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Contiki v. Top Deck v. GAP v. Planning Solo

Big Harv

TRIBE Member
I'm planning on going to Central Europe at the end of the summer for two weeks. Looking at Prague, Berlin, Vienna as the base of the trip with a side sobering trip to Auschwitz/Birkeneau and possibly Venice for a day or two. Travelling with the girlfriend, which should be a big test of the relationship.

Has anyone done such a trip either on your own or with a tour group? If so, what were the pros and cons?

I've been to Europe once before about six years ago and my buddies and I backpacked. It was a great time, but now that I'm no longer a student and finally earning some money, I don't want to stay in smelly hostels sharing a cramped room with scary gassy Euros.
 
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rejenerate

TRIBE Member
Man, you freaked me right out...I was looking at similar trips online today, for exactly the same time period. I've done Berlin but I really want to do more of central/eastern Europe and especially Poland because my mom's family is from there. I was checking out GAP because I will most likely be going alone and I went to Egypt with them last year (though as I found out, it was actually an Australian company called Intrepid that GAP books with).

I don't know anything about Top Deck but Contiki definitely does not appeal. I chose GAP because the groups are usually small (max. 12 people for most trips), they hire local guides and the prices are good. I went to Egypt with them and had an amazing time...my group was great - mostly 20s and 30s, with one older man in his 60s. But they weren't party people, which is what turned me off Contiki (and probably Top Deck, as they're 18-30 as well). I saw the group doing the same trip after us and it was definitely more varied in age.

GAP explains the accomodations in the tour dossiers and while ours weren't hostels, they were definitely "budget" hotels. It was 2 to a room throughout and three of us who were on our own switched it up so we each got a room to ourselves for part of the trip. If you're with your girlfriend it'll likely only be the two of you in a room unless the trip info specifies otherwise.

I compared my trip with someone who did Contiki at the same time and mine was definitely more interesting. However, that was Egypt and I'm sure Europe is easier to navigate on your own. Personally, if I definitely had someone to travel with, I probably wouldn't go the group route, though it's fun to have people to go out with.
 
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Big Harv

TRIBE Member
rejenerate said:
Man, you freaked me right out...I was looking at similar trips online today, for exactly the same time period. I've done Berlin but I really want to do more of central/eastern Europe and especially Poland because my mom's family is from there. I was checking out GAP because I will most likely be going alone and I went to Egypt with them last year (though as I found out, it was actually an Australian company called Intrepid that GAP books with).

I don't know anything about Top Deck but Contiki definitely does not appeal. I chose GAP because the groups are usually small (max. 12 people for most trips), they hire local guides and the prices are good. I went to Egypt with them and had an amazing time...my group was great - mostly 20s and 30s, with one older man in his 60s. But they weren't party people, which is what turned me off Contiki (and probably Top Deck, as they're 18-30 as well). I saw the group doing the same trip after us and it was definitely more varied in age.

GAP explains the accomodations in the tour dossiers and while ours weren't hostels, they were definitely "budget" hotels. It was 2 to a room throughout and three of us who were on our own switched it up so we each got a room to ourselves for part of the trip. If you're with your girlfriend it'll likely only be the two of you in a room unless the trip info specifies otherwise.

I compared my trip with someone who did Contiki at the same time and mine was definitely more interesting. However, that was Egypt and I'm sure Europe is easier to navigate on your own. Personally, if I definitely had someone to travel with, I probably wouldn't go the group route, though it's fun to have people to go out with.

Thanks for your insights - my friend (27) did a GAP Southern Thailand tour and he had an amazing time.
 

Adam

TRIBE Member
Europe is definitely easy enough to navigate on your own, so you don't need a tour group for that reason. I haven't done any of the tours, but I've heard mixed reviews. Contiki definitely seemed to be "get drunk in a different time zone" tours, which may or may not appeal to you. I've heard several people who were frustrated by the constant scheduling and feeling like they were seeing things from a bus window. Then again, having someone else worry about the nitty-gritty details might appeal to you if you're just looking for a easy vacation. Someone I know who did a Contiki tour last year (and narrowly avoided death during the London bombings) leaves for a second Contiki tour in a few days, so they must have some good points.

