Words by Olivia De Zilva
Like many young Australians, I have been on a Contiki tour. Three, to be truthful. I’ve done it all. Tactical vommed at The Tower of Pisa, done a shoey on the shores of Loch Ness, was absolutely hung when I saw The Colosseum for the first time. I’m so bloody cultured now that I realised, hey, despite all the drunken parties, messy hook-ups and sometimes seeing culture, there is something missing from Contiki.
My most recent trip was a whirlwind twenty-three day around Continental and Eastern Europe. I travelled with my best friend Henry* (who else could hold my hair when I chunder into a Parisian toilet after a hefty amount of vino?). When we arrived to the Contiki basement in London, we were told we couldn’t share a room together unless we were a couple.
So obviously, we lied that we were a couple.
People started to cotton on real quick that we weren’t living a life of marital bliss. They would point out how Henry was so gay, from the way he talked and dressed. They questioned us, studied us, wondered why we would go so far as to lie about sharing a room with people of our gender. Isn’t it damn obvious? Contiki doesn’t have a queer safe space at all. There’s no escape from the rowdy, randy heteronormativity for 23 days, believe you me. Sharing a room together was our only solace from the hook-ups of over excited eighteen year olds with a whole lotta hormones.
When our tour-manager found out and asked us why we lied, he understood immediately. He acknowledged that although he is extremely open to LGBT+ people on tour, there are other tour managers and travellers who take issue with sharing the space. He said that people would flat out refuse to share rooms with queer-identifying individuals because of fear that they were being preyed on. It’s really nasty stuff considering that we’re all supposed to be on a holiday. Does it really matter if a gay person is sharing your room when you’re probably going to get some sort of infection from all the hooking up you’re doing? For a company which promotes friendship, unity and #family (that’s what we were encouraged to call other travellers), it’s funny that they aren’t really doing anything for the inclusivity of queer-identifying people on trips.
When we were in Amsterdam, we were given a tour of the red-light district. Everything about this place was explained to us, the history, the industry, everything. However, when Henry and I asked about the blue light district (for transgender sex workers), the tour-guide uncomfortably shuffled in his feet till we changed the subject. In the end, we weren’t given the chance to see it. That same night, the group was heavily encouraged to go to a sex-show. Although featuring lesbian sex, it was heavily catered toward the male gaze with girls in skimpy bikinis and spread legs. There was nothing romantic, tender, just people jeering and rubbing their crotches. It was kind of sickening to see this as a novelty when for some, this is the only form of intimacy and love. Being on Contiki, I felt that many of the “adult’s only” adventures were catered toward the heteronormative, what the “lads on tour” would snap story for their friends at home. My tour-guide even admitted it was exploitative and pondered why the company would keep promoting this activity if it made people uncomfortable.
Although I had the best time with #noregrets, I realised that Contiki can become an extremely insular environment preying on people’s differences and quite diminishing of queer culture. I mean, if I wanted to see that many straight-men gawk, I would have honestly just stayed at home and watched The Bacherlorette. If they want to progress in the future, I think they should start realising we are queer and we are here and there’s nothing people can do about it.