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Rick Steves on the Return of Travel and Why It Matters

The travel writer and TV personality is back in Europe, planning itineraries for next year. Travel, he says, can help us understand the world. Here’s how he recommends doing it.

rick steves travel.com

By Paige McClanahan

On a recent morning, Rick Steves was wandering around the ancient Tuscan town of Volterra with a new crop of tour guides. His company’s trips to Europe are set to resume in February after a nearly two-year pandemic hiatus, and the guides were midway through a nine-day trip around Italy to learn “what makes a Rick Steves tour a Rick Steves tour.” One of the stops on their itinerary was Volterra, a medieval hilltop town whose stone walls are 800 years old. Mr. Steves — who has been to Tuscany many times for his popular public broadcasting show and YouTube channel — was relishing being back.

“We’re surrounded by the wonders of what we love so much, and it just makes our endorphins do little flip-flops,” he said during a phone interview.

That unabashed enthusiasm has fueled Mr. Steves’s empire of guidebooks, radio shows and TV programs, as well as tours that have taken hundreds of thousands of Americans overseas since he started running them in 1980.

Along the way, Mr. Steves has built a reputation for convincing hesitant Americans to make their first trip abroad — and that first trip is often to Europe, which Mr. Steves has called “the wading pool for world exploration.” But he also speaks passionately about the value of travel to places like El Salvador and Iran, and he’s open about how his time in other countries has shaped his views on issues like world hunger and the legalization of marijuana.

But Europe remains Mr. Steves’s bread and butter, and he’s back on the Continent now — both to prepare for the return of his tours and to work on a six-hour series on European art and architecture that he hopes will be broadcast on U.S. public television next fall. As he wandered through Volterra, we talked about why he doesn’t count the number of countries he’s visited, why his tour company will require vaccinations and why a world without travel would be a more dangerous place.

Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

What does it feel like to be back in Europe?

I’m working with 20 guides here and people are almost tearfully emotional about the rekindling of tourism. Professional tour guides have been on hold for two seasons, and they’re just so filled with joy to be able to do what they do, because guides are wired to enthuse and inspire and teach about their culture and their art and their history. And it’s just so fun to be here and be filled with hope. And while we’re still in the pandemic, we’re also coming out of it and there’s an energy in the streets and in the museums.

Do you think Americans are ready to travel overseas again?

I would say it’s not for everybody, but if you don’t mind being well-organized and if you’re enthusiastic about following the regulations and rules, it’s not a big deal. And Europe is ahead of the United States, I believe, in fighting Covid. There’s a huge respect for masks. More museums are requiring reservations to get in because they want to make sure it’s not crowded. It’s kind of a blessing, actually. I was just in the Vatican Museum and really enjoying the Sistine Chapel because it wasn’t so darned crowded. That was an amazing experience for me because the last time I was there, I had to wear shoulder pads.

You have long held that travel can do a lot of good in the world, but what about carbon emissions, overcrowding and other negative effects of travel?

Climate change is a serious problem and tourism contributes a lot to it, but I don’t want to be flight-shamed out of my travels, because I think travel is a powerful force for peace and stability on this planet. So my company has a self-imposed carbon tax of $30 per person we take to Europe. In 2019, we gave $1 million to a portfolio of organizations that are fighting climate change. We gave half that amount in 2020, even though we stopped bringing people to Europe after the pandemic hit. It’s nothing heroic. It’s just the ethical thing to do.

And in terms of other problems, when you go to Europe, you can consume in a way that doesn’t dislocate pensioners and ruin neighborhoods. Landlords anywhere in the world can make more money renting to short-term tourists than long-term local people . So, if you complain that a city is too touristy and you’re staying in an Airbnb — well, you’re part of the problem.

But we would be at a great loss if we stopped traveling, and the world would become a more dangerous place. We need to travel in a “leave only footprints, take only photos” kind of way. What you want to do is bring home the most beautiful souvenir, and that’s a broader perspective and a better understanding of our place on the planet — and then employ that broader perspective as a citizen of a powerful nation like the United States that has a huge impact beyond our borders.

How do you try to encourage people to travel in a meaningful way?

The responsibility of the travel writer is to help people travel smarter, with more experience, and more economically and more efficiently. And everybody has their own idea of what that is, but for me, it’s about remembering that travel is all about people. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new. So we’re trying to help Americans travel in a way that’s more experiential and more thought-provoking and more transformational. You know, you can have transformational travel or you can just have a shopping trip and a bucket list.

You’ve said that you don’t keep track of how many countries you’ve visited. Why is that?

Why would you? Is it a contest? Anybody who brags about how many countries they’ve been to — that’s no basis for the value of the travel they’ve done. You could have been to 100 countries and learned nothing, or you can go to Mexico and be a citizen of the planet. I find that there’s no correlation between people who count their countries and people who open their heart and their soul to the cultures they’re in.

I hear you’re working on a big new project. What’s that about?

Something I’ve been preparing to do for 20 years is to collect all the most beautiful art experiences we’ve included in our TV show and weave it together into a six-hour series of European art and architecture. We’ve been working on the show for the last year, and it’s going to be my opus magnum, my big project. It’s going to make art accessible and meaningful to people in a way that I don’t think we’ve seen on TV before. I’m inspired by people who have done art series in the past, and I’ve got a way to look at it through the lens of a traveler. I’m very excited about it. It’s just a cool creative challenge.

What have things been like for your tour company since the pandemic hit?

Well, 2019 was our best year ever. We took 30,000 Americans on about 1,200 different tours and we were just euphoric. We had 2020 essentially sold out when Covid hit, and then we had to cancel everything, so we had to send back 24,000 deposits. We all hunkered down, and I’ve done what I can to keep my staff intact. A couple of months ago, we decided we’re confident about the spring of 2022, so we opened the floodgates and immediately those 24,000 people that had to cancel two years ago — basically, they re-signed up. And now we’ve got 29,000 people signed up out of 30,000 seats for next year.

So we’re doing really good, but we just have to continue the diligence in our society and in Europe of fighting Covid responsibly. So I’m kind of losing patience with anti-vaxxers. Maybe they’re exercising their liberty, but they’re also impacting a lot of other people. So we’ve just decided to require that people have vaccinations to go on our tours. Here in Europe, unvaccinated people would be standing outside most of the time anyway — because they couldn’t get into the restaurants, onto the train, onto the bus or into the museums. The world is getting progressively smaller for people who want to travel but not get a vaccination.

Do you think travel will ever feel normal again?

There were certain people who decided they didn’t want to travel after 9/11 because they didn’t want to deal with security. You know, those people have a pretty low bar for folding up their shop. I got used to the security after 9/11, and I’m getting used to Covid standards now. But I do think that, come next year, we’ll be back to traveling again — and I hope that we’ll all be better for it.

Paige McClanahan is the host of The Better Travel Podcast .

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram , Twitter and Facebook . And sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places list .

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Favorite (and Least Favorite) Places in Europe

When people find out I’m a travel writer, their first question is usually this: What are your favorite places? I take this as a coded way of asking: Where should I go on my next trip?

My new travel memoir, The Temporary European , is all about my favorite places. Along with the wonderful Europeans who’ve brought meaning to my travels, it’s the places — beautiful, bewildering, exciting, frustrating — that are the stars of my book. And for the appendix, I brainstormed a roundup of my favorite (and least favorite) places in Europe.

