Solo travel: A tour of Europe
I've done solo travel (loosely speaking) three times now. America in 2017 to work in a camp for the summer then travel a bit after, and then Africa in 2019 just before covid came along and ruined everything. On both occasions I went out there alone not knowing anyone, and joined a group of other solo travellers.
To read more about those, check out my previous posts:
Working in an American summer camp
Now this trip was through Contiki, a company that is huge in Australia. I'd heard about them because on my way to Africa (which I did through a company called G Adventures) I saw groups wearing Contiki merch. It was quite sad at the time because I had a long journey on my own with lots of transfers and I didn't meet anyone on my trip until I got to the end. On my way I met lots of Contiki people but then had to leave them and carry on alone.
Turns out Contiki is a right of passage for Australians. Whilst going to Reading/Leeds Festival is our right of passage in England, going on a Contiki trip is theirs.
The trip I went on was a European tour from Vienna to Rome. This was the middle section of a bigger tour that started and ended in London. When I arrived people were surprised I was only doing eight days, but you know...money and work!
Vienna > Krakow (via Auschwitz) > Budapest (via Slovakia) > Ljubljana > Venice > Rome
Other people hopped on and off the trip and there were a few that went the whole way. I found 90% of the group was Australian, then the remaining few were American/Canadian/British/South African. When I was on the trip there were 35 people, but this rose to 45 on other parts of the tour, so it was much bigger than my group for Africa which was around 20
What we did:
Once I joined the first night I met the tour leader who briefed me on what to expect, and then it was in at the deep end meeting a lot of people within a short space of time. I expected to spend the first night drinking and getting to know the group, but no - a last-minute trip to the biggest theme park in Europe meant it was a pretty overwhelming first night with little time to exchange life stories.
These kind of trips have activities that are included that everyone goes to, and then you can pay for add-on activities too. As I was only there for a short period of time, I did every add-on because I wanted to make the most of my time in every country.
My add-on highlights were the thermal baths in Budapest (above), a pasta-making class in Rome, and a food tour of Venice. I love food anyway, so to have foodie activities was a real selling point of this trip to me.
Auschwitz - This was something I missed out on at school so I was really excited to do this. I thought doing A-level history would prepare me for it but it really didn't. The tour was fantastic though and defintiely something I'd recommend. We had a tour guide and head sets to hear him for an experience that last about three hours. I always prefer museums like that because I feel like I learn so much more (the Anne Frank musuem in Amsterdam is amazing too because of this).
Budapest - My time in Budapest was unforgettable. We did a river cruise followed by an amazing night out (check out the ruin bars if you're there). Then a slightly hungover walking tour, time to relax in the thermal baths, and then finally we checked out the castles. I just loved the vibe of Budapest and will go back for sure.
Venice - I was told Venice can split people. I was on the side of loving it though. It's like a rat run of tiny streets, canals everywhere, and lots of tourists! However, once you take a few turns off the main streets, it becomes quieter and you find where the locals go. I did a 'tastes of Venice' tour (below) which was a real highlight for me because a local lady took us to four different restaurants to grab some nibbles from each and a glass of wine, all whilst telling us about Venice. She showed us the quiet side of Venice and I loved it.
Comparing to my African and American trips:
Firstly this was a completely different type of trip. Africa was camping, cooking round a camp fire, and lots of adrenaline activities like quad biking in the desert and skydiving. This was all about cities, food, and history. I knew that going in this would be a very different vibe.
The group was very different too. I think because I was on my Africa trip for nearly four weeks I formed stronger bonds. Plus the fact there was less of us and we were all sat round a camp fire most nights meant that you all formed one group. With this trip, coming in later and the trip being as it was, there were different groups that formed.
I also felt like I was in the minority with this trip when it came to the subject of careers. A lot of the group didn't have a job to go back to, or were travelling for months, and generally had a much more spontaneous attitude to life than I do. With travel, I like to do smaller trips and go all out rather than months away at a time because (other than that not being possible with work) I can't afford to go away for months at a time and would find it really stressful trying to budget for a trip that went on for months.
Another big difference was age. Although both trips were for the age group 18-30, I felt like one of the oldest on this trip and for that reason I probably wouldn't do another Contiki. Although I'm only 24, I'm quite an old 24-year-old so team that with the fact I was one of the only ones there for a short period of time with a career job to go back to, I felt a bit old and 'ordinary' at times. With Africa I was 22 and most people were 25-30 on that trip which I preferred.
I can't really compare this to America as that was a working trip for the most part, but there were cliques on this trip like there was at camp. The difference? I started with everyone else at camp, coming into this trip late was definitely a challenge at times to try and fit into the group dynamics.
Benefits to this type of solo travel:
Whatever company you go with, this is such a good way of traveling on your own. One guy joined who had been travelling alone before and said he'd been frustrated due to constantly meeting new people but finding they would leave quickly because everyone was on their own trip with different timings. This way you meet lots of new people and stick with the same group, most things are organised for you once you're out there so that stress is taken away, and you get to see a lot of the world in a short space of time.
Safety is a huge plus with this too. Travelling solo as a woman is not something I'd be comfortalbe with in many places, so this means I get to go off and do what I want, but I'm safely in a group of people in similar situations. I'm not waiting around for friends to want to do the same thing, I can just do what I want but in a safe way.
It is scary at first, but you just have to put yourself out there. It's just like when you start a new job/school/uni. I've learnt not to put pressure on making life-long friends with these things, just hope for the best and see what happens! It's a selfish way to travel and I love it.
Next year I've got a couple of friend holidays in mind so my next solo adventure (if I have another) will be in 2024.
If you want to ask me anything about this kind of travelling, just get in touch. My socials are in the top right corner!