Planning A Trip To Europe: Travel Solo or Go With Contiki?

Are you hoping to plan a trip to Europe this year but have no one to go with you despite all the convincing you’ve done on your friends/family? 

I feel you. I was in the same boat as you on at least two separate occasions in my life! As a full-time travel blogger who can take off whenever I catch the travel bug, I often struggle with finding people in my circle of friends who can actually go. 

Almost all of my friends live in the USA. You know what that means – very little PTO, lots of responsibilities, and even more bills to pay. A truly unfortunate combo.

More than once, I’ve contemplated solo traveling my way through Europe. And in one instance in 2018, I actually did it… for almost 4 months. 

I was on a super tight budget, staying at hostels, eating street food instead of restaurants, and penny-pinching my way to afford the entire trip. I made new friends in new countries during the trip, but none of whom I still keep in touch with today. 

Most importantly, I learned a lot along the way about solo traveling in Europe.

Fast forwarding a handful of years brings us to today! Once again, I had the itch to explore Europe. And once again, I had no one to go with. 

Instead of flying solo, this time around, I went with Contiki – the OG group trip operator for young explorers. They run 200+ trips worldwide, all designed to make travel effortless, educational, and fun. My Contiki trip brought me to two of my favorite countries in Europe: Portugal and Spain.

After experiencing Europe through these two VERY different styles of travel, I was able to reflect on all the good (and the bad) of each one. You ready to dive into all the nitty gritty details?

In this post, I’ll break down the differences between solo travel vs traveling with Contiki based on my very own experiences. If this post can help even one of you contemplating solo travel vs group travel with Contiki, then I’ll be very, very happy! 

This trip was in collaboration with Contiki. All opinions are my own, which means you’ll get nothing but honest thoughts here! This post also contains affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content.

Pros Of Traveling Solo In Europe

You have unlimited time to do whatever you want.

Boat Trip In Aveiro Portugal

When you travel alone, you have the freedom to plan your itinerary without having to compromise or account for anyone else’s needs. Whether you want to explore hidden gems located off the beaten path, watch Netflix in your hotel room all day, or spend an entire day soaking in knowledge at a museum, the choice is entirely yours. 

You’re not bound by anyone else’s needs, interests, or pee schedule, allowing you to embrace spontaneity and fully immerse yourself in each experience you choose to have.

You can do things at your own pace.

With solo travel, there’s no need to rush from one attraction to another or wait for others to catch up. You can leisurely explore at your own pace, taking the time to savor every moment and linger wherever you want. 

If you enjoy journaling for hours over a cup of coffee at a local café, spending the whole day at an art museum, or hopping through small medieval towns on a full-day adventure, there’s no one there to rush you!

You have the time and space to be introspective.

Traveling alone provides a unique opportunity for self-reflection and introspection. Without the distractions of chatter or complaining from others you’re with, you can fully focus on your thoughts and emotions. 

Less social interaction also means you’re able to pay more attention to the little things you come across at each destination, like stopping to read the plaque of a statue, sitting on a bench for some good ol’ people-watching, and exploring the hidden mom-and-pop shops tucked away in the quietest cobblestoned streets!

Cons of Traveling Solo In Europe

Traveling alone can be isolating.

Traveling alone means you do everything by yourself. As an introverted extrovert (yes, I am both), I appreciate alone time. But there is a limit to how much isolation I can take! Sometimes, I do feel the need to break the silence and talk to someone, anyone!

You may be thinking, “Okay Elle, there’s a simple solution. Why don’t you just stay at a hostel then”? My answer to that is “Thanks, but no thanks!”

If the main way to meet like-minded travelers is by staying at a hostel, you can count me out of that one. Even though I enjoy meeting new friends, I can tell you I don’t like the idea of sleeping in a room with 6+ people. Hostels were fine when I was 24, but now that I’m in my 30s, I like my own privacy and space.

(Plus, the last time I stayed in a hostel in Croatia, I got attacked by bedbugs. So gross.)

Traveling alone can be expensive.

For so many reasons!

First off, let’s talk about food/drink. Dining out alone is definitely not as cost-effective as sharing meals with others. I’m not a big eater, so I like sharing meals or eating family-style with others when dining out. 