As s special sneak preview, I’ve excerpted that list here. Of course, any list like this is arbitrary and cheeky to the point of foolhardiness. It’s admittedly subjective; your mileage will vary. If you wonder “why?” for any of these, in many cases, you can divine the answers from my book. (I’ve also linked a few of these places to blog posts I’ve written about them.)

rick steves travel.com

Favorite Country: Slovenia, followed by any one of a half-dozen countries I’ve been to most recently (Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Iceland…)

Countries I’ve Visited Briefly and Would Love to Know Better: Ireland, Portugal, Estonia, Serbia

Countries I’ve Had Enough of for the Time Being, Thanks All the Same: Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Austria

Most Misunderstood Countries: France , Hungary, Poland

Most Perplexing Country: Russia

Most Perplexing Non-Russian City: Budapest

Favorite Big Cities: Budapest, London, Berlin

rick steves travel.com

Favorite Small Cities: Ljubljana, Slovenia ; Gdańsk, Poland ; Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Favorite Towns: Sarlat, France ; Eger, Hungary ; Canterbury, England ; Nafplio, Greece

Most Underappreciated Cities: Oslo, Norway ; Salamanca, Spain ; Sofia, Bulgaria; Antwerp, Belgium; Bern, Switzerland; Erfurt, Germany; Porto, Portugal; Olomouc, Czech Republic

Most Overrated Cities: Salzburg, Austria ; Milan, Italy; Vienna, Austria

Least Favorite Cities: Bucharest, Romania ; Catania, Sicily; Bratislava, Slovakia

Cities that Initially Seemed Meh, but Have Gotten Under My Skin: Warsaw, Poland ; Palermo, Sicily; Reykjavík, Iceland

rick steves travel.com

Favorite Hipster Neighborhoods: Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin; Psyrri, Athens; Brick Lane/Spitalfields, London; Seventh District, Budapest; Monti, Rome ; Chiado, Lisbon

Favorite Natural Areas: Val d’Orcia (Tuscany), Italy ; Julian Alps, Slovenia; Mývatn geothermal area, North Iceland ; Dalmatian Coast, Croatia ; Sognefjord and Lustrafjord, Norway

Favorite Road Trips: Iceland’s Ring Road ; Slovenia’s Vršič Pass and Soča Valley; pretty much anywhere in the British countryside (especially North Wales , Dartmoor, and the Cotswolds)

Favorite Seaside Escapes: Rovinj and Dubrovnik, Croatia; Salema, Portuga l; Collioure, France ; Kardamyli, Greece

rick steves travel.com

Favorite and Least Favorite Seaside Escape: Italy’s Cinque Terre

Most Dramatically Situated Towns: Reine, Norway; Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria; Santorini, Greece; Ronda, Spain

Most Overrated Dramatically Situated Town: Taormina, Sicily

Favorite Hedonistic Activity: Thermal baths ( Hungary or Iceland )

rick steves travel.com

Favorite Food Experiences: Pasta-making class at Cretaiole, Tuscany; browsing London’s street markets ; truffle pasta in Istria, Croatia

Favorite Castles and Palaces: Alhambra (Granada, Spain); Peleș Castle (Romania); Château de Chillon (Lake Geneva, Switzerland); Hermitage (St. Petersburg, Russia); Konopiště Castle (Czech Republic)

Favorite Houses of Worship: Gaudí’s Sagrada Família (Barcelona, Spain); Church on Spilled Blood (St. Petersburg, Russia); Mezquita (Córdoba, Spain); Hopperstad Stave Church (Vik, Norway); Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey); Viscri Church (Transylvania, Romania)

rick steves travel.com

Favorite (Lesser-Known) Museums and Sights: Vigeland Park (Oslo, Norway) ; Zlatyu Boyadzhiev Museum (Plovdiv, Bulgaria); frescoes at Monte Oliveto Maggiore (Tuscany, Italy); European Solidarity Center (Gdańsk, Poland); Herring Era Museum (Siglufjörður, Iceland)

Favorite Places to Feel Far from Civilization: Norway’s Lofoten Islands, Iceland’s Westfjords , Romania’s Maramureș, rural Bosnia-Herzegovina , Orkney (Scotland)

rick steves travel.com

Weirdest Places I’ve Been: Chernobyl, Ukraine , followed by the places listed above

Favorite US Escapes: Central Oregon Coast; Kaua’i, Hawai’i

Favorite International Destination Beyond Europe: New Zealand

To answer that overarching question, there’s a special spot in my heart for underrated gems — places that I’m confident any traveler would fall in love with, if given a chance. Topping that list is Slovenia . I’ve never met someone who went to Slovenia and didn’t adore the place, and come home kicking themselves that they didn’t allow more time there.

The many people zipping to Iceland for a 48-hour “layover” really should consider extending that by a week or two ; impressive as Iceland is on a short visit, it’s even better on a long one.

And I believe that anyone interested in historical, beautiful northern European cities would fall in love with Gdańsk, Poland , as I have.

rick steves travel.com

In general, I’m a fan of what I call Europe’s “third-rate” towns . These aren’t the top-tier cities (London, Paris, Rome), or even the “next most popular” destinations (York, Nice, Milan). They’re the ones much farther down the list. Several of these appear on the list above; others include Dresden or Freiburg, Germany; Albi, Honfleur, or Colmar, France; Delft or Leiden, the Netherlands; and so on. Even if you’re determined to hit some of the biggies, mix in a few of these lesser-known gems.

Your list will certainly differ from mine. That’s the joy of travel: Each of us finds places that resonate with us, and places that we clash against. And that’s OK.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this excerpt from  The Temporary European . To learn more about why I chose some of these places, pick up a copy of my book and do a little armchair travel to these places yourself. Currently, the print edition of The Temporary European is available exclusively at Ricksteves.com , and the Kindle edition is already on sale . The book will be available everywhere on February 1 — preorder a copy at your favorite local bookshop.

72 Replies to “Favorite (and Least Favorite) Places in Europe”

May favorite small town is Dinant Belgium in the Walloon region. The town’s claims to fame are: the battlefield where Charles de Gaulle was wounded in WWI, the home of Leffe bier (my personal favorite Brune), and, the hometown of Adophe Sax the inventor of the saxophone. All along the banks of the powerful Maas River. And oh there is a castle at the top of a huge cliff!

I stayed there in 2018 – loved that town!

When in Belgium, no need to drink Leffe.

I love reading lists to begin with – but reading travel lists & such specific categories! This was a delight. Thank you for sharing!

I loved Slovenia too and was lucky to be there for several days. Lake Bled is magical!

I have told friends that Slovenia is the hidden gem of Europe. I want to return again.

We agree totally with all of the positive comments about Slovenia. We have been there twice and loved it. Lake Bled is absolutely beautiful.

I live in Astoria, Oregon. If you think the middle of our coast is beautiful come check out Astoria, the Columbia River and our North Coast ❤️

I would agree.

Pretty sure Astoria, indeed all of Oregon, is NOT in Europe…

He also lists favorite US places, if you read the entire list.

Oregon made his list. You wouldn’t have made a your comment had you actually read the article.

