicious pieces of gossip, the people who ostracised others because they felt like it and the people who were outwardly nasty to those not in their... Let's just say, clique.

Alcohol-fueled craziness

What Contiki is most renowned for is drinking a lot of alcohol. So mix the copious amount of drinking with an underlying tension, a general exhaustion and unresolved conflict, and you will end up with an explosion over the tiniest issues.

Every other Contiki group we encountered along the way would also have crazy stories to tell. Like us, each group had drama about who slept with who, which people weren't getting along and stress around who was going to room with who when that dreaded rooming list was passed around the coach. The drama is inevitable and might be hard to avoid it within your group, other groups and maybe even the locals.

Despite the above, I am so grateful for the overall experience of my Contiki trip and for my tour manager who dealt with the issues. Our group was definitely lucky in snagging our TM as his knowledge, courtesy and manner were exceptional. Once you experience travelling in a random group scenario without knowing anybody else, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably gain the independence and the experience to travel on your own the next time you hit up Europe.

Hayley Elg

Hayley is a journalism student, traveller, language lover, coffee snob and one of those people who stops to pat every dog and cat she sees on the street.

Image: UCLU Photographic Society, Flickr Creative Commons license

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