Promise: All Fun You Can Handle

Izon is a Canadian travel journalist covering youth budget routes.

When someone hands you a helmet, a waiver to sign, and tells you to remove all jewelry, you know that you're not in for your average afternoon sightseeing tour.

My initial reaction was to back off and ask questions, but I'd been late joining the group and didn't want to hold everyone up. What to do? Take a deep breath, smile, and hope the guides knew what they were doing.

White-water rafting on the Tully River was one of the most exciting experiences I had last year. But at the time I was a little too nervous to think about anything but the next group of boulders in front of us.

It is amazing that seven inexperienced people and a guide can put on life jackets after a 10-minute briefing and successfully negotiate several demanding stretches of rapids. Perhaps the trick is that you don't have time to think, just to react. The raft bounces off boulders and slides over rocks, you clutch the inflated rim to cushion your body while watching for loose paddles flying your way.

Three hours later we pulled the rafts to shore. Of 30 people who rode the rapids that day, the most serious injury was a twisted ankle.

The "Raging Thunder" rafting trip was an option arranged for participants in a 15-day Contiki tour. Contiki is the world's largest tour operator specializing in the 18-to-35 age group. Their slogan is "As Much Fun As You Can Handle."

Routes Worldwide

Contiki International is 25 years old, employs more than 650 people worldwide and expects to accommodate 50,000 passengers touring 27 countries this year. Tour routes include Europe, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, the Middle East, Turkey, the United States, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia.

Singles are not charged supplements. Instead, roommates are arranged. The trips are marketed internationally so your roommates could be from a variety of English-speaking countries.

The company offers two programs, Concept and Hotel tours. On Hotel tours, participants share twin-bed rooms. Concept tours are a combination of camping in campsites, sleeping in cabins and staying in places such as an Australian dude ranch or a reef resort, a Scottish castle or a Greek schooner.

Contiki's three Australian Concept tours have been operating for a year. They are a 15-day Barrier Reef Explorer tour between Sydney and Cairns, from $498 plus $112 for the food fund; a 15-day Outback Explorer tour between Alice Springs and Darwin, from $533 plus $92 food fund, and a 13-day Southern Explorer tour, a circle route from Sydney, from $438 and $98 for the food fund.

The average age of the Australian tour group I was with was mid-20s. There was an even balance of males and females but you can't count on that for every trip. The next group scheduled was almost entirely female.

On this kind of tour you don't get the contact with residents that you might experience traveling independently. On the other hand, participants all made foreign friends, saw major sights and had fun without having to worry about where they were going to sleep and how they would get there. Songs, silly games, a bus equipped to show rock videos, and a capable guide and driver were all part of the formula to keep participants entertained.

Optional Excursions

If you consider this style of travel, make sure that you understand what is not covered by the tour cost. Optional excursions allow you the freedom to choose whether you spend the day with the group or off on your own, without financial loss--but you must budget for them.

Contiki has added two routes for hotel tours in Europe this year: an 18-day air/land package between London and Athens, from Los Angeles rates start at $1,649; and an 18-day air/land package for a circle tour from Amsterdam, which visits Eastern European capitals, from $1,599, departing Los Angeles. Those rates include breakfasts and most dinners, and rates rise as you get closer to peak summer months.

For further details contact a travel agent or Contiki Holidays, 1432 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim 92805.

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