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Updated RS Covid Policy

I'm glad to see this change. We are booked for two tours next May, and just received an email that RS no longer will require tour members to test for Covid, and leave the tour if they are positive. Specifically, summarizing the key changes:
1. If you have symptoms associated with a contagious disease (cold, flu, Covid, etc) you will need to wear a mask when around other tour members.
2. you won't be required to test for Covid.
3. If you're sick and decide to leave the tour, you cannot rejoin. But you would get a $200/day refund if you have a positive covid test or dr's note.
This no doubt took a lot of work to get here, and seems reasonable.

Posted by
698 posts

We are also scheduled on a tour in May. I really hope all guides enforce this policy. As has been mentioned on this forum before, pre Covid we were on a tour where one member had a bad cold and many of us ended up getting sick. Masking on the bus might possibly have prevented that.

I also hope that if it’s early on the tour, and someone gets sick enough to test for Covid and tests positive, that they would choose to leave the tour rather than possibly infect everyone else. Covid is a lot more contagious and could be a lot more dangerous for some than a cold.
Overall I think I’m happy with the new policy.

Posted by
8618 posts

There will be those rejoicing and those disappointed. Thus proving the adage that one really can’t please all the people all the time.

The possible stress that one might have to leave the tour is over. For some there will be the new stress that they could be in regular close contact with a person who is ill on tour.

However this policy impacts you, either as a positive or a negative, I wish you the very best in your travels.

Posted by
611 posts

I just received the email for my May trip and am still digesting the contents. Can someone check my understanding of the following scenario and its implications?

Scenario: Someone gets sick during the tour, decides to self-test, and is positive for COVID…

…they can continue on the tour as long as they wear a simple surgical mask on the bus and during group activities.

…will they have to skip eating at group meals? That’s one group activity where you can’t stay masked the whole time.

I’m seeking only to clarify the implications of the new policy, not to start a debate about the pros and cons of the new policy or of testing, masking, isolating, etc

And here is the exact wording from the RS email:
“If you're exhibiting symptoms commonly associated with a contagious illness (such as a cold, flu, covid, etc.) while on tour, you will be required to wear a mask on the bus and in other settings when with your group. Please be prepared by packing along your own masks (N95, KN95 or surgical masks).”

Thank you.

Posted by
7447 posts

Accidental Southerner, I hope the Webmaster can answer your question and reply here since the rest of us would just be interpreting our own version of their new policy. I would expect more questions in a similar manner will be addressed with an update.

Posted by
20 posts

I have my concerns with this new policy as there are, no doubt, people who will not want to avoid group meals even if they test positive. Maybe their symptoms are mild but the person next to them may get the full blown knock you off your feet version. The truth is, though, that the previous policy was not working well. Our guide in London made it clear she wasn’t messing with Covid stuff… told us we were adults and we should handle it on our own. There were a couple people coughing all week. Maybe they tested, maybe not, but they sure weren’t wearing masks. This new policy would at least provide some protection. Hopefully guides will enforce this policy. Cold, flu, Covid… it would be nice to try to keep us all healthy for the duration of the trip.

Posted by
2232 posts

I really appreciate this new policy. It takes out some of the stress related to the potential of contracting COVID, but also requires sick people to take precautions. We were on a tour with another company when some got a contagious disease, refused to do anything to mitigate it and half the tour got sick.

Posted by
110 posts

This policy seems a reasonable compromise since Covid is still with us, world-wide, and is clearly not going away anytime soon. Thank you, Rick!
I have posted several times previously about the effectiveness of masks (good N95s). I remained Covid-free after a week long (not RS) tour through stringent masking from the time I left home and avoiding group dinners, etc. last summer. By the end of that week there was plenty of loud coughing and sneezing and one woman was ill enough on the charter plane for our departure city that she was laying across two seats (with her surgical mask dangling down). Covid testing wasn't required so who knows what they had...there's plenty of very nasty respiratory diseases out there I don't want, either, especially when far from home. That's why this revised policy seems like a viable way forward.
I am now looking forward to a My Way tour next summer because, after going on 4 years, I know the only person I need to trust is myself. There won't be group meals, I have a solo room, I won't eat breakfast in the eating area and I know I am protected from others on the bus by my trusty masks. You can "do you", maskless. (But I won't come sit next to you :)
Personally I hope more My Way tours are being planned. It's a balance that really appeals to me.