Read more closely. Rick said his favorite US escape was the central Oregon coast where I’m privileged to live. Most spectacular drive is from Yachats(pronounced Ya hots) to Florence.

It is not Rick’s list, it is Cameron’s.

We love Astoria! I live in Seattle & we try to visit you every year – in the winter! Nothing like a cold coastal town with cozy pubs and craft beer!

I loved Astoria — despite locking the key in the car, w/ it still running, on my 1st day!!

Not even close…

You really have to discover Lithuania. Vilnius is a gem and the history is compelling. And they really know how to do Christmas right!

Several years ago, maybe ten, I wrote Rick Steve’s and asked him to go see Latvia. I still don’t think he’s seen the Baltics.

I love Murren in Switzerland, Valley of Castles and Palaces in Lower Silesia in Poland, Zakopane also in Poland. Ramatuelle in France.

Murren for sure tops my list of Alpine villages.

And Gimmerwald!

My wife and I have been blessed to visit 30 European countries. Nearly all of the places we have seen are featured in Rick’s books, and we’ve never seen a place we didn’t like. The most beautiful area we have ever seen is the Berner Oberland area, especially Jungfrau (the destination and the trip),the hike from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg, and Schilthorn. Murren is adorable and the perfect place to stay.

Had enough of Slovakia? ? ? I am not aware you’ve even been through the country, other than maybe a short stop in Bratislava. You are missing out on some of the most beautiful places in Europe… Castles, mountains, quaint villages etc. please explain why you have NEVER done ANY TRAVELOGUE to Slovakia.

My favorite small town is Dunkeld, Scotland. It is on the beautiful River Tay and has lively traditional pub music, a lovely church, a stunning river walk, and a connection to Beatrix Potter.

Your list gives me more places to add to my travel wish list. I love hearing about favorite small town and neighborhoods to visit. We’ll be in Spain and Portugal this summer and will definitely check out your spots! A favorite small place I loved was Stirling in Scotland. The castle, the William Wallace monument, the place the King James Bible was translated….the scenery…it is a magical place.

I have comments on two places from your lists:

– I lived in Monti in Rome in the early 1960s (on Via Napoleone III), and it was very different from the Monti of today, but both Montis are still the best district in Rome! – I agree with your dislike of Catania, but have you ever visited Ortigia, a charming Baroque district of Siracusa? For its history, charm, and beauty, Ortigia would have to be on my list for best small towns. I found Palermo to be somewhat threatening and “raw.”

Oh, and I do agree with you about Nafplio, Greece!

Luxembourg is a small gem, particularly in the fall when the leaves turn. Luxembourg City is dramatic with its deep gorge cutting the city in half. We stayed in LaRochette, a former resort area with a ruined Castle overlooking the town. It was a last minute choice, but quite lovely and scenic.

I came to see if anyone would mention Luxembourg. The week I spent in Luxembourg was too short, but it made an imprint on me nonetheless.

Thank you for this list!!! We leave for Iceland in two months. Rick’s first book of Iceland did not offer much for winter travelers or people seeking outdoor adventure. I look forward to reading your blog about your experiences there. We will be in West Iceland for 8 days chasing the Aurora and dipping into thermal pools.

I’d hate to draw too much attention to Grindelwald for fear of attracting crowds, but it’s too wonderful to be left out!

I adored Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway. We were impressed by Hopperstad Stave Church in Vik, Norway.

I did not like Rime. Loved Venice, Padua and Florence. In Asia I loved Phuket

I love Ireland. Maybe our guide Stephen made the trip a wonderful experience as well as sharing the adventure with friends. Favorite places were Dingle, seeing the book of Kells, seeing River dance in Dublin. So much history! But I would go back to Norway tomorrow if I could. This is my heritage! Loved Vigeland. In fact I wrote 3 articles for our local newspaper about some of the figures that dealt with older adults and generations. Also went to Lyngdal in southern Norway and saw graves of my ancestors including Vikings. The country is so clean and beautiful.

Russia is the “most perplexing”? Interested

Very surprised to see Kardamyli on the Seaside Escapes list. Great place! Would add Finikounda, also in the Peloponnese.

Some of my favorite overlooked places: Ghent (Gent), Belgium -within easy travel to Bruges and Brussels but a more authentic place to stay Porto, Portugal – I don’t like Port but tge Roberto district in town and the Douro Valley are great places (good wine too) Beaune, France – center of the Côte d’Or wine region of Burgundy and great restaurants

Rick: I’ve followed your suggestions for a number of trips. Some were great and a few bad. One problem I found is in that you have become so popular some of your restaurant choices have lost their charm, as they mostly attract your readers. We had an incident in Spain when one of our friends became I’ll. I asked if anyone in the restaurant spoke English. Every hand went up. When asked about Spanish every hand went down. All Americans, Canadians, or from UK.

Not too many issues w/ your list. Agree with an awful lot of it. But can’t agree with you on Taormina. I am ready to go back there again.

Roussillon, France, Tarifa, Spain and Salema, Portugal were my favs!

I love Slovenia too! Ljubljana, Sarajevo and Gdansk are some of my very favorite cities too! Great list.

I can’t say enough about Lyon, France. Not only is the city accessible and walkable, there are countless places for day trips nearby. We spent a month there and were sad to leave.

Rick Steves: I know Europe is your balliwick. But when COVID permits, visit the most beautiful spot in the world: Iguazu Falls, 8th Wonder of the World. Don’t miss it!

What about Sweden???

Agree! Sweden! So beautiful- my family”s homeland.

Cameron Hewitt lists more negatives then positives about Sicily. This Cameron disagrees. Enjoyed every place we visited there. Go see for yourself.

I love Norway, as I enjoy visiting family there. Oslo, Arendal and Lillehammer are all wonderful. Favorite big cities would probably be Zurich or Dublin. Heidelberg, Germany is a great mix of old and new. Next trip, Spain!

As I mentioned when I saw you in Edmonds, the Snaefellsness Peninsula is a gem in Iceland, about two and one-half hours from Reykjavik. I think three or four days in Iceland will show people a lot and, as you said, two weeks to do the Ring Road. I strongly recommend stopping at Costco, Ikea and Bonus en route (they are near each other). Another “mandatory” stop is the little mall in Borgarnes (Bonus and Netto grocery stores) where there is a public restroom.

Northern Spain doesn’t get a lot of love. It should. I was in France and Portugal last fall. Much of France was not terribly exciting — reminded me a lot of the midwest and Pacific northwest. I saw more grunge than fashion and strip malls and home improvement stores like home. That said, Lisbon and nearby areas in Portugal were little gems (and affordable). Covid test kits were like $3 each in Lisbon stores.

Hi Rick. I watch your shows on pbs all the time. I’m just wondering, actually long time now. I see you’ve been to Greece , Slovenia, Serbia. Did you ever thing about going to Albania? We’re a small country but very important in Balkans and with a great history. I believe you would love it.

Oops…hit “post” too soon.

Another little gem is Den Haag (The Hague), a 29 minute train ride from Amsterdam. Amsterdam gets the bulk of attention but Den Haag has some nice museums, the Peace Palace, Mauritshuis and even a couple of smaller red light districts. Utrecht and Leiden are also worth a visit. Delft is on the tram line from Den Haag.

