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The ULTIMATE Contiki Q&A session! (Grand Southern Adventure)

 

Hey everyone,

So last week on social media I asked you to put your Contiki Grand Southern questions across to me and I promised to answer each and every one of them! I’ve been receiving tonnes of messages lately from people who have booked trips in the next 12 months asking what to pack, how much to budget for and other general queries so I thought it would be fun to do a Q & A session! This post is tailored to the Grand Southern Adventure I have just come back from (and many of you are booking the same trip by the sounds of it!) but some of the answers will be useful if you are planning a Contiki trip anywhere in the world.

I have to say I wasn’t expecting this amount of interaction and my inboxes have been absolutely FLOODED with messages from people on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook with loads of fab questions. So here are all my answers for you – if you’re thinking of going on a Contiki trip, or if you already have one booked, I hope this will help a little to ease your first time travel nerves or will help with your packing woes! Lets get this show on the road….

Question: How strict are Contiki on their luggage limits, and would you recommend a suitcase or a backpack?

Answer: According to the paperwork in the Contiki Welcome Pack, the standard luggage allowance per person is 1x 20kg bag in hold (under the bus) and 1x small day bag on board. The official Contiki size guide is 1x suitcase or bag measuring a max of 73cm x 50cm x 25cm although some of the people on our tour did have bigger cases! I guess it depends on your driver and how lenient they are, but this is the recommended size for all luggage. Oh and I would 1000% recommend a suitcase over a backpack ANYDAY of the week! Suitcases are sooo much more convenient in terms of wheeling them to and from the bus each day, and to and from each hotel!

One more sleep!!!!! 🇺🇸✈️🇺🇸✈️ @contiki #noregrets #USA

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Question: How often do you get chance to do laundry?

Answer: The choice of hotels on the Grand Southern is so good, most of them have free WIFI and laundry facilities and they’re all in great locations. Not every hotel had laundry, but I’d say about every 4th one did, so there was a chance to do some washing at least once a week. I pitched in with some of my tour mates and did washing together so we got usage out of the washing powder and saved some of our pennies!

Question: Did you need to buy a separate US sim card for your phone, or did you just use WIFI?

Answer: The States is notoriously expensive for non US residents so, naturally, I was a little worried about using my phone over there! Contiki actually provide you with a USA and Canada sim card which is pre activated and ready to use on your trip. You’ll get this in your little Welcome Pack which is posted out to you before you fly – cute! Most people bought sim cards from the nearest Walmart though and used these as I think it gave you a bit more value for money. I was fortunate enough to switch phone providers just before I flew out, so Three Network allowed me to use my phone in the same way I would if I was at home, and I was texting and phoning home normally without having to pay any extra – AMAZING!! If however you can’t take advantage of this, or you’re not keen on getting a sim card, then I’d just stick to the WIFI, there’s plenty of it in the restaurants, hotels, shops and bars at each of the Grand Southern destinations so you should be fine!

Ahhh my last day at home before my big American adventure tomorrow!! ✈️🇺🇸@contiki #noregrets

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Question: Is there anything you brought that you thought you’d need but didn’t end up using?

Answer: This is a GREAT question – I wish I’d asked someone this before I went on my trip! I took quite a few clothes that I thought I’d use but didn’t; I wore tops and shorts over and over again just cos it was easy and I was too lazy to root through my suitcase. I brought magazines in case I had some downtime and was bored – I didn’t read them, they were chucked out in Miami as they were weighing down my day bag (sorry OK mag). I also brought about 20 pairs of socks which I didn’t use AT ALL! I guess it depends what type of shoes you wear, but I was in flip flops and pumps most days so didn’t need them.

Question: Did you have the same roommate the whole tour?

Answer: Yes I did have the same roomie the whole tour, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way! My roomie Poppy was so amazing, she was like me in the sense that she likes to party but doesn’t want to roll home with a random stranger at 5 o clock in the morning! We got on really well the entire trip and I was so lucky to have her as my roomie – miss you Pop!! <3 Some people did switch roomies midway through the Grand Southern, as those who left/joined in New Orleans affected the pairings. If you’re reeaaally unhappy with your roomie you could always ask your Tour Manager if you can switch with someone, it messes up the hotel names but other than that it doesn’t really matter.

