During June of 2019 I had the trip of a lifetime in Europe with Contiki. I spent 10 action packed days with a group of strangers that ended up becoming family (I know it sounds corny, but I really did love the people on my trip!). You can see the full itinerary and all the trip details of Contiki’s Mediterranean Quest here on Contiki’s website, but as a summary we drove through Barcelona, Nice, French Riviera, Monaco, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii, Rome, and Vatican City. That’s right, 5 countries in 9 days.
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The Mediterranean Quest trip is an “Iconic Essentials” Contiki-style trip, meaning you visit the essentials of each destination and it’s designed in a way to keep costs down. This trip was my first time in Europe so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I absolutely loved every second of it. We saw so much in such a short period of time, and not having to plan a single thing was the icing on the cake – I usually plan all my trips on my own but by having Contiki organize it all I was in full vacation relaxation mode.
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Logistics of the Trip
During your first day in Barcelona you’ll step aboard your Contiki Coach (the bus), meet the rest of the group, and arguably the two most important people on the entire trip: the trip manager and driver. You’ll be riding in this coach bus to and from each destination, and your trip manager will accompany you the entire way making sure you experience the best of the best.
The coach is quite comfortable. There’s plenty of storage for your luggage below. It’s air-conditioned, and comes with 100MB of Wi-Fi usage per day. The laws for driving in Europe are very strict, so the bus will stop at a minimum every 2 hours.
During this trip you’ll stay at a hotel once in Sorrento, but the majority of the time you’ll be staying at 4-person shared dormitories in chic hostels. Your roommates will always be other people on your Contiki trip, and the room assignments generally stay the same for the entire trip. I absolutely loved my roommates; we all got along great and ended up getting so close!
I very cautiously use the word hostel because some of these are even nicer than some hotels I’ve stayed in! They’re all super clean with amazing en-suite bathrooms. The only downside is the overall walking room and storage space. Some of the places we stayed at during our trip were Hotel Ozz in Nice and The Yellow Hostel in Rome.
To this day I still think about the meals I ate on this trip because they were just SO GOOD. All of the breakfasts are included, usually from the hotels. There are 3 dinners included and they are very extravagant and full on multi-course meals! You’ll find that most nights without included dinners will actually have a food related add-on that ends up having an included dinner anyways. Otherwise, you’re free to eat on your own.
Most dinners at an inexpensive restaurant cost between €15-20 if you don’t get an appetizer. I found myself splitting a lot of pizzas as they are usually cheaper (about €10). Drinks are fairly cheap with a beer costing around €2 and wine around €5.
Lunches were really nice because you’ll be in an area with a bunch of restaurants and can go wherever you please. Be aware that the bigger the group, the longer the food will take.
Money Saving Tip: most places in Europe will serve a set “menu of the day” where for only 5-8 Euros you’ll get a full 3-course lunch. These are usually posted on a sign outside the restaurant somewhere. Your trip manager will be able to point out some of the best restaurants to try along with food recommendations!
Must have meals: Pizza in every new city you visit in Italy. Pasta of course, you have to try the Cacio e Pepe pasta while in Rome. Oh, and don’t forget to get a healthy dose of wine and an Aperol Spritz while on the coast in Italy!
There was quite a bit included on this trip. For a full list you can look here, but my absolute favorite was train hopping in Cinque Terre. This honestly might have been one of the best days (it’s hard to choose!). The trip manager gives you an unlimited metro card, along with information about each little city and you spend the day exploring one of my favorite parts of Italy. Another highlight was visiting the Royal Palace in Monaco, considering I’d never visit on my own due to the tolls and just the perceived expense it’s known to be!
Before each day of the trip, your trip manager will send out a day sheet with all the next day’s information so you know exactly what to expect. We had a group WhatsApp group where we’d share everything so if you haven’t yet it’s a great idea to download WhatsApp!
**Free-time Pro Tip – while most of the day is action packed, you can easily sneak away and avoid the crowds during the early morning. While in Rome, my roommates and I woke up early and managed to see the Trevi Fountain without anyone else there!
Free Time Add-Ons:
This is really where you get to decide exactly how your trip will be. You can view all of the trip add-ons here, but towards the beginning of the trip, your trip manager will properly go through them all with you and you can choose what you do and don’t want. This is an area where you can save a lot of money by foregoing some of these.
