Nothing wrong with Rick Steves, Part II

Since Frank II's thread has gone completely off the rails (wow! and yikes!) I thought I'd continue the discussion elsewhere.

The only reason I didn't travel much for twenty some years was the lack of money and time caused by childrearing. Blasted kids. I didn't need the encouragement that RS offers in his books-I wanted to go no matter what.

But my parents? Eager, but apprehensive. They took a tour with some friends to London. Later they went on their own to Paris. I remember them saying they'd been reading Rick Steves (who?) and were just using one bag each. They had a great trip. They'd found the confidence to order food, hop on a city bus, do what they wanted to do. I doubt they would have found that from Fodor's or Lonely Planet. That folksy, nerdy narrative works well. I don't think it's an act-I think he really is a folksy nerd!

One wealthy couple I know goes on high-end tours in Europe. They spend way over what RS charges. They could do it on their own, but they don't want to. They want it all "handled" for them. So what, it's their money. There's a market for all types of travel. RS is just part of that business. It sounds like his tours have a lot of perceived value, and are successful. Good for him.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11064 posts

Well put, Karen. And, I think, what Frank II was trying to get across.

Posted by Angela
Vancouver, Wa, USA
568 posts

I've never actually gone on a tour so I may have a somewhat biased opinion, but I have relatives who have taken other tours and from the way they describe them I'd probably enjoy the RS tours far more. My In laws took a trip from India to Europe (even dragging along an Indian cook to feed everyone). Everyone has to do the same exact thing every day, and they get warned not to go off on their own. The group was given a choice to go to Euro Disney or the Louvre in Paris, and the group chose Disney! My brother in law was so upset, he was the only one who voted for the Louvre.

At this stage in my life I can't afford organized tours. My budget is so tight it squeaks! And planning my own trip is easy enough, since I lead the life of a bored housewife. IF I ever have the money, I'd probably do a Rick Steve's tour that goes to Turkey or Eastern Europe... But it's totally not necessary to do any of the major European cities like London or Paris on a tour!

Posted by Thomas
Vienna, Austria
516 posts

Thumbs up to Rick. He is who he is and he does what he does. He tries to get people to understand in an accessible manner. Anything that helps people see/appreciate more of the world is a good thing in my book. I don't think he needs to apologize for being successful in the process. I wish him all the best.

Posted by Audrey
Singapore
341 posts

After reading the different threads on this topic and having a bit of a laugh at the end of Frank's thread.... Karen, your story is spot-on and reveals exactly why Rick Steves is successful. His market is a certain kind of American traveler (not European!), although his style of writing happens to translate well to other middle of the road travelers elsewhere because it's so readable. For some first time travelers, going all the way to Europe can be intimidating, and Rick makes it sound do-able for anybody. And most people will only visit Europe perhaps once or twice in their lives, and they'd want to know the main sights, the things that they can't see or find at home, and a safe place to stay. And even what to pack. That's the information they'll find in the books and shows, delivered in a friendly manner. I don't necessarily follow what he recommends, but his guidebooks are often my first start when researching a new destination. A start: usually I want more details that aren't in the books, that's where the Internet and other books come in. Just because he doesn't write about some places doesn't mean I won't go search them out, cos it's a matter of opinion. After a while you figure out your own likes and dislikes and style of traveling. I've seen baffled American tourists in Europe struggling to figure out some basic things and thought to myself: now, they need to read a Rick Steves ....
And I think it's great he provides space for this forum which even non-Rickniks can use !

Posted by andi
franktown, colorado
184 posts

Karen, we could have been your parents. Didn't start traveling outside the US until a few years before retirement; 3 kids in college at the same time had a little something to do with that. However, some friends who were stationed in Germany talked us into coming over and doing a little traveling with them before they were reassigned to the States. We agreed and before we left home to join them, she sent me a second hand Rick Steves ETBD book (1995 edition, I believe) she found at a book sale. With that experience and encouragement we found out we COULD afford to travel in Europe and we were inspired with the confidence to actually do it! We have been several times since then-sometimes on his tours and more often using his (and other authors') books. We will always be thankful all that information was so easily accessible to us everyday folks.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3057 posts

I'm almost afraid to step into this. But it's pretty well known that the different guidebooks cater to different markets. The RS books are not for everyone and don't need to be the sole resource for most people. Tours act the same way. As noted, there are some pretty high end tour groups out there and some of those really focus on educational/cultural aspects. I'd venture a guess that there are plenty of tours that cost less than RS too. But they probably won't offer the same services or quality levels. I know people that have taken RS tours and they fit the mold described here perfectly: willing and desiring to travel but hesitant to go someplace with different languages and cultures and not really confident enough to do it all on their own. And not really interested in doing all the planning either.