Posted by
3352 posts

I just re-read the RS covid policy and don’t see a change??? Can someone point me where on this website the new/changed policy is?

Posted by
2232 posts

We got the news via an email this evening. That’s possibly because we are signed up for tours in 2024. It may not have made it to the website yet.

Posted by
3352 posts

Thank you Patty. You may be right and the website has not been updated yet. The reason we didn’t do an RS tour this year was because of the Covid policy. Did not want to risk being booted off a tour again, especially with a 3% positive test rate that they are still reporting.

Posted by
11368 posts

I would not risk taking a RS tour now due to this new policy. COVID cases are popping up around the area where we live and we try hard to avoid large groups as it is.

Posted by
5053 posts

Accidental Southener,

...seeking only to clarify...

The only way to get a definitive answer is to email the company and ask for clarification. Please let us know what their response is.

Posted by
8618 posts

I am also wondering when the effective date of the policy change is. I can’t imagine they would institute a change like this after a final payment was due. That might be why it is not on the website yet.

Posted by
915 posts

In response to Carol Now Retired, the effective date for this policy change is 2024 -- whenever the first RS tour begins. Here is the language from the email sent:

"Our goal for our 2024 tours is to ensure the health and safety of our groups — and provide a successful tour for you and each group member. By working together, we hope to lead your group through Europe while minimizing disruptions due to illness.

Over the past couple of years, we adopted policies to keep our tour members safe, mitigate the spread of covid within the group, and abide by various country-by-country guidelines, resulting in requirements for vaccinations, testing, mask wearing, and leaving the tour after a positive covid test. The good news is thanks to increased immunity, we've been able to update our policies with one simple requirement to help prevent the spread of illness within your group:

If you're exhibiting symptoms commonly associated with a contagious illness (such as a cold, flu, covid, etc.) while on tour, you will be required to wear a mask on the bus and in other settings when with your group. Please be prepared by packing along your own masks (N95, KN95 or surgical masks).

While we will not ask any tour member showing symptoms to test for covid, if you're sick and decide to leave your tour, you may be entitled to a refund or credit for missed tour days, but you cannot rejoin the tour. RSE will provide a $200 per day refund for you (and your travel partner) if you provide a positive covid test or obtain a doctor's note.

Before you depart for your tour, please review the following:
RSE Health and Safety Pledge
Rick's Tips for Healthy, Happy Travels
And please note as with everything in life, this policy is subject to change. If we need to make updates, we'll do our best to notify you prior to your tour start date.

If you have any questions, please contact us at [email protected].

We're excited to be traveling with you soon!"

Posted by
611 posts

I emailed my questions to the office, and here are the answers I got back.

(As a reminder, the scenario I posed was that someone gets sick during the tour, decides to self-test, and is positive for COVID.)

My Question: Can they continue on the tour as long as they wear a simple surgical mask on the bus and during group activities?
RS Answer: "Yes, in that situation they can carry on with the tour if they abide by the mask wearing policy."

My Question: Will they have to skip eating at group meals? That’s one group activity where you can’t stay masked the whole time.
RS Answer: "In regards to meals, due to the uniqueness of each restaurant and the array of symptoms a tour member might experience, your guide has the discretion to decide what will be best for the tour family."

Posted by
2499 posts

I was on 3 Rick Steves tours this year under the current Covid policy. One person tested positive on my first tour, Southern England in April. She and her mother left the tour, in April. No one else became ill on that tour. The My Way Alpine tour I took in September and the 7 Days Best of Paris tour in December both remained Covid free as far as I know. I think it’s possible someone could have been symptom-free but had Covid.

Having a cold or the flu usually comes with obvious symptoms but Covid does not.

For this reason, I welcome Rick’s new policy because of the stress of being required to leave a tour. However, I agree group dining on tours is of concern. My personal policy is to not get in the way of someone’s breathing when we are conversing. So far, knock on wood, I’ve managed to stay healthy on all 3 tours this year.

I’m booked on a tour in May 2024 and hope I continue to remain healthy. It’s always a risk when we travel and I’m willing to take the risk.

Posted by
5053 posts

Accidental Southerner,

Thanks for posting the clarification you got from the RS office.

