- Order a Contiki brochure - This free booklet is actually nice to flip through. The 2007/2008 European catalog is 125 thick glossy pages to make you really want to spend your money. I think the booklet is almost indestructible :) And in similar fashion, it's the same size as a magazine from the UK - ie: oversized. Briefly describes all the tours, most of the optionals [if your tour passes by Amsterdam, there are unlisted optionals ... if you know what I mean ;) ], travel dates, and cost. Much of the fine print can be found in there as well.
- Tour Booking - Look online first (ie: Google "Contiki discount"). Typically, you can save 10%+ over the Contiki Brochure !!! You also get what ever additional Contiki discounts such as Early Booking discount, Multiple tours, etc ... I did the Panorama, Spain and Portugal and saved $440 (9% discount off both tours at the time and $50 off second tour). Actually, I didn't book online, I just called them up and spoke to a person and got all the same discounts as booking online. Contiki Veterans: Mention that you've done a Contiki before and if you remember your past tour itinerary/schedule code, ask if you can get a 5% returning customer discount. I didn;'t try this, but others have. You may get it ... you may not, but it doesn't hurt asking !!! Australia YHA members can obtain a 10% discount.
ps: Don't worry about going solo - roughly 1/2 of the tour are solo adventurers. See Poll results of people travelling solo or with others. (1400+ respondents)
- Flights - If one of those Contiki "Fly Free" packages fits into your schedule, then you can't beat that (especially if you used #1 above to book your tour) !!! Otherwise, you might wanna scan thru the various flight search engines such as:
Found the absolute lowest flight? Go to that airline's home page and key in your flight. You might be able to save a little more since you're now at the source, cutting out the middleman. Note the schedule change & cancellation policy for your airline ticket contract should your tour get cancelled (ie: read the fine print), otherwise make sure your insurance will cover this loss. IMPORTANT -> READ Posts 4 & 5: (cancelled tours [Page format not compatible with Firefox browser]). Before booking the flight, ask Contiki if the tour has enough confirmed participants.
Fine Print at the back of ALL the Contiki brochures: 3.5: Contiki is not responsible for the costs of any other travel arrangements affected due to our cancellations or rescheduling of any tour vacations.
Here is a thread listing various cancelled tours.
- Bank ATM
- Definitely the best way to go. There were ATM machines aplenty so no worries.
Must be 4 digit PIN.
- I brought 2 ATM cards; one was my regular ATM card which I had as backup hidden deep in my suitcase just in case an ATM machine felt hungry or otherwise.
- The second ATM card is linked to a new second checking account I requested from my credit union specifically just for this trip. I transferred my budgetted spending money for the entire vacation in this second account. Both cards have different PINs.
- Inform your bank of your travel dates and where you will be so they do not freeze your account due to suspicious activity.
- Check to see how much your financial instition charges for each international transaction. Credit unions are usually cheaper than banks. There are no ATM withdrawl charges in Europe - you only pay the inter-bank exchange rate plus your financial institution's commission fee (my credit union was 1%).
- Make sure it is part of the "Plus" or "Cirrus" network (printed on the back of your card).
- Check the expiration date.
** Special Note for Australians **: Your cheapest option is the Wizard Clear Advantage credit card. It's the best deal I've seen for a international purchases. I would also load up the card with budgetted spending money before the trip since it's cheaper than using a bank ATM card for cash withdrawls. Just make sure you have access to another source of funds in case something happens to the card.
- Credit Card - Investigate the fees involved ... if it is a bank or credit union issued credit card, it could be the same as using an ATM debit card, except that it's not tied to your bank account.
Note: if you are gone for more than a month and are wondering how to pay your credit card bill or otherwise - since it will not let you enter more than the current balance online, mail in a check for more than your current balance. This will give you a credit and buffer room. ie: estimate how much you might spend and add that amount to your payment. This is just a suggestion since I'm not comfortable doing online banking at an internet café. Visa/Plus & Mastercard/Cirrus generally accepted everywhere (bring one of each just in case). Notify the issuing institution of your travel dates. Check the expiration date.
