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Preparing for a Rick Steve's Tour

My wife and I are thinking of going to Europe for the first time next Fall for our 5 year anniversary. We haven't traveled much, so I feel that a Rick Steve's Tour makes a lot of sense. We like the Venice, Florence, Rome trip, and we are thinking of adding 2-3 days in the Amalfi Coast at the end.

How do you prepare to go on a Rick Steve's Tour?
Do you research each city and then make a list of what to do during down time?
Do you simply make sure you read about pre-travel stuff (passports, credit cards, packing, etc)?
Any guidance for first time European travel / first time Rick Steve's tour would be helpful.

Posted by
6869 posts

A lot of what you need to know is on this website. You can also buy Rick's books or check'em out of your local library.
I prepare for trips by reading the Travel Forum. I've also been known to read about all the towns I'm visiting on Wikipedia--not too long, not too short as far as details go.
All my friends ask me if I'm going on a tour, and who my tour guide is. I tell them I've been touring Europe since 1970, and I'm my own tour guide. It all comes with preparation.

Posted by
3580 posts

Preparation. Get into the shoes you intend to wear then walk a lot. If you can walk a few miles comfortably, you are in shape. Read everything you can. Plan to travel light, by carry-on if possible. There is lots of info in the tours section of this website; study that for itinerary etc. More printed info will come your way after you sign up for a tour. You will probably receive a DVD with lots of pix and info about the tours. The travel dept will send you the current travel book covering the country of your tour along with a language book. If you haven't read the Europe Through the Back Door book, find a copy and read it. I've been on 8 RS tours, so I can definitely recommend them. But first, study the tours section on ricksteves.com.

Posted by
980 posts

We are really big foodies, so we research the restaurants (trip advisor, yelp, urban spoon, etc) for the meals when we are on our own (or the tour is serving something we don't like).

I agree with the recommendation to find your shoes and wear them in advance.

Lastly, none of the tours are strenuous, but if you are unable to walk several miles now, then I would recommend building up to 3-6 miles a day before you go.

Posted by
31471 posts

jmarkey,

As this is your first trip to Europe, I'd recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door as soon as possible. That will answer a lot of your questions on "what to prepare for".

Adding 2-3 days on the Amalfi Coast is certainly possible, and you might consider using Sorrento for your home base in that area. I'd also suggest arriving a few nights prior to the start of the tour, both to allow some time for jet lag recovery as well as see a few sights that won't be covered on the tour. You could also watch the Tour Experience videos to give you some idea what the tours are like, and watch some of the YouTube videos of the areas you'll be visiting on that tour.

You'll be able to obtain information from the group here on the Forum about all the "minute details" such as air travel to Europe, money, travelling with electronic gadgets, etc.

A RS tour will be a wonderful introductory trip to Europe. I'm sure you'll be planning many more after that.

Posted by
14899 posts

There's a section here for "scrapbooks" by people who've been on RS tours. Look at the ones that went to the places on the tour you're planning to take (most of the Italy tours, many of the "Best of" tours). Besides getting you even more excited about the tour, they'll give you lots of ideas and direction, lots of tips (some specific to the locations), and restaurant recommendations.

Posted by
1176 posts

Whatever tour you choose, you receive the RS guide book. So I would not buy the guide book but see if you can get the book from your local library. Read it and make notes. I would also look at all the RS scrapbooks on this web site as it has great information as to what you will see and do. I would also watch YouTube videos of the places that the tour is going on, which can be very helpful in learning about each city. I would also start reading the questions on the RS travel forum and any other information this web site has which is quite a bit of information. I always research each city and make a list of what I would like to do during my free time. Some tours have more free time than other tours, but I like to be prepared. I also get ideas of what to see and do from the RS scrapbooks. Make sure you have a valid passport, call your credit card companies in advance to tell them where and when you are traveling. Make sure you have a camera and a recharger for the different outlets. If you do go, make sure you arrive at least one day before the tour begins and not the day of the tour. Jet lag is a killer and you want to be refreshed for the tour. Make sure you have some Euros before you leave the airport for taxis, lunch etc. I also like to exercise as there is a lot of walking and standing and being busy for the whole tour and you want to be prepared for that. Make sure you book your first nite in Venice before the tour, once you booked the tour you are going on. It is nice to try to stay in the same hotel as the tour for the night before, but some people find cheaper hotels and then move to the tour hotel. Up to you, but either way book a room when you book the tour. Make copies of your passport photo page and keep copies with you along with giving a copy to someone at home. I have not been on the Venice, Florence, Rome tour, but have been to all three cities and they are wonderful cities. If you go, make sure for the churches you are covered properly, knees, shoulders, no low cut tops. I have spent a week in Florence and Rome twice and hope to one day spend a week in Venice. There is so much to see and do! Have a great trip. Best, Ann

Posted by
5697 posts

Check your passports now to make sure they will not expire until your planned travel dates PLUS six months. Easy to renew when you have lots of time ... but a trip-spoiler if you get denied entry at the last moment.