When traveling alone, you have no one to share larger meal portions with or split bills with.

And drinking/nightlife? Forget about it. Having drinks and going out are two things that I almost never can stomach paying for when traveling alone.

Contiki Review - Wine Tasting In Porto
I would have never done this port wine tasting if I had planned my own solo trip. So glad it happened on my Contiki, it was so fun!

Transportation is another thing. As a solo traveler, convenient things like taxis, private transfers, and rideshares are just more expensive for you because you have no one to split the cost with. 

And given that staying in hostels is a big fat NO for me, double occupancy rooms at hotels are sometimes my only option, and many can cost well over $100 USD per night.

You have to do all your own research, for EVERYTHING.

One of the most annoying things about solo travel is that you have to do everything for yourself. It’s the epitome of IYKYK (if you know you know). If you don’t, you don’t.

If you don’t do the research to find out that a museum is closed on Mondays, you’ll just arrive to a closed museum and have to figure out new plans right then and there.

If you don’t do the research to find out about the local craft market taking place during your visit, you’ll never know about it and completely miss an immersive cultural experience.

If you don’t research which restaurants serve the best local dishes in town, you’ll probably be eating at some mediocre spot instead.

As someone who always strives to have the most authentic experiences when traveling, I tend to do A LOT of research for my solo trips. The effort and the many hours spent on research does get tiring, I’ll have to admit. (Spoiler Alert: This is one of the ways Contiki can save the day!)

No one really has your back.

Similar to the last point, you have to watch out for yourself at all times. If you need to get from point A to point B, you need to pull out your Google Maps and find your own way there. 

When traveling with others, at least there’s the chance of taking turns leading the way so each person gets a break to just stroll and enjoy the surroundings. 

When solo traveling, you need to always be “on”, keeping one eye on your phone to (1)  make sure you’re going the right way, and (2) keeping the other eye on your surroundings to make sure you’re not going to fall victim to pickpocketing or theft. It sure does get tiring.

You can only try so much local food.

During my 3 month solo trip across Europe, sampling ALL the local food I had on my list was impossible, even though one of the best ways to understand local culture is through food! After all, I could only eat so much as a person traveling solo-dolo. 

And even if I wanted to order multiple dishes to try everything, that meant I’d have to pay full price for full portions of multiple dishes. Ordering everything I wanted would not have been a wise way to spend my precious dollars. 

Most times, I would only be able to eat (and afford) one local dish at a time. It was honestly so sad! 

To this day, this is one of the biggest drawbacks for me when it comes to solo travel.

Contiki Group Trip - Spain and Portugal
Another struggle of solo travel: getting photos of cool places with you IN them.

Alright, I’ve covered my top pros and cons of traveling solo. There are some really awesome pros, but also… some really hard-to-ignore cons that turn me off of solo travel.

Let’s dive into the pros and cons of traveling around Europe with Contiki now. 

Pros Of Traveling With Contiki

You don’t have to plan a single thing for the trip.

One of the biggest perks of a Contiki trip is that you don’t have to spend a SINGLE brain cell thinking about trip logistics. Outside of selecting the trip you want to go on (and there are lots of good ones!), Contiki does all of the heavy lifting for you. 

They take care of crafting a well-thought-out itinerary for your trip, as well as handling ALL the logistical details, including transportation, accommodations, and activity planning. All you need to do is just pack your bags and show up!

In my experience, it really was that easy. Contiki booked the flights for me (you can add on flights during the booking process), which saved me hours of flight tracking/price comparing. And instead of spending 15-20 hours researching/creating a travel itinerary for my trip (because I’m Type A like that), all I did was pack my suitcase, check-in for my flight, and get myself on the plane ride over to Europe. 

Once I got there, I was able to fully enjoy myself and make new friends without a worry in the world. 

You have a built-in social network within your trip.

I’ll be honest – sometimes, traveling solo means you can only make memories with yourself and your surroundings rather than with other humans. As someone who truly values human connection, getting to travel with a group of people who also value the same thing is a HUGE plus.

Contiki attracts like-minded travelers from around the world, creating an instant social network of other people your age with whom you can share experiences, forge friendships, and create lasting memories. This means you can say goodbye to feeling lonely and isolated when traveling – even if you have no one from home to travel with! 