Posted by jturie
Valley Forge, PA
42 posts

Let's face it....RS books and tours are built Rick's way. Nothing at all wrong with that. His tours are expensive...so are most everybody else's. BUT....as the earlier posts reveal, a very significant percentage of US people traveling to Europe are older (they gots the money), and want at least some level of comfort. I see the extremes on this board: the adventurous travelers who basically do everything on their own (sort of the ETBD way) or the full-on guided tour-on-the-bus group. I suspect the RS tours have moved toward the latter over the years because, simply, Rick himself is getting older and isn't into the backpacking and hostel paradigm and knows that his audience is doing the same. Either travel extreme is just fine with me, if anyone gives a darn about my opinion (others on this board seem to demand respect for their views...pretty nastily in fact). I'm actually more the adventurous type, but my wife isn't into dropping into a town and scrambling for a rented room or snagging a public bus. I'm not going to force my preferences on her and steal her enjoyment of the trip.

Here's what I like about his tours (from my reading...have not taken one): smaller groups, decent amount of on-your-own time, more "character" lodging and meal experiences (or so it seems to me).

Here's what I absolutely hate (and this is not at all unique to RS tours). It's the false advertising of the "21 day trip", when Day 1 starts at 5pm at the hotel and day 21 ends after breakfast. It just burns me when I see that. Again...they all do it, so I can't say that this is a tipping point that would turn me off from a RS tour.

I really don't get some of the Rick bashing going on here. Nobody ever said his way or the highway on this board. Rick's way is one way--follow it, semi follow it, or don't. But...don't go criticizing/belittling those who do and don't jump on those who don't. It's just not that big a deal.

Posted by Barry
San Diego, CA
611 posts

I might as well continue this thread. Four years ago I walked the Camino de Santiago, I did it what is considered the oldest and most conventional way, that is walked every step of it, from St Jean Pied du Port to Santiago de Compostela. There are some that cycle it, take buses, use equine power, even guided tours. When I was about 3 weeks on the Camino one morning I had two couples walking in front of me, they looked very clean and fresh, not your typical Pilgrim. I also noticed the women were wearing little backpacks, the kind maybe a young child may wear to kindergarten, not near big enough to carry anything they would actually need except maybe a small amount of food or water, and they were walking at quite a fast pace. A couple of hours into the day I was probably 5 to 10 minutes ahead of them, at this point I noticed a van pulling up and stopping for a while, a little while later the van would do the same thing, then it dawned me his was with the 2 couples. A little while later I arrived in a village and stopped at a small park to refill my water bottle, he soon arrived and started setting up a picnic, the couples arrived a short time later and had their lunch. My point is this is not how I would do the Camino, I never even thought of that prior to seeing it, but it didn't affect me in the least, these people weren't staying in the alburgues that cost 2 to 7 euro so they weren't going to take my bed. All that is required to receive a Compostela is walk the final 100 KM or if cycling, the final 200 KM. This is what they were doing so that was a great thing for them, they were doing their Camino. Later on my Camino after I entered Galicia I started to see buses drop off large groups of people so they could walk for the day, since I only saw them on a Saturday and Sunday I think they were just out for the weekend, not walking to get their Compostela, however they were bothersome because they talked nonstop and they were in front of and behind me, very annoying when trying to enjoy the solitude of the Camino.. There is a saying on the Camino de Santiago that is in reference to the various ways to do it. "It's your Camino, do it as you please", this is very true as long as it doesn't impact someone else, except for the incessant talkers that was the case for all roughly 790 KM/500 miles of the Camino. So in relation to RS, there is a way to see Europe for everyone, it's their vacation/holiday, let them do it as they please.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
12638 posts

"It's the false advertising of the "21 day trip", when Day 1 starts at 5pm at the hotel and day 21 ends after breakfast."