My favorite romantic village is Taormina, Sicily, with its old monastery and ancient, pink marble Greek amphitheater at the top of the mountain; to its quaint village overlooking the Ionian Sea at midway down; to the pebble beach and the low-tide land bridge connecting it to the island villa which was rumored to have once been Sophia Loren’s residence. Went there in 2000 at the suggestion of some Roman bankers I met on the train from Florence to Rome. They said it was the playground of the Romans about 500 years ago. I wasn’t disappointed. Stay at Hotel Villa Schuler (German Owned). It has wonderful views.

The main street reminds me of Gatlinburg TN. Back streets are nice. Great views though. Loved the wineries on the Mt Etna Slopes. But the rest of Sicily is outstanding.

What about Albania, is a beautiful country

What a great perspective about the favorites and otherwise of Europe. After taking the 21 day BOE tour in 2019, I’m very happy that we saw many of the Best Places. Many took my breath away and invoked a very strong emotional reaction. After all, I had lived my entire adult life dreaming of visiting and seeing these famous places and sights. Next time in Europe I hope to follow the authors advice and visit some third rate places too.

The one part of the article that I really enjoyed reading was the Favorite US Escapes, The Central Oregon Coast. I completely agree with that recommendation. I live about 70 miles from the heart of the Central Oregon Coast. It is such a beautiful place that must be experienced.

Thanks Rick for this list of recommendations and for the inspiration. And a belated thank you for your powerful documentary on fascism. Award worthy indeed. Best wishes from a longtime fan.

Halstadt, Austria is such a beautiful mountain village and not too touristy, probably because it isn’t best to get there.

Agree with Rovinj as an outstanding seaside escape. Stunningly beautiful, culturally rich, great dining and super-nice people. Slovenia is our next destination planned after spending 2 glorious weeks in Croatia last year.

Rick, you have to visit Lithuania :)

Salzburg Austria and Taoromina Sicily on least favorite???. Are you kidding. You lost me there. Those were two of my favorite cities, and definitely NOT overrated. And how about Bruge In Belgium. A fabulous place to visit.

What an inspiring post! I so look forward to traveling again. I hope to go on two trips this year, from Edmonds (where I live), to the Dordogne region of France and Sicily and Calabria.

On my list of favorite places I’ve visited I would include Parga (Greece), Stockholm, and the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. After reading your post, I also look forward to planning a trip to Slovenia! Thank you.

For the last three years, we have split our time between Texas and the Costa Blanca in southeastern Spain. What I’ve discovered is that even the small towns in Spain are overflowing with festivals, ancient sites of interest, great places to hike and bike, and wonderful food. In addition, for a long stay or as a place to live, the “third-rate cities,” as you call them, are very inexpensive. A great meal, including wine, in Torrevieja is easily available for €15/person, or even less many places.

My three favourite places in Europe are Chester, England; Aachensee, Austria and the best – Echternach, Luxembourg.

What about Albania , is a beautiful country

Totally agree about Slovenia. We loved it and wished we had more time. Weirdest place for me — Andorra.

I understand you not being partial to Bratislava.

But I have to ask: *1) Exactly how long were you there? 2) Where did you go in Slovakia that YOU MISSED so much of Slovakia’s beauty, culture and history?

Very interesting text, Slovenia is the top of my list now. There is another little gem in Europe that wasn’t mentioned here but is well worth visiting – Montenegro. It’s my favourite place in the world, with amazing sceneries, friendly people and still undiscovered.

Colmar is a gem! Happened to be there during the Christmas holiday period with lovely Christmas markets. Bern and Bruges are also faves. But maybe the most surprising was Kraków. The Main Square is fantastic with wonderful restaurants all around. (I think we ate our way around the Square) We also visited Auschwitz while there, an experience I’ll never forget.

Have you been to Albania and/or Macedonia? Can you give info on traveling there?

I recommend Vilnius, Lithuania. Great combo of medieval and modern.

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Rick Steves’s Advice for Vacationers in Europe This Summer

The TV host and travel guide reflects on how travel has—and hasn’t—changed since COVID.

Travel guide and TV host Rick Steves

When the Washington State–based travel guide and TV host Rick Steves decided to return to Europe in early 2022, he wasn’t sure how many of his favorite local spots had survived two years of pandemic life. Steves, who has hosted Rick Steves’ Europe for the past two decades and operates tours aimed at introducing American travelers to the continent, was pleasantly surprised by what he found: Many of his beloved places—the kind of mom-and-pop places that have been owned by the same families for generations—had made it through, and the streets were alive anew. “They’re kissing cheeks with a vengeance in Paris right now,” he told me. “And I’m really thankful for that.”

Steves and I caught up to discuss the rebound in tourism and how travel has changed since the start of the pandemic. He also warned that this summer may be a particularly busy one—perhaps the continent’s busiest yet—and offered practical tips for traveling amid crowds. (Consider heading to less-popular destinations, and don’t bother checking a bag!)

Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Caroline Mimbs Nyce: Is COVID the biggest challenge that you’ve been thrown in your career?

Rick Steves: With every terrible event that stops travel for a little while, the demand does not dissipate; it just backs up. And then, when the coast is clear, all of those travel dreams are dusted off, and people turn them into reality.

In the course of my career, we’ve been through many tragic disruptions, but they didn’t really stop people from traveling. But for COVID, we were out of business. I had 100 people on my payroll and no revenue for two years. And that’s really tough to get through. Everybody in tourism is really thankful to get back at it. Guides are tearful on the bus after they’ve had a chance to give their historic walk to ancient Rome or through the back streets of Venice.

Read: For one glorious summer, Americans will vacation like the French

Nyce: There’s always the big, philosophical question of “Why do we travel?” Did the answer change for you during the pandemic?

Steves: If we travel, we are better connected with other nations, and the family of nations can work more constructively together. And to me, that means all of us are individual ambassadors—individual forces for peace. When we travel, we get to know each other better. We humanize people that we don’t otherwise understand.

Nyce: We most often associate travel with leisure, but you’re making a geopolitical case for it.

Steves: Well, if you want a rationale for why: I’m feeling very serious about climate change lately. When people travel, they contribute to climate change. A thoughtful traveler—an ethical traveler coming out of COVID—can reduce the toll of travel by paying for their carbon .

Nyce: Do you have any other tips for the ethical traveler of 2023?

Steves: Recognize that we have sort of a herd mentality when it comes to travel these days.

Nyce: The Instagram effect.

Steves: Exactly. It’s Instagram, crowdsourcing, and Tripadvisor. When I started my work, there was not enough information. Now there’s too much information. As consumers, we need to be smart and know where our information is coming from. Who’s writing this, what’s their experience, and on what basis do they say this is the best hot chocolate in Paris? People say, “Oh, this hot chocolate’s to die for.” It’s their first time in Paris, and they think they know where the best hot chocolate is.

Also, the crowds are going to be a huge problem. Just like in the United States, it’s hard for restaurants to staff the restaurants and for airlines to staff the planes. That means you need to double-confirm hours and admission. You need to anticipate chaos in the airports. Book yourself a little extra time between connections, and carry on your bag.

Another thing is that museums and popular cultural attractions learned the beauty of controlling crowds by requiring online booking. At a lot of sites, you can’t even buy a ticket at the door anymore.