Posted by
108 posts

I’m pleased with the changes. We have done 3 RS tours post Covid and have not gotten sick. Didn’t excessively wear masks, ate in groups, enjoyed it. We’re all adults and capable of making decisions about our health. If you find group travel too risky, I’d say don’t join a group. Wear your mask if you choose, that doesn’t bother me in the least.

Posted by
2112 posts

If I test positive for Covid, I’ll do the right thing and leave the tour. I’m sure others won’t.

Posted by
256 posts

If I test positive for Covid or have any other respiratory illness, I will do the right thing. I will mask on the bus, dine at separate table and minimize my interactions with others. But I will not leave the tour. Very happy with the 2024 policy.

Posted by
42 posts

I think this new policy is a big step in the appropriate direction for providing some safety on a tour situation in the present reality of Covid. Maybe enough to get me back on a tour.

The problem I have with this new policy is that it allows simple surgical masks to meet the masking requirement. Surgical masks were made to filter relatively large droplets (think blood spraying during surgical procedures, sneezes, etc.). They were never designed to filter the much, much finer aerosols which are the main means of Covid transmission. Surgical masks have proved to to be far less effective than N95 and KN95 masks in this situation. In contrast, N95 and KN95 masks do a good job (if properly fitted and worn) of filtering aerosols and offer good protection from Covid.

That said, if another tour member on a tour in 2024 has a respiratory infection and is wearing a surgical mask, there is nothing that prevents me from taking the cue and wearing my N95 mask which provides the protection which I think is necessary.

-Ben

Posted by
224 posts

Ben, I had the same thought, and I agree that KN95s would be better than surgical masks. But I realize surgical masks fit a wider variety of faces and are easier to find. I'll also plan to put on my own KN95 whenever I feel like it.

Posted by
256 posts

FYI, Viking, OAT and Odyssey have adopted policies similar to RS for 2024 which is basically no vaccine, no testing, no quarantine, no removal from tour and masks only if sick. Viking does not even require masking. The trend is clear that health management decisions have been returned to each individual.

Posted by
105 posts

This change in policy is a HUGE relief to me as I am scheduled for a Tour this April. My husband is asthmatic and has a persistant cough. I was DREADING the stink eyes we would receive and being asked to constantly test on this tour! I even got his doctor to give us a note about his severe asthma to help mitigate the issue.

Posted by
224 posts

Robin, I understand that, and this change will definitely help you two, and many others no doubt. May I suggest you share that information at the initial group gathering of your tour? Totally up to you of course, but otherwise he may still get the stink eye. I recall a previous tour I was on, where a person had a horrible, productive cough and despite the RS rules requiring a mask on the bus, he only wore his mask when reminded. He kept saying it was nothing, but that was not at all reassuring.

Posted by
7 posts

I welcome this change, the old policy wasn’t working and Covid is here to stay now.

I have been on 2 RS tours in the last 2 years (2022, 2023) on both tours people left due to positive tests. But the old policy wasn’t working anyway and just forced people to either hide they were sick or strike fear that you would get sick and have to leave the tour. There were two main issues in practice of why the old policy didn’t work.
First, before those who eventually tested positive left they had infected others, and the pattern continued until half of us were left never knowing who was the next to go and if it would be you. (This is understandable because sometimes it takes a while to test positive until the virus is full blown).
Secondly, some people were resistant to test so some might have evaded getting tested for fear of them leaving and whomever was also in thier party leaving too. They also most likely spread something to others.

In short, this policy didn’t stop people from getting sick because it didn’t catch it soon enough or not at all and people were hesitant to test for fear of being kicked off the tour.

Posted by
256 posts

The updated Covid policy for 2024 tours has now been posted on the RS website under Tour FAQ. It is consistent with the email sent out last month and discussed on this post. Looking forward to “traveling like a local” again without fear of being booted from the tour.

Posted by
611 posts

Of note, the type of masks now listed in the tour policy FAQs are N95 or KN95 type (not simple surgical masks).

Not seeking to debate the pros and cons of various masks but simply to alert 2024 tour members to this small difference from the heads-up email we received last month, so that we can pack the right ones.