I visited almost all of the places you mentioned (except swap Auschwitz for Dachau) and had no problems on my own. Sometimes the frustration of trying to navigate schedules in different countries and potentially different languages can make you wish everything was pre-planned, but I guess that's half the fun of it. I made some entirely random detours I never would have planned and they always added to the experience.

You can easily find private rooms (especially for 2) in a hostel. Having a little extra money to spend on hostels/hotels will really go a long way.
 

Booty Bits

TRIBE Member
i'm very jealous!!
my next euro trip is going to be prague, vienna and budapest but i am nowhere near the hardcore planning phase yet... i am sure you can plan the trip on your own without having to use a tour.
i must say i am a bit biased against tour trips as i like the freedom and excitement of doing things my way and on my own schedule.
the big bonus of those kinds of trips is having people to share the esxperiences with, but since you already have your gf as a travelmate, i don't see why you should bother.
 
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marcinm

TRIBE Member
if you can, do busabout.. it's flexible and not that expensive.. but you should've planned earlier to get the "no tax" deal.
 

kmac

TRIBE Member
I must have got a bunk contiki group because all but maybe two wanted to party. Lame, lame, lame. I also went off on my own a lot without the group. But it was the first time I had travelled on my own, so there was the initial comfort of being with a group. If I was travelling with someone, I wouldn't bother.
 

gak

TRIBE Member
GAP tours are small groups (about 10 people)...I've never done a Contiki tour but I heard they are pretty large groups...

But for Europe I don't think you need to be part of a tour group...you'll meet other people if you stay in hostels...then you are more flexible in where you go...
 

Aerius Zension

TRIBE Member
Buy a travel book for the place you will be visiting, look up accomadation on the internet, and most importantly, talk to people who've been there. You can plan and plan and plan, but sometimes its just as good to have no plan with open expectations.
 

keld

TRIBE Member
i'm partial to the tour, all your transport/accommodation/language problems are solved and you've got maximum sightseeing in minimum time. you have the option to follow the group or go off on your own, and you usually get to do a homestay or some sort of local interaction that would be difficult to arrange otherwise. i second the recommendation for intrepid.

saying that, a tour for europe seems a bit pointless when it's so easy to navigate. we rented an apt in barcelona for sonar 2 weeks ago, that was incredible.
 
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Chris

Well-Known TRIBEr
You can have a little taste of Eastern Europe right here in Toronto, simply just hit up the Rail.
 

rejenerate

TRIBE Member
gak said:
GAP tours are small groups (about 10 people)...I've never done a Contiki tour but I heard they are pretty large groups...

As I said, it's max. 12/tour. I heard from my friend that Contiki is like, 30 people plus. And Contiki is all about the "tourist" experience...my GAP tour was mainly backpackers who had stopped in Egypt as part of a larger, multi-month trip. One girl is travelling around the world on her own for a year and a half, I still get e-mails from her. It's just a different mindset...we slept on board a small sailboat docked on an island while they were on a cruise ship.

I chose a tour for Egypt because going on my own wasn't a good idea...I definitely felt safer, and it was great to have all my accomodations and transpo arranged for me. But it's a trade-up: convenience vs. having more time to spend somewhere if you want to.

And we did get free time, and you can opt out of activities if you want to...everyone on my trip HAD to at one point or another because we all got sick.

Outside of school trips, I'd never done the group thing before. I'd go through GAP/Intrepid again but not necessarily for every destination.
 