I ended up doing all of the free time add-ons, and that cost me about €275 extra. When budgeting, keep in mind that a few of these add-ons have dinner included.
Since I did all of the add-ons, I’ve got an opinion on each. While I’d recommend doing them all (becuase FOMO is real haha) there are were the best ones and “worst” ones.
The absolute best Free Time Add-On and one you can’t miss is the pasta making class! It was so much fun and a real bonding experience. I honestly was not excited for it at all but it ended up being my favorite moment of the whole trip. You learn to make 3 different kinds of Pasta, and get to eat it afterwards with some complimentary wine 🙂
Other really good free time add ons were:
- Capri Boat Tour – I absolutely loved this one. It was a perfect way to spend the morning (and let’s be honest I LOVE swimming and the ocean). It’s the only time this trip where you get the chance to be out at sea like that and you get a real feel for tropical Italy.
- Nice Bike Tour – you really only get one full day in Nice and this was a great way to see a good part of the city in a short amount of time. I actually am awful at bicycle-riding so it was definitely a fun adventure for me! I survived though so it’s safe to say the ride is pretty easy.
During our trip they were also testing out a few new add-ons. If they offer these on your trip I’d highly recommend doing them, I really loved these. The first was a Monastery Visit right outside of Florence. It was the coolest thing and so unique to be able to visit a working monastery (with real monks inside!). We weren’t allowed to speak with the monks since they take a vow of silence, but knowing they were there and still practicing this amazed me.
Afterwards you go to the famous Tuscan dinner, where you’ll have amazing food and wine while listening to some amazing Opera singing. There will be dancing, so if that’s your thing this is your place to shine.
The other was an EatWith dinner in Rome. EatWith is a company that sets up dinners with the locals to give you a truly authentic experience. The family we ate with was so nice, and the view from the roof of their apartment was amazing! It was a magical night.
There were a few add-ons I felt were obligatory, otherwise there wasn’t much else to do or you felt you were missing a core part of the trip. These were the Pompeii Tour, the Vatican Tour, and the Rome Colosseum Tour. Keep in mind you should probably tip your tour guides a Euro or two extra as well.
If there was one add-on I could have skipped it’d definitely be the 4-course Monaco Dinner. It was cool being able to dine in luxury and the food was good, but we didn’t have much time to actually see Monaco during the day. We got there right before sunset and I would have loved to spend another hour or two watching the sun go down and taking photos (guilty photo lover here). You have time to explore more after dinner but the sun will probably be down by then! Afterwards you have a couple of hours where you can explore the casino or just hang out in the area.
**Gentlemen Beware, they will not let you inside the Monaco Casino if you have ripped jeans or flip flops on.**
And of course, a big question everyone seems to ask.. is this a party trip? With all of the activities you do during the day there’s not much energy left by the end, but hey you’re in Europe! While I only went out once, there were some people who went out every day and others who never went out and partied. That’s the great thing about traveling in a bigger group – you’ll always find someone who wants to do the same thing as you.
There was one night in Florence, however, that seems like tradition everyone goes. The trip manager will do a very good job hyping this place up. Everyone went out together that night and it was really fun. Contiki gets free shots on arrival (this seems to be a common theme in Europe if you do go out with the group). Our hostel was walking distance so you could go back whenever you wanted.
There’s no pressure to do anything on any certain night, but if you want to party it’s certainly there. Keep in mind though that the biggest budget differences were between those who drank often and those who didn’t, so if you’re trying to save some money it might be smarter to stay in more often!
Best Memories/Trip Highlights
While overall, I really did love this trip, there were some highlights.
- Pasta Making Class – I said this before but this night was amazing. If you end up only doing one free time add-on, this is the best one.
- FOOD – I ate so much during this trip and loved every second of it. You spend the majority of the tour in Italy, and I love Italian food. Pizza, pasta, gelato, wine.. it’s the best parts of life.
I always try and look at things in a positive way, but some things are just inevitable. For example, Europe in the summer will always be packed. This was made especially evident when visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We got there relatively early (so I thought) but it was already full when we got there. The experience and seeing it was still amazing, but I didn’t even try to get a photo due to how many people were there (not that this matters, but like I said I’m a guilty photo lover). Another thing I wish I changed that was easily avoidable was just being more organized. There isn’t too much space in the hostel rooms to move around, so if you’re in a rush during the morning things can get very stressful. One way to avoid this is to pack the night before. I now use packing cubes to help me stay organized and highly recommend them!