One travel company I know of picks you up at home and takes you to the airport (even though your air is not included) just so they can add a day and call it a 22 day trip. Day one starts when you leave home and it's already day two when you get to Europe.

Posted by Laura B
San Francisco
678 posts

One thing we love about RS guide books -- he tells you where the toilets are located in museums and other sites. Sometimes that's more important than the history behind the exhibits!
Seriously, we use his books as just ONE source of suggestions for places to see, eat and sleep. But I DO recommend ETBD as a basic read for first-time travelers.

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
1139 posts

@Karen - well done, getting things back to a reasonable tone.

@Angela - so on your parents' tour, I wonder whether everyone had to go on the same Euro Disney rides at the same time? Synchronized bathroom breaks? Did the Indian cook get a day off, or did they smuggle in chapatis for everyone? Were the participants told at prescribed times that they were all having fun now? ;-)

@jturie & @Lee - I suppose some tour organizers could even count the day you leave your house as Day 1. My flights to Europe from North America have all departed in the afternoon or evening, so my first "day" was spent on a jet plane. Still, vacation starts the minute I leave the last day of work prior to my trip!

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
12638 posts

Tours should either count complete 24 hour periods or overnight stays included in the tour. I favor overnight stays since that is the way I figure my daily expenses in Europe. So, if the tour includes 7 overnight stays, it's a 7 day tour.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10268 posts

Wait, what happened to Frank II's thread? I'm guessing the webmaster removed it, but what was the problem? When I last read it, the thread appeared to make some very good points and nobody was being too harsh.

Posted by Frank II
USA
4562 posts

Tom, who knows. I stopped following it after awhile because it became ridiculous. I learned a few things:

1) Stick to answering questions about Europe.
2) Don't get involved in any of the arguments that are so common on this board.
3) Ignore the overly opinionated.( And there are many of those as in "my way is the right way.")
4) Don't feed the trolls.

Posted by Roy
East Alabama
945 posts

Agreed, Frank II, that's good advice for us all.

Posted by Angela
Vancouver, Wa, USA
568 posts

@Cyn: HA! I wish they had brought along an Indian cook when they came to visit us for 3 weeks, as they are such picky eaters. It seems to be a cultural thing, that many Indians are very particular about what they eat, sometimes even refusing to eat foods from other states in India. Except for eating yougert, they were basically vegan. Hubby would take them out for the day, and I'd get a call saying they'd be home in 1 hour and PLEASE make sambar and rice because they couldnt find anything to eat on the road.

@Frank II: good plan... Ignore the nasty little trolls!

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
1775 posts

"Wait, what happened to Frank II's thread?"

Well I, for one, don't understand why it's gone. Yes, it got off track and maybe it should have been cleaned up by deleting some or many of the responses, but I think Frank II's original post in defense of RS and the travel style in general should have been left out here. I agree with Tom that it was an interesting thread and was so well stated.

Posted by Webmaster
Edmonds, WA, USA
309 posts

The thread was deleted because over half of it became bickering and trolling. For those of you that didn't see that, good. My apologies to those who appreciated the good posts there.

Posted by Kim
Paris
801 posts

Just to chime in and "second" Karen's opinion up top.

But I worry a little about whole threads being deleted. Smacks of censorship (which of course is entirely permitted on one's own commercial website, but if the threshold is threads with too much bickering, well a good part of the forum would be gone!!!).

I'll not lose any sleep over it, but do feel a bit frustrated that a somewhat detailed message i'dwritten to provide an answer to someone worried about the current rail strike in France disappeared with the bickering or whatnot. It will make one thing twice before contributing -- what if I take the time to compose this advice/insight, but through no fault of my ownmistakenly pick the wrong "too bickery" thread, and it disappears into the ether? Will be de-motivating for sure!

