Traveling Solo with Contiki

The benefits of traveling alone are countless. But for many traveling solo seems intimidating and lonely. That’s when traveling with a group becomes an ideal situation. With Companies like Contiki you may be traveling alone but you are never truly on your own. You always have the option to be with a group of other like-minded travelers. .

Contiki tour groups vary in size from 30-50 people. I guarantee you will not be the only person traveling alone. On both on my trips there were a majority of singles, a few couples and a few friend groups. Nearly everyone you meet is willing to open-up and be friends!

Isn’t it scary? How do I make friends??

Many people have asked me about traveling as a single with a Contiki group. People often ask “is it scary not knowing anyone else? Will you be the only single? How can I make friends?” So here are my tips for traveling as a single with a Contiki tour group.

1. Book a double or triple-share room

My number one tip to guarantee that you will make friends during your Contiki is to have a roommate! You will automatically have a friend on the very first day. When you have a roommate you will always know when at least one other person is going out and what’s happening that day. I am now great friends with my roommate from Contiki Asia and I had a blast in my triple-share with Contiki Italy.

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My roommate Becky and I striking a pose in Cambodia

2. Put your guard down

I’m an introvert. At home I have a close-nit group of 4 friends. I typically don’t go out of my way to meet new people. But when traveling alone you have to get out of your comfort zone. Smile, and say hello. In order to make new friends you have to be approachable.

3. Crack a joke

The first meeting and meal with Contiki can be a little awkward. Everyone is nervous, you don’t know anything or anyone. So break the ice! I have pretty spot on comedic timing so I love to crack a witty comment or two to lighten the atmosphere.

4. Alcohol helps

I’m not saying be a drunk! As an introvert I know that a little liquor helps me loosen up. So why not have a glass of wine at dinner so that you feel more at ease talking to your new friends.

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Not passed out in the hotel lobby or anything…

5. Create a Facebook Page

Contiki has their awesome “Meetup” page through the website. But I’ve found people will use a Facebook page more. So create one for your tour and post the link to your Contiki “Meetup” page. That way you can talk to people, see what they look like, share travel goals and more before your trip departs. Plus stalking people’s profiles before the trip is a great way to pass the time.

6. Bring cards!

I always bring a deck of cards with me when I travel. A game of Kings Cup, Spoons or BS always brings groups together. One of my most memorable nights in Italy was playing Kings Cup at the hotel after a long day in Florence.

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7. Offer to take a photo of someone

The first day of travel the best way to talk to new people is to offer to take a photo of them and vice versa. Comment on their cool camera, compliment her sweet scarf or interesting tattoo. Break the ice!

8. Don’t be embarrassed

The best part about traveling is discovering yourself, letting your guard down and trying new things. With Contiki you might have the chance to sing karaoke, ride a bike, flash a mountain, take a shot, ect. TRY IT! Nothing brings a group closer than shared experiences. Rock those lederhosen like a champ and laugh about it later!

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We wanted to take the cheesy picture, so we did!

Plus Size Girls Packing. Guide to South East Asia

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Before my trip to South East Asia I scoured the internet for packing advice to a plus size girl. I had very little luck. So in order to save you some time I’ve complied my recommend packing list for a curvy girl traveling in SE Asia.

1. Body Glide (Chub Rub Stick): Thick thighs, humidity and extreme heat do not mix. Invest in body glide! If you bring one thing with you, choose Body Glide! I went through two sticks during my trip. Prevents chaffing and irritation caused by rubbing skin or undergarments.

2. Maxi Dress with sleeves: Many temples in South East Asia require shoulders and knees to be covered for entry. Invest in a light weight maxi dress to look conservativ

Bright colors are a must in the tropics!

Bright colors are a must in the tropics!

e but stylish. This dress can also double as a swim suit cover up!

3. Two Linen or Cotton tank tops: Invest in light weight and flowy fabrics. These are easy to pack, layer and clean. I absolutely lived in my Maurices elephant print tank (pictured above).

4. Chiffon Kimono: Modesty is important while traveling in Asia. It’s okay to wear tank tops when at the beach or riding elephants, but when dining or going to the market I recommend covering up your shoulders with an airy kimono like this Floral Print Kimono from Maurices. 

5. Rose Water Spritz: I swear by Boots Botanics Organic Rosewater Face Spray. It cleanses, cools, and moisturizes your skin.  Check out this article on the benefits of Rose Water.

Invest in layering pieces.

Invest in layering pieces like a vest or kimono. 