I personally didn’t expect to make SUCH close friends on my Spain/Portugal Contiki trip. (Shout out to my trip besties Alanna, Karina, and Reid!)

Not only did we hang out during our trip activities, but we also sat with each other during our lunches and dinners, chatted on the coach rides from city to city, and even went out to the bars with each other. 

By the end of the trip, I was honestly shocked at how close the four of us had gotten! This was hands-down one of the best byproducts of my Contiki trip.

Traveling in groups is safer than traveling solo.

How many times have you heard from your parents, neighbors, or friends that you need to watch out for pickpockets in Europe? How about kidnappings in Asia, the Middle East, and Mexico?

Despite the fact that many countries are much safer than how the media portrays them, our loved ones will ALWAYS worry about our safety and well-being. 

Traveling with other Contiki trip-goers provides an added layer of safety and security, particularly for first-time or solo travelers. Especially so if you plan on going out at night!

When traveling solo, I often found myself ending my days shortly after dinner, around 7-8pm. Once the sun comes out the next morning, that’s when I headed back out for more exploration. This often means missing out on all kinds of nightlife – drinks at the bars, mingling with random people, nights out dancing, etc. 

It’s so different with Contiki. Since you end up spending a lot of time with people you end up knowing and trusting quite well, you can actually go out, have fun, and trust that they’ll have your back should anything happen. 

Contiki Review - Salamanca Spain
Pickpockets can’t touch us! Mess with one of us = mess with ALL of us!

Plus having 24/7 access to your Trip Manager as well as a dedicated Trip Driver adds to the safety element.

Even if this is not that important to you (many of you are probably really strong and independent), the idea that you’ll be with 30-40 others and NOT traveling alone can be really reassuring to your loved ones at home.

I can tell you right now – I’m well over 30 these days and my parents STILL HATE the idea of me traveling alone.

You get a healthy mix of both social interaction AND free time.

Contiki trips provide a good balance of structured activities and free time, allowing you to have social interactions and the chance to make memories with new friends while also having moments of free time for exploration, relaxation, and reflection. 

This is a huge plus, especially if you’re someone who needs to recharge your social battery after a long day! 

Whether you’re bonding with fellow travelers during group excursions, sharing stories and laughs over meals, or enjoying a stroll through the city by yourself during free time, you’ll experience both the benefits of group travel and solo travel during your Contiki trip. 

Contiki Best Of Spain and Portugal
Exploring Sintra with my trip bestie during our free time!

You have Trip Managers who know the ins and outs of everything with you every step of the way.

Each Contiki trip comes with a rockstar Trip Manager to help you with anything and everything. Even if you do no research whatsoever about the destinations you’ll visit on your trip, your TM will share useful knowledge, tips, and recommendations with you so you aren’t totally lost and oblivious when exploring. 

Our amazing Trip Manager, Maddie, took care of everything from transportation logistics to the entire trip itinerary.

Contiki Group Trip - Is Contiki Right For You
There’s our Trip Manager! Telling us about the Belem Tower.

Every day, she’d give us a quick history lesson and an overview of the destinations we were visiting. She also helped me work through my personal travel issues when the airlines decided to lose my luggage upon arrival!

Even during our free time, she’d provide us with a document that consisted of her top picks of things to do in a destination. If we asked her about the best place to get ice cream, she’d have an answer – and the ice cream really would be that good. 

Our Trip Manager was like a walking Wikipedia, and she really made the trip that much more enriching! I can’t promise that you’ll get Maddie, but each Contiki trip will have its own version of a Maddie!

You’ll be able to immerse yourself in local experiences that are hard to find on your own.

Contiki has a super special concept called MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences. These curated experiences are chosen with care and are going to really resonate with travelers who care to make a difference by giving something back to the people, wildlife, or communities that you visit. 

These experiences can be anything from visiting a family-run lemon farm in Italy to dining at a restaurant that trains former street kids in the hospitality field in Cambodia.

On my Spain/Portugal trip, our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience experience was an afternoon strolling with locals through Cascais, learning about their street art, and hearing the stories of how their community rebuilt itself through its artwork.

