I currently don’t have any travel plans (sad I know) so I thought I’d take a look back to my Contiki Tour and answer some questions I wish someone answered for me when I traveled to the states 🙂
This is more aimed at the Contiki I did and America in general. I did a High Energy Tour which basically meant I was staying in Hotels and partying it up at night time in the beautiful US of A.
Q: Do I need a Visa for the USA if I’m travelling from New Zealand or Australia?
If you’ve never been to the states then you need to go online here and fill out a online application form. You need to do this at least 72 hours before you depart. Make sure you have your passport details with you when applying and a Credit Card to pay as it costs US$14.
You’ll be sent a Application Number when you’ve completed the forms where you can log in to your account to see all your information and your process. The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) will return your application status immediately after completing and then you’ll have your answer in around 72 hours.
Remember to print out your ESTA information when you’ve completed everything and been approved as you’ll need to show this when you land in America at immigration.
Note that you’re only eligible for this if you’re in America for 90 days or less otherwise you’ll have to get a different type of Visa.
Your passport must also be valid for six months beyond the period of your intended stay.
Q: Do I need travel insurance?
Yes you defiantly do if you’re going to the states!
I don’t know about you – but I really wouldn’t want to be paying thousands of dollars and dealing with the hospital if I broke my leg.
American health care is great, but only if you have the money to pay for it. Even though getting cover for the states is more expensive than say Thailand, it’s worth it for the peace of mind.
Q: Should I use phone roaming or buy a SIM card in the states?
It depends on how rich you are.
If you’re on a plan with Vodafone it will cost you $5 a day to roam which includes calls and texts to NZ, calls & texts within the country and a data allowance.
However if you’re on Pre-pay you’ll pay $10 per M/B, 80c per text and $3 per minute for out-going calls. Eek!
Spark Customers can buy a plan as well which costs $49 a month for just 1GB of Data overseas.
I think having data overseas is the most useful thing! I used mine all the time for Google Maps and updating my Snapchat story haha.
When I was in San Francisco I went to a place called GADGETRONICS near Fishermans wharf and bought a SIM card.
I was connected with a Phone Provider called Simple mobile in the states which cost me USD$60 for unlimited 4G data and unlimited calling to home phones in NZ and Australia. This plan works in Mexico as well so it’s useful if you’re travelling there too 🙂
There are also other phone providers like Verizon who have no activation fee and you can buy plans for USD $45-60
Q: How much luggage can I bring on my Contiki?
If you’re only doing a Contiki, bring 1 suitcase and a day bag.
You won’t really have to carry your suitcase very far – just up some stairs and to the bus every morning so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a large backpacking back pack.
The day bag is essential to keep on the bus with your sunglasses, some snacks, your wallet, MP3 Player, a book etc…
It’s best not to bring too much as you’ll always end up buying things along the way! I’m pretty sure Contiki has a maximum weight of 20kg’s anyways per person. Plus, if you’re doing a Contiki with Flights included then you’ll have to make sure it’s under 23kgs the whole time.
Q: What should I even pack?
As little as possible!
Obviously find out what season it is in the country you’re going to and bring clothing that suits.
If you’re going to the US in Summer time, don’t bring your puffy over-sized jacket ‘just in case’ it gets cold. It most likely will NOT get cold and you’ll come back home thinking ‘Why did I even bring this with me!!’
I always wear my heavier items on the plane to my destination. I put on running shoes (as they take up lots of room in my bag) and wear yoga pants, a tank top and a light jacket that can be easily rolled up later on.
Always bring walking shoes because you’re a tourists and tourists walk a lot.
If it’s Summer, always pack a Bikini. However, don’t worry about a towel. I never ever used mine on my Contiki. All the hotels provided us with one.
If you’re not sure about an item, don’t bring it. The USA & Europe are not foreign countries and they DO have shopping malls like we do. If you’re afraid you don’t have enough shirts you can always buy some more. Same goes for underwear and socks.
Also – don’t pack your laptop. Are you really going to take that massive thing out every day and browse youtube videos instead of partying in Las Vegas? It’s just another thing to worry about getting stolen or broken in your bag.
Q: Where does my Contiki Depart from?
- My Contiki started from Los Angeles at the DoubleTree Los Angeles Downtown hotel. (Previously called the Kyoto Grand Hotel)
- In Chicago it starts from the Best Western Grant Park Hotel
- In New York you can start from either the Beacon Hotel or Skyline Hotel (Check your documents beforehand)
- Joining the trip in New Orleans? You meet at The Holiday Inn Express
- Las Vegas People, You’ll be starting at Harrah’s Las Vegas
It’s very important to double check these with your Travel Agent or through your Contiki agent. I think they change the Hotels every now and again so what I’ve written above might not apply anymore.
Q: How do I know who’s on my Contiki?