6. Soft, flexible and Supportive Bra: Many of the packing tip articles I found suggested do as the natives do and “go braless”. Well as a full figured woman there’s no way I could let the girls dangle. Invest in a great bra. Something that will not retain moisture, move with your body, breath and give support.

7. Bring simple t-shirts: I wish I had brought two plain, simple, yet chic t-shirts with me on my trip. I can’t tell you how many mornings I went through my suitcase and simply did not want to put on any of my frilly blouses!

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Invest in loose fitting, breathable tops to keep cool.

8. Don’t bring dainty flip flops: When walking through Bangkok you can play “I spy the broken flip flop!” From crowds stepping on your heals, getting sunk in mud, or just plain bad luck your “Old Navy” $5 thongs will break. Invest in sturdier sandles. I suggest Birkenstocks. They are super fashionable right now. Plus they have a life time guarantee!

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Invest in “Harem Pants” before you leave. Plus sizes are hard to find at the local markets.

9. Don’t bring jeans: Jeans are heavy, stiff and downright miserable when wet. If you’re like me and love the look of jean shorts then find some shorts with a synthetic jean like appearance (like these from Maurices).

10. Beach Babe Texturizing Sea Salt Spray: Ditch you curling irons, flats irons and hair spray. Your hair will not withhold the humidity. Use a Sea salt spray to add sexy, tousled waves and a light matte finish to any hair type.

11. Beware Harem Pants: When in SE Asia you will be surrounded by stick thin hippies wearing “Elephant Pants“. You will desperately want to join the cult. However as a size 14+ girl you will struggle to pants that fit in the local markets. I tore three pairs during my trip! So think ahead and find a pair at your mall before your trip. They’re all over the stores right now!

12. Flattering, but conservative swim apparel: Modesty is always important in Asia. I love my body but when I rocked my cleavage boosting bikini on our first seaside outing I felt like I was given death stares at by the locals. I’m a confident woman but I did not like the glares.

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I wish I had brought a suit more like this cute, flattering tankini.

13. Bright Lip Stain and eye liner: You’re going on vacation so why not give your skin a break as well? Ditch all of your make-up and go all natural. Everyone else will as well. Plus any foundation, ect. will just melt off in the humidity. My essentials in Asia were my bright coral lip stick by Pixi brand (Target) and liquid eye-liner for fancy nights out.

14. No Jewlery: Twice on my trip girls lost their jewelry and one girl had her jewlery stolen from her suitcase at the airport! Don’t brink expensive rings, necklaces or family heirlooms with you! It’s not worth it. Instead pick up some cool accessories at the local markets!

15. Scarf: I have a rainbow scarf that has now been two 6 countries with me. It is my number one travel accessory. Invest in a large scarf that can double as a sarong, shirt, blanket, towel, bag, and more! Carry it with you all the time. It will keep you warm, modest, stylish and protected from the sun when needed.

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This temple in Thailand required your knees to be covered. Good thing I had my trusty scarf with me!


Want more information on what I packed?

Packing

Check out my detailed packing list for my Big Indochina Adventure!

What Italy Taught Me

My second solo trip aboard gave me another opportunity to reflect on myself and life aspirations. Here’s what I learned:

1. I don’t need other people to agree with me

  • In Sorrento for New Years Eve all of the people I was with were going home at 115AM and I wanted to stay out. I tried to convince them to “stay out, seize the day, YOLO!” But they wouldn’t budge. Everyone “was tired”. As I followed them back to our coach I got really sad. I even started to cry. With all my heart I wanted to stay out, dance and be with the locals. That’s when I punched myself in the gut and asked “why do I need these people to be with me? I don’t even really know them! Why do I need them as a safety blanket?” I told myself “if you want to stay out here’s your chance! You don’t need them. Go back to the city square and dance the night away!” That’s when I found myself running back to the party alone and I am so happy I did.

2. I like to dance

  • When I am traveling I suddenly become a dancing queen. I transform into a sexy vixen with dance moves to kill for! When I go to my hometown clubs I’m more reserved. I’m with people I know or around people I’ll probably see again. So I tend to be more self-conscious. But when I’m abroad I let my guard down and dance like there’s no tomorrow. I defiantly want to adopt my new-found dance confidence the next time I go out in the states.

3. Italian food is good but Asian food is better

  • I’ll probably get some slack from this. But I honestly sampled more “life-changing” cuisine while in Asia. I think that American Italian food killed any ingenuity of real Italian food. I actually left Italy being kind of disappointed. Before my trip every told me “you’re going to eat amazing things.” I tried the local cuisine everywhere I went. I had focaccia, black squid pasta, pesto, meatballs, lasagna, cold cuts and mozzarella but nothing really stood out. In Asia one meal was always better than the last. I went home craving pad Thai, fresh spring rolls, noodle soup and screwers.