Posted by
1068 posts

To prepare for every trip I do certain things. I will become very compulsive about my exercise to make sure I can do several weeks of walking 8-10 miles a day. There is also a checklist I use to make sure everything gets done..... far out on the checklist is booking flights, hotels, checking passports, as it gets closer there will be arranging someone to check on the house, stopping mail and finally, on the day I leave....turn off the stove, make sure I have the passport etc. etc. I also read a history of the country where I am going and a travel guidebook. That way I have some idea what I want to see in my free time. I check the board here to see what people are saying and asking about the places I am going to visit.... and ask any questions I have. Also, I agree that Rick's "Europe Through the Back Door" is a great starting place for a new European traveler. Of course, I didn't do any of those things for my first trip and enjoyed it anyway.....so I'm sure you will have a great time too. But now, the trips are a lot easier.

Posted by
4994 posts

Everyone's ideas are right on. We always study the history and art of any place we're going, and research the food, as well. It's good to know ahead of time what the local specialties are. Also, we watch movies - for example, Pan e Tulipane (Bread and Tulips) for Venice, and Pranzo de Ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch) for Rome. And it can be fun to find fiction set in whatever towns you'll be visiting. All of these things, including RS guidebooks and "Europe Through the Back Door," are available at your local public library. Oh, and you might want to check out some other guidebooks, not just Rick's. He doesn't cover stuff he's not interested in - certain museums, for instance, so checking out Fodor's or Lonely Planet can give you a broader view of an area.

A lot of folks have suggested that planning for the tour is much of the fun. I agree! Buon viaggio!

Posted by
6627 posts

Your guide is there to help you, including giving suggestions for your free time. You do need to know how to get there, and to get to your first hotel, on your own. So you have to arrange your own airline tickets, and transportation to the hotel, and back to your departure airport. It is very much recommended that you get there at least one day early, so that you can start to adjust to the time change, and not fall asleep in the first group meeting.

V/F/R was our first time tour. Three great cities and there are only two hotel changes. You will see plenty. It helps to read up on the places you will visit (you will get an Italy Guidebook as part of your package), but you don't need to be expert. I would suggest reading enough about the vaporetto system in Venice to understand how to get around there.

Knowing at least the polite phrases in Italian (correctly, not semi-Spanish) will help your experience.

Posted by
9701 posts

I'm with some of the others in that I walk, walk, walk. IN the shoes I am taking with me. I am heading out in Sept for my 6th RS tour and tomorrow is my 8-mile walk day. I will be up to 12 before I leave.

I also have compiled a couple of spreadsheets/checklists so I can check off things. I have a packing spreadsheet with clothes and miscellaneous stuff and I also have a countdown checklist starting a month out up to 24 hours before I leave home. Start taking notes now on what people recommend! Add in to your time frame notifying credit and debit cards, getting Euro ahead if you want some money in your pocket when you land. (This is always a much discussed issue here. Many want Euro in their pockets, others are comfortable going to an ATM when they land in Italy. I'm a have-some-ahead-so-I-don't-have-to-figure-out-a-foreign-ATM when I'm jet-lagged kind of person)

I do trial packing at least a month out. I have a new RS 20" roller I am taking this time and my trial pack was actually a 2-week Road Trip the first of July. I use packing cubes to help keep myself organized altho since if you take V/F/R you only have 3 hotels and 2 moves so staying organized in your suitcase is not as critical as it was on the 21 day Best Of Europe.

Do you all have passports? If not, I think Rick has a deal where he will reimburse you (or credit you) for a new passport purchase when you sign up for one of his tours. Do not wait until the last minute to get your passports. Too much can go wrong. (Nephew and GF headed to Mexico with her Dad last week. She waited until June to get her Passport. Then it was shipped to the wrong address. Not her mistake, someone typed in 9 instead of 4 and it went to a vacant lot. Much anguish. Finally received 2 days before flight. Ugh.)