I miss my #Contiki roomie too much 😭😭 @poppy_sparrow #noregrets #roomies #girls #love 💖💖

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Question: How strict are Contiki with their age policy and can someone over 35 travel if they are with someone under 35?

Answer: I actually contacted Contiki for the answer to this as I wanted to get it 100% correct! Here’s their official statement: “We are proud to be the best in class and like to uphold our promises to our travelers, one being our 18-35 year policy. We would not be able to accommodate anyone over 35 travelling with us.” I think that’s pretty clear!

Question: Did you bring a beach towel with you and did you need to use it?

Answer: Yes, I brought one with me. No, I didn’t use it! I did want to use it on the beaches we stopped at in Florida, but we were able to take the hotel ones which I guess made it easier as I didn’t have to wash my towel before we left etc. If I were doing another trip I wouldn’t bring a beach towel with me. Don’t forget your swim stuff though, there’s plenty of opportunities for pool parties whilst on Contiki!

Pool party 👙💦 #Dallas

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Question: How many outfits did you bring?

Answer: TOO MANY is the answer to that! I’m a typical over packer anyway, I once went to Spain for a week and took 8 bikinis :O What can I say, I like to have a bit of choice!! You really don’t need to take too many clothes though, especially as you can do laundry every few days and you can reuse lots of things. The Grand Southern lasts for 27 days so I took 5-6 pairs of shorts, 12 tops (vests & t-shirts), a couple of skirts, a few day dresses and 2 evening dresses. Oh and don’t forget your essentials like pants etc (I literally took about 30 pairs of knickers!) and footwear, like I said before I was mainly in flip flops and pumps but you can wear whatever you’re comfy in.

Question: How many ‘going out’ clothes do you need? ie for clubbing etc

Answer: I actually only bought two going out dresses, one for Vegas and one for Miami, but I forgot that we had two nights in each (duuhh Jess) so I went and bought a few other dressy outfits at various shops and outlet centres so I could wear them to go clubbing! The big cities we stopped at on the Grand Southern are pretty laid back when it comes to night time attire, especially for the ladies, but for boys it’s a bit stricter – think shirts, trousers and shoes, not vests, shorts and sandals! The only thing I WISH I took more than anything was one pair of heels! Clubbing in Vegas & Miami without my heels on just didn’t feel right – who’s with me girls?!

Miami rooftops 🎉🇺🇸 #saturdaynight

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Question: Are there any mobile device charging points on the bus?

Answer: I think it depends which bus you get; our first one had just a handful of charging points at the rear of the bus only, but we swapped buses towards the end and there were chargers on every seat!

Question: Does the bus have free WIFI?

Answer: Yes and no, again it depends on which bus you get. Our first one did have WIFI but it was very limited, and my phone would never connect to it! The second bus had no WIFI at all. The bus is a place to chill and relax though (and sleep, like I did constantly) and it’s fun to join in with group games instead of being on the internet all the time!

Question: Do the hotels have free WIFI?

Answer: Yes, most of the ones on the Grand Southern had some sort of free WIFI, either in the rooms or downstairs in the reception area. There were often computers in the lobby to if you wanted to make use of them. I actually used one of the PC’s in our Washington hotel to write a blog post for all you lovely lot! 🙂

Question: What optional extras would you do, and what ones would you skip? (Grand Southern only)

Answer: If you can, do them ALL!! I did pretty much all of them bar a few, just because of money etc. I made sure I took enough spends with me though so I could enjoy myself and be fully immersed in the Contiki spirit! Must do’s (in my opinion) are the Cirque Du Soleil in Vegas, the Grand Canyon helicopter, white water rafting in Durango, speed-boating in Miami, baseball games in Memphis & Washington, swamp boating in New Orleans, Universal/Disney in Orlando & parasailing on Daytona Beach. I also saw the hot air ballooning in Albuquerque was pretty special, although I didn’t take part in this. Make sure you take part in the group surprise and the group photos too, such lovely memories of your time together! If I was to skip any I’d say the Dallas Cowboy stadium tour is the least exciting – especially as I thought I was going to see a Dallas RODEO show instead of some football stadium! #oops – but yeah, if you’re into American sports then it’s cool but otherwise it’s a bit boring.