- Cash -> what if you loose it ... nuff said !!! There are ATMs in airports and everywhere else.
- Travellers Checks - I brought some as backup, but more of a hassle and more costly since exchange rates are not as favorable as ATMs (receipt). Take note of the serial numbers (more on this later).
I exchanged 100$US TC and the prevailing rate that day was 1.74130 $US/£ exchange rate. I was charged 1.8764. That's 7.8% commission charge, not including the £3 service fee!!! I received a measly £50.29 vs £56.85 had I used my ATM. So stick with the ATM and get the best rate.
Amex Traveler$ Cheque Card - many fee$
$ome fee$ as listed from Amex Traveler$ Cheque Card: rip off
$14.95 i$$uance fee per Card
$2.50 fee for each ATM u$e.
$5 reload fee
hehehe ... they must've realized the follies of their ways ... dicontinued Oct 31, 2007 !!!
- Travelex Cash Passport Card - Fees, Terms & Conditions
Costs vary from country to country
|ATM Withdrawal Fees||3.75||2.25||1.50||2.20|
|Monthly Maintenance Fee|
(after 12 months of inactivity and will
remain until activity re begins on the card)
|2nd Card on the same account||Free||Free||Free||Free|
|For a full withdrawal and closing of your|
Cash Passport fund at a Travelex branch
- Summary - if you don't have an account with a credit union (not a bank), maybe you should join one. I was charged inter-bank exchange rate + 1%. Withdraw enough for perhaps 4 days. Bring your credit card as back up. I had Travellers Checks as an extreme last resort.
- Budget After paying for your tour, insurance and plane ticket, how much should you budget? How much to bring? Obviously more is better, but here it is broken down realistically: (only meant as guideline to help you). NOTE ... YOU MUST BUDGET IN EUROS!!!!
Meals: all the breakfasts are included and 1/2 the dinners. So you are responsible for all your lunches and 1/2 the dinners (or 14 dinners). If you do all the optionals, that would include another 8 dinners, thus leaving you with 6 dinners. Say you budget 15 for lunch (but that's pretty steep since many lunches will be at highway service stops) and 25 (once again, this is pretty steep too) for the remaining 6 dinners = 15x28 + 25x8 = ~650. If you go completely nuts on all the optionals +850 (it's very tough to spend this much on the optionals ... but better safe than sorry, ie: parapenting is not mentioned, but costs 120 including roll of film). So you are looking at 1500 which will include all the optionals and feed you as well. All that's left are your souvenirs and drinking money. Average drink is perhaps 6 x 5 drinks/day x 28 days = 850 for booze. But are you really gonna drink that much ?!???! Some days may be more (ie: I had 12 rounds of B-52s in Nice), whilst somedays will be less (ie: when you get clobbered by the Contiki cough - alcohol will be the last thing on your mind). So assume you never get sick and drink like a thirsty fish for 850. Ok, we've covered all your food(650), optionals(850), alcohol(850) for 2350. What else is there? Souvenirs. Maybe 30 of stuff per day (including entrance fees for exhibits and activites during your free time)? Well that's gonna be alotta crap to carry around. But maybe you are travelling light and have space or brought some disposable clothes. I bought a ton of T-shirts. So 30x28 days = 860. Grand total = ~3200. Doubtful if you will spend that much. I got by on less than 2500 (89/day in 2005) and took all the optionals except Can Can Dinner in Paris(100), drank until I got the Contiki Cough, and bought lotsa t-shirts including spending 200 on beer steins in Germany. So an extravagant budget for a hotel tour is about 100/day, but I easily got by on 89/day (not including plane & tour). So put 3200 onto that new ATM card that you opened for this trip and every possible expense is covered (and you'll most likely be bringing a lot of money back home too).
- Money belts: not a bad idea especially in pickpocket havens like Rome. Infact, that's the only place I used a money belt.
- Passport - must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the conclusion of your trip.
