I'm planning my first trip to Europe for next summer and I've been looking at different travel options. The first thought I had was doing it independently but then I found this website about budget tours run by Contiki. I was wondering if anyone has ever traveled with them and if so what are some pros and cons of their tours.
I took the really budget camping contiki tour for 45 days around Europe back in 2000. Over all, it was excellent, and for a first trip to Europe I would recomnend it.
There are three levels of Contiki tours - Superior, budget and camping. Camping tours are hard to come across booking from North America since, as the Contiki Staff told me straight out, "Canadian's and American don't know how to camp and they get cranky when they find out we aren't sleeping in cabins". Therefore they don't advertise them in the NA, except through some student travel agents like Travel Cuts. But if you can find a way to book one, they are great and are way cheaper and better value than even the budget tours.
But whatever tour you choose, here are some pros and cons of Contiki, and tours in general:
You see way more than you would independantly
They can be cheaper than independantly - The camping tours at least
You meet some great friends - 6 years later I'm still in contact with many folks from my tour and have visited them all over the world
It's a hassle free way to travel, just go and enjoy
You have no control over where you go, you have to go where the tour goes, and sometimes you wish you could stay longer
You are a bit isolated from the culture and the adventure of travelling on your own
If you get a bad group, you are stuck with them.
If you have no will power you will arrive home with the worse hangover of your life.
So I guess it all depends on what you want to get out of your trip - if you want a cultural, challenging, and adventurous journey around Europe, then go on your own. If you want to see the highlights of the whole continent, have a great time with some new friends, live it up for a while, and travel hassle free, then take a tour, be it Contiki, Top Deck, Kamuka or whatever.
Do you think it's cheaper to go on a Contiki Tour rather than traveling all by yourself?
It can be.
If you do the camping tours it definelty can be. The budget tours will probably be a bit more than independently. But it's a different type of travel - on the tour you'll stay in cheap hotels and eat restarant meals probably at the hotel. To do it independently for as cheap will require hostel beds and meals of baguets and nutella. When I booked my tour, the travel agent was offering free flights as part of the deal. In the end, with the free flight, I spent way less than I would on my own.