So, you’ve been working hard and saving up the last 2 years for the most epic Euro-trip the world can imagine. There’s so many options to choose from to get around Europe, see the sights and make friends along the way. To date, this is probably the most expensive purchase you have ever bought, so you HAVE to do it right. For many people the choice comes down to Busabout vs Contiki.
But how do you know which one is right for you?
Easy.. read on and I’ll help you decide. … But why should you listen to me? I’ll give you a few reasons. I have worked for Contiki for almost two years in their hub of European operations in London. I’m fortunate to say that taking a Contiki tour or two was part of the role. When it comes to Busabout I’ve spent over 2 months travelling their Hop-On / Hop Off across Europe. Experienced their Croatia sailing trips twice, and worked closely with their festival experiences at Oktoberfest and Pamplona (Running of the bulls).
Let’s talk Contiki
Contiki have been doing their thing going back to 1962! (That’s over 50 years) and although their first tours were in Combi vans and retired public busses the one thing that hasn’t changed is the spirit of young people coming together to exploring the world and building an incredible bonds at the same time.
Contiki tours run to a set program and there hundreds to choose from in Europe alone
Why choose Conitki?
3 different tour types.
Camping – Longer duration trips that are affordable and just like the original Contikis, where you camp in a tent and everyone takes turns at setting up the mess tent and packing away in the morning. Don’t worry you don’t cook, a Contiki chef comes along for the ride.
Concept – This is kind of mid-range. But Contiki owns a bunch of unique properties around Europe that you get to stay in. We’re talking 16th Century French Chatea, Austrian Gasthofs or a Greek Island resort.
Time Out Hotels – Pay a bit more and stay in 3 – 4 star hotels all the way. There’s also Time Out relaxed tours that go at a slower pace.
The Social Aspect.
Back when I was working for Contiki I would often see tours return from up to 6 weeks on the road and it was not uncommon for guests to be referring to their tour group as their new “Contiki Family”. Close bonds are sure to occur amongst tour mates, especially considering they have literally done everything together for multiple weeks, much of it in the confinement of the Contiki Coach. Contiki has been the starting point countless life long friendships (including some of my own) and founder John Anderson even claims that it has been the catalyst for over 200,000 marriages.
There are many tools designed to strengthen is bond. Everyone who has done a Contiki will hold a special place in their heart for their tour’s day song. (A song that is played at the beginning of each day of the tour). Even if you hate the song to begin with by halfway through your tour it’s your favourite tune. Prepared to be be transported back to Europe whenever you hear it in the future.
This is a day song from a tour I did. We decided to change the words from “Dance with somebody”, to “Dance with Stu’s Mum”… Stu was not impressed.
Quality and Exclusive Inclusions
When you have been around as long as Contiki has, you end up making some pretty decent contacts. There are places in Europe that only a Contiki tour can take you.
These include off limits driving tour around parts of Rome. The special stays that I mentioned earlier, and exclusive guided tours and activities that a run only for Contiki passengers.
Contiki’s YouTube video outlining some of their exclusive offers (aka Backstage Pass)
The Product team at Contiki is run by experienced travellers (usually ex tour managers) and there are strict standards as to who Contiki will work with. If a hotel, activity or even a restaurant doesn’t make the grade, Contiki will remove them from their tours very quickly. Dodgyness is not accepted.
Think you can be a Contiki Tour Manager? Think again. The applicants that can handle the blood chilling panel interview process will then get selected to go on an 8 week training course across Europe that is designed to break them. Part of the “fun” of this course includes learning every European destination that Contiki visits better than a Lonely Planet guide in under a day then having to pass daily tests to prove their new knowledge.
Only 2/3 of the candidates who start the training tour end up passing , and you have to be pretty spectacular to make the cut. Which is why the Contiki tour managers are so awesome. They have they know the streets of European cities better than a local, the history better than an encyclopaedia, all while keeping everything organised, on time and remembering 50 people’s names without forgetting any once.
Why Contiki may not be for you
As soon as you hop aboard that Contiki coach you’re on Contiki’s schedule and not your own. ; The tours are often designed for people who may only go to Europe once and want to see as much as they can in a limited amount of time. As such it’s Contiki who decides when you wake up, when it’s time for dinner and where you will have it.
That said there is lots of free time, up to 6 hours a day where you can go where you want.. even down that dark alley to get a tattoo or visit the most unhygienic strip club in Budapest. Those free time hours are yours to do whatever you wish.
Often when you have free time, or you can do an optional activity instead for an additional fee. People have complained that they felt pressured to do these optional activities, either because the rest of the group is doing them, or that you have to decide and pay for them days in advance before you really know what you really want to do on that day. If you do your research prior, you might find the same activity for cheaper if you went out and did it on your own in the free time.
Tipping your tour manager and driver is something that many have gripped about in the past, feeling that the tour is already pretty expensive why do they then have to tip at the end of the tour?
The current policy is that tipping is not compulsory, but a suggested amount is 2 Euro per a day. I will say there is pressure to tip. You are given an envelop to put your tip in, and give to your tour manager and driver upon saying goodbye. I think it would take a bit of courage to say goodbye to your tour manager or driver turning up with no envelop after all they had done for you the past few weeks.
A Contiki trip can be quite expensive, especially if you start doing the hotel style tours. The same thing can be achieved much cheaper if you decided to go inter-railing or plan out the trip yourself on local coaches. However you will be missing out much of the positives I’ve mentioned above. Plus the fact a 6-week trip around Europe will take months to plan on your own, ensuring transport all connects properly and, finding suitable accommodation that’s available is no mean feet, as well as keeping track of it all whilst on the road.