- Visa(s) - if required.
- Backup your info - make 3 sets of photocopies and place them in zip lock bags
- Leave one set deep in your main suitcase.
- Put another set in your day bag.
- Leave one w/ a contact at home.
- What photocopies should each set contain?
- travel itinerary
- travellers check serial numbers and contact numbers in case you lose your checks.
- contact numbers of your bank & credit cards
- driver's license.
- airline Ticket / ETicket.
- travel insurance policy# and contact.
I also sent myself an email with attached image scans of the info above. Maybe CC the email to your contact at home as well.
- How to get to the Hotel? The easiest & most economical way is to take the Underground Tube (ie: subway/metro) since it's only a single line from Heathrow airport (E1 on the Tube map GIF / PDF bottom left hand corner) to the Imperial & Royal National hotels at Russell Square (C5 on the Tube map GIF / PDF). You hop on the Tube/metro at airport and after a 1/2 hour ride, you get off at the Russell Square station. You do not need to transfer metro lines nor hop on any buses.
See this POST for both maps (UK tube & bird's eye view of Russel Square)!!!
|cost: ||8$ US round trip Tube voucher (airport -> hotel, hotel -> airport) while booking thru Pavlus Travel, so ask your travel agent if this is available.|
Note: it will cost more if you purchase at the ticket counter.
|ps: ||a one way taxi from ride from the airport cost my roommate £50 ... (ie: friggin ex$pen$ive)
Map of hotels relative to Russel Square Tube Station
(From Google Earth)
click for full size photo
- Travel light !!! Buy T-shirts along the way and not to mention, they make good souvenirs! You are not staying at Hilton Hotels with plush elevators with bellhops, but rather a few hotels will be independants (ie: not a chain hotel). Some of them will be very old buildings WITHOUT lifts/elevators, (this is Europe, remember?). Or perhaps the hotel has one lift no larger than a telphone booth or is broken (probably the latter). 50 people arriving at the same time means you're hiking up the stairs. You will also need space for your souvenirs and clothing you buy along the way ...
For summer, you could get away with Teva sandals and black running shoes which can double as dress shoes (see this example). [update: I actually tried the Sketchers shoes mentioned previously and the metal loop eyelets actually hurt ... so I went with this model instead which does not have have metal eyelets, but just regular punched holes in the leather uppers.] I cringe at the thought of bringing dress shoes - only used them twice on 2 tours over 6 weeks and not worth the hassle.
Idea: Still have some OK-looking clothes you haven't worn in years? Well I got news for you, if you haven't worn it on the last 3 years - yer not gonna wear then in the next 30 years either !!! So bring those as disposable clothes and buy some new gear on tour.
Summary: Don't overstuff that expandable luggage before the tour - you are gonna need the space for all the junk you buy on tour.
- Shampoo Soaps etc ... the hotels have them so don't bother - but they are nothing special - except maybe for the nH hotels. If you and your roomate tear thru shampoo like there's no tomorrow and run out - visit the front desk and ask for more. If you can't live without your special shampoo concoction, then bring small travel pack sizes so you have less to carry as the empties get tossed.
- Electric Toothbrush Hey, if you haven't tried one of these babies, pick up a cheap battery powered Colgate or Crest model. Worth every penny ... and then some !!! ... or try this.
- Computer - NO !!! We bumped into a Med highlights tour on their last day in Rome ... and their rooms got broken into ... bye bye computer ... and since we're on the topic ...
- Suitcase locks - always use them. ... unless you are hospitalized and all the required docs are in your suitcase. If that's the case, then perhaps write down the lock combo and give it to your roomie for safe keeping. Then again, if you have followed #6 above you should have a copy in your day bag as well ...
- Film Camera - a little dated ... Use next item below instead. Don't you wanna see the pics you just took ?!?!?