 

Question: Do I need a US VISA for a Contiki trip?

Answer: Yes, you will need a US VISA for the Grand Southern, or any other US & Canada trip if you are not a US resident. I think this costs around £25 and your travel agent can sort this for you, or you can do it yourself online.

Question: How many nights pre/post tour would you recommend to stay?

Answer: I would definitely stay for at least 3 nights pre trip and 3 nights post trip, if you can afford it! I literally landed in LA the night before the tour started so unfortunately didn’t have chance to see ANYTHING of La La Land which I was pretty gutted about. If you’re an avid reader of my blog you’ll know that I paid a lot of money to change my flights and stay an extra night in New York at the end of the trip, but that’s because it was 4th July and I wanted to celebrate with my new Contiki family! If I were to go again I’d 100% stay a couple of nights extra at either end of the trip so you can make the most of your time in both LA and NYC as you don’t get any included time at these destinations on the Grand Southern.

 

L.A L.A L.A ✈️🇺🇸✈️🇺🇸

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Last day on tour 🇺🇸🎉 #NYC #timessquare #america #USA @contiki @statravel_uk #contiki #noregrets

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Question: Did you meet anyone from your trip online before you went? How do the Contiki MeetUps work?

Answer: Yep, I found the online MeetUps fairly easily via the Contiki website, and more and more people started to join in the run up to the trip starting. We also then made a group Facebook page and added everyone to it as it was a much easier way of keeping in touch with everyone. I found that this group really helped us to bond, I spoke to quite a few people quite a lot before the trip started so it felt as if I knew them before we even met on that first night in LA!

Question: Did you get to stop off much on long drive days?

Answer: You’re driving on average around 8 hours a day on the Grand Southern, sometimes a little longer, sometimes a little shorter, and there were plenty of opportunities to stop. We’d stop at Walmarts, or large retail parks, to do some shopping and to grab some proper lunch and stock up on snacks etc. The stops were interesting and varied, one was Monument Valley, Utah (INSANE!), one was Seligman, Arizona- an official Route 66 stop, and one was Little Rock High School, Arkansas; a museum/exhibiton about the desegregation of public schools in the US. We also made longer stops at Santa Fe (New Mexico), Charleston (South Carolina) & Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) where we had plenty of free-time to explore. The stops really help to break up the driving days and allow you to visit lots of new states before you reach your destinations.

🇺🇸🇺🇸

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Question: How much do you recommend to tip your tour manager/driver?

Answer: The recommended suggestion from Contiki is $3 per day for driver and for your TM, or more if you think they’ve gone above and beyond. I tipped both John, our TM and Ray, our driver, $100 each for the full 27 days as I thought they were truly amazing and they looked after me during my time on tour. It really depends how generous you’re feeling, but they do a dam good job and I felt they really earned their tips so I was happy to pay a little extra! Miss you guys! X

Missing #NYC and my @contiki team John & Ray-Ray! 🎉 @jnavarro467 #tbt #contiki #noregrets

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So there we have it! I feel EXHAUSTED but not in a bad way, in a good way. Like a really, really good way and hopefully this may have helped those of you who are going on Contiki in the not too distant future. Dammm I wish I had seen this blog post before I did my first Contiki trip 😉 Just kidding, hindsight is a wonderful thing!

So you should now be ready to jump on to your first Contiki bus fully armed with knowledge and able to survive your trips! Please tell me where you are going as I’d love to hear all your fab itineraries (and cry myself to sleep because I won’t be joining you) – tell me your travel plans! Oh and if you think I’ve missed aaaaanything at all (I bloody hope not!) then just shout, I’m honestly here to help!