4. Always pack more underwear then you think you need

5. I can survive without my laptop or ipad

  • This is the first trip I took without bringing a computer.

6. Australians are not all party monsters

  • The last trip I took was filled with a ton of young Aussies who were perpetually drunk the entire trip. Italy attracted an older and more mature crowd. They surely changed some of the misconceptions I made of those from “down under”.

7. I want to take a trip with my best friends

  • Traveling alone is great. But it would be nice to come home and have other people to reminisce with. I feel rude when I’m talking to my roommates and I interject with “one time in Italy or once in Thailand”. I wish I had other people to revel in the glory I my ventures with. I think my girls and I could totally concur South America. I hope I can convince someone to go with me new time.

8. I prefer adventure tourism to historical tourism

  • Italy is beautiful. The history is fascinating and the sites are bucket-list worthy. My tour focused on seeing the ruins, churches and then shopping. After the third city it got a bit repetitive. I now know I prefer holidays where I can trek, swim, kayak, sky dive, ect. I want to experience the land, people and only a little bit of the history. I would love to go back to the Island of Capri or the Cinque Terre to go sailing or hiking. I defiantly need to visit Italy in the summer. I think it would be a completely different trip.

9. I do not like coffee

  • In Italy I did as the Italian do. I drank cappuccino and did an espresso shot. Each time I asked myself “why did I waste money on this?” Gross.

10. I love wine

  • After wine tasting in Tuscany how can you not love wine? I’m now a connoisseur!

Charming Cinque Terre

This morning we headed south toward La Spezia and the Cinque Terre region of Italy. The Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage sites famous for its coastal villages, scenic vistas, rugged cliffs and colorful villages.

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Today we had the whole day free to ourselves so it quickly became my favorite days of the trip. I hung out with two super fun guys. We had a great time drinking tons of wine, eating delicious food and exploring the quiet streets of the different Cinque Terre towns.

We started our food tour of the Cinque Terre with pesto focaccia pizza. We chowed down before exploring a breathtaking castle in La Spezia. At the top of the castle there was a harp player! 10906113_10152893621355813_7806844916176866695_n

Afterwards we checked into our tiny hotel.

Where did I stay? Hotel Firenze Continentale

Then we took the train to Monterosso al Mare where the boys and I decided to sit back, relax and treat ourselves to wine and aperitifs. 10407261_10152893619320813_8236156655788437128_n

Afterwards we traveled to Manarola. There we saw the Befana! The Befana is a witch who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5). It was so neat to see the old woman parading down the street with hoards of children following and singing. What a special time to be in Italy! After the celebration I grabbed gelato and strolled down to the coast where I watched the sunset. 10922616_10152893619450813_6628597561072186127_n

Then we traveled to Riomaggiore for dinner. Our group filled a tiny restaurant. I tried pesto pasta and we had two bottles of local wine! Feeling happy we caught the train back to La Spezia where we hung out at the hotel bar and chatted the night away.

I truly had an amazing, cinematic, life-affirming day today. I will cherish the Cinque Terre for the rest of my life.

Tranquile Sirminone, Italy

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Today we traveled north to the commune of Sirmione in Lombardy, Italy. Sirmione is a beautiful peninsula on famous Lake Garda. Entering Sirmione you’re greeted by a stunning castle and historical villas. If you venture further into town you will discover Roman ruins, peaceful gardens, orange trees and serene vistas.

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We had a bit of free time so I explored the town on my own. I stopped for gelato in a croissant a traditional Sirmonie desert. It was delicious but very messy. DSC00963

I wandered up a tiny cobblestone street and discovered a beautiful overlook of Lake Garda. It was nice and sunny so I relaxed on a park bench and took in the view. I even discovered a lagoon with two picturesque swans. Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 1.46.36 PM

Later our amazing tour manager Enzo was able to organize a special boat tour of the lake for us! So we piled into two high speed boats for a panoramic views of the town and Dolomite Mountains. The boat ride was by far my favorite thing I’ve done so far on the trip. I truly love Sirmione. I will come back some day.

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The Floating City, Venice

This morning I sailed into the “floating city”. Venice is the city I’ve most looked forward to on this trip. Growing up my mom told me magical stories about her time in Venice. So I was “heaps keen” (as the Australian’s say) to experience Venice and all its wonders.

We went on a walking tour that led us through the winding streets, hidden piazzas and narrow passages of Venice. I saw the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Square and the bridge Rialoto. After the tour we went to a fascinating traditional Venetian mask shop called Ca’Macana. Where we met the shop owner and master designer. She taught us her techniques and told us about the different traditional masks. I bought a cat mask that is orange and teal. It will look great hanging on my wall!