Posted by
856 posts

I am extremely thankful for the 10 1/2 tours over the last 11 years with the Rick Steves group. We made some good friends and learned how to travel in Europe. Unfortunately, we learned the hard way that contracting Covid while traveling with a tour group is a pretty crummy experience especially at our age. With their updated policy, RS may have taken away the stress of being booted from the tour but replaced it with the stress of knowing that someone with Covid can (and most probably will) remain on tour and possibly infect others. So be it. Again, I am thankful for what we’ve learned while traveling with RS which has made it possible to feel comfortable with independent travel.

Posted by
256 posts

Great to see no posts on this issue for over 3 months. That tells me that the new relaxed health policies have been accepted by RS travelers. Looking forward to stress free tours in the future.

Posted by
7 posts

I wonder on group meals, if those guys will have to sit or even somewhere else? It seems fair because the whole table can get it.

Posted by
256 posts

Just completed a RS tour in Italy. No mention of Covid, no one was sick or showing symptoms, no one masked and nobody worried about it. Great to be traveling again like a “temporary local”. I consider the updated Covid policy a success!

Posted by
764 posts

I wonder on group meals, if those guys will have to sit or even somewhere else? It seems fair because the whole table can get it.

The Best of Ireland we just completed a few weeks ago illustrated what can happen. Apparently it's happened on several Ireland tours. I didn't write a tour review and only one person mentioned the widespread illness in our groups tour review. You might soon guess the reason.

First, the tour guide was coughing at the initial meeting and it went downhill from there. He was ill through to the very end and understandably unable to mask at most times. The cold spread quickly to several others and even worse covid started popping up. The sick members and their partners attempted to mask on the bus and during activities but at dinners the sick people often sat unmasked at tables with the few who remained well. Sometimes there were no other options so we couldn't ask them not to join us. No one was identifying who had covid or simply a cold. It became a guessing game.

The bus and dinners appeared to have become incubators and I've never seen so many people become sick so quickly. Some sick tour members stayed in the hotels when they felt the worst but reappeared soon. It was really an impossible situation for those trying to avoid becoming ill. I much preferred our tours last year when illness was more tightly contained. We're joining one more tour in a few months and if this recurs it will be our last.

Posted by
489 posts

Silas Marner, I can imagine how uncomfortable it must have been on a tour wondering who would get sick (with whatever) next. We were on a tour in May of ‘23 and my husband got Covid 3 days in. We were off the tour of course. I was really dreading my next tour in Oct ‘24 but even though 2 people had very bad allergy symptoms and missed a couple of events, everybody made it through.

This year I’ve been on 2 tours, South England and Greece again and I’m happy to say everyone made it through healthy and happy. I almost wish RS still gave numbers of Covid cases that people do self report on the tours. We all know it’s still out there but at what level it’s impossible to know anymore. So I guess I’m saying, don’t give up, the benefits of the tour are worth the risk.

Posted by
764 posts

This year I’ve been on 2 tours, South England and Greece again and I’m happy to say everyone made it through healthy and happy.

That's encouraging Lyndash. We had a fairly remarkable 6 weeks in 5 countries in April-May 2023. We lost 2 people to covid on the first day of the first tour but everyone remained healthy on the second tour. I suppose that colored my perception of this year's rather dismal experience on just one tour.

Posted by
110 posts
  • It's a really valid question about a guide becoming ill, even if not with Covid. Per the updated policy would they be exempt from masking with a respiratory illness? I would be interested if you asked the RS office and what you learned.

*"Great to be traveling again like a “temporary local”.
Ummm...
Something to keep in mind is that, besides being with your RS guide and tour mates who hopefully honor their "Health and Safety Pledge", in museums and elsewhere along the way YOU and they will be sharing the air with all those presumably healthy locals?
I have also just returned from a (fantastic) RS (My Way) tour. I masked the entire time and skipped the farewell get together and dinner; solo traveler. Ate the hotel breakfast either outdoors or in an isolated corner, and (all but one member of) the group was compassionate and understanding. At this stage of Covid I really just view my mask as a proven adaptive device enabling me to experience the joy of travel being immunocompromised, just as would a cane, for example, if I had mobility issues.
Very few people anywhere wore masks. No idea if they were "locals" or tourists but per your assumption that the "locals" are all healthy? For example, on many occasions I was on really, really crowded local buses and trains (standing room only), an indoor concert, etc. On one such packed bus the "local" (?) in the seat ahead was coughing and hacking all over, with no way to change my seat or even location.
Healthy travels to all!