- Digital Camera & Storage. Bring the largest possible memory card(s). I brought two 4 GB cards and didn't bother erasing any pics (unless I didn't wanted them at all). Read your camera manual & spend a weekend really knowing your camera. Bring an extra battery !!! Here's a sample pic using my Canon S500 5 MP (2004). This camera has since been replaced by the smaller SD450 (aka IXUS 55) which is smaller than a deck of cards!! If you live in the US and are shopping for a camera, you should checkout Slickdeals.net for sales or if you need it now.
Ok, so the aforementioned cameras are quite ancient now. If you currently in the hunt for a new camera (2007), the best features I can suggest is get the largest optical zoom, in an ultra compact package, that has image stabilization. One such camera is Canon SD850 IS.
So what did I do with all this storage? Well it was easier than writing a journal. I tried to take a picture before entering any establishment so it acts as a photo journal with time stamp. If it weren't for the photos, I wouldn't remember as many details as mentioned in the Travelog or Optionals sections. Alcohol is a terrible memory enhancer :P
Other storage options: don't forget that mini video clips on your camera take up alot of space
Watch out for Black Market/Fake Memory Cards. A corrupt card will really put a damper on your vacation !!
- Insurance. Yes, nuff said. If you buy your flight on your own, seperate from Contiki, make sure your insurance also covers your flight in the event of a tour cancellation by Contiki. Also, people get sick (see #16 below). Ferries crash (see 2nd paragraph), etc ...
- Medicines etc ... Bring some!!! I took double vitamin doses but still got sick. See survey.
Think of the Contiki cough (ie: sniffles, cough, fever, sore throat, or a combination) as part of your tour package.
- Acetaminophen/Aspirin/Ibuprofen/Naproxen ... whatever regularly works for you.
- Dramamine/Gravol (possible sea sickness for the boat cruise to Corfu).
- Pillow Case - to store your dirty laundry. Hummm, maybe you can double your underwear mileage by turning it inside out and using it again - or better yet, not using any ... what ever floats your boat. hehehehe ...
- Duffle/Overnight Bag - For this tour, you will need a 2-day bag since you are not allowed to bring your suitcase up to the hotel on Mount Pilatus, Lucerne (2 cable cars rides up to 7000 ft). Suitcases also do not leave the coach during the overnight ferry trips to and from Greece. See My Overnight bag.
- Backpack/Day bag - Day essentials for the bus trip and stuff. This is not a mini-luggage/carry-on with wheels that people bring on planes. Think much smaller than that. Overhead bin space is very limited and the space under the seat in front of you is smaller than on a plane.
- umbrella? - Really compact, but I never needed mine though...
- Small flashlight - If you live in the USA, I picked up one of these LED flashlights.
The thing is unbelievably bright !! Great for hurricanes (
I live in Florida) and the batteries last forever (72+ hrs runtime vs 7 hrs for a 2 AA Maglight)!!! ... Update: So I decded to leave this little sucker on. It's now past 150 hours and it is still cranking out light, albeit very weak - but brighter than a nightlight still. Maybe like a cellphone display. Maybe it's because of the Energizer batteries ... it keeps going and going and going - no wait, I put Duracell batteries instead.
- Alarm Clock ... there will be times the bus leaves at 7 am, but this is rare ...
- Beach towel ... NO - never needed one. Buy one or use the hotel towel. The key here is travelling light.
- It might get a little chilly when you stay atop Mt. Pilatus ... perhaps buy a sweater there. We want to travel light. There may be times you will have to huff it up stair cases! Definitely bring a jacket though.
- mp3 player ... Maybe download some comedy tracks like George Carlin, Carlos Mencia, Larry, the Cable Guy to play on the bus. The group will love you for this !! See Vosonic above in #14. Bring a splitter to share your music with your neighbour.
- ear plugs ... Sometimes you just wanna crash out on the bus and you're not a fan of the music/noise blaring from the bus' speakers.