Pros + Cons
Being someone who usually travels on their own, I wasn’t sure if I’d like traveling in a group. It was my first time in Europe though, and I am 100% so happy it was with Contiki. While every destination will have its own ultimate way of traveling, I really do think traveling Europe with Contiki is the best way to go due to its:
Ease – literally everything is taken care of. No surprise tolls. No needing to figure out what side of the road to drive on or how the public transportation works. Everything was just so easy.
Value– If I had gone to Europe on my own for 10 days I would have seen and done maybe a third of the things I ended up doing. If you’re really trying to fit in as much experiences as you can, this is the way to go.
That being said, there’s always a preference for each side. Some things I could’ve felt a little better with were:
Sleep – It felt like I didn’t get a single good night’s sleep the entire trip. It might have been a combination of jet lag and/or early mornings but I felt pretty tired for a lot of it. Most people were able to sleep on the bus but I for some reason couldn’t.
No Days Off – If this trip was a day or two longer I definitely would have needed to take a day to rest. I’m definitely a slow traveler, but it was also rewarding to look back and see how much I was capable of doing.
Time – something you have to keep in mind is that this trip is quick. You only get a night or two in each location, so you have to make the most out of it. The way I see it, trips like these are a great introduction to Europe. There’s so much to see, so might as well see it all. You’ll get a feel for the places you do and don’t like, and one day hopefully come back and stay longer in the places you liked best!
Things to know
- Rome is HOT. I felt like I was constantly sweating especially the day of the Coliseum tour. We went during the first week of June but summer had definitely already arrived.
- Tips $$ – It’s customary to tip at least €2 a day to both your trip manager and driver. I promise they’ll be amazing and definitely deserve it!
- WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES. I cannot stress this enough. I’ve never consistently walked so much in my life. We were averaging over 15,000 steps a day, every day! (thankfully that led to being able to eat everything with #noregrets but still).
- Visa cards are superior. While most places all over the world will take both Visa or Mastercard, there were quite a few places in Europe that only accepted Visa cards.
- What to pack – here’s Your Ultimate European Contiki Packing List – you’re welcome 🙂
- Barcelona is beautiful – it might be a good idea to come a day early! You can explore Barcelona that day, combat your jetlag and get nice and rested for the upcoming trip (you’ll need it!).
Other Trips to Consider
There’s a lot of tour options when it comes to traveling Europe with Contiki. This is a great one, especially if you’re low on time. Some other ones you might also like are:
- European Quest – this trip is actually only part of this larger, 25-day European Quest. If you have some extra time I’d definitely suggest checking this one out.
- Simply Italy or Spanish Spree – want to spend more time in one place? These trips explore one country in-depth rather than just seeing the highlights of multiple.
- Spain, Morocco & Portugal – Looking for a trip to go on before or after?
FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
Do I tip? How much?
Yes! You should tip both your Contiki guide and your Contiki coach bus driver a suggested minimum of €2 per day. For any tours you do (Coliseum, Pompei, etc) you’ll also want to tip your guide at least an extra Euro for great service.
How much money should I bring?
If you plan on doing all of the free time add-ons, a base budget of around €5-600 is plenty. This is considering money for tips, all the add-ons, and 10 meals (there are 3 dinner based add ons so if you do those you only pay for 2 dinners) and airport transportation. I personally spent slightly less than €500, but I also know people who spent over €1500 (drinking and shopping can add up!)
Do I need travel insurance?
Yes! Travel Insurance is compulsory on all Contiki trips, and regardless is always a must when you travel, you never know what might happen. Contiki does offer a service, or you can do it yourself. Our favorite, and by far the cheapest, travel insurance is SafetyWing! If you plan on doing any extreme sports another favorite of ours is World Nomads. I got this trip covered on SafetyWing for only $13 USD.
Is there Wi-Fi?
All of the hostels and hotels on your trip will have free Wi-Fi.
The Contiki coach bus offers free 100MB of Wi-fi per day in all of its Europe trips. This is enough to check WhatsApp, but can go quickly if you open Instagram.
