I have borrowed the title of this post from the marketing tagline of Contiki, the tour company that I used for a section of my travels in the United States. For those of you who haven’t heard of them, Contiki specialise in bus tours for travellers aged between 18 and 35 and run tours all over the world, from South America to Australia. Tours can last anything from a whirlwind 3 days to an epic 37 days and see you hopping from city to city with a group of up to 50 people sampling the sights, sounds and flavours of the local culture.
My tour, the Eastern Discovery began in the historic Gulf Coast city of New Orleans, Louisiana. After two nights in New Orleans, getting to know the bus-load of people I was going to be spending the next two weeks with, we set off on a journey that would see us visiting historic towns such as Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, and tourist meccas such as Orlando (the home of Disney World) and Miami. After winding our way through the South we would emerge to spend three nights in Washington DC and to finally say our goodbyes, after two weeks on the road, in New York City.
Now, I had previous experiences on bus tours having spent three months in New Zealand travelling on the Stray bus (an experience you can read about in this article) but, truth be told, Stray and Contiki are completely different animals. Stray’s entire selling point is that it offers you complete flexibility. You can get off the bus whenever you choose and get back on when you are keen to move on. This approach suited me in New Zealand because I had the time to explore almost the entire country at my own pace. Contiki is almost the exact opposite. On a Contiki tour nearly everything is planned for you. You start on a specific date, stay in the same accommodation as the rest of the group and a majority of your meals are pre-organised too. The advantage of this is that it takes the organising out of your hands and leaves you free to enjoy the trip without having to worry about where you are going to sleep. Contiki is great if you want to see a large number of places in a constrained amount of time.
What this does mean, is that, unlike with Stray, you never get the opportunity to truly explore any of the places you visit. I found myself getting quite frustrated when the bus would pull into a place like Savannah at 4 in the afternoon and we knew we would be leaving bright and early the next morning. There were stops on the trip, such as Savannah or Charleston, that I could easily have spent a few extra days exploring and getting a feel for the unique culture of each town. Alas, that is not possible with Contiki. What you get instead, is a brief overview of a large number of places, allowing you to craft a list of stops you might someday return to. As an idea, in my 14 day trip we stayed overnight at 10 different places and stopped in at least 14!
One very important aspect to Contiki is the other people you share the bus with. There is no avoiding the fact that you will be spending the entirety of your trip with the same bunch of people, so you are going to have problems if you don’t get along. I was lucky enough to find myself on a bus with a fantastic group of people (95% of whom were from Australia!), from all walks of life and spanning the entire age-range who, along with our driver, The Unstoppable Marquis Harden, and tour manager,The Epic Mike Glasner, made the 14 days fly by in an epic highlights-reel of dress-up parties, ghost tours and roller coaster rides, literally.
My two weeks on the Contiki bus will not easily be forgotten and I can only encourage you to try it out for yourself if you have never done it. As the title suggests, I have no regrets and neither will you.