While travelling alone is fun – and I’ve done some of it – it also has its downsides.
You do get to pick where you want to go but you don’t have the company of other people and, unless you know people who have been there before, you can miss many hidden gems.
With that in mind, I spent two-thirds of my holiday to North America on a Contiki adventure: the Wild Western tour.
There were four different tour options for my group, varying in length and location.
Those who went on the full tour stayed in seven cities across three different states. The cities were San Diego, Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco and Carpinteria.
You don’t get long to stay and look around, with two nights the maximum in each place. That’s one of the few negatives of taking a tour as some places demand a lot more time to really explore.
San Francisco is one of them; it needed more than a day and a half to really get to know. By the time you visit Alcatraz and ride a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, there’s little time for anything else, which means you miss out on things like going to the biggest shopping centre in the world.
The tour did fulfil lots of expectations – the nightlife and high-charged atmosphere of Las Vegas, the relaxing woodsy climes of Lake Tahoe and the cool hip of San Francisco.
And then you get your surprises.
Los Angeles is not what you expect – there are two very distinct parts of the metropolis.
You’ve got Hollywood, just like you see in the movies, and then downtown Los Angeles, which is nothing like Tinsel Town.
Downtown is more a working suburb with no glitz nor glamour – not somewhere I would recommend staying.
For me, the visit to the Grand Canyon was the biggest surprise. Being there in America’s winter meant a different experience, but it was still brilliant.
First view of the Grand Canyon is exactly why it’s a must-see.
An instant chill was the first sign of things to come over the next few days. Once we arrived in the park itself, snow was falling. And it continued to fall the whole time we were at the Grand Canyon.
Everyone talks about the beauty of the area but no one ever mentions that it snows there. But this wasn’t enough to stop many of us deciding to trek into the Canyon regardless.
While it meant we couldn’t go as far as usual, the trek was still quite an experience.
The one downside to being there at that time of year was that the weather can prevent helicopter rides over the canyon, which was the case with us. The same weather also prevented our planned hot-air ballooning trip at Phoenix the day before; it’s definitely something to keep in mind when planning trips during the northern winter.
Overall, a Contiki tour was a brilliant way to explore several cities in a relatively short time.
The itinerary enables you glimpses of what you like, and don’t like, so you can plan to spend more time in the places that take your fancy next time.
Contiki organises more than 125 different world tours. Details: www.contiki.com