Contiki Make Travel Matter Experience In Portugal
Street art tour in Cascais | Courtesy of My Media Sydney

If not for Contiki, I probably would have never known about the Torre neighborhood in Cascais, learned about how the community triumphed over their struggles, or met all the kind souls we met in this neighborhood.

Instead of sweeping through a destination like a tornado that comes and goes with no care about the people who actually live there, we took the time to learn about local heroes who helped make their small community prosper. 

New friendships aside, these MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences were some of the most rewarding experiences I encountered on my Contiki trip!

You get to try so much more food compared to if you were traveling alone.

One of the highlights of traveling with Contiki is the opportunity to try more than one dish per meal, which is something that many solo travelers sadly struggle with.

During my Spain/Portugal trip, many meals were had together. One meal in Cascais, Portugal served about eight different courses, which was amazing since we got to try a little bit of all their specialties (even though it ended up being more food than any of us could stomach). 

Another time we all went on a food tour together (in Porto), which was not only a ton of fun, but allowed us to try all kinds of things in one go – like green wine, presunto (prosciutto), bifanas (traditional Portuguese pork sandwiches), pastéis de bacalhau (salt cod fritters), and more.  

Many of the hotels come with free breakfast too! The spread was always very impressive and filling.

Contiki Spain and Portugal Group Meals
One of the many group meals from our Spain and Portugal Contiki! This one showcases traditional Portuguese food.

If you ask me, this was way better than what I was doing while solo traveling in Europe – oatmeal in the morning, street food for lunch, and one dish at a restaurant for dinner. 

I got to eat so much more on my Contiki. It was magical.

You get to stay in real hotels, not hostels.

On a Contiki, you’re going to get the chance to stay in real hotels. Depending on the trip you choose, that means double occupancy rooms, baby! 

By default, you will have to share this room with someone else, but you could always upgrade and get single occupancy if you really want to room by yourself.

On my Contiki trip, my roommate Alanna (who happens to be behind the Periodic Adventures blog) and I hit it off instantly! She and I became best buddies throughout the entire trip, always looking out for each other and sharing laughs and inside jokes together. 

Despite being hesitant to share a room with a total stranger at first, I’d have to say it was an experience that pleasantly surprised me!

Cons Of Traveling With Contiki

You probably won’t get too much ‘slow travel’.

Contiki is great for people who want to see as much as they can in as little time as possible. 

On my Spain/Portugal trip, I found that we were often on a tight schedule – starting the day early, finishing up dinners late, and moving from one destination to the next pretty quickly. 

For the major cities like Lisbon, Porto, and Madrid, we had at least 1.5 to 2 full days to explore. For other smaller cities we visited, like Sintra, Cascais, Salamanca, and Toledo, we had an average of 3-5 hours to explore each town.

I absolutely love taking my sweet time with exploring little towns, so I definitely found the Contiki pace to be a bit too fast for me. 

While you can find some Contiki trips that focus on exploring just one individual country at a more in-depth scale, many trips are built to help travelers pack in as much adventure and sightseeing as possible. 

This can be exciting and action-packed, it also means that you might not get the chance to fully immerse yourself in the culture of each place you visit. These trips are more about ticking off bucket list items and snapping those IG-worthy shots than really delving deep into the local scene.

👉 Pro Tip: If you want more time to explore than what Contiki offers, I’d recommend flying in a few days before the trip starts and flying out a few days after the trip ends. That way, you’ll get more time to explore the two cities that the trip starts and ends in. I would have totally done this myself (my trip started in Lisbon and ended in Madrid) – but I had to be home for my cousin’s birthday later that week. Next time, I’ll definitely be following my own advice!

Included meals are pre-picked.

Your Contiki trip comes with a set number of included meals. These meals are usually at restaurants that the Trip Manager has chosen before the trip begins. This means that instead of getting to choose dishes from the entire menu at a restaurant of your choice, you’re likely limited to 2-4 options. Some restaurants have pre-fix menus, meaning everyone eats the same appetizer, entree, and dessert. 

If you happen to be a foodie or a picky eater, you might not be able to try everything you’d like (unless you pay out of pocket for additional dishes that are not part of your included meal).