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
2637 posts

Very good point Kim. I too am surprised whole threads are gone and regret that the thoughtful posts are gone.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
12638 posts

Well, Kim, I too lost a thoughtful, well researched post (wish I had saved a copy), but I can understand the Webmaster's point. Those threads were so infested with nastiness, and we can't expect him to spend his time picking what should go and what should stay. If you want to blame someone, blame those whose posts made it necessary.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8575 posts

Too much politics on that thread, it was shame.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3956 posts

I think that the webmaster was bang on to delete it. It was unfortunate to lose the well done posts, but it was about as bad a thread as I have seen in a while.

Pam

Posted by Gretchen
Seattle, WA, US
75 posts

Here's what I like about RS -- the " you can do this" attitude. Traveling to Europe isn't just for people who have a bucket of money and can speak the language. And his philosophy is "see as much as you can while you can"

I like that he gives little "skills" lessons. Like how to figure out a train schedule, when to tip etc.

I really like this forum, unlike some other travel forums where people say things like "You can't possibly see Venice in less than 18 full days going there for only 3 is a waste" not many people here seem judgey -- if you have 3 days in Venice have a great time be sure to see this this and this.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2996 posts

Kind of seems like RS and his business is the epitome of "do what you love and the money will follow"... looks like living the best of the American Dream to me....:)

Posted by Patty
Steilacoom, WA, USA
515 posts

Rick seems to really be that guy you see on T.V., except taller. His voice does sound a little better in person, but at the annual party he throws for tour alumni and guides, he seems to try an talk to everyone. I agree with him on some things and disagree with him on others. In two cities we visit frequently, London & Paris, he prefers lodging in areas we don't frequent. But, that's what other guide books and websites are for. However, if we're going to opt to take a guidebook, it's usually his. He's pretty thorough in areas he does cover ( museums, etc) and he includes other details, like reminders on how to do the international calling, where the post offices are located and basic phrases in the appropriate language.

Posted by Dan
Bloomington IL
3 posts

Probably similar to some of you, my wife and I have spent the last 9 or 10 years trying to scrape together enough money to put 3 kids through college, so we didn't have a lot of disposable income over that time. Now that we are (mostly) through that, it's time to explore new things for us.

Planning a Europe trip (or any foreign trip) is probably second nature to many of you wily veterans, but let me tell you it can be a daunting task for rookies like us. It's just my opinion, but the Rick Steves tours appear to provide a great balance for what we want to do. As far as tours that we are familiar with, his tours seem right in the middle of the road, and I mean that in the best possible way. What sealed the deal for us was the My Way tour. Having to know the lay of the land and all the accomodations and how to get from town to town the most efficiently seemed overwhelming to us. But....we didn't want to go on a full blown tour that possibly challenged our independence or preferences. The My Way tour seemed like the perfect compromise. We understand that the 14 day tour will be a whirlwind with a lot of bus time between cities, but are treating it as a "sampler platter" on what to focus on (or avoid) during subsequent trips.

I'm sure Rick Steves isn't perfect (nobody is right?), but my wife and I always appreciated his TV shows, and the conversational style of his guidebooks with a good dose of humor sprinkled throughout. I can't comment on the actual tours yet, but we are greatly looking forward to our trip this summer. Thanks everyone for all the tips and insights you leave on this forum.

Posted by Holly
Durham, NC, USA
290 posts

Kudos to Rick Steves for encouraging many of us to start traveling, even when we thought we couldn't! He and his books (and a good friend who organizes small group travel) started my travel adventures 9 years ago. I always recommend his Paris and France guidebooks to friends who will be visiting there b/c where other guidebooks may give you a paragraph description of a museum, Rick's book could give you a 5-page walking tour of it. He provides very detailed info about costs, days open, etc., which I appreciate.

I prefer to stay in the non-central Paris Arrondisements (neighborhoods) such as the 9th and above, Rick recommends the more touristy ones - so what? Choose what works for you. His Ireland book disappointed me b/c it provided little info on the SW area I visited last year, so I did more online research.

I'm not a bus-tour type person; even RS tours have too much of what I don't like: ride a tour bus, run around a town for a day only having time to visit the highlights, sleep, get on another bus, "If it's Tuesday this must be Belgium" mindset, etc. But many people do like this style of travel and more power to them!