I know Contiki has a ‘Meet Ups‘ section on their website where you can log in with your Booking Reference and last name. It’s a discussion forum where you can post something like “Hey who’s doing *Insert Contiki Name Here*” and then you just hope people who are doing the same Contiki see it and comment.
Before my Contiki, I always went on the forum trying to find people on the same trip as me but I only ended up meeting like 3 people. I honestly thought there was barely anyone on my trip!
It turned out to be a fully booked Contiki but barely anyone knew about the ‘Meet Ups’ forum or just couldn’t be bothered signing in. So don’t let a lack of people on the forum worry you about who’s going to be on your trip. Just wait and see!
Q: Will I be the only one travelling by myself?
Defiantly not. You have a few couples on the tour and some friends travelling together in pairs but the tours mainly consist of solo travelers. The reason people do Contiki is usually because they want to travel but they don’t have friends that want to do it at the same time. I highly recommend travelling by yourself if you can. You’re much more likely to go up and talk to people without that shy friend holding you back because she “doesn’t want you to leave her by herself”
Q: How much money should I bring?
This is the most asked question for anyone doing a Contiki.
If in doubt, budget for $100 a day in the currency of the place you’re going. That way, if you don’t spend it all, you have some left over for the next day.
This isn’t including your spending on ‘Optional Activities’
Have a look at the brochure before your trip and circle what you defiantly want to do. It could be a Helicopter Tour around the Grand Canyon, Hot Air Ballooning in Albuquerque, Heading to Universal Studios in Florida or Seeing the Cirque du’ Soleil Show in Las Vegas.
It’ll tell you on the Contiki Website all your Optional Activities and how much they’ll cost in $USD.
I went on my Contiki knowing I was travelling around Europe and the UK afterwards so I had to budget really well. Save money where ever you can if you’re worried you’ll run out.
Things like taking an Uber with your Contiki mates to get home from the clubs instead of a Taxi is a way to save money.
Drinking water instead of soda’s when you go out for lunch, having breakfast at the Hotels before you leave (as they’re included in the Contiki price) and buying stuff Duty Free when you leave will save you a bit of cash on your trip.
Q: How do I go about tipping in America?
If you’re from New Zealand or Australia you won’t be very familiar with tipping as we don’t do it here.
If you’re going to the States, you need to learn how to tip and understand why you should.
In theory, you should only really tip if you found someone to be helpful. Such as your waiter, your taxi driver, the guy at your hotel that helped you with your bags etc…
American employee’s legally only have to pay their staff as little as $2.13 per hour if they’re in a job where tipping is common so it’s up to the customer to tip to make up their salary.
Tips vary between 15% – 20%
As soon as you’re in America, have some $1 bills handy because you’ll have to start tipping pretty much right away.
You should tip your taxi driver around 10% of your total fare and then $1-$2 on top for each bag they load.
If you’re renting a car and someone is helping you with your bags, tip them the same amount per bag. Don’t worry about the people at the ticket counter’s though, you don’t have to tip them. (Unless you felt they really went out of their way to help you with something I’m sure they’d appreciate it)
If you’re going out to eat, sometimes the tip is already included in the bill – especially if you have a table of more than 6 people.
New Zealanders and Australians are usually awful tippers and some restaurants hate serving us. If you leave anything less than 15% they’ll assume their service was shit. So always tip %15 +
However if you’re going somewhere fancy, tip 25% or more to your waiter.
While you’re on your Contiki you’ll most likely be drinking. Just go with the rule of 1 Drink = $1
So for every drink you buy, give the bar tender $1. Example: 5 Drinks = $5
However, if you want them to make your drink stronger next time or serve you first, tip more and they’ll love you for the rest of the night.
And don’t worry, you don’t have to wait for the bartender to come see you for your tip, just leave it on the bar and they’ll grab it. (Believe me, they’ll know where their tip is)
Q: What’s the deal with Drinks in America? And what’s this Free-Pour they talk of?
Ahh, Free Pour. One of my most favorite things.
You know how you see the bartender make your drink and they put like 3mls of Vodka in it and the rest is just soda?
Then you hand over $11 for a drink that’s mainly a Sprite?
Well – in America they can pour that alcohol for as long as they wish. This is what they mean by ‘free pour’
Like I said above, the more you tip the stronger you can expect your drinks to be.
Drinks in the states are cheaper than back home as well. A typical beer from the store will be around USD $1.80 but if you’re in Vegas or Miami, drinks can be from USD $14 + (Crazy expensive I know!!)
So if you get the chance, pre-drink before you hit the streets of Vegas by buying big alcoholic beverages which you can drink wherever you go.
Q: Do I have to drink all the time?
If you have the money to drink every night, go for it!
However, never feel like you have to drink every single night on the Contiki Trips. The High Energy Style tours will involve a lot of nights out so if you’re really against exploring the night life then I’d look into a different tour.