Everybody goes to the same handful of sites. If you just go to those sites, you’re going to have a trip that is shaped by crowds. Or you can break free from that and realize that you can study the options and choose sites that are best for you. You can go to alternative places that have that edge and that joy and that creative kind of love of life. “ Second cities ,” I call them.

Rick Steves: I’m traveling, even though I’m stuck at home

Nyce: How much have you had to update your guidebooks since COVID? Are there favorite spots of yours that have closed because of the economic ramifications of lockdowns?

Steves: In 2019, we were euphoric about how well our guidebooks were doing. Everything was up to date. And then, of course, COVID hit, and everything was mothballed for two years.

In early 2022, we decided to go back and research . The things that distinguish a Rick Steves guidebook are all of the little mom-and-pop places. And I was really, really scared that these were going to be the casualties of two years of no business.

The great news is, by and large, all those little mom-and-pops survived. There were very few closures. There were lots of changes with bigger companies and places that just focus on tourists. But our local favorites—the little bed-and-breakfasts and bistros—they survived. They’re mission-driven. They’ve been in the same family for generations. They just trimmed sales, hunkered down, and got through this. Last year, they were back in business, and this year, they expect to be making a profit again. We’ve cleaned out the places that did close.

Nyce: What have you noticed about the post-COVID tourism rebound?

Steves: First of all, we’re not done with COVID. We don’t know what curveballs COVID is going to throw at us in the coming year. Last year, we took 25,000 people to Europe on our Rick Steves bus tours, on 40 different itineraries all over Europe. Four percent of our travelers tested positive for COVID on the road. None of them, as far as I know, went to the hospital.

I can’t say what’s safe for you or some other traveler, but I can say that if you’re comfortable traveling around the United States, you should be comfortable doing the same thing in Europe or overseas. It’s a personal thing, how much risk vis-à-vis COVID you want to take. And it’s an ethical issue for travelers: If you’ve got COVID, do you isolate yourself, or do you put on a mask and keep on traveling? I think the ethical thing to do is not expose other people, hunker down, and self-isolate.

We’re meeting with our guides each month, and we’re making our protocols in an ever-changing COVID world for that coming month. It was workable last year, and I think it’s going to be better this year.

Nyce: You sound pretty optimistic about the recovery of the industry. I wasn’t sure from when I got on the phone with you if you were going to say, “It’s forever scarred. Europe is a different continent.”

Steves: Oh, no. I measure the health of Europe, from a travel point of view, by the energy in the streets. In Madrid, the paseo is still the paseo. You’ll still enjoy the tapas scene, going from bar to bar, eating ugly things on toothpicks, and washing it down with local wine with the local crowd. In Italy, it’s the passeggiata — everybody’s out strolling. People are going to be busy on the piazzas licking their gelato. In Munich, they’re sliding on the benches in the beer halls, and clinking their big glasses and singing, just like before.

People said, “No one is going to be kissing cheeks in Paris, because everybody’s going to be so worried about germs.” They’re kissing cheeks with a vengeance in Paris right now, because they have survived COVID. And I’m really thankful for that.

951 episodes

A weekly one-hour conversation with guest experts and callers about travel, cultures, people, and the things we find around the world that give life its extra sparkle. Rick Steves is America's leading authority on travel to Europe and beyond. Host and writer of over a hundred public television travel shows and author of 30 best-selling guidebooks, Rick now brings his passion for exploring and understanding our world to public radio. Related travel information and message boards on www.ricksteves.com.

Travel with Rick Steves Rick Steves

  • Society & Culture
  • 4.4 • 2.1K Ratings
  • MAR 15, 2024

597a Dublin Walk; The Immortal Irishman; Aran Islands

In this all-Irish hour, tour guides describe some of the intriguing sights you'd encounter on a walking tour of Dublin and explain why the rugged Aran Islands, off Ireland's west coast, are such an exciting place to explore Irish traditions. And author Timothy Egan delves into the legacy of 19th-century America's most famous Irish immigrant.

  • MAR 8, 2024

747 Ireland in 100 Objects; Midlife Michelangelo; Language City New York

A columnist for the Irish Times describes some of the historical objects so cherished by his compatriots that they're considered key to Ireland's national identity, and tells us where you can see them on display. Then we take a closer look at the life of Michelangelo and the midlife mess that threatened to derail him from creating many of the world's most treasured works of art. And we learn about the many languages spoken in New York City that are on the brink of disappearing — and the efforts to preserve their unique vocabulary and sounds.

  • MAR 1, 2024

746 Goodbye Eastern Europe; The Long Field in Wales

A historian describes how eastern European countries have modernized since the Cold War and examines the kinds of challenges they face today. And an American-born artist and creative writing teacher shares the joy she feels in being "Welsh by choice."

  • FEB 23, 2024

641a Finding Europe in America; Cruise Ship Nightmare; Iceland Backcountry

Get ideas and tips from TV host Samantha Brown for finding little corners of Europe in the New World, then hear an author's dramatic firsthand account of a near catastrophe on a cruise ship caught powerless in a freak winter storm off the coast of Norway. And a tour guide takes us to the wild, windy, and wonder-inspiring backcountry of Iceland.

  • FEB 16, 2024

745 Orkney Living; Walkable European Cities; Nomads of Europe

Hear what it's like to live on one of the windswept Orkney Islands off the northern tip of Scotland, where people have lived since before recorded history. Then learn how redesigned traffic patterns in Europe have had a positive impact on quality of life — and get ideas for making your own city a more enjoyable place to be outdoors. Plus, a historian examines the underappreciated role of nomadic societies and their struggles in the modern world.

  • FEB 9, 2024

744 Falling for Saturn; Heart of Martin Sheen; Florentine Favorites

Astronomer Philip Plait — who fell in love with Saturn after first viewing the gas giant, with its mesmerizing rings and moons, through a telescope as a child — shares some of the amazing discoveries we've made about the planet in recent years. Then actor Martin Sheen describes how his travels in the developing world have opened his eyes, and his heart, to the needs of others. And a Florence-based tour guide and culinary expert lets us in on where to find the best food in her adopted home.

  • copyright © 1996-2024 Rick Steves' Europe

Customer Reviews

2.1K Ratings

Rick’s Podcast is Really Great

I enjoy his PBS shows and his podcast, which covers more than just Europe. He has an incredible variety of destinations that he covers, and has local guides/experts to opine. Try this travel podcast if you enjoy taking a journey without leaving your home. Very entertaining.

Lost a step

Rick’s guide books are the best. Podcast has lost a step over the years. It needs to focus on on destinations with tour guide interviews and real life traveler experience and stories. Throw in travel Authors selling their book ! Rick has a lot of political views on the show with a lot of leading questions ONLY because he can afford to. He can walk away tomorrow and doesn’t need your money. So, When he says a lazy and ignorant statement like MAGA people don’t like immigration (no difference between open borders and immigration???) he does so because someone still listening believes the same.

Love and Respect

Rick promotes travel as a way to learn about and engage with the diverse human experience of places other than our own. The sad discourse on some of these reviews paints him simultaneously as a raging anti-American communist and a preachy Christian missionary. Pathetic! Rest assured Rick only wants you to learn about others and break your own prejudices. Have fun!