- Don't bother lugging a guide book like Fodor's Europe (1232 pages) or Lonely Planet's Western Europe (1112 pages), since you don't wanna carry bricks - there's that travel light theme again!! Your tour manager would probably have these 2 travel bibles, especially for a long tour like this. Do some research online before you go if you are curious about your destinations. Or read the travelogue for a description of the various places visited. Or maybe bring along my 40 page Panorama Travel Guide (PDF / Word).
Before arriving at each city, your TM will give you a brief outline of the city's history and culture. Each person will be given a map and your TM will point out the major attractions on the map as well as internet cafes, banks, etc. Also, your TM will provide you with sugggestions as to what people most commonly do during their (very short) free time at each city.
Power adapters / converters
This is for North American residents visiting Europe ...
North American power sources are 110 volts, but all the countries that you will be visiting on the European Panorama run on 230 volts.
Check your hair dryer, iron, and camera/cellphone/mp3 charger if they can accept 230 volts.
Some hair dryers have a 110/240 volt switch and some camera battery chargers can accept a volt input range between 110-240 without a switch such as Canon (this should be printed on your electrical item). I'm not too sure about irons though. (what's an iron?? :P )
If all your electrical stuff can accept 230 volts, then all you need is an adapter. You will need the following 2
adapters (top left is UK, bottom right is for the rest of Europe)
Both of these adapters can be found at Radio Shack for about $3 each:
If your electrical stuff does NOT accommodate 230 Volts, then you will need a converter as well. You can get the adapters & converter that will accomodate up to 2000W at Bag'n Baggage for $40.
There are two 50W/1600W models from Amazon for $16 +s&h and $17.21 +s&h. Read the reviews before purchasing.
Note: if you do get a power converter, make sure it is rated for your blow dryer (~1600W) if you are bringing one of those too. Some converters are only suitable for less than 100 Watts.
Curtis has a another nice writeup on the Contiki Messageboard. This might clarify matters too.
- Blow Dryers - Sorry girls, I guess you're kinda stuck. Scanning thru the thumbnail pics, only half the hotels (Hotels 1
Hotels 2) had blow dryers on the European Panorama:
| London || -- |
| Paris || -- |
| Bordeaux || ?? |
| Barcelona || yes |
| French Riviera || yes |
| Florence || -- |
| Rome || yes |
| Corfu || yes |
| Venice || -- |
| Vienna || yes - heck, they even had a telephone beside the can |
| Munich || yes |
| Lucerne || yes - only at the Hotel Bellevue |
| Hopfgarten || -- |
| St. Goar || -- |
| Amsterdam || -- |
- Suitcase -
Contiki is very strict on the 20 kg limit for tours departing from London. Your main luggage CANNOT exceed 20 kg (44 lbs) at the start of the tour. They weigh and tag each main luggage on a digital scale on the morning of the tour departure from London (so if it's 20.1 kg or 44.1 lbs, it's NOT going on the bus). Only afterwards, can you load your luggage with rocks and bricks if yer needing the excercise. :P It's quite a hectic scene since there are a myriad of tours leaving at the same time. There was NO bag weighing from tours that departed from Athens (Greek Island Hopping) nor Madrid (Spainish Spree). I have NEVER seen any bag measured for size, so don't sweat about the size too much. Most people have the traditional expandable soft fabric roller luggage with extendable handles while the remainder had backpacks. Don't think I saw any hard shell luggages. They are quite passé and weigh too much to begin with and don't expand.
If you're close to the limit, put your heavy stuff (ie: rocks and bricks) in your daybag. But I do recommend travelling light since not all hotels will have lifts. BTW, I'm kidding about the rocks and bricks, I would strongly refrain from bringing a pet rock or pet brick on tour (or any pet for that matter). Probably preferable to adopt one after your tour ends ... Also see #8 above. Read my comments in this thread.
- Davinci Code & Angles & Demons. These 2 books are very quick reads and addictive page turners. Once you finish the novel, it leaves you wanting for more. The Davinci Code describes many buildings and artwork in Paris and touches on Rome. The backdrop of Angels & Demons is strictly the Vatican City and Rome. The European Panorama tour visits both cities and you can go on this treasure hunt!!! You look at buildings, statues & artwork more inquisitively. If you are pressed for time, I'd start with Angels and Demons.