To be honest, there were people on my tour that didn’t really drink but would still come out with us and have a night of dancing and drinking juice or soda. It was never ever a big deal! We were just stoked we were all partying together.
Basically, as long as you don’t criticize others for being drunk and letting loose on their once-in-a-life time trip your group will love you. And if you want to head to bed at 10pm and snuggle up in bed with a book then they will also still love you. There’s nothing wrong with getting a bit of sleep before you sight-see the next day.
Q: Do I have to share my room with someone else?
Unless you’ve paid extra to have a room to yourself, then yes you have to share.
On the hotel trips, you’re buddied up with someone at the beginning of the trip and this is your room mate for the entire tour. If you’re really not getting along with your room mate, then have a talk with your Tour Manager about changing. (not that this happens often)
I’d recommend sharing your room with someone else, even if you want your own space. You’re on a Contiki to make friends and share this experience with new people!
Some of the USA trips are interlocked with another trip. So – say your tour starts in LA and finishes back in LA (you’re doing basically all the southern and northern part of America) not everyone will be doing the same tour as you. When you get half way, half of your group will most likely finish and then there’ll be another 20 people join on for the next half of your tour. That’s when your room-mate may change.
Does that make sense?
Q: Can I charge my cellphone on the coach?
The coach that I was on had power-points near the front of the bus. There was like a long board of plugs in the over head area where you’d put your bags and that’s where people would charge their phones if they forgot to the night before. Just remember to bring your own adapter!
Q: Is there free wi-fi everywhere?
They have Wi-Fi on the bus but it’s really slow and I think you have to pay for it. You’re better off buying a SIM card and using your own data while on the bus trips.
Nearly every hotel you stay at will have free wi-fi though.
However, be prepared for places like The Grand Canyon having really slow internet which you have to share with your room mate. (Eg, you couldn’t both be on it at once as you have a ‘room log in’)
Q: Does everyone sleep together on the trip?
There’s always talk about Contiki being the incest bus. As in, you all become a great big family and everyone ends up getting with one another. I’m not going to lie, this does happen.
It’s not really a big deal until you make it a big deal. There were a couple of people on our bus who are now in relationships from meeting on Contiki so if you play your cards right you could come out of it with a wonderful relationship!
Just don’t be that crazy girl who gets with the guy that’s already sleeping with half the bus and go full-on stage 3 clinger on him.
However, there were still plenty of people on my tour that were just there to make friends and didn’t hook up with anyone. No one is forcing or pressuring you to do anything.
You decide how you want your Contiki to be. No one else.
Q: Can I go on Contiki as a couple?
Of course you can! We had 4 couple on our Contiki Trip. Just as long as you include yourself in group discussions and maybe separate yourself from your partner every once in awhile then you’ll be fine. If you want to hang out with the boys for the night or have a girls day shopping, do it!! It’ll show the rest of the group you’re easily approachable and you’re not stuck together like glue.
Q: How often am I on the Coach/Bus?
I’m not going to lie, you’re on the bus for quite a few hours each day.
But don’t be put off!!
Before I went on my Contiki, I was so worried I’d be on the bus so much I’d be bored out of my mind. It actually ended up being totally fine. As we had to get up most mornings at 7am to catch the 8am bus, we’d still be half asleep so end up crashing on the bus until around Lunch time.
Every few hours, the driver legally has to stop for a rest break. This is so he’s refreshed for driving and you can also have a toilet break and a food break. This can be anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.
We always seemed to stop at a WalMart which has pretty much everything. If you’re ever stopping near a Whole Foods, I recommend going there as they have a great selection of deli foods for lunch.
And think, if you’ve been out drinking the night before. All you want to do is sleep the next day!
When you eventually reach your destination you’ll keen to explore and do your night out all over again!
Q: Can I smoke?
I hate smoking, but yes you can. Our driver just said you can’t smoke near or inside the bus. If you wanted to smoke, you had to walk far away from the bus.
Q: Do I have to Tip the Contiki Guide at the end?
I say this because in America you always tip, so it’s kind of weird to not tip your Tour Guide and Bus Driver.
I think they say on the website you don’t have to, but at the end of the trip a hat goes around to put money in. To be honest, I didn’t mind tipping. The tour guides only get paid for certain hours they work – yet they’re with you for sometimes over a month. They’re leaving their families or partners sometimes even children to take you on this really cool adventure.
Obviously if you felt your tour guide was terrible, don’t tip them. You get some paper work at the end of the trip to write down any comments you had (good or bad) about your experience anyways. Plus you rate how everything was from the food, to the accommodation and how much your enjoyed your trip overall.
Hopefully I’ve answered some of your questions if you’re about to head off on a Contiki adventure. Let me know in the comments if you have anything else you want answered! 🙂