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YOUTH BEAT

A Veteran Agency Puts Europe at Solo Travelers' Feet

January 21, 2001|LUCY IZON

The big, scary world doesn't have to be conquered alone. If you don't have friends who can join you, signing up with a tour company that specializes in trips for young travelers is a safe way to explore new destinations.

One of the largest tour operators for those 18 to 35 is Contiki Holidays. Its tours are sold in English-speaking countries: Britain, South Africa, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Staffers who accompany each group (a driver and a guide, and on camping tours, an additional cook) are also 18 to 35.

Contiki started 40 years ago by offering simple camping tours. It supplied transportation, equipment and guide and arranged for suitable tent mates for solo travelers. Twenty years ago, it added budget tours where members would sleep in cabins at campsites. Today, Contiki offers tours at every level of comfort, including "Superior Tours" (two to a hotel room, or one if you're willing to pay a supplement) and "Lifestyle Tours." (Instead of a full 49-passenger bus, 25 passengers travel in a 35-passenger vehicle.) The first Lifestyle Tour was introduced last year, to Tuscany. Spain, Greece and Turkey are likely destinations for 2001, a company spokesperson says.

New for Contiki this year is a point-to-point European tour called the "Southern Trail." It takes you through seven countries, from Amsterdam to Madrid, with stops in Paris; Strasbourg, France; the Black Forest in Germany; Lucerne and Geneva in Switzerland; and Barcelona, Spain. There are departures from May until September, with ground rates starting at $939. Contiki will arrange for a suitable roommate so you don't have to pay a single supplement.

Two new programs in its 17 North American itineraries this year are a 12-day "Eastern Canada and USA" tour, which departs regularly May through August for $1,175, and a 10-day "Parks and Canyons" adventure that includes Las Vegas at $1,045. It covers the natural wonders of Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Arizona. Departures are from May until October.

Not all tours travel in a circle. You can use a tour to get from one point to another, such as from northern Europe to the south, or along the eastern coast of Australia. Some tours, such as diving Down Under, skiing in the Alps or sighting game in Africa, are activity oriented.

For more information on Contiki Tours, contact a travel agent, call (800) CONTIKI (266-8454) or visit Internet http://www.contiki.com.

Also marketed internationally for more than 30 years is AmeriCan Adventures, which, with Roadrunner Trips, explores North and South America.

AmeriCan Adventures are camping tours for small groups in air-conditioned 13-passenger vehicles. The minimum age is 18, and there is no upper age limit, but most passengers are in their 20s and 30s. The company offers 25 itineraries, which cover North America from the Yukon to Mexico.

New for this year is the six-day "Eastern Explorer" (from $349), which takes you from New York City to Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania (through Amish country), Niagara Falls, the Berkshire Mountains, Boston, Cape Cod and back to New York. Also new this year is a 12-day "Canada & New England" tour for $699. Passengers must contribute to a daily food kitty.

Roadrunner tours are similar but use youth hostel-style accommodations. There are summer tours in the Western U.S. and Rocky Mountains, and year-round tours in Latin America.

Roadrunner has a 15-day "Inca Trail" in Peru for $1,439. For more information, contact AmeriCan Adventures & Roadrunner, P.O. Box 1155, Gardena, CA 90249; tel. (310) 324-3447 or (800) 873-5872, http://www.americanadventures.com.

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Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Internet http://www.izon.com.

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