Posted by
224 posts

This is all good information for people considering a bus tour, whether with RS or another company. This is the new normal.
Things are better than pre-Covid (masks are an option for some protection against colds and flu, as well as Covid)
and worse (Covid can be worse than a cold)
This spring we were on a tour where the guide had a horrible cold. They reviewed the RS Covid policy with us and said they would mask on the bus - which they did. But obviously they could not during group dinners. By the end of the tour, several were coughing, skipping dinners, etc, and about half the bus was wearing a mask. We were happy we didn't get it, and sad for those going on to other travel.
It's unrealistic for RS to expect guides to leave a tour whenever they get a cold - they are at the mercy of 20-25 guests every week or two who may bring various viruses with them. As in our normal lives, we hope everyone who is sick stays home, and we can bring masks when we are around a sick person and can't leave (church, train, etc.) While no one wants to get sick on a vacation, it was a risk pre-Covid too.

It's great to hear that immune-compromised people can still travel reasonably safely too!

Posted by
8618 posts

There isn’t much to say on this topic that hasn’t already been said. It takes a high level of personal integrity to test when experiencing common respiratory symptoms. This is especially true in a high stakes situation such as a tour where there is so much money involved. Regardless of what a policy is, there will be those who don’t feel it applies to them.

The most any traveler can reasonably expect is that the traveler himself/herself does what he/she can to test if symptoms occur and to be proactive about staying healthy. One can truly only be responsible for oneself.

Posted by
256 posts

Contagious respiratory illness has ALWAYS been a risk of group travel. We encountered sick people on tours before Covid and after. The only change is that Covid focused more attention on this risk and added another disease to the list. No policy will remove the risk so group travelers must decide whether the risk is worth the reward. It is for me but I realize others may not be comfortable and may be better suited for individual travel.

Posted by
271 posts

“It takes a high level of personal integrity to test when experiencing common respiratory symptoms. “

This reminds of a line from John le Carré’s Russia House:

Dante: So, promise me that if I ever find the courage to think like a hero, then you will act like a merely decent human being

Rick Steves tours did an admirable job negotiating the COVID period. While we all wish it were 100% behind us, it still can spoil folks tours (not to mention health.) My wife and I took a Rick Steves Tour a couple months ago and fortunately no one got sick.

I (like I assume most others) brought a covid test along. I’d like to think I would (and so would all my fellow tour members) take the test if we had symptoms and then if positive alert the tour guide and go from there.

Go from there I our case would mean dropping out of the tour but as Carol and others note “one can truly only be responsible for oneself.”

I am certain others would continue on the tour and I would not begrudge them that given the current state of the disease. I of course would expect them to mask on the bus and I and my wife would mask when they were around us too.

Posted by
597 posts

Mentioned elsewhere in the forum that one of the RS France May 2024 tours resulted in I believe 24/28 of the participants being sick with transmissible viruses that were disruptive. France went through a surge of Covid cases in May.

What makes (group) travel still challenging in terms of staying healthy is that Covid has not yet become a more seasonal (read winter in the northern hemisphere) virus similar to influenza.

Friends returned 2 weeks ago from a Baltic cruise; both contracted Covid in the final few days and found it very challenging to be so sick and make the trip home.

Posted by
2499 posts

Claire, I think you are referencing the 2023 Rick Steves Loire and South of France tour where most of the tour members came down with Covid. Maybe I’m mistaken?

Posted by
597 posts

Judy, no it was referenced most recently on June 8, 2024, by one of the tour participants. She mentioned it in follow up to posting about the upcoming tour back in the spring. The thread is under France, not Covid so her update may not have been noticed by very many here.

Posted by
2499 posts

I would like to share the recent experience of my Rick Steves Poland tour, 5/21-5/30/2024. No one on my tour came down with Covid. Yay!

My friend on the tour had symptoms and tested herself for Covid and, luckily was negative. She tested for 3 or 4 days to be certain and she separated herself from the group and wore a mask. Also, she isolated totally from the group for a day while we were in Warsaw. It turns out she was coming down with a cold and developed asthma but because she acted quickly and decisively to protect us, she also took care of herself. She is a responsible person with integrity and I’m proud of her actions. It indeed is difficult to test yourself knowing you may have dreaded results. I can only hope I would act in the same manner. I did bring two test kits and masks with me as Rick Steves requested. Kudos to her for her actions.

We all stayed well