We all need to take responsibility for our own travels, based on our own desires and needs, and Rick Steves provides us with a wonderful resource to begin that journey.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8575 posts

Holly rs tours aren't quite like that,and the 9th arr. Has more hotels then any other.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
5017 posts

Rick Steves has cut a niche for himself and there is nothing wrong with what he is doing. Nobody can be everything to everybody.

He is catering to the money conscious North American independent traveler (or at least the traveler who doesn't like to be herded around like cattle) who is going to a European country for the first time.

As such his suggestions are the main attractions that he believes would be of interest to a North American. Primarily things that a North American can't find closer to home (e.g. ancient history or quaint villages like Vernazza). Obviously he's not going to suggest to visit the aquarium of Genoa (the largest in the EU) to a North American because both the Monterey (Calif) and the Atlanta aquariums are larger and just as beautiful. He's not going to cover Sardinia or Corsica, which have great beaches but not much else, since a North American can find beautiful beaches closer to home in the Caribbean. He's also not going to cover Abruzzo, which has mostly great natural beauty and a spectacular national park, since a North American can find that closer to home.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2996 posts

@Roberto... another voice of reason. It's so curious how many people have such great advice for Rick and bash him... yet I don't see them having their own travel site:) Of course, there are always a few differences of opinion, but for the most part he has done more to promote European travel to the 'masses' than any other travel guide/expert/tv personality. As many others have said... he makes it all seem possible... especially starting with ETBD. Often, the whiners and complainers just sound jealous.
He has also made it possible to bring together so many people with such knowledge and experience.... I know I can always get all my questions answered here, from logistics, routes to drive, hotels, as well as great European films and music... there is a wealth of invaluable information here... (as well as having met a few of the posters ...all who love travel as much as I do)

Posted by Dave
Ventura, CA, USA
804 posts

After watching this 60 Minutes piece from 2005, it is hard to imagine how-or why-someone would bash RS. The other day our PBS station had the show from 2006 about the making of a television episode, it was fascinating to see the care and fine tuning of script and shots that go into a show. Whether some people like him or not, he's the complete package for sure: salesman, chief researcher, leader. I also happen to appreciate his politics and his desire to give back to a world that has been good to him.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUcepZdl9RQ&feature=kp

Posted by Julie
Sacramento
32 posts

Each person travels for their own reason, and travels in their own way. I grew up in a town in AK that STILL does not have a stop light, and my exposure to culture was Mr. Rogers. The very first time I saw an avocado I was 20 years old. Now, as a middle-aged, educated woman pushing 50, I travel because. Because I want to see what else there is. Because the suburban world I live in (Sacramento) does not resemble the alpine landscape of my youth. Because the world is a beautiful and wondrous place. With a degree in research, could I plan a vacation? Yes, but I chose to do the RS tours precisely in spite of that. Someday I will go and venture out on my own, but thankfully there is a company like RS that gives me a wonderful vacation with the bonus of not having to plan from start to finish. My husband and I get to meet like-minded travelers, go off on our own (saving a marriage), and get a break from hectic jobs that emotionally and physically drain us. I agree an RS tour is not for everyone, nor is the RS philosophy of experiencing the back door, but it certainly fits a niche of people who appreciate the opportunity to have all the decisions taken care of. A quirky hotel? Fine. I was digging pit toilets while camping at the age of 7. Screw up ordering a meal? Fine. My very first memory is watching my dad skin and butcher a moose. My plan is to enjoy every bit of my life, including the ups and downs. Including an overbooked plane. Including a mistake reading the train schedule. Including ordering something weird on the menu. AND including seeing the sun rise over the Alps, the Marienplatz in Munchen, and wine tasting in Tuscany.

Posted by Michael
Surrey, Canada
1 posts

I generally tend to read forum posts as opposed to entering into conversation, but I felt the pull to added a couple of thoughts to this post and forum. As a proviso: I had the opportunity a few years back to experience Europe for the first time; on a 7 day super condense trip for work, from Holland through Belgium and then ending in a Paris for approx. 40 hours. Because we were meeting with business associates, nothing was planned and we managed to make it home safely but I wish we had planned and understood what we were doing a lot more. We definitely went through the back door many times and I so thoroughly enjoyed the experience that I made a pack to go back at some point with my wife and kids (if possible).