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  • Travel Tips

Rick Steves Just Told Us His Top Travel Mistakes to Avoid — and His Best Piece of Travel Advice

Every year, Rick Steves’ Europe takes 30,000 people on small-group tours — and this is the one thing they're not allowed to bring.

Rick Steves never checks a bag when traveling — and he strongly encourages all of his fellow globetrotters to do the same.

“It’s more important than ever to travel light,” he said. “Two weeks, two months, man, woman, winter, summer, it doesn’t matter, you just need a carry-on bag.”

Steves is known for his popular European guidebooks, tour company Rick Steves’ Europe , and public television travel show . As a professional international traveler, Steves is an expert at avoiding common travel mistakes like lost luggage, overbooked restaurants, and crowded sights.

While a few travel problems are inevitable, Steves advocates for flexibility, which is at the core of his travel philosophy. In a recent interview with Travel + Leisure, Steves shared some of his best tips to help alleviate frequent travel issues and reduce trip anxiety.

Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli/Courtesy of Rick Steves' Europe 

Pack Light and Skip Tight Connections

Besides the occasional need to pack his hiking poles, Steves is adamant that travelers should only bring along a carry-on bag . Every year, Rick Steves’ Europe takes 30,000 people on small-group tours, and all travelers are limited to just a carry-on — no checked luggage allowed. 

“If you don’t check a bag, you’re much less likely to get ensnared in all of the airport chaos in Europe,” Steves said.

Carry-on luggage is less likely to get stolen, lost, or broken, and Steves also loves that it helps with flexibility — you can easily switch flights without worrying about leaving your whole wardrobe behind. Plus, he said, if you are worried about limited space, packing cubes are a worthwhile investment to help organize and compress clothes in a smaller bag.

“You need to roll with the punches,” Steves said.

Steves is also a proponent of scheduling airline connections with plenty of time, especially for international trips. For instance, U.S. travelers visiting countries in the European Schengen Zone have to go through passport control when arriving in their first Schengen country. So, if your final destination is Greece, but your layover is in Germany, make sure the connection timing in Germany accounts for the possibility of long immigration lines.

Book Your Top Reservations, Then Go With the Flow

Steves believes 2023 is going to be a busy travel year, with sales of his guidebooks currently matching where they were at this time in 2019, previously the company’s best year ever. With the coronation of King Charles in London in May, and the Olympics in Paris next year, Steves wants travelers to understand that some crowds are going to be inevitable.

“People really need to respect that there are going to be a lot of crowds in Europe,” he said.

Travelers who don’t do any planning in advance often end up waiting in long lines, wasting valuable time queuing outside of a museum, rather than spending than extra time inside. Steves recommends using a guidebook, like his own, that has been researched after the worst years of the pandemic to account for any changes to reservation systems and updated hours.

“More than ever, people are going to the same famous places,” he said. “Museums want to moderate their mob scenes.”

A notable change these days, he said, is many sights are still requiring online bookings to help control large crowds, which they started doing during the pandemic and have kept up in order to mitigate the chaos of long lines outside. In updating his guidebooks, Steves said he is focused on making sure there is a sidebar for each chapter reviewing what visitors need to do in advance.

For instance, Steves said well-organized travelers visiting Amsterdam have just four things they need to book ahead of time: the Anne Frank House , the Van Gogh Museum , the Rijksmuseum , and one trendy restaurant for a nice dinner.

“The flip side of that coin is that everything else is fine. You don't need reservations for all the other stuff,” he said. “If a serendipitous opportunity presents itself, the answer has always got to be 'yes.”

Once you have the core set of reservations you need, the rest of your trip can easily fall into place, Steves said. Don’t worry about making a dinner reservation every night — instead, visit a street with local eateries and pick a delicious, non-touristy spot.

“We tend to be too figured out these days,” he said. “It takes away some of the joy of travel, which is letting things unfold in an unpredictable way.”

Courtesy of Rick Steves' Europe 

Avoid Overcrowded Spots

Steves said he's noticing that so many travelers now source recommendations from social media — and that has repercussions. The consequence, he said, is that when everyone goes to the same place, trying to get the same picture, it becomes overcrowded and hard to enjoy. 

“There might be a place that's just as good, maybe 90 percent as good, but with no crowds at all just down the street,” he said.

Instead of relying on Tripadvisor or Instagram, Steves said, try to embrace the local culture and you’ll have a less stressful experience.

“I don’t go crazy over what’s No. 1,” he said. “No. 1 is the company that is deemed best in the system. [Instead], we try to find these little mom and pops, these labors of love, these creative adventures — that’s what distinguishes my books and tours.”

Perhaps the most important piece of advice Steves shared is that often, travelers put a lot of pressure on themselves to check off the top museums, historic sites, restaurants, and shops from every “best of” list. But that pressure can lead to a lot of trip anxiety and the feeling of rushing around to go somewhere just because it’s famous.

His best advice? “Assume you will return,” he said. “Never try to do everything on one trip, because you can't.”

clock This article was published more than  2 years ago

Rick Steves looks to the future after an 18-month hiatus from European travel

rick steves travel.com

Since the Nixon era, Rick Steves has spent about 100 days out of each year in Europe. Between last March and this September, he logged zero minutes abroad, though Europe was always on his mind. While hunkering down in his home north of Seattle, the travel expert and multimedia personality created public television shows and hosted virtual events about a world nearly 5,000 miles away. In June, traditionally the beginning of the high tourist season, he started accepting reservations for tours departing the following year. Travelers moved fast, snapping up 95 percent of nearly 31,000 spots on about 1,100 group tours running February through December. As for Steves, he finally crossed the Atlantic 18 months after the shutdown and is quickly making up for lost time: This fall, he hiked the Alps and dropped in on Paris and then returned five weeks later to lead new guides through Italy and to film in Rome, Florence and Athens. His tally for the last quarter of 2021: 30 days.

We caught up with Steves while he was at home in Edmonds, Wash., to discuss his recent forays in Europe; his approach to keeping his staff and guests safe, especially as we face omicron, a new variant that was identified a week after our initial conversation; and whether his trademark optimism is running high for 2022. (The interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Q: How did the pandemic affect your tour operation?

A: It’s been a challenging time for anybody in the tourism industry. We came off our best year ever in 2019. On the eve of the pandemic shutdown, we had our annual tour guide summit. I had 100 tour guides in my living room, celebrating how we were all ready to go for 2020. We broke from that annual huddle and everybody flew back to their hometowns in Europe. Two weeks later, we realized that we were going to have to cancel our entire season for 2020. But our mantra was, “The pandemic can derail our travel plans, but it cannot stop our travel dreams.”

A reluctant visitor discovers the unhurried charm of Brittany

Q: How did you occupy yourself during the shutdown?

A: I’ve been very busy during the downtime, writing and producing. I produced a TV show called “ Why We Travel ,” a love note to travel. It’s a timely topic because it talks about the value of travel as we go forward after covid.

My priorities were taking care of my staff and our community. We created the Rick Steves’ Volunteer Corps. My employees use their paid time at food banks and senior centers and to help clean up parks. During the pandemic, there is a lot of need in our community.

Q: You waited longer than many others in the industry to travel internationally. Why?