- A funny read ... a view from a retired tour manager: Rule No. 5: No Sex on the Bus : Confessions of a Tour Leader
- Maybe make a silly video like Where the Hell is Matt?? Makes for awesome memory !!! Why didn't I think of that ???
- What did others pack?
- Some good Archived Comments [Page format not compatible with Firefox browser].
- Contiki Cafe - Another message board which is good for its extensive travelog collection. Contiki's msgboard used to crash on every 3rd page (ahhh, the memories), but will be superior to Contiki Cafe since it will be completely stable (tie for Contiki & Cafe), but the new message board will have industrial strength search abilities !!!! Yes baby !!!! Too bad the Contiki Cafe has no such facility - well it does, but doesn't seem to work. I've tried out the new search engine already. You will no longer need to troll thru pages after pages for any topic and then give up and ask the same question that was previously mentioned. I do recommend scanning thru a few pages though - you will encounter many other questions that you may not have thought off. I guess I can retire now, eh?
- Weather? Current weather conditions are posted in the travelog section. Historical Weather Almanac.
- Other Tours - I've also done Spain & Portugal , as well as Greek Island Hopping. So I maybe able to answer some questions on that as well ... hopefully I'll be able add Aus & NZ Explorer Tours, Scandi/Russia, Egypt and the Nile, Spotlight on Greece, and finally Turkey and I'll be all Contikied-out. I'm accepting donations :)
- Find others on your tour - Well this could be hit or miss since I bumped into only one other person on my 2 tours (Panorama + Spain&Portugal) last summer. But it's worth giving it a shot ... Find your trip at the Contiki Meeting Place Messageboard.
- Student ID Card - If you have one, bring it. You might be able to swing a discount at some places
(ie: entrance fees at some Spanigh Spree locations and Dojes Palace in Venice among others ...)
Regular student ID should suffice - even if it's expired, bring it anyways !!!
No need for international ISIC/ISE/IYTC cards.
- Calling Card - If you don't wish to bring your cell/mobile here are 2 Calling Card options/possibilities to phone home (or elsewhere). My thoughts on the Contiki Ekit Calling Card.
- Help!! My friend(s) backed out / Travelling Solo - No worries. It's their loss. You'll be like 2/3 of the tour group now travelling solo. This I think is even better since it forces you to make new friends rather then being stuck with your buddy who may not want to do all the same stuff you wish to do. Chances are yer gonna be good buddies w/ your roommate. Will you ever see these people after your tour? For the most part, probably not, but you will have made long distance acquaintances that you can keep in your back pocket from around the world, and there will probably be the select few with whom you'll be lifelong friends. See this discussion [Page format not compatible with Firefox browser]. See poll results - more than 1500 votes, 69% did reply as solo, but of those travelling with friends, not all those friends in that group answer the polls so the ratios are not weighted correctly. Thus in reality, the solo numbers are probably a little lower. Probably around 50%.
- Am I too ancient ? - I'm 30-something and have never travelled. Will I be out of place with a bunch of college kids? I think you'll have more comfortable time going on the hotel superior tours. Of my 2 tours last summer, there were few in their 30's on one tour whilst the other tour had an individual who had just turned 18 a few days before the tour and another who was 37. I think that people who travel to distant countries are apt to have more of an open mind and sample new cultures, and that said there are probably going to more receptive and pleasant as well. So don't worry, be yourself. See this discussion [Page format not compatible with Firefox browser] ... current thread.
- Optionals - Prices, descriptions and links for optionals available on the Panorama Tour.
- Airport restrictions - Current airport carry-on and checked in baggage restrictions for US, Canada. Heathrow restrictions (page 1, page 2). Australia (effective March 31, 2007).
- Other Questions?? - Many other answers can be found here. Seriously, check this link out !!!
If you have any questions or suggestions, email me - vic(at)talk21.com or post a Message
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