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Then some of my tour mates and I decided to try to find the Jewish Ghetto. We walked for quite a while before realizing we were very lost. But Venice is the ideal city to be lost in! Everything is so picturesque. Every corner is more magical than the last. We settled down for lunch as a charming little cafe. I had pasta and sampled one of my mate’s black squid dish (gross)! I also tried the traditional aperol spritz drink. I wish we had more time to sit and enjoy our meals but because we were lost we knew we had to give ourselves more time to get back to the meeting point.

We basically ran from the restaurant to St. Mark’s square where we were meeting for our gondola ride. It was low tide during our gondola tour…which I think really affected our ride. It was pretty smelly and we could see the sludge covered walls. Also my gondola had six people on it. So only two people got good seats. The rest of us had to sit on uncomfortable wooden chairs. It was not the magical ride I’d dreamed of. But it was nice to see Venice by gondola at sunset.  I’ll have to go back take a ride just for two one day.

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After the water tour we headed to really nice restaurant for a great family style meal. Then we headed back to our hotel which is outside of Venice.

Where did I stay? Venice Holiday Inn

At the hotel a bunch of us decided to extend our night and hang out at the hotel bar. We played a great game of kings (we made up a lot of rules), drank a little to much and had a genuine good time. Once the bar closed we headed upstairs and had a little hotel room party. Good, good night.

Caio, Florence

Our group decided to start late because of the New Years Eve celebrations so we set out at 11AM today.

I found out that some people did stay out and party last night. So I am kind of bummed that I didn’t find them. It would have been fun to party with other people.

After a long coach ride we arrived in Florence. Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 12.59.27 PM

Where did I stay? Hotel Raffaello Florence 

We went to dinner and then to a karaoke bar where I sang Grease with this guy named Russel. Everyone said we did really good! DSC00833

The next day we started bright and early.

Our first stop was Leonardo’s Leather for a leather demonstration. Honestly there wasn’t much demonstrating. It wasn’t very informative. I think it was a waste of time. A lot of people spent a ton of money there and I don’t really see the appeal. I found things there to be over priced. But what ever floats your boat…DSC00837

Afterwards we met by the David replica and began a walking tour of Florence. We saw Ponte Vecchio, the Medici Palace and more. It was more talking then walking and I couldn’t really hear our guide. Some how I ended up loosing everyone. Then as I was standing on a bridge trying to figure out what to do I spotted Mollie!

The rest of the day Mollie and I wandered aimlessly around Florence. We had a great time laughing, chatting, gossiping and making fun of ourselves and everyone around us. We had lunch right outside of the Duomo. We hung out, I sipped wine and we devoured our amazing lunches.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 12.59.37 PMI think that Mollie and I walked around the whole city. We saw tons of beautiful buildings, fascinating people, and lovely churches.

We even had delicious Gelato in a piazza where a lady was singing opera. It was very cinematic. 10915323_10152891603040813_6201928678578607055_n

Afterwards we went back to the hotel for naps before our big night out. I no longer have a roommate. Alex has decided to move in with a guy from our tour. So now I’ve been upgraded from a triple share to a single room. It’s nice to have more space and not worry about other people’s needs, but it is also kind of lonely.

Tonight we went to Space Electronic Disco. I had a great time dancing and had a few to many drinks. All was going well until I somehow wound up in charge of a very drunk guy on our tour. I had to wrestle him into a cab and get him back to the hotel. Before that I ended up having to pay for his lost drink and coat check cards and then apologize to everyone at the club on his behalf. Once in the cab he began acting strange and then he vomited everywhere! Our taxi driver was furious! He didn’t speak english but he just started reaming me in Italian. He was very intimidating. I finally convinced us to take us all the way to the hotel. Once there he continued to yell at me while my new friend was drunkenly slumped over in the hotel lobby. I ended up having to pay 200 Euro for trip and vomit. He yelled at me so much I started crying. The situation was awful but also kind of hilarious. I went to bed in tears but giggling. What a weird night.

New Years in Sorrento

Tonight in Sorrento we celebrated New Years with drinks and dancing.

I was upset when everyone in my group decided to leave at 115AM even though our local guide told us Italy didn’t come alive until 2AM! I tried to convince a bunch of people stay but they wouldn’t listen. So I started walking back to the coach with them. As I walked back to the coach I started to get really sad. I really wanted to stay out and keep partying with the locals. But instead I was folding to peer pressure and going back to the hotel. Then I begun to cry a little. That when I turned around. I decided I would rather stay out by myself then go back to the hotel. I realized I don’t need other people to have a good time. I don’t need a safety blanket.