A: For a long time, “patience” was my middle name. It’s not an American forte, and it certainly isn’t Rick Steves’s forte, but for a year and a half, I was being very conservative about travel. I thought that before the vaccinations, we should not be traveling. We should be staying safe, staying healthy and looking after our loved ones and neighbors.

Q: What developments or conditions eased your concerns about traveling abroad?

A: It was still premature to start group travel, but I wanted to go over there and see what it was like. I felt that in Europe, it was an ever-smaller world for people who were not getting vaccinated. Everywhere I went, it seemed like there were safeguards keeping unvaccinated people away from [vaccinated people].

Q: Tell us about your long-awaited return to Europe.

A: The first trip was a vacation. I wanted to hike around Mont Blanc with my girlfriend. It was six days, with 10 miles of hiking each day. We had sherpa service that shuttled our bags from one mountain hotel to the next. Then we went to Paris. I wanted to see what it was like from a covid point of view and how things were surviving. Several weeks later, I went back for a 20-day work trip. I wanted to do a guides mentoring tour. [The group, led by Steves, followed his nine-day Heart of Italy itinerary.] We have 100 guides in Europe. They are all professional guides, but I wanted them to know exactly what distinguished a Rick Steves tour.

Q: Based on your experience, how has Europe fared during the pandemic?

A: I was worried that we were going to be raking away the corpses of businesses that had died during the pandemic. But I happily discovered that almost all of them have survived. The other thing I noticed is that the ambiance of Europe, the passeggiata [Italy’s traditional evening walk], the energy on the streets, the cafe scene — they are just like they were before. The love of life is vibrant in Europe.

Q: Did you see many Americans during your travels?

A: Half the people hiking around Mont Blanc were Americans, and they were filled with joy. Half the people I met while I was waiting in line to see the Pantheon [in Rome] were Americans, and they were having the time of their life. Half the people I met at the top of the Acropolis [in Athens] were Americans, and they were having a great time. The smiles on their faces didn’t say covid; they said we’re living, we’re traveling.

Q: How are the countries you visited keeping their residents and tourists safe?

A: If you go to a museum, you wear a mask. If you go to a restaurant, you show your CDC card, and you know that everybody in there has their vaccination. I was pretty impressed.

Q: In addition to proof of vaccination, what other documents do Americans need to visit Europe?

A: To get to Europe and fly home from Europe, you generally need to have a negative coronavirus test. People wonder how they get their test in Europe. It’s easy: Just ask at the hotel desk. Some countries also have a passenger locator form. I pooh-poohed it and the airline asked for my passenger locator form and I hadn’t completed it. So I had to stand aside at check-in and fill it out. I could have missed my flight. Before you leave for the airport, go online and fill it out.

Looking to dodge Amsterdam’s crowds? There are three remarkable towns a short train ride away.

Q: Will you make any adjustments to your tours to conform to local rules and to ensure the overall safety of your staff and guests?

A: We decided about a month ago that everybody on our tours — the bus drivers, the tour guides and the participants — must be vaccinated. I don’t want to take people to Europe and have them standing out in the street while we go inside and have a good dinner. You cannot function efficiently in Europe without having your vaccination.

We did the guides mentoring tour in part to see what it’s like and what’s required during the pandemic. We can’t take 25 people into a lot of the museums together. We can get their tickets and turn them loose in the museum or we can go in with two smaller groups. We will have people spread apart more at restaurants. That’s just common sense. I think 50 people in a 50-seat bus would be tough. We have 25 people on a 50-seat bus, and we will be social distancing and wearing masks if the pandemic persists. We will have the comfort of knowing that everybody in our travel bubble is vaccinated and is wearing their masks and washing their hands.

Q: Any upsides to the slowdown in travel and capacity limits?

A: You used to crowd into the Pantheon and it was a mosh pit. Now you line up, show your CDC card, get your temperature taken and see the Pantheon without the crowds. I was in the Sistine Chapel [in Vatican City]. Usually it’s put on your shoulder pads and get ready to shuffle. Now it’s not so crowded. I have not enjoyed the Sistine Chapel like that in more than a decade. You don’t have the masses of tour buses from emerging economies. That takes a lot of pressure off key sites.

Q: Many countries, such as Germany, Belgium and Austria, are experiencing a rise in cases and are implementing stricter measures. A new variant called omicron has also surfaced. Will this affect your trips next year?

A: Exactly what the situation is going to be come spring of 2022, nobody knows. It’s a long ways away in pandemic time. We will assess closer to the departure dates.

Q: Do you plan to resume your heavy travel schedule for your various projects?

A: I am scheduled to go to 10 cities over 30 days in April. I am really excited to go back and make sure all of our guidebooks are up to date, and I am really excited to continue filming over there.

Q: Any advice for travelers considering a trip to Europe?

A: I think there’s a lot of anxiety and misunderstanding about what it takes to travel in Europe and what it’s like over there. On my first trip back, I was nervous. I am so thankful that I didn’t succumb to the nervousness and bail. So often you hear about things and worry takes over, but once you get over there, you think, “I am glad that I had the gumption to make this travel dream happen.”

Q: Do you feel cautiously optimistic about group travel to Europe returning in 2022?

A: I don’t want my trademark positivity to be a mask for recklessness or impatience. I think it is a stumbling progress, but we are making progress. At this point, I am still confident that we will be traveling in Europe next spring.

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The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted travel domestically and around the world. You will find the latest developments at washingtonpost.com/coronavirus

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A stroll on Rome’s ancient Appian Way is a kind of time travel. (Cameron Hewitt)

A stroll on Rome’s ancient Appian Way is a kind of time travel. (Cameron Hewitt)

Rick Steves on the Appian Way, Rome’s ancient superhighway

Twenty-nine highways fanned out from Rome, but this one was the first and remains the most legendary.

  • Saturday, March 16, 2024 1:30am

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rick steves travel.com

Travel Expert Rick Steves' Top Tier Travel Tips

F or decades, travel writer, activist, and TV/radio personality Rick Steves has carried his love of travel through homes all over the world. Having fallen in love with travel as a child, Steves' tenacity for the world is up there with that of the late, great Anthony Bourdain. In that time, Steves has doled out quite a few pieces of golden travel advice .

Some of these pieces of advice may seem obvious or simple, but often, those are the tried and true bits of learned experience. Making travel more efficient, easy-going, and simpler isn't always an action-packed endeavor, after all. Now, thanks to the beauty of the internet, a lot of things like booking tours in advance are easily done. Alas, some tasks like packing light take finesse and experience — and oftentimes a bunch of handy luggage cubes. Either way, here are our favorite travel tips from traveler extraordinaire Rick Steves.

Read more: The Complete Guide To Packing Light

This advice isn't unique to Rick Steves, though it is no less important — especially if you aren't a frequent traveler, the art of packing light is one that needs practice. If you're able to bring only a carry-on bag, you won't have to wait for your checked luggage, which means you can start your trip even sooner once you land.

"You'll never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags, 'Every year, I pack heavier,'" Steves told Business Insider. "You can't travel heavy, happy, and cheap. Pick two." Steves' advice is even more prevalent if you go somewhere like many cities in Europe that are loaded with stairs around every corner. That's probably one of the myriad reasons why Steves' European tours only allow travelers to have a carry-on bag.