A lot of people knock Contiki for being all about getting drunk and partying and seeing the sites and experiencing the culture taking a back seat. My personal experience is this.
- Have you ever seen a bunch of 20 somethings get together for a holiday and not party a little bit? Do you want to go on a holiday and not have a drink with friends?
- You usually have to get up so early for the coach the next day staying up all night until 6am is probably something you’ll only do once, and change after feeling the pain.
- Unlike if you travel independently, you’re going to be taken to attractions whether you’re hungover or not. If you played kings and had to drink the cup the night while travelling on your own, no one will make you get up for that 8am tour of the Sagrada Família and you’ll likely miss out. Contiki you will be woken and you will see it, and likely a better experience than if you stumpled through on your own without a guide.
- Itineraries have been chosen by experts in European travel. They ensure you see the best of each destination – including the cultural and historic sights. Many places that you would probably miss if you went on your own.
- Contiki often attracts a more dependant style of traveller, who enjoy the security of having a set itinerary and tour manager who they can call upon for assistance. In my experience this type of traveller is usually a bit more cautious and not one to drink and party all night.
All About Busabout.
Busabout goal is to serve you up Europe your way that’s affordable, flexible and convenient – AKA Freestyle Europe.
Why do Busabout?
It’s cheaper than a Eurrail pass and Contiki
The coach drops you off at what is likely to be your accommodation – see the latest pick up / drop off points here.
More freedom than Contiki
- Stay where you want
- Leave when you want
- Do what you want
- GET UP when you want.
Busabout also has activities available similar to Contiki, you can pre-purchase them on the bus. There is significantly less pressure to do these activities than on a Contiki trip.
Destinations with backpacker travellers in mind.
Places like San Sebastian in Spain and Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic are some of the most popular destinations for backpacker travellers across Europe, yet it’s very few Contiki tours that visit these cities. On the other hand Busabout makes stops in these cities and you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.
No age limits
Although you will generally find people in their 20’s travelling, but Busabout does famously have a 90 year old backpacker from Australia that comes every year. All are welcome.
Your pass lasts all summer.
Want to go around your loop again?? Then go for it!
Always have a place to stay
You can book days in advance on Busabouts preferred accommodation places using their awesome web portal. Been to busy to book? No worries the Busabout rep on the bus can call a bunch of hostels while you are on the bus and get you booked in.
Why Busabout may not be for you
Making friends and getting social.
You will make plenty of friends on Busabout. But unlike Contiki it’s not forced, and you are forever saying goodbye to people you’ve met and made great friends with. (Don’t worry you’ll often to meet up with them again a few days later down the road)
If you are a bit shy or reserved. Contiki will really ensure that you are included and bring you out of your shell. There’s not much chance of this happening on Busabout.
Busses only come every second day.
This might be tough to make it fit in with your itinerary, If you want to stay 4 days at a destination, well too bad, you only have a choice of 3 or 5 days. This also means that some stops are compulsory. Buses travel during the day so you will be spending precious daylight on the bus. Some prefer overnight trains where you can travel while you sleep and avoid the cost of a nights accommodation.
By the time late August had come around in the year I did Busabout almost half of the people I met were covered in red itchy bites from the notorious bedbugs. These can be avoided by using your own sleeping bag or a silk liner for your sheets. I know many who did this and they all avoided bedbugs. Keep in mind the places you are staying in will have lots of traffic over the summer tourist season, and closing a room for fumigation is out of the question when times are so busy.
Accommodation not included
This might freak you out if waking up in the morning and not having a clue where you will be sleeping that night leaves you anxious and edgy. But Busabout goes all out to put your mind at ease. You can pay and reserve accommodation up to months in advance using their awesome web portal (below) or smart phone app. Still unorganised then stress not,the Busabout rep on the bus can call ahead and book it for you, even if it’s not one of their preferred hostels, they will keep calling until they get you a place. Not having accommodation included can make it tough to budget. Hostels are using dynamic pricing and if it’s nearing capacity on the night you wish to stay you will be paying more.
Nothing is planned
If you’re unsure what to do, and hoping Busabout will just drop you off at all the main must-see sites then you will get a rude shock. Once the bus departs you are left to your own devices. Once you get to a destination, no one is telling you where to go or what you must do now. It’s completely independent and the choice is yours. To help make the right choice, you do get a mini-lonely planet and a bus full of travellers who have likely just been to your destination and give you lots of insider tips. The Busabout rep on the bus is someone who lives and breaths Europe (that’s why they do that job) and can give you some awesome inside tips for each Busabout destination.
So what will you choose?
The choice between Busabout or Contiki could be one of the toughest you make but the good news is? There is no bad choice. Both will give you an incredible European experience, new life long friends and enough material to fill up a dozen coffee table photo books. If you’re limited on time to organise a trip, or are a bit unsure about the best parts in Europe you should be heading to, then I would say Contiki is the one for you.
On the other hand if you’ve got a few months to plan your ultimate route across Europe, love the feeling of being free on the road, waking up and deciding to stay where you are or go to a whole other country then Busabout is for you.
The only wrong decision here is deciding to stay home.
Have you travelled on Busabout or Contiki? (Or Maybe even both?) Leave your thoughts below and let us know which you prefer.