Why I Chose Topdeck

 
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It's no secret that I love to travel. I love to walk through the streets of a city and lose myself in different cultures and the feel of a different place.

When I was about to head to the States last year, my plan was always to use the extent of my visa and arrive on the very first day it would let me. There were a few places that were definitely on my list - namely New York, DC and New Orleans - and the original idea was just to wing the rest before I headed to Wisconsin.

When my mother insisted that I join a tour, I was skeptical. I definitely knew it would have to be a Topdeck or Contiki tour, knowing that there was an incredibly limited chance a single young girl could possibly enjoy a different sort of bus tour.

FYI, I realise that not many people in Australia, let alone the world had actually heard of these tours.

Basically, they're bus tours for 18-3o-somethings around all the major countries of the world. They're notorious for indulging in the nightlife of every country and turning up every hostel and 3-star hotel one frequents along the way.

For my style of travel - in which I try to squeeze out as much out of each day as possible - for the places I wanted to go and what I wanted to achieve out of the month of travel I had, I was incredibly apprehensive about going on such a tour.

I understood that it would be sensationally easier to get around to more places, especially by myself. But, funnily enough in retrospect, I didn't want to party that much.

I was under the impression that such a tour would merely trap me into nocturnal travelling or being stuck on a bus all day whereby no one, let alone I would be able to experience any part of the city.

My experience was nothing like I'd experienced - and at the risk of embracing every stereotype - was so much more than what my wildest optimism had hoped for.

1. The people were amazing

I was incredibly lucky to have been placed amidst an amazing, diverse but dangerously fun group of people. I was quite a bit younger than most of my group, but as mere travellers on this crazy journey together, that barely mattered. Everyone was there for different purposes, excited about different things, each no less different from each other. And yet, in such a crazy amalgam of people, being stuck on a bus for some truly devilishly good times, it just clicked. I'm happy to say that we genuinely became very close - and in the time after I've been able to keep in contact and see many of them; while also watching mini reunions continue to happen all across the country, and even beyond.

Particularly, I found a group of amazing girls who were willing to party till 4am in the morning and still be up nice and early and see a city. It was so great to be able to still get things done and make the most of often very limited times in each stop. I can't thank these girls enough for giving me blisters on my feet and pushing me to be out, even at the most hungover and make sure I didn't waste any second.

Don't let being alone stop you from going either. There were a lot of single travellers - like myself - on the tour and it was never an issue. If anything, it was even better because it opened me up to meeting more people.

2. Nightlife is an important part of a city

It almost sounds like a poor excuse from a serial partier - but I found it such a cultural experience in itself to see a city's nightlife. Sure - in city's like Miami or New Orleans, that's a given. But it was places like line-dancing clubs in Fort Worth to duelling piano bars in Savannah, Georgia that were some of the best nights - and so unlike anything one would experience anywhere but the South.

So, it was actually incredibly fun to be embracing the inner party steak and just go for it. Again, as long as I was still making it the next morning to see the city, I was duly satisfied.

3. The tour guide and bus driver make all the difference

Personally, a lot of my friends have done such tours before, each with different experiences. I'm well aware that mine was very much thanks to Carolyn and Troy - our tour guide and bus driver respectively. They went above and beyond to make us have fun and really get the most out of every stop. They always accommodated our wants ie. found us as many WholeFoods stores as we could for lunch each day.

Carolyn - the greatest tour leader ever.
Carolyn - the greatest tour leader ever.

I also have to thank Carolyn for some of the best travel tips I've ever gotten. She had this daily checklist of things we could do to get the most out of our travels. Some of these tips have stuck with me ever since:

  • Anywhere you go, stop and put your phones away for at least 5 minutes to just smell the roses and truly take in the sights
  • Talk to locals - that's the best way to actually get to know a city, not only because the people make a place but they can suggest or even take you to places a little off the tourist maps
  • Try something you have never tried before

4. The tour took me to places I've never been before

Still one of my favourite places in the States - Savannah, Georgia
Still one of my favourite places in the States - Savannah, Georgia

There were a lot of stops I'd never considered visiting, nor even heard of. Even on a basic level, Miami wasn't really on top of my list of places to visit and yet, I'm so glad I did. Some, like Charlotte, North Carolina seemed merely like stops along the way but, in true Topdeck fashion we sought to still get the most out of it - whether good food to eat or some fun bars to experience.

Either way, each stop was so diverse and so much fun that I fell in love with the whole of the East Coast and didn't have a stop I didn't have at least a few good memories from.

5. The tour had me doing things I'd never done before

As I said before, not only our tour leader, but the people and who I became on this tour pushed me to try things I would have never tried before. It was encouraging to be surrounded by such brave and fun-spirited people who I - without a second thought - picked up baby crocodiles in the Everglades or went paragliding in Key West.

The Hulk ride at Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida - the fastest, most intense ride ever
The Hulk ride at Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida - the fastest, most intense ride ever

My bravest moment to date will still be going on the rides in Orlando. I've always maintained a desperate fear of anything fast or going upside down or really high. I'm grateful for the people in my tour and the whole environment and just fucking it and going for every experience because I came to love the rollercoasters. Ever since, I've had a slight tingling for that adrenalin and learnt to not be so afraid or overthink everything.

There's a lot to love about being surrounded by awesome people who are all seeking similar travel experiences as you through a Topdeck tour. For me, it was the perfect thing to do at that point in my life.

Moreover, it was the exact transition I needed before going on exchange. I'd learnt to embrace life more, take more risks and truly make the most out of every situation through Topdeck and my exchange experience would not have been the same otherwise.

What's more, these friends I made are still incredibly close to me and it's always great that even back home, even after all that time, we can still relive our debaucheries and they remain some of the closest friends I will continue to have.