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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Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".
Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.
Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada. Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade. The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.
In my December newsletter I said I wasn't going to write about Regina as much anymore and focus more on international locations, but after a friend of mine told me there was no "interesting history" in my city, I decided I had to write this just to prove them wrong!
Let me know in the comments if you know something I don't, or if I got something wrong! Historical facts seem to change overtime, after all!
I'm happy to present to you, on the 113 year of its existence, 100 Facts About Regina!
They say hope was the last thing to die in Auschwitz.
It's been just over 70 years since the Allies liberated the death camp and the horrors of the "Final Solution" were revealed to the world. Prior to their arrival, Auschwitz was the most effective death camp ever created, having taken the lives of over 1.1 million Jews.
Block 4 of Auschwitz holds the museum, explaining the best it can about what happened seven decades past. The museum explains what Auschwitz was originally built for – a camp for Polish prisoners of war – and how it became key to the Nazi's "Final Solution". The museum goes over the construction of Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) and Auschwitz III (Monowitz), the increased sizes and effectiveness of gas chambers and the factories of death that stood and smoked over the camp during its operation.