So I rushed back to the main square and continued dancing with my new Argentinean friends. I walked around the town for a bit. I loved people watching and interacting with the locals. The Italians were all dressed to the nines and the young people were so beautiful. The town was lit up with sprakling lights and fire works went off throughout the night.

Around 3AM I decided it was time to go home. But then I realized I lost the paper with my hotel’s address on it. I asked a taxi if he could take me to “Sister’s Hostel”. He had never heard of it. We googled it…nothing. He called his friend…nothing. With no other options I ask if he could drive me around and I’d pay him for however long it would take. So we headed out of town. I described my hotel to him. On the coast, with a garden, orange trees all around, nuns live in it…he said “that describes almost every hotel in Sorrento”. I was very lucky that my driver Rafael spoke english really well. We had a lot of laughs and even flirted a bit. We drove all around Sorrento and I think even Napoli. It was adventurous, hilarious and only a little worrisome. Eventually I saw a few things that triggered my memory and I was able to guide us to my hotel! Once we found it he offered to keep me out and show me more of the town… after assuring him my night was over Rafael invited me to brunch tomorrow with his family. He said they needed to meet the giggling American. It was a crazy night that I’ll never forget. I’ve never felt so brave or alive. Italy is an amazing, friendly, beautiful place full of life and culture. I can’t believe my luck and blessing to be able to celebrate the new year here.

Review of the Big IndoChina Adventure with Contiki

I initially chose to go to South East Asia because I wanted to travel to a tropical location for my winter holiday. Other then wanting to catch some rays, I had no other aspirations. But I now have a new love and appreciation for asian culture and solo travel.

This trip introduced me to a completely foreign culture, new (amazing) foods, friendly people, peaceful cultures, exotic adventures and stunning landscapes. This trip put me out of my comfort zone and completely emerged me in different ways of life. I can honestly say I have returned as a stronger, braver and more confident person. I recommend going on this adventure alone. You will meet many like-minded travelers and you will discover so much about yourself.

When I booked this trip I expected to stay in mostly hostels and cheap hotels…expectations were blown out the water. We stayed in mostly 4 and 5 star hotels. Every place was nicer then the last. But my favorite places we stayed we not the 5 star hotels. We stayed at two charming guest houses and on a beautiful junk boat in Ha Long Bay. Every place we stayed had free wifi, water bottles, safes and hot water!

I couldn’t have asked for a better group of fellow travelers. I will forever be friends with many of the people I met. Especially my tour manger Lee (Hailey). I can safely say she made my trip. Lee is super cool, chill and fun. She showed us the best bars, hangouts and foodies in town. She was familiar with the locals and even spoke most of languages. I told her initially I planned on turning my brain off for most of my trip. So it was awesome having her plan most excursions and helping me have the time of my life.

The coolest thing about this trip is you’re not stuck on a bus all day long like many other contiki trips. Don’t get me wrong there are bus trips. The longest was 6 hours. To get through the different countries you will take an overnight train, boats, tuk tuks, buses, vans and jets. I loved our overnight train ride. It really gave everyone a chance to bond.

My favorite things I did on the trip were the Wat Phrathat in Chiang Mai, Thai cooking class in Chiang Rai, Elephant riding, “Kangaroo Sunset” bar and kayaking in Luang Prabang, causing a street dance party in Siem Reap, jumping off our boat in Nha Trang and sailing in Ha Long Bay.

I would recommend this trip to everyone. I always felt safe, culturally submerged and had a blast.

Tips I wish I had been given:
-Bring temple wear (Long pants, t-shirts)
-Pack your bag and then take out half. It’s super easy to do laundry.
-Bring only one swim suit. There are water activities, but not consecutive ones. You only need one suit.
– You should not need more then $25 a day if you don’t plan on doing much shopping.
– Invest good pair of flip flops. You have to remove your shoes a lot and they’re easier to get on and off then sandals.
-Don’t bring a huge suitcase. A back pack is better.
-You don’t need to bring makeup. Most of the girls on the trip won’t wear it. It will just sweat off.
-Bring your own bug spray.
-Bring or be prepared to pull out american dollars. You will need to pay for most excursions with USD. Also Cambodia widely prefers USD over Riel.
-If you’re coming from the states you don’t need an adaptor. All outlets take the US plug!
-Wifi is everywhere. Turn your phone on airplane mode and don’t bother getting a plan. Just Skype and iMessage people using wifi.
-Pack playing cards!
-Pack your own portable charger!