Contiki vs G Adventures April 23, 2015 · 13 min. read
Due to the popularity of my Why Traveling Solo Is The Worst blog post, I decided to write a continuation of it. A lot of people prefer to travel solo because it helps them "find themselves", however I am a klutz who makes too many mistakes to be trusted to travel alone. Although an adult, I still require adult supervision, and I am probably not the only one. On my trips to Europe and Japan I used the tour groups Contiki and G Adventures, respectively. But what's the difference between the two, and who would I use again?
(It should be noted that while there are Contiki ads on my site, they are powered through Commission Junction and not actually Contiki. I have applied for G Adventures ads as well; twice actually, but they have yet to be accepted. While neither company sponsors me, it would be cool if they did! :)
I traveled with Contiki in 2011, and went on the "European Discovery" tour. We visited 8 countries (England, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Vatican City, Switzerland and France) and 11 cities (London, Amsterdam, St. Goar, Munich, Innsbruck, Venice, Rome, Florence, Vatican City, Lucerne and Paris) in 13 days. This tour costs $2,303 CAD.
I traveled with G Adventures in 2014, and went on the "Japan Express" tour. We visited 1 country (Japan) and 8 cities (Osaka, Koyasan, Himeji, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kyoto, Hakone and Tokyo) in 9 days. This tour costs $2,889 CAD.
Company's Brief History
Contiki Tours started in the 1960s when the New Zealander John Anderson arrived in London, and put out an ad for people between the ages of 19 to 29 to join him on renting a bus and driving across Europe. It became so popular that the following summer he did two trips separate trips offering the same service. After realizing there was a desire for young people to travel together, he started his own company, named "Contiki" - "Con" coming from "Continent" and "Tiki" from the New Zealand good luck charm. Contiki is currently owned by Trafalgar Tours.
G Adventures started in 1990 when Bruce Poon Tip returned from backpacking through Asia. He started his company "Great Adventure People" or GAP Adventures, based out of Toronto, Canada. In 2008 they were sued by The Gap clothing company for having too similar of a name, and renamed to become "G Adventures".
Contiki Tours' target market are young adults, between the ages of 18 to 35. I'm not sure if Contiki will deny you as a customer if you are over 35, but the tours are often fast paced and involves a lot of alcohol and dance clubs and most people stop enjoying those things around the age of 35 when their inner child dies.
G Adventures' target market seems to be anybody who wants to travel. While in Japan, my group's age varied from 15 to 67. Being said, most of the travelers were in their 20s, so I believe this is their usual clientele.
Variety of Locations, Duration and Pricing
Contiki offers tours to Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Australia and New Zealand and Morocco as their only African country. Their tours are anywhere from 3 days to 55 days long. Their tours range from $325 to $12,679 (that was the 55 day long on, through South America).
G Adventures offers tours to all seven continents (Europe, Africa, Asia (including the Middle East), North America, South America, Australia and New Zealand and Antarctica) as well as the Arctic. While filling out a survey for them, there was a ninth option as a possible future destination: Space. I don't believe they currently offer space tours, but it would be ground-breaking if a Canadian company was the first to have such a thing. Their tour lengths are from 3 to 65 days, and from what I could find online, they cost anywhere from $299 to $10,299.
Methods of Transportation
Contiki primarily focused on the use of a coach, or bus, to travel. This probably dates back to how it originally began, when John Anderson rented a bus. For all 13 days we were in Europe, there was only 1 day we weren't in the bus. While enjoyable, being in the coach was often boring and we would miss some of the most beautiful parts of the European landscape, such as the Rhine Valley, because we were sleeping. If we missed the bus, Flip told us how to use the Euro Rail and on two occasions tour members didn't get to the bus on time and were forced to take the trains.
G Adventures relies more on local and private transportation, like trains, subways, rail cars, cabs, buses and boats. This offers the tourist to travel as a local and experience the culture of the city and country they are in. While interesting, it wasn't always as reliable and if you missed the bus or train you would have to reschedule your entire day (which happened several times).
Contiki holds a special place in my heart as it was the company I first traveled with outside of my country. One of the things I felt Contiki did very well was pre-introduce people to the city they were about to enter. Everyday Flip would go over the city and discuss what to see there. It may be helpful tips like what a "coffee shop" is in Amsterdam or something quirky like how to avoid the long lines at the Louvre's Pyramid. We got maps of the city long before we got there, and were able could study them, making note of our hotels, the embassy of our home country, the train and bus junctions and where the best sites to see would be. Along with the map, we also got a list of things to see in each city, and a brief history about the location. We also got dining tips, travel tips and were introduced to the customs of the country (for example, why every man in Italy will call a woman "Belle").
Contiki also offers plenty of free time to explore a city, often around 6 to 8 hours a day.
G Adventures didn't offer us maps, but our guide was always beside us and willing to show us the many sights of Japan, like the haunted well in Himeji. The information our guide had were always helpful, but we often had to ask to get it. The only leaflet we ever received was how to use the communal hot tubs, how to wear our kimonos and how chopsticks worked.
My experience with Contiki at first was very bad. I could't contact anybody from the company and the "Meeting Place" was under construction. Being a solo traveler on my own for the first time, I was worried it was some kind of scam.
Another bad experience I had was more of a personal taste: I'm not a big drinker or clubber, and it seemed in every second city there was something alcohol-related the group did, may it be wine tasting in the cellars of St. Goar or going to the Space Electronic Night Club in Florence.
Specifically to my tour, however, Flip had forgotten that the day we were to arrive and do a tour of the Vatican was also Good Friday, and it was closed to the public. It was a scramble to get to Rome a day early, and we had to leave at an awful 4 in the morning just to do it.
For the majority, my trip with G Adventures went great, however, there were a few problems. The biggest being that our tour guide was a very small, sweet, soft-spoken Japanese woman whose directions weren't always the easiest to follow or understand, and sometimes tour members would get them wrong and end up getting lost, causing us to be delayed reschedule the day.
Specifically to my tour, however, there were two major issues: our guide had somehow forgotten that the Imperial Gardens in Kyoto could be toured on Saturdays by appointment only. She realized this late Friday and was unable to get a tour, which was one of the highlights of the trip. The second issue was our hotel in Hakone, which was infested with some kind of black bug, that we believed to be cockroaches. Although we had been warned it was "under construction" before arriving, we still received an apology from the company for the conditions and infestation of the building.
Both companies offered great services, and tried to accommodate for any problems they encountered on the way. With my experience of the two companies in very different countries around the world, it was difficult to compare the two. I felt Contiki succeeded in places where G Adventures failed (like getting us into specific locations and non-infested accommodations) while G Adventures succeeded in places where Contiki failed (like having somebody to greet travelers and touring with local transportation).
If I was to choose one, I would choose Contiki over G Adventures. I want to choose G Adventures because it's a Canadian company, but I just felt there were too many problems on a tour that cost me around $3,000 to take. With there being about 20 of us, that's $60,000 invested to see things like the Kyoto Imperial Gardens and have proper hotels, and the company let us down. I will of course book with them again, as one poor experience doesn't mean the company is no good, but if I ever travel to Japan again, I think I will be using Contiki.
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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