Updated: March 13th, 2019 | Posted: July 31st, 2009 (Updated with added information and resources)

I’m a solo backpacker at heart. It’s the type of travel I delight in the most and find the most rewarding.

But that doesn’t imply I also don’t delight in traveling with others, going to touristy destinations, or even going on tours.

Personally, I don’t care if you’re a solo backpacker or someone who prefers tours. All travelers are created equal.

But that doesn’t imply all budgets are going to be equal.

So when Contiki trips put up a message on Facebook that “you can literally save hundreds of dollars choosing Contiki overdoing it on your own” and that backpacking was “so 1997.”

My jaw dropped. trips being less expensive than solo backpacking? dream on.

I tweeted how that wasn’t best because independent budget travel is always cheaper.

Contiki tweeted back saying otherwise.

Whether or not you believe backpacking is “so 1997,” (it’s not) it doesn’t change the fact that Contiki is NOT less expensive than independent travel, and I found it completely disingenuous they even tried to make that point (twice!). The Contiki tweeter pointed out that they get group rates, and can, therefore, get better deals.

I don’t think so.

I’ve been on trips before. I like tours. They have their moments and can be especially good for first-time travelers who want to go places but are frightened to do it by themselves.

But even the best companies are never less expensive than solo travel. This is because these companies have to pay for guides, buses, insurance, and administrative costs.

And you, the solo traveler, don’t!

Contiki trip cost Breakdown

To find the truth, we need to look at the numbers. For example, let’s look at one of Contiki’s “budget” European tours. I called Contiki to make sure all my information was correct. and it ought to be noted that their operator said the guidelines by which the budget trips operate are the same as the others. The difference between budget trips and other trip classes is simply accommodation standards.

One of their budget European trips in 2019 is their “European discovery Tour.” This trip is 12 days long and costs $1,656 USD. The trip includes 16 meals (5 dinners and 11 breakfasts), 21 activities (and 12 optional activities at an additional cost), and 11 nights accommodation in shared hotel rooms with 1-2 other people.

This trip breaks down to cost $138 USD per day. though taking a look at the itinerary, you can see that both the first and last days are spent practically entirely in transit. So you really only get 10 days of travel, making the daily breakdown much more like $165 USD per day.

Now, let’s assume you spend $9 USD per meal for all the other meals you have to pay (which you won’t because that’s eating only sandwiches and who wants to do that in Europe?). That adds another $180 USD onto your trip.

Moreover, there are also a dozen additional activities to do that will all have an added cost. many people spend about $30 USD per day on attraction entrance fees (that’s an extra $360 USD). Additionally, the average cost of a round-trip flight to Europe is around $600 USD.

Adding the numbers up, the total cost of this trip is now around $2,800 USD — and that’s without counting alcohol or anything much more than a budget meal.

So for 10 days you are really spending $280 USD per day, not $138 USD.

Contrast this with doing it on your own. For ten days of travel, you get numbers that look like this:
Flight – $600 USD
Meals – $300 USD ($30 USD for 10 days)
Sightseeing – $300 USD ($30 USD per day)
Transportation – $250 USD (local train travel)
Accommodation – $350 USD (4-bed dorm, shared bath at $35 USD per night)
TOTAL – $1,800 USD ($180 USD per day)

Note: For accommodation, I used Amsterdam prices. This trip goes to numerous places, but Amsterdam is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, thereby making sure I am not accused of trying to “lowball” estimates for literary effect. If you traveled in Eastern Europe, you could likely cut a lot of these expenses in half.

That is a $1,000 USD difference, not including the fact that numerous hostels include breakfast (lowering cost), you can Couchsurf (lowering cost), find totally free activities (lowering your costs) or make your own meals (lowering cost). In fact, you can get by in Europe for about half that if you’re a smart traveler!

Even if backpacking is “so 1997,” you clearly can’t save hundreds of dollars by going on Contiki.

What do you get for your costs?

Well, in my opinion, nothing I want. I’ve never taken a Contiki tour. I’ve thought about it numerous times but I’ve never been able to justify the cost and pace of being shuffled through Europe rapidly just so I can party more. Plus, I’m older than 35 now so I’m too old for the tours.

Tours from Contiki tend to be filled with parties, young people, and alcohol. many of the travelers on these trips have just a few weeks in Europe and are there to have fun before going back to work. friends of mine have gone on Contiki, and they all come back with the same story: it was fun, they met a lot of people, and they partied hard.

I typically avoid trips because I don’t like spending one day here and one day there. and Contiki is that type of trip company.

Now, I’m not here to blast Contiki. Contiki travel works for numerous people, and they have a clearly defined audience (of which I am not a part of). numerous of my friends have taken Contiki trips and loved them. They’ve loved them so much they’ve taken multiple. I’m not even blasting trip groups. I think you can get a lot of value from taking a tour.

If that is what you want, I say opt for it! drink away!

However, I simply found it disingenuous of them to state they are less expensive than doing it on your own. because they aren’t. In fact, no trip company is. They all have administrative costs to cover that you don’t.

Contiki will not be cheap. It will be much much more expensive than if you did it on your own. (And, in Europe, you’d meet a lot of people doing it on your own. You’d stay in some awesome hostels, make friends, and save money. Go solo. trips in Europe are dumb. You don’t need them.)

If you do take a tour…

If you are searching for a trip company for your next trip (and don’t want to party hard all day and night) I would consider Intrepid Travel. I am a huge fan of Intrepid and have been using them for years. They offer good small group trips that use expert guides and leave a small environmental footprint.

I’ve been on a handful of their trips over the years and they are my favorite multi-day trip operator. What’s good about travel companies is that they take the planning out of travel for you while giving you an environment as structured as you want. As a solo traveler, in some cases it’s good to just unwind and let someone else worry about the logistics.

There are numerous good trip companies out there. Every company, including Contiki, has a certain audience and is best for certain types of travelers.

But don’t purchase into the sales pitch that your Contiki trip will be cheaper.

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Book Your Trip: Logistical suggestions and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches sites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use as they consistently return the most affordable rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t forget travel Insurance
Travel insurance will safeguard you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s extensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it numerous times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

SafetyWing (best for everyone)

Insure My trip (for those over 70)

Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)

Ready to book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.