Love Jess x

So after 28 amazing days the time has come for me to leave the US of A and travel home from my first solo adventure! I've white water rafted in Durango, helicoptered over the Grand Canyon, parasailed on Daytona Beach, been speed boating in Miami and celebrated Independence Day in New York! I've had the time of my life with the most amazing people making 52 new friends as well as hundreds of new memories that will last a lifetime! Honestly the best thing I've ever done and I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. Now it's time for me to fly home from NYC in my contiki top and cowboy boots in true tourist style! Til next time America… Mum I'm coming homeeee 🇺🇸🎉💖 #noregrets @contiki @statravel_uk @travelstarwarsjoe

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7 replies
  1. Maddy Walker
    Maddy Walker says:

    Hi there, I am planning on doing the Grand Southern next summer, but I will have only just turned 18. Were there any people that young on your trip and were they able to get in to the bars/clubs. I dont mind about not drinking but i still want to be able to go out dancing etc! Thanks x

    Reply
    • JourneyswithJessica
      JourneyswithJessica says:

      Hey Maddy, thanks for your comment! There actually wasn’t anyone as young as 18 on our trip, although there were a couple of 20 year olds who were just under the 21 age limit for drinking! It’s tricky if you’re not over 21 as a lot of the clubs and bars in big cities (NYC, Vegas, Miami etc) won’t even let you in even if you aren’t drinking! But you’ll be fine in the local bars in smaller areas such as Durango, Amarillo, Savannah etc – it really depends how you feel but the bouncers in clubs in big cities are super strict and you definitely won’t be allowed in to those places! I hope this helps – let me know if you have any more questions at all! Jess x

      Reply
  2. Olivia Tanner
    Olivia Tanner says:

    Hi jess,
    This page is amazing so glad i came across it thank you 🙂 x
    Me and my best friend are doing the grand southern this summer, and i was wondering how much spending money you took or how much you would recommend?
    We are interested in doing quite a few of the add ons as well and wanted to make sure we have the correct funds so we don’t miss out on anything.
    Thanks xx

    Reply
    • JourneyswithJessica
      JourneyswithJessica says:

      Hi Olivia, thank you for your lovely comment! So glad you found this post useful, I made it for people just like you who are going on the same tour! I took 3000 US Dollars and ended up spending it ALL! I didn’t really intend to spend that much, but when you add up the optional extras (came to over $550 in total, plus the amount you spend on going out, meals, drinks, souvenirs etc etc it goes pretty quickly especially if you’re staying in LA/NY for a day or two before/after the tour starts. I think $3000 works out around £2200 so I found that to be a good amount for me, it should give you enough but maybe take a little extra if you want to do all the options, I skipped quite a few and didn’t do the hot air balloon in Albuquerque as that was $180 in itself but I’d say between $3000-$3500 is about right. How exciting – hope you have the best time, I LOVED my tour! Feel free to ask any other questions that I haven’t covered in this post – happy to help! 🙂 JEss x

      Reply
  3. Alice Thompson
    Alice Thompson says:

    Hi Jess,
    Amazing blog, it is so helpful considering I am going on this tour in a couple of weeks !!
    I actually had a question with regards to luggage, I have really been struggling to find the correct dimensions for my suitcase as they all seem to be about 30 cm deep instead of the 25cm as set by contiki. What dimensions was your suitcase and do you have any suggestions of whether a soft case of hard case is better ??
    Thank you in advance!
    Alice x

    Reply
    • JourneyswithJessica
      JourneyswithJessica says:

      Hey Alice, thanks so much for your lovely comment – I’m glad you found the post helpful! Re the suitcase dimensions, I really wouldn’t worry too much about it, they don’t measure the case at all! As long as it’s not absolutely enormous it’s not an issue as will still fit under the coach, and I think those dimensions are guidelines rather than restrictions. Some people were staying on in America for a month after the tour and had a suitcase and a large holdall and even that was fine, so honestly don’t worry too much about it! Hope this helps – feel free to ask any other questions you might have as I’d be more than happy to share my tips with you – have the most amazing time 🙂 Jess x

      Reply

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