In Just Three Months, I Achieved The Heights Of Independence You Only Get From A Contiki Tour

If you asked me 12 months ago whether or not I thought I could make it through a weeks-long European journey on my own, I would have told you, “Nope, not a chance in hell.” Navigating your way from city to city in a bunch of countries thousands of kilometres from home takes a level head and a self-reliant will – neither of which I thought I possessed. But now, having arrived home after a three-month Contiki tour, I’ve realised that I haven’t been giving myself enough credit.

Mum was terrified when I told her. I’d never travelled overseas before, let alone on my own, so I understood her anxiety about her youngest child temporarily leaving the nest – after all, I was feeling the anxiety, too. But I had to keep a cool face to let her know that I’m growing up. I was going to prove to her that I’m an adult and I can look after myself, even if it’s just me, Europe, and 19 other people who signed up for the exact same, highly-regimented tour.

I have to admit, though, it took me far longer to hit the ‘Purchase’ button than I’m proud of. Despite having months of research and planning behind me, buying that ticket was the first time that it all sunk in; that it felt real. I held my breath as I clicked ‘Confirm,’ let out a short sigh, and then almost immediately, terror set in.

I had done it. There was no turning back. Two months from that day, I would be hopping on a plane and setting down in Paris. I wouldn’t know a soul and my only guide would be a Lonely Planet travel book for Western Europe, my watch with a built-in compass, and if all else failed, the distinct, bright yellow, impossible-to-miss umbrella of the tour guide I’d be following around.

To say that living out of a backpack without the comforts I’ve taken for granted for so many years was a shock is an understatement. You think, “I’m going to Europe, not Africa, it’ll be fine,” but just wait until you’re standing clueless on a street corner and can’t rely on Google Maps, or you’re lying in bed and can’t fall asleep to re-runs of Friends on the TV. I had to resort to skills I never thought would come in handy, like reading a large, fold-out map or torrenting dozens of movies on Contiki’s many WIFI-enabled buses. It was like the middle ages.

By far, the thing I’m most proud of is that I worked my way through eight different countries, which between them spoke six different languages, despite the fact that I’m not the slightest bit multilingual. Honestly, I’m in disbelief that I successfully embarked through each of those countries without knowing a word of their languages. It just goes to show how quickly I was able to overcome my fears and rise to the challenge of sticking to the strict meeting times of a meticulously planned schedule that didn’t require me to make a single interaction with a local.

But the most surprising part? I made some friends! Like I said, I don’t speak a word of anything other than English, but come my first night in Paris, I’d already made some mates. They had an identical itinerary laid out and one of them even went to the same university that I did.

First published on The Quarterly Daily.