So jump to this fall, I have been given the opportunity through my work to take up to 2 months off for travel. Our budget, while not overly restrictive, is not unlimited and with daughter #1 heading to university this fall we have to be realistic with what we spend and how we spend it...so it's Europe for 1 month. Enter Rick Steves. I am a planner by nature, part of the fun of a trip for me is planning the experience, figuring out where to stay, what to do and how to do it without stripping out our bank account. What I find Rick offers is an opportunity (re: tours) or advice (re: his books, videos, posts) for those that want to experience travel but did not think it was possible, either due to resources or lack of travel experience (i.e. confidence). Maybe for some his tours are over their budget (for us this time it is) but then his other resources really help out in getting to places throughout Europe without the tours. I have taken many pieces of his advice through his various resource to help plan out this trip, while moving past other ideas or items that I do not think fit my wife and I or the itinerary we have set. I think, based on all of His fairly extensive posts, videos, interviews etc. Rick would be more than happy to state, he is not trying to in-doctorate people into his way of thinking, but to express to people that travel, especially to Europe, is more accessible than we think. I have a number of other travel resources I am using to plan this once in a life time trip, where I think the information may be more helpful to us. In general Rick’s resources have, if nothing else, taken the anxiety out of going to Europe on our own and have helped point us in a direction that has given us a plan to be north american tourist who also experience the countries and culture we will be visiting outside the of the typical path.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20553 posts

@Holly,

even RS tours have too much of what I don't like: ride a tour bus, run around a town for a day only having time to visit the highlights, sleep, get on another bus, "If it's Tuesday this must be Belgium" mindset, etc.

I disagree with your assessment of RS tours. These are not structured like "typical" bus tours with large groups staying in bland five star hotels on the outskirts of town, being herded quickly from city-to-city with the mindset you described. The pace is much more relaxed and lots of free time is provided so group members can do a bit of exploring on their own. The focus is more on learning about the culture and history of the places that are visited. I think it's safe to say that the RS tour concept is increasingly popular, as his tour numbers increase every year, with a high percentage of tour members being repeat customers.

In order to get a clear idea of how RS tours operate, you might consider signing up for one.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3956 posts

Yes, Ken is right. That' s not a good characterization. Rick Steves' tours always lay out very carefully how much bus time that there is per day. They try to plan it so that you stay at least two nights in each city and some are three. The Berlin Prague Vienna Tour, was three nights in Berlin, one in Dresden, three in Prague one in Český Krumlov and three in Vienna. Dresden broke up the bus trip to Prague. The longest bus ride was from Český Krumlov to Melk Abbey and then into Vienna. That was a long day. And it was rip roaring hot. :) I don't think I ever felt rushed. With several days in each city we were able to go off on our own to explore, and then meet up for an ice cream later on. It was a very enjoyable tour.

Posted by Elaine
Columbia, SC
794 posts

Rick is smart, savvy businessman who found a niche and has created a small empire. He is at the top of the travel game. Who else has the same personal name recognition in the travel business? Mr. Fodor? Mr Frommer? Mr. Lonely Planet? And you know how it is when someone is on top. All the jealous whiners ( or whingers) come out to bash him. It happens to every successful person because the majority of people just can't stand to see others succeed.

Posted by Ray
Tigard, OR, USA
309 posts

If you haven't; a) traveled on your own b) taken a RS tour and c) taken another company's tour for comparison, you are probably missing at least some important data. Whether you have done all 3 or not, there is no right way to travel, IMHO. If you like RS fine, if not fine. RS is who he is, I like his tours and will probably take more in the future (along with planning some of my own and taking one other tour company's tours.) As an aside, I find it interesting that people seem to think RS tourists take a tour and that's it. Most of the people I have met on his tours, probably 90%, have pre or post travel plans which they implement on their own; for most the RS tour is a "break" in the middle of their trip.