The benefits of travelling solo

16 August 2012

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After weeks of binge drinking and over-eating in the picturesque islands of Greece, I was ready to undertake phase two of my European holiday: the Contiki bus tour.

Wally G via everystockphoto

Months of investigation allowed me to find the best restaurants, bars and beaches that Greece had to offer. I decided for the latter half of my trip I would travel Europe economically and save time researching accommodation and transport.

Organising the first part of my holiday had its advantages when making vital decisions. After staying in mediocre hostels and eating at low-quality restaurants, I took my business elsewhere without delay.

The moment I joined the Contiki bus tour I realised these assessments had already been made for me. Contiki is just one of many overseas bus tours (ContikiTopdeckIntrepid) that allows you to choose the theme of your holiday. From skiing through the icy slopes of Switzerland, to backpacking through the blazing Australian outback, the possibilities are endless. Once you choose your theme, the destinations are set in stone, as is accommodation, some food and excursions.

In Greece, travel arrangements were my responsibility. I undertook thorough research to find budget hostels with scenic views and dine in first-class restaurants. Throughout the trip I felt well rested, a stark contrast to my less than comfortable Contiki experience.

For the frugal traveller Contiki/Topdeck tours are a suitable option. For my chosen tour, I paid approximately $2,100 to visit eight European countries in 21 days. In the three weeks on tour I travelled to England, Holland, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France.

This was a substantial amount of places to visit in such a short period and gave me a ‘taste’ of each country, spending a maximum of two days in each city. I saw many famous landmarks: from the extraordinary Big Ben to climbing the colossal Eiffel Tower, yet I didn’t wholly experience each countries unique culture. The excitement and novelty of waking up in scenic Venice, or the rainy yet intimate Swiss Alps seems to wear off quickly as you board the bus the following day to await your next destination.

Conversely, during my trip through Greece I was able to travel the country at my own leisure. Plans would change erratically, making new acquaintances in some locations and extending my stay.

When booking your holiday also consider what specific preferences you might have. If you’re a person who enjoys their privacy, then a Contiki/Topdeck tour might not be for you. On a bus tour you’ll be travelling with up to 50 other tourists.  You’ll most likely share a room with four to six of those travellers.

For solo vacationers it can be just as inexpensive to find a one or two bedroom hostel, provided you research effectively.

Your tour guide leader is in charge of organising most events, including: nights out, dinners and sightseeing. If you’re not satisfied with their choices it can be difficult to opt out. During my Contiki trip I travelled with a friend and there were countless periods where we left the tour to select our own restaurants and bars. We agreed to rendezvous with the group later in the night to ensure we didn’t separate.

Nonetheless, our tour guide leader was passionate about her work and gave historical context to the sights we visited. This is advantageous for the ardent sightseer as additional outings can be costly.

Topdeck and Contiki bus tours are affordable, yet their main shortcoming is not providing travellers with flexibility.

Bus tours generally provide a ‘taste’ of each country and this can be a disadvantage if you wish to explore each location further. I would recommend a Contiki/Topdeck tour for vacationers uncertain about which destinations they wish to visit. You’ll discover which places you prefer on a tour, allowing you to make informed decisions on countries you’d like to re-visit in the future. But if you’re a self-sufficient traveller on a higher budget, organising a holiday by yourself might be a preferable option.

Toli Papadopoulos is a third-year Bachelor of Media Studies student at La Trobe University and is one of upstart’s staff writers. You can follow him on Twitter: @paprant