Since the trip is so short, I wouldn’t recommend getting a SIM card. If you feel you’ll need more coverage, we used Tep Travel Wifi and that worked perfectly for us.
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Do you recommend a roller suitcase or a backpack?
While I’m usually a big fan of backpacks when traveling, for this trip in particular I would actually suggest a rolling suitcase! The only downside of staying in the center of town is that sometimes the coach bus can’t drive in and you’ll have to walk a few minutes. At 7am the last thing you’ll want to do is lug a heavy, giant backpack on your back. My biggest suggestion no matter what type of bag you bring is to pack light!
How close/far are the hotels?
Our hostels were all in really good central locations. None of the ones we stayed in felt like they were out of town at all, and a lot of people ended up strolling the streets at night by foot since we were so close to everything.
Are rooms mixed gender?
Nope! Rooms will always be split by gender.
I’m going with my boyfriend/girlfriend. Is that weird?
Not at all! I actually went on this trip with my boyfriend and there were a few other couples as well and it didn’t change anything. The only thing to keep in mind is that the hostels with 4-bed dorms are single gendered, so you will get split up during those nights. However, any time that there are two-person rooms they do a good job making sure you’re in the same room.
What if I don’t drink?
Not a problem! On my last trip there was someone who didn’t drink at all. I’ve had nights where I just didn’t want to drink and it wasn’t an issue. The best part about travelling in a big group is that you’ll always find someone who has similar interests. I’ve gone on a few Contiki trips now and find that everyone is always so open and generally are good people. You do you.
Are there vegetarian/vegan food options?
Yes! Make sure to tell your trip manager about any food restrictions, but they are really great with that. Europe has a lot of variety so you’ll have plenty of options. Some of the gelato places even have vegan gelato!
Would you recommend booking flights with Contiki as well?
You can always see what the flight prices are with Contiki, but unless they are having a sale I generally like to book myself through Skyscanner. It’s up to you though!
40 people seems like a lot for a group trip…?
I thought the same. And at first it definitely feels like a lot, but as the week goes by and you get to know everyone it feels a lot smaller. Contiki does offer trips that max out at smaller group sizes. If you’re looking for a smaller group check out these trips!
Do you have free time?
If you do all of the free-time add-ons you honestly won’t have too much time during the day. Early mornings and late evenings are always up to you though. I woke up early to get photos and know a couple runners who’d wake up early along with someone who was actually taking a summer class while on the trip and would get all their work done at night!
Did anyone get pickpocketed?
No one on our trip got pickpocketed! While Europe is definitely known for pick-pocketers and you definitely have to be cautious, traveling in a group acts almost like a shield and it’s a lot less likely you’ll be targeted.
Should I learn the language?
You don’t have to! Of course, you can if you want. I personally love learning some of the local language on Duolingo before a trip, but your trip manager will be able to help you if you need it! Most places spoke English though.
How can you get cash out?
There are plenty of ATMs in Europe. Some charge a bigger fee than others. Make sure you contact your bank and tell them you are traveling before trying to use any cards overseas. I’ve been blocked out of my account many times for failing to do so. Also check what your bank fees are. If they are low, it usually makes sense to withdraw money from an ATM rather than exchange cash. I personally love using TransferWise to get cash out overseas, or if you’re from the US the Charles Schwab High-Yield Investor Checking account is really good for zero ATM fees worldwide.
Can you drink the tap water everywhere on this trip?
Yes! You can drink the tap water in Europe and for that reason I suggest always carrying around a reusable water bottle. You’ll do a lot of walking and staying hydrated will be key! There aren’t as many water fountains as you’d think, but if you get thirsty you can definitely find water!
How do you get from the airport to the hotel?
You can get a taxi or call an Uber to get to and from the airport along with a shuttle bus. I took Ubers both ways and spent about €70 total, which I split with someone else I was with on the trip. Shuttle buses and the train are a lot cheaper, but can get complicated especially if you have a lot of bags.
Comment below any other questions you might have and I’ll be sure to answer them and add them to this post! And don’t forget to get 10% off your next Contiki trip using discount code ‘CONTIKIPATRICIA’ or ‘CONTIKITOM’. Happy Travels 🙂