K-Madd

TRIBE Member
marcinm said:
if you can, do busabout.. it's flexible and not that expensive.. but you should've planned earlier to get the "no tax" deal.

money does not seem to be an issue here and a busabout in the height of summer does not seem that appealing for a couple situation. hit the high-speed trains whenever possible they can be cheap-ish and well they are..... damn fast. also, maybe even fly to each of you destinations, check ryanair, easyjet, berlinair (i, think thats the one) since they are cheap as chips when booked early. mostly, since your a couple do it yourself, from experience its not without issues but is always more spontaneous and fun.

final note;

ahh vienna, the best city i have seen so far and it was the dead of winter but so beautiful. the imperial palace is a must for all...enjoy!
 

zoo

TRIBE Member
i've heard good things about the GAP/Contiki thing, but last summer i was in europe for 5 weeks on my own and couldn't imagine doing such a trip as part of a tour group ... it was just too much fun wandering around and playing things by ear ... no schedules, nowhere to really be, etc ... then again my girlfriend and i are pretty ridiculously assertive/motivated/organized when we want to be, so it was no problem getting around when we needed to, and it was even more fun when we would decide to just bum around and do nothing for a few days ..
 
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Big Harv

TRIBE Member
ChrisD said:
You can have a little taste of Eastern Europe right here in Toronto, simply just hit up the Rail.

lol - alas, I have already experienced this taste many many times and now i want the real thing.
 

defazman

TRIBE Member
looking into a tibet trip later this year, and both GAP and Intrepid have some nice offerings. Anyone done anything like this lately?
 

Hi i'm God

TRIBE Member
Booked a few hotels in the areas we wanted to go (Romantic Road Germany) then planned Train and car routes between locations (Amst., Prague, vienna).
 

Volant

TRIBE Member
I'm excited for you! For the places you mention in Europe (Vienna, Prague, berlin, etc), I think you'd have an amazing time doing it alone instead of with a group. All those cities are pretty tourist friendly and everyone speaks a bit of english. And perhaps join a 1-2 day tour for your Auschwitz side trip, if only because having a guide would be much more informative for this!

As for hostels, check out Hostels Worldwide - Online Bookings, Ratings and Reviews. The user ratings on there are very very accurate, and you would be surprised at how swanky, funky and clean some of these hostels are...especially in berlin! For two people you could easily pay $5-7 more per night per person for a private room.

Another alternative to travel cheap but enjoy the luxury is to bid for hotel rooms through priceline.com. There are bidding tricks in the FAQ section at BiddingForTravel.com - The informed Priceline Travel Bidding Forum that allows you multiple rebids per day, and you can really get some very low prices for 4-star hotel rooms. I have stayed at the Hilton Prague 5-star for $100 USD per night which included a full breakfast buffet. Split that between two people and you're at $50/night which is a steal. In Vienna, I've stayed at a 4-star mariott for $75/night; split that between two people and that's less than hostel prices.

Visiting these cities on your own agenda allows for a lot more fun and spontaneity. And because you are going with your GF, probably much more romantic.
 
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skin deep

TRIBE Member
Plan solo man, mistakes are half the fun of travelling. I've yet to see any kind of larger walking tour that beats exploration. Go, find the coolest stuff by getting lost, save the group walking tours for when you're retired. There's plenty of nicer hostels in Prague where you can get your own room.

http://www.sirtobys.com is a nice one.
 
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Dirty Girl

TRIBE Member
do I win a prize for being the only one that actual read the thread to figure out who bumped it and what question they were asking.
 

Klubmasta Will

TRIBE Member
looking into a tibet trip later this year, and both GAP and Intrepid have some nice offerings. Anyone done anything like this lately?

i did a GAP tour climbing mt. kilimanjaro (lemosho route). it was good, but all they do is hire a local tour operator company and mark up the price by about 40%. if you can find and hire the local tour company directly (which may take some investigation), you will save some cash. i don't usually like big groups when travelling, so ours was the perfect size, just gizmo and me and our guides. :)

you could probably do a lot of china/tibet on your own, but you'd have to be on constant alert against scams. in my experience, china is one of the worst places for ripping off tourists.

if your trip involves climbing/hiking, then i would absolutely recommend going with a tour company or guide, but that can often be done locally so as to avoid the canadian mark-up.
 

defazman

TRIBE Member
Thanks DG, you win my undying eternal love and affection.

I'm not much of an independent traveler, and the tour is 14 days in all different locations, so I don't mind paying the tour premium for them doing all the booking and arranging. I have a feeling I'd end up in a Chinese jail before too long if left to my own devices.
 
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