Dispatch, Med: Dude, it’s Contiki

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Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran is spending eight days on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise with Contiki, getting a better sense of how the 18 to 35 set travels. Her first dispatch follows.

OMG. What is my roommate going to be like? That was my first thought when Paola, the Contiki tour director, confirmed that I would be bunking with someone.

I took a couple deep breaths and reminded myself that this is what you sign up for when you travel with Contiki, a tour operator that specializes in the 18 to 35 market, a segment of the population that includes, well, a lot of young, single people traveling on somewhat of a budget. People not unlike me.

Okay, but seriously, what is she going to be like? I was both nervous and really curious. So many thoughts running through my head. What’s it going to be like sharing a room with a stranger? What is the rest of the group going to be like? Will I like them? Will they like me? Why do I feel like I’m in high school again?

Well, because for the next week, I’m going to be traveling with a group of my peers and while the point is to visit some really amazing sites throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, there is an entire social subplot going on, involving a desire to meet new people, perhaps impress each other, definitely judge one another, and maybe make some friends or romantic connections.

With no sign of my roommate, I headed out to roam the streets of Athens, the first stop on Contiki’s eight-day Eastern Mediterranean cruise through Greece, Turkey, Israel and Egypt.

When I returned to the hotel room, I opened the door to a pair of feet dangling over the side of one of the beds.

“Hi, I’m Laura.”

Okay, she looked sweet and normal. We exchanged names and polite banter about where we’re from and what we do. I was happy to find out that Laura, 32, and I are very close in age, and that’s she from L.A., near where I grew up.

We were very respectful of each other’s space and it worked out. While the first night could have veered toward the strange, (I definitely had the fleeting thought of “Wow, okay, there’s a stranger sleeping next to me, hope she isn’t a serial killer”) I didn’t really lose any sleep over it. And neither did she.

In fact, the next day when I found out that Laura wouldn’t be my roommate on the remaining cruise portion of the trip, I got a little sad. No more Laura? I was just starting to like her. Now, it’s the gentle 22-year-old Lucia from Brazil, and I think she and I are going to share a space just fine.

But roomie drama aside, really the whole reason I’m here is to find out more about the entire group. And there are a lot of us, 125 in total.

By the end of our one-week journey, I hope to get a better sense of why these young travelers booked with a tour company like Contiki. What was their budget? Do they book on a tour because they like traveling with other people? Or because it’s just convenient? How did they find out about Contiki? Did they book using an agent or on their own?

I’m already finding out certain things about this group. There’s a mix of couples and singles, groups of friends and solo travelers.

There’s the recently married couple from Australia in their 30s (they booked through an agent friend because they’re in Europe for a month combining several different tours and destinations), and the group of three girlfriends in their 20s.

There are the first-timers and people who have traveled with Contiki as many as eight times. Already little cliques are forming here, budding friendships there.

The itinerary of the tour, the components, the optional excursions and the organization is not unlike any other tour group.
But there are some age-related differences.

For one, during the introductory meeting, our tour director advised that if we wanted to purchase water, snacks or condoms, we could do so at the concession stand right outside the hotel.

I doubt condoms come up during most tour operators' meet-and-greets. But this crowd barely batted an eyelash. They were probably just thinking, “Okay, good to know. Very convenient.”

I mean, dude, it’s Contiki.

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