So much better on holiday

Why hasn’t anyone made a reality show about a Contiki tour? It’s like Big Brother on wheels. All the elements are there – tears, laughter, bitching, bonding, binge drinking, same-sex snogging, indiscriminate shagging. And instead of a boring little house the action takes place in some of the world’s greatest cities.

It starts out just like the first episode of BB, all staggering in beneath their luggage, circling each other like nervous sharks. Over dinner you play Where Are You From And What Do You Do, with an additional round of Where Have You Traveled And How Cheaply Did You Do It. Everyone scrambles to make a good impression, to appear as funny and engaging as possible, while simultaneously making snap judgments as to who they will avoid or try to bed for the next three weeks.

It’s a loud and blurry meal. Some try to stamp their personalities all over the table; some hold back, shredding napkins with an anxious whisper, You are here because it is the most time and cost-effective way of seeing Russia and some other exciting places.

Unlike Big Brother, there’s no weekly task to create a sense of team spirit. Instead you slowly bond with activities like Interpreting Swedish Menus or How To Get To The Bus On Time With Crippling Hangover. Sitting for seven hours on a coach through the dullest of Scandinavian highways also helps people to open up. You sit beside a random person and talk and talk and talk, sifting through the minutiae of your lives until you find at least one thing in common.

Once you add alcohol to the mix, the group is tight. After two hours in an All You Can Eat And Drink smorgasbord, everyone is relaxed, all the bullshit and bravado falls away to leave some blossoming friendships. You have a history now. You have in-jokes and catchphrases and “remember when?” moments.

The descent to Planet Contiki is complete. It’s like the moment in Big Brother when you realise the contestants are completely immersed into life in the house; they have forgotten the outside world exists. What job? What girlfriend? The other people on the tour have become your family; the tour bus is your home. You fall into a cosy routine – wake up in dodgy hotel, congregate for breakfast, stumble to bus, explore a beautiful town, meet up again in the evening to compare notes and souvenirs, head to the bar, head to bed… new day, new city. It is obscenely fun and addictive.

But then come The Intruders. Just like on BB, they drop in new kids to shake things up. In our case it was 29 people in Helsinki. They had been on a longer trip through Scandinavia and now joined our wee group for the Russia part. It was awkward and terrifying, suddenly plucked from our comfort zones, the precious little worlds we’d created.

The two factions stood on opposite sides of the room and eyed each other like wary teenagers at a school disco. We were fiercely protective of our group; they were nestled happily in theirs. All the vodka in Finland couldn’t spark some genuine bonding. Our original group quietly moaned about “the good old days”, even though “the good old days” had only existed for the previous week. As the tour wore on, we mingled somewhat, but I’m sure one side would have voted out the other, if that were allowed.

In the last week, fatigue kicks in and facades begin to crack. Unlike BB you don’t have a million bucks to motivate you to be nice. Another fucking city, another fucking church, another fucking group photo. Some people genuinely thrive in an 24/7 party environment, but some people cannot fucking STAND it and want some GODDAMN SPACE and wish that girl with the voice like kittens being disemboweled would STOP singing ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ on long bus trips otherwise she is going to be whacked over the head with a bottle of black market vodka. This may well have been The Most Time And Cost Effective Means Of Seeing Russia And Some Other Exciting Places but it also the most Bloody Exhausting.

But it’s all over before you can say Ill-Advised One Night Stand. There are tearful goodbyes and promises to meet up for pints with the people you genuinely adored and hope to know for the rest of your life. There are stiff hugs and promises to meet up for a pint with the people you wanted to bitchslap.

Re-entry to the Real World is painful. You wake up and there’s no breakfast waiting for you, no itinerary, no exciting new city to explore, no 30p vodka shots, no everlasting vat of friends who know nothing about you except for your zany holiday persona. You long to go back but the world you were immersed in for the past three weeks no longer exists. You feel lost and unimportant. The only difference between you and a clapped out BB contestant is that there’s no nightclub appearances or tabloid photographers to make you feel halfway special.

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! Iā€™m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for February 2023.

27 thoughts on “So much better on holiday

  1. But there are blogs and yours is a darn good one!

    And of course your comment area that’s designed to make you feel WAY more than halfway speacial!

    …in someways your trip sounds like summer school.

  2. you know, that’s a really good idea for a tv show! you should film a pilot and pitch it to the TV companies.

    or maybe you should tweak the idea a little so it means you get to travel the world and get paid for it. Like Dave Gorman and his “are you dave gorman?” and “googlewhack” adventures.

  3. that is so funny and true! i was on a contiki tour in 1999 and you are so right on about everything. it took some adjusting getting back to the “real world” too. and yeah, your idea is great! we should have a reality show on a contiki bus!

  4. Ahh dear, I just gazed upon my European Contiki photo of 1992 with some awesome memories. Mainly because there were 8 guys on the bus and 32 girls. But, what we crammed into 42 days was like a lifetime.

    The only thing I disliked about the whole thing was the song played on the bus each morning. I officially hated “We’re on the road to no-where’ by Talking Heads after that trip.