Also, if you pack light and leave room in your bag, it gives you some parameters for spending money at your destination. If you have a ton of room between a carry-on and a checked bag, you're more likely to overspend because you can. When you don't have a lot of luggage space, you don't have much choice unless you pay to ship it home.

Remember That Time Is Money

Budget travelers often butt up against the notion that saving a few dollars might cost them more time than spending the money. That's why Rick Steves encourages you to consider how much your time is worth in those scenarios. "Shrink and tame big European cities by hopping into the occasional taxi or using a ride-sharing service," Steves explains. "By knowing when a private ride is the best way to get somewhere, you'll save time, money, and energy."

There are a lot of times when a $15, 10-minute cab ride will save you ample time compared to the few dollars you'd save by taking a train or bus for 45 minutes. It's important to acknowledge that the more time you spend trying to get places on your trip, the less time you can spend doing things you wanted to on your vacation. You can help offset that sticker shock by setting money aside ahead of your trip for unexpected travel fees.

Plan To Avoid Needless Lines

Avoiding lines is a two-fold scenario. The easiest way to free up your excursion time is by reserving tickets or entry times online ahead of your visit to a place like The Louvre or the Vatican Museums. When these kinds of tourist-heavy locations suggest getting tickets ahead of time, they mean it. Even with those recommendations in mind, you may be surprised how few people actually buy their tickets ahead of time or make attendance reservations.

"It's not uncommon to find hour-or-more waits in ticket-buying lines and rooms packed shoulder-to-shoulder with visitors and intercontinental B.O," Rick Steves explains. "So it's up to smart tourists to do whatever is possible to minimize hassles and maximize their experience." Even if you purchase tickets ahead of time, you may have to wait in a short advanced reservations line, though it's nothing in comparison to the line of people who didn't buy ahead of time.

Try Local Accommodations Over Familiar Chains

Opting for hostels or micro hotels isn't the only way to save money on accommodations when traveling. If you decide to stay somewhere local over a major hotel chain you're familiar with, you may save some money and get a better experience in the process. Non-American hotels outside of the United States are frequently more expensive than their local counterparts because a lot of American tourists would rather have familiarity than save money.

Going local over national is highly recommended by Rick Steves. "I look for places that are clean, central, relatively quiet at night, reasonably priced, friendly, small enough to have a hands-on owner and stable staff, run with a respect for local traditions, and not listed in other guidebooks," Steves says. "If I can find a place with, say, six of these eight criteria, it's a keeper." Staying in a place that is more connected to the local culture and community is going to give you a more genuine experience of that location anyway, so you're bound to leave with a deeper understanding of the place you've visited.

Look Into Less Visited Cities

There are cities that people wait their entire lives to visit, like Paris, London, or Rome. However, there are so many other cities in those countries that can showcase other sides of the place that could save you money and bumping elbows with millions of other tourists. Why not save some money seeing a gorgeous place like Oberammergau instead of just Berlin in Germany?

"One thing I would remind people of is that, a lot of times, second cities are a good idea," Steves argued to the Seattle Times. "Everybody goes to 'the first city' of Seattle. Why not check out Tacoma? Everybody goes to Lisbon, why not check out Porto? Everybody goes to Madrid; why not check out Cordoba?" Steves' point is that the larger cities aren't more worthy of a visit than smaller ones. These "second cities" aren't lesser than their larger counterparts; they're simply either smaller, less heavily populated, or less touristed than the others.

Prioritize What You Need To See Or Do

Particularly if you are visiting a massive metropolis, you are not going to be able to see everything the city has to offer in a single trip. Even if you plan out every single second of every day (which you shouldn't do), you'll run yourself ragged before you visit every museum, site, or restaurant on your list. Once you accept that fact and prioritize what you absolutely need to see or do, you can enjoy the adventure without regret — so says Rick Steves.

"You can't see it all, especially in one trip, and that's a blessing," Steves told Business Insider. "Enjoy seeing what you can and be thankful you have important experiences left over to enjoy on your next adventure." When you free up time in your schedule, you open yourself up to the idea that you can come back. If a place truly captures your heart, having a list of things you want to return to do will make the pain of saying goodbye for now a little less painful. Plus, it'll encourage you to plan your next trip right away.

Embrace Local Cuisine

From dining where the locals eat to understanding seasonal cuisine in your destination, eating well in any given destination takes several factors into consideration. One way to do that is by visiting restaurants that don't translate the menu back to English, meaning they don't specifically cater to mostly tourists. Another way is to see what's on the menu itself beyond the text. Though specifically talking about Italy, Rick Steves' cuisine advice works on a larger travel scale as well.

"I always like to say a good traveler can go to a good restaurant and look at the menu and know where they are and what month it is by what's being served," Steves told Eater. "They will eat the local specialties and they will eat them in season." If a seasonal menu in Italy is full of root vegetables and tubers seasonally appropriate, you have a hint that the place will give you a more authentic experience.

When Eating, Make It A Family Affair

It can be difficult to decide what to eat when you're trying to sample as much local cuisine as possible. That can be difficult at a restaurant, especially if you don't eat a lot at meals or all at once. One workaround that Rick Steves suggests is eating family style and sharing food with your travel companion(s).

"Whenever possible, I order family style so I can eat my way through more of the menu," Steves told USA Today . "Sometimes, rather than getting two main courses, my travel partner and I share a little buffet of appetizers or first courses — they're filling, less expensive, and more typically local than entrees." This tapas style of eating might be uncouth in some circumstances, but who cares? If you and your travel companion share similar tastes, it only makes sense to try a little of a lot rather than attempt to eat through a ton of food on your own. Besides, it's also less wasteful since you aren't ordering more than you can eat.

Don't Get Distracted

This advice goes beyond not getting too distracted by your phone or social media-worthy photos to experience a place truly. This is about safety. Even some of the best-traveled people, like Rick Steves, are not immune to the occasional pickpocket. Whether successful or not, pickpockets target heavily touristed areas in part because of the constant chaos, crowd, and easily distracted travelers.

"Tourist attractions (especially ones that are free to see and are out in the open) and places for transportation tend to be targeted more," Steves told Inc. "Places like parks and national monuments, subways/metros or train stations, and even churches may be targets. Once, one person who was traveling in my group had her stuff stolen during Palm Sunday mass in Germany." Do yourself a favor, keep your phone close to your body, don't constantly look down, and be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Allow Room For Spontaneity

Even for the most rigid travel planners, you need to give yourself a little room for joyful surprises. If you don't over-plan your entire trip, you won't be stressed out, and you'll have time for spontaneity — which could lead to your favorite memories of the adventure. That's why one of Rick Steves' biggest pieces of advice is to leave space in your trip open for the unexpected.

"If a serendipitous opportunity presents itself, the answer has always got to be 'yes,'" he stated to Travel+Leisure . "...[Overplanning] takes away some of the joy of travel, which is letting things unfold in an unpredictable way." Without planned breaks in your itinerary, you're closing yourself off from random happenstances that could completely change your life. Take this writer's advice on this one, having been forgotten by a tour company in Ireland. Instead of going back to the hotel, they hopped onto a different bus tour that offered their two available spots. That ended up being one of the best memories of that Ireland trip.

Read the original article on Explore .

Rick Steves in 2014

IMAGES

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