As someone who loves seafood and experiencing local dishes, I found there to be a bit too many meals with croquettes and fried foods on my trip. I would have appreciated more bacalhau (cod), sardines, prawns, and clams in Portugal and more Iberico ham and tapas in Spain. 

With a group trip consisting of so many differing palates and tastebuds, it’s good to understand that not every meal is going to be a home run for you.

What if I have dietary restrictions? If you have dietary restrictions, Contiki does a really good job of making sure you have alternative options to choose from. Still, you won’t be able to pick from a list of options. There’s usually just one option for you.

You will have a roommate.

Depending on who you are, this can be a pro or a con! Since I like my personal space, I will discuss this as a slightly minor con.

Shared accommodation is part of the Contiki experience. How many people you’ll be sharing with depends on the region, travel style, and type of accommodation, but twin-share (double occupancy) or multi-share (up to 6 in one room) same gender-sharing is the norm. 

Unless you upgrade to a single occupancy room (which does tend to cost quite a lot more, like $300-$1000+ depending on the trip length), you will have at least one roommate during your trip. 

Contiki Trip To Spain Portugal
My roomie, Alanna on the far right! We got along so well, so having a roommate actually wasn’t too bad!

👉 Pro Tip: Don’t mind roommates at all? On some trips where a Twin Share Room (sleeps 2) is the standard, you may have the choice to opt for a Triple Share Room (sleeps 3) instead to save money on your overall trip!

What if I plan on booking a Contiki as a couple or with friends? If you are booking as a couple and have booked a twin share trip, then you two will be roomed together. If you booked as a group of friends on a multi-share trip, your Trip Manager will attempt to room you in the same room.

Contiki is not an all-expenses-paid type of trip.

While the cost of your Contiki includes things like accommodation, transportation, some meals, and some activities, the price you pay doesn’t totally cover everything. 

Keep in mind that flights are not included in the price (though it is an add-on) and there may be additional expenses for Free Time Add-Ons, some meals, personal purchases like souvenirs, additional drinks outside of what’s included with dinner, airport transfers, travel insurance, etc. 

Contiki Group Trip - Spain and Portugal
Trying these roasted chestnuts was not covered in our Contiki, so we paid out of pocket because we HAD to try ’em!

Final Thoughts: Travel Solo or With Contiki?

At this point, I hope you’ve been convinced one way or the other about how you want to experience Europe! 

If you want my opinion on solo traveling vs traveling with Contiki again…

Would I travel solo again? At this age? Maybe, for shorter trips. As I’ve gotten older and more settled down in life, I’ve started to value having human connection and companionship on my travels way more than I did when I was in my 20s. I’ve found that I can have loads of fun with myself on shorter trips of under a week, but anything over that and I start missing human connection… big time!

Would I travel with Contiki again? Yes, if I have no one to travel with (which is a situation I find myself in a lot), I would definitely be open to going on another Contiki. My Spain/Portugal trip was nice because even though I had already been to these two countries, Contiki allowed me to discover and explore new cities like Aveiro (Portugal), Madrid, Salamanca and Toledo (Spain). The fact that I made new lifelong friends along the way was just the cherry on top. 

Contiki Portugal Trip

Next time, I’d love to travel with Contiki to parts of the world that are more unfamiliar to me, such as New Zealand, Turkey, Korea, India, Vietnam, Nepal, Egypt, Kenya, and Morocco! 

Ready To Book Your Contiki Adventure?

I hope this post has helped shed light on whether traveling with Contiki or flying solo is right for you. There’s a lot to love about traveling solo, but sometimes, there really is strength (and fun!) in numbers.

If you’re ready to book your very own trip, all you need to do is pick your perfect travel destination.

👉 DEAL ALERT: For a limited time, you can get an additional 5% off all trips with my special discount code: ELLE5. Get your discounted trip while the code still works!

Looking for more Europe travel tips? You may also like:

5 Itineraries for an Unforgettable 2-Week Europe Backpacking Trip

10 Best Women’s Shoes For Walking Around Europe (That Are Actually Cute)

50 Brilliant Ways To Travel Europe On A Budget

30 Lisbon Travel Tips To Make Your Trip So Much Better

The Ultimate Packing Checklist for Europe

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Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

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