  5. Sure brought back the memories, just like everyone else has said.

    Though my tour was back in the 80’s, it doesn’t sound like much is different on the old Contiki tour. Change the name of the countries, but the group dynamics and activities are identical. Looks like they even have the unbearable song.

  6. You know, you could really branch out with that idea…. like someone gets voted off the bus each day and has to find their way back to their home country without the aid of a tour guide…

  7. There was a documentary shown in NZ of people on a 18-35 trip around Europe. Apparently it was hugely shocking for the folks back home. Actually, I don’t think it was Contiki but the double decker bus one. Never saw it because I was already here so can’t remember name…
    Sounds cool – I must go on one before I turn 35!

  8. I did the Australian Outback – from Alice Springs to Darwin in two weeks -back in 1988. I still have friends from around the world from that trip. What a great time. The “Ill-Advised One Night Stand” is as much a staple of Contiki (or Con-quicki) trips as the morning song. Ours was the Beachboys “Good Vibrations.”

  9. the on-board loo could be the diary room. it would be compulsive viewing! Channel 4 can leave a comment and my people will be in touch… hehe

    gordon – i indeedy did have a good time! but just found the tour interesting in a sociological kind of way. not only is there a reality show in it, there’s a big fat thesis in it too. ha ha!

    interesting to see all the ex-contiki-ers come out of the woodwork!

    strange thing happened, literally 2 minutes after I posted this entry, some of my tour mates called! oh it was a tearful reunion even though it was only two weeks ago, ha!

  10. Your posts should come with an advisory of content, I nearly snorted coffee over my keyboard. Damn, girl, but you should be a stand-up comedienne.

  11. I once went on an Intrepid tour.. same deal but you get to play the “I’m more politically correct and culturally sensitive than you” game.

  12. ahh yeah… but 45 people trapped on a bus – enforced company – is a whole new kettle o fish šŸ™‚

  13. I’m so not going on Contiki just like I’m so not going to School Disco or back to the Church… I am however going on Busabout in 3 weeks.. wish me fun!

  14. Hi Shauna,
    Not Contiki-ing right now, but I am in Irkutsk, where I managed to buy a Russian can of Irn-Bru. Took a photo for you and all. God knows how I’ll get the pic to you, but to re-iterate a question I asked about a year ago, will you still be in Edinburgh when I move to Manchester (September)? The answer then was yes.

  15. Wow, I must say your blog truly is amazing!

    I’m currently at work, 2 days after I finished my Contiki trip. All what you have said is true and why not a reality show?? That would be a great idea!

    Hmm, whom should spearhead this idea? I’ll be more than happy to contribute!!!

    Lot of luck,

    NYC, NY

  16. I am going on the contiki trip next April in “LA to the Bay” in the United States and i’m still wondering what these 10 days would like like. Anybody done this trip. Do we get a mexican visa on the border or have to apply beforehand.

    Thanks for writing back friends


  17. Pussy Cat web site is fantastic…I am now a sad old git but I must admit that I do enjoy your ramblings/master pieces…You certainly have a talent.

    I am going on a contiki tour in new zealand as this is my last year I can book due to age!!!

    I hope to share my experience with all and keep you posted…I am going for a stop over in bankok so hope to make some interesting comments

    Cheers for keeping this web site going shauna. It really does make me smile.

    You can tell I am getting old as all I do is ramble on and on!!!

    Anyway, keep up the good work and i will try and buy my way into your pants.

    I must go and find my glasses, hair and zimmer frame


  18. shauna,

    I have decided to buy you a gift to try and get into your pants…only joking.

    this website has really made me smile and i believe that anyone who would spend so much time keeping it upto date is worth 2o quid so please enjoy



  19. Ha Ha Ha… that is so Contiki wrapped in a nutshell. Couldn’t help but laugh and nod my head throughout the blog šŸ™‚ But i got ya all beat …. our morning song was Blame it on the Boogie by Michael Jackson! šŸ™‚

  20. I was on a contiki tour in New Zealand wayyyy back in feb-march 1989. Had a great time even though I was just under the 35 age limit lol. Well, 33 . Met a lot of great people and made some long lasting friends. One of which I went back to Australia to his wedding back in 95. There was about 5 fellows from the same city so was able to meet up with all of them back then. I have set up a webpage on msn but as the years have gone by have lost contact with most of the others so if anyone reads this and remembers the wagga boys have a look sometime . Oh and also went to that Long Island contiki resort in Qlnd just before that NZ trip. What a party that was, can’t hardly remember anything but crawling back to the room late at night, well early morning lol for 5 nights.

  21. All the stuff you are talking about with the people being @$$holes has nothing to do with it being a Contiki tour, but just people in general. Why is it the tour’s fault with how adults behave? Show me a place where I can meet 30+ adults during one meal where everyone is a well behaved calm individual not out to impress. On the other hand, I love your descriptions. I found this by a Google search of “I hate Contiki tours”. Hehe.

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