Recently, STA Travel sent fifty wide-eyed Aussie competition winners to Europe on Contiki’s ‘Western Quest’ tour (hard life, ey mate). They checked London, Barcelona, Paris, Bordeaux and San Sebastien off their list, while partying, eating, and soaking up the culture.
If you’re thinking of hopping over the Atlantic for a similar trip around Europe aboard a bus full of fun-loving culture junkies, then here are some tips from one of the lucky 50 – STA Travel’s own Kim (not so much as winner as a stowaway) – on how to make the most out of your time aboard a Contiki bus in Europe.
(Psst – you can enter to win your own adventure around Eastern Europe and Italy on Contiki’s Eastern Trail Tour here!)
1. Don’t be afraid to talk… (to everyone)
Rule Numero Uno. You will meet some of the most amazing people on your travels, and it all starts with a question, statement, a ‘cheers!’ or a shared hangover. You never know, you could end up continuing your travels with someone you just met. Plus, you’ll also gain a network of free crash-pads around the world, which comes in handy when you’re traveling!
2. Don’t wing it
When you’re on a tour, you can sit back and relax, knowing you’ll be taken to the best places in every country. But don’t forget your free time, where you can do whatever you want – and you don’t want to be stuck without a plan, or any inkling of where to go to get off each city’s main shopping sprawl and into the real action. All those alleys full of incredible street art, super Instagrammable flower-clad doorways, 60 cent wine bars (yes, 60 cent, really) and crazy off-the-beaten-track experiences starting with a round of Ouzo shots and ending with a sunrise on the beach aren’t going to find you. So do some research on the cities you’re most interested in and make a list of the best neighbourhoods to explore!
3. Use a great mapping app and make a list of sights
Let us expand on the above with a great tip. Maps.me is an awesome app which works across the globe, and because it runs on GPRS, it means you don’t even need any data to use it. Even when you’re stranded in the Austrian Alps or amidst Venice’s wormhole of alleys and canals, you’ll be able to find your way perfectly from one site to the next cafe with complete ease. You can even search and pin your must-visit places in each city. Win!
4. Listen to your Trip Manager
We wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to get some shut-eye on the coach (you’ll have some late nights and early mornings), but this is when the Trip Manager’s tend to let you in on their secrets (about the places you’re visiting, not themselves… most of the time). Hearing about what exactly went down at Louis XIV’s crazy house parties, or where in Romania the largest building in the world (after the Pentagon) is, or even just where the best gelato is in your next destination, trumps sleep or Netflix binging any day!
5. Always look up…
Spending the evening of my 25th on the balconies of this before stuffing my face with Italian! This isn’t Disney, or Harry Potter world, this is real life! Budapest, there are no words #magic #throwback #Budapest #budapeste #budapestagram #fishermansbastion #neverstopexploring
A post shared by Kim Durbridge (@kimswanderlist) on
Put away your phone, don’t worry about getting a tad lost, and just soak up your surroundings. Of course, please do still look right and left before crossing the road, but most of all, look up, because every bit of lofty European architecture is well worth the stiff neck.
6. Step awaaay from the Macdonald’s!
For the love of all that is holy, McDonald’s and Burger King will be ready and waiting at home for your return. Your trip of a lifetime is the time to broaden your palette as well as your horizons – eat snails, frog legs (hey – don’t knock it til you’ve tried it), and less scary sounding foods… Like cheese. All the cheese. You never know, you could find your new favourite dish!
7. Embrace European nightlife
A post shared by VOLT-Lokál (@volt_lokal) on
If Europeans are known for anything (apart from food, and art… and amazing architecture), it’s their ability to throw a good party. You’ve got the Balearic Islands, bars inside old ruined machines in Budapest, sunset boat parties in Croatia, beach parties practically everywhere else, clubs that are open for 40 hours straight in Berlin, and of course, there’s places like the Moulin Rouge in France, where you’ll be served champagne and treated to the most famous – and sassiest – cabaret show on the planet.
And really, what amazing travel story starts with ‘I had a really good sleep last night…’? None.
8. …but beware of the free-pour
Your epic European night out only really happened if you can actually remember it. Let’s be serious a moment here, kids: Europe is a little more relaxed with their spirit measurements than the US. Ask for a vodka, and the barman will often pour a measurement three times the size of one back home. Make your drink last – you’ve been warned!
9. Don’t be hungover
Foto: @patygermano Local: Lake Bled – Eslovenia . Foto: @lexsupertramp Local: Bled, Eslovênia . Foto: @cacaucruz_ Local: Bohinj – Eslovênia . Foto: @camilamatile Local: Bled – Eslovênia . #bled #eslovenia #lakebled #lago #bohinj #europa #vcnaeslovenia #vcnaeuropa #vcmochilando
A post shared by VcMochilando (@vcmochilando) on
This is where the free pours come back to haunt you. We’re not saying don’t fully embrace European nightlife, but just make sure you’re well enough to experience everything the city has to offer the next day. You don’t want to spoil it with a raging Sangria hangover, and you don’t want all your memories to be moonlit.
10. CHEESE. Every day.
Noi amiamo il @nessundormacinqueterre #Manarola #Liguria Photo by: @bianca_eats ___ #yummy #foodie #cooking #lunch #breakfast #fashionfood#instacake #cibo #gnam #foodblogger #homemade #foodblog #Ilovefood #pranzo #instalike #picoftheday #cucina #foodart #tasty #delicious #foodpic #cucinaitaliana #dinner #eating #yum #salame #formaggio #nessundormacinqueterre
A post shared by Best Food, Chef And Restaurant (@italian_food) on
11. Curiosity may have killed the cat… but satisfaction brought him back.
A post shared by Kim Durbridge (@kimswanderlist) on
Purrr. Try all the interesting new food, get lost in the winding back alleys, enter that quaint little chapel to see if its just as lovely on the inside, and poke your head around every corner that intrigues you. The quote, “blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures” should be your motto in Europe.
11. Get all of this for free!
Wanting to poke your head around Europe now, if not for that free-pour (we knew that’d get your attention), then for the seriously all-round vibrant culture? Well, we’ve got a tour that’s right up your alley, and you could get it for free! We’ve got Contiki’s Eastern Trail tour up for grabs – and all you have to do is enter your name and email address! What are you waiting for?