I can guarantee that by now, your social media accounts suddenly become a constant reminder that all your friends are travelling the world, and you’re not. Some people will be in Asia, a couple in the States, and you might even have a friend travelling New Zealand. But chances are, your feed will be lit up by snaps of the Eiffel Tower by night, and staged fails of friends ‘holding up’ the Leaning Tower. That’s right, half of your world will no doubt be in Europe, the mecca of all culture, food, art and experience.
Last year I was that person, stuck at home while my friends were speedily covering the surface of the globe. I knew that there was no way I wanted to endure another winter at home, so I saved up all my pennies and took the opportunity to travel through Europe during the following mid-year break.
A close friend of mine had been speaking about touring Europe for months, but we knew absolutely nothing about travel, so one day in January, we went to the travel agent to plan a trip. We were both prepared to do some solo travelling, but were also instantly sold by the idea of a Contiki tour – 12 countries in 21 days, half our meals already paid for, all our transport organised for us, and a group of people to travel with.
The minute I stepped out of the travel agent, I couldn’t wait to tell my friends and family about my exciting travel plans. But rather than people being excited for me as I was for them, I was greeted with scepticism and judgement.
As the trip grew nearer, I found myself battling a myriad of questions and statements from anyone I discussed my trip with. Isn’t Contiki just for people to sleep with each other? I heard that all people do is drink on Contiki, is that going to be you? Why would you want to do a tour when you can do it yourselves? I heard that Contiki is just like Tinder on wheels, are you ready for that? These were all questions I hadn’t really considered when we booked the tour, and the more I was asked, the angrier it made me. Partly because of people were being critical when they hadn’t done a tour before, and partly because I really hadn’t considered the stigma behind a Contiki tour, but I had jumped straight into it.
I also faced a great deal of forewarning about travelling with a friend. While we’d only been friends for just over a year, I couldn’t foresee any complications between the two of us while travelling. However, I kept hearing stories of failed friendships, so I grew more and more concerned that our friendship would dissolve the minute we arrived home, if not earlier.
Anyone who had already traveled Europe was telling us about the things that we would love and hate, and I truly appreciated the advice. What I didn’t appreciate was being told what not to like. I wanted to make up my own mind about the world, but I felt forced to agree with everyone who knew more than me.
Our holiday finally arrived, and I could finally escape all the skeptical discussions. It was time to experience Europe my own way, and all I can say is that everyone was completely wrong.
Yes, Contiki was a liquor-fuelled excursion, but I made lifelong friends from around the world, and made memories that really can’t be explained to anyone who wasn’t there, much less hasn’t done a tour before. Travelling with a friend was the best decision I could have possibly made, and since our trip, not an hour has gone by where we haven’t spoken, and I do not hesitate to call her my best friend. As for the world itself, I had experiences that will not happen to anyone else, and I came home with stories exclusive to me. I loved what I loved, hated what I hated, but they were my opinions based on my experiences, and no one else’s.
So if you’re a first time traveller, here’s my advice to you: listen to everyone, but don’t take their opinions to heart. Do your own research, make your own memories, and do not listen to anyone who hasn’t done what you’re planning to do. Each trip is unique in its own way, so love every minute of it, the good and the bad, because before you know it, you’ll be back in freezing Melbourne, envying everyone else’s travel experiences once more.