I usually do some research ahead of time to see what sightseeing possibilities I have in each place, then decide when I'm there what I want to do based also on what the guide suggests. Sometimes on the walks around town with a local guide you see something you hadn't known about. I like the Streetwise laminated city maps so you can see the area where your guided walking tour will be, then see what is in that area.

You will have a terrific time on the RS tour. They guides also teach you travel skills so you can be an independent traveler.

Posted by
2788 posts

We have taken 13 RS tours and have always purchased the RS guide book that covers our tour as soon as we make our reservations so that we have plenty of time to read all about that area rather than wait until we receive our RS guide book that comes much later with a whole bunch of other tour related stuff. The cost of acquiring an early book and then later receiving another copy of that same book is a small price compared to the total cost of our trip. I agree with someone who says arrive at your tour start location a couple of days early so that you can see things that are not covered on the tour. A list of those not-included places is provided by the RS folks. We also stay at the same hotel as the tour uses and ask to be put into a room we can stay in when the tour begins.
You will be provided a list of the first and last hotels by the RS folks. Both of these lists are included in a package of lots of tour related stuff. When I have asked the RS folks early on about the name of the first hotel, I have been told that they are still negotiating prices for the upcoming season and to wait until the big package arrives.
This has never caused us not to get reservations at the first hotel. We take 3 sets of clothes that are sink washable and quick drying and thus do laundry every 5 days or so. Most of our stuff is ExOfficio - expensive but durable and quick drying. We travel in Europe every year for 13 of the last 14 years for about a month with only the 21/22" RS roller bags and get along quite well. We occasionally delete something that we have not used for a year or two. After this years tour in Bulgaria, we have decided to delete a hair dryer and we had not found a need to use it in two years since they have been provided almost everywhere. Send me a Private Message (PM) if you have any additional questions that I might be able to answer. My first trip to Europe was to take a RS tour
Best of Europe in 21 Days. Sure glad I took that tour my first time in Europe. You might want to check to see if your local PBS TV channels carry the RS shows and then watch some to get a good idea of places to go.

Posted by
597 posts

We are doing the Venice, Florence, Rome Tour in October & I agree that reading the Rick Steves EUROPE THROUGH THE BACK DOOR 2015 (we bought it on Amazon) is one of the best things we did to prepare. We wish we had read it before we went to Europe for the 1st time a couple of years ago - it is a wonderful book full of details. We are also extending our Tour to go to Orvieto as a Day Trip after ending the Tour in Rome. Then we are going to Sorrento for 6 nights to see Pompeii, Capri, Ravella, Amalfi - we've found a great B&B to base out of (no car needed).... Happy Planning and Happy Anniversary.

Posted by
4371 posts

NEW FOR 2016 TOURS!!! This may not be for all tours, but the 2016 tours I've looked at NO LONGER give you the guidebooks, eye shades, ear plugs, money belt, etc. What you DO receive is a $100 Shopping Spree (per household) to use at the Rick Steves Travel Store.

Chani and Ken have given you the links I usually post ;-) (On the Tour Experience page, the 45-minute-long video is the complete episode; the shorter ones are just clips from that same program.)

If you haven't gone through all of the info in the Tour pages, there's a lot of good stuff there - weather averages, books and movies pertaining to your tour to read and watch, packing lists, how to get that free passport ($135 each!), etc.

I definitely advise you to read Europe Through the Back Door! So much practical information! Having read it will likely save you more than the price of the book.

Posted by
248 posts

I read "The Agony and Ecstasy" before going on the V-F-R trip and was very glad. It gave me the historical background to get more out of the trip and to look for specific sites and art, and have a better understanding of what I was seeing.

Also suggest getting good maps of cities you are going to for use in your free time. I found Rick Steves maps to be lacking. One problem is that they are by area and if you walk out of the immediate view area of the map, it can be very confusing trying to retrace steps. The second problem is some maps have only 'main' streets. It looks like you are one block from something, but it could be several. If you are standing on street "x" and the map shows only "a" and "f", you have no idea how close or far you are to where you want to be.

Posted by
5697 posts

Re: maps, apps like CityMaps2Go can download area maps when you have wi-fi access then locate your actual position using GPS (no data).

Posted by
1068 posts

Re: Mapwise. If you prefer a "paper" map try the Streetwise Maps.... laminated and usually cover the spots a tourist is interested in seeing.

Posted by
369 posts

If you read the itinerary you will notice that you often have 1/2 day in a city on your own. I research those places ahead of time. 1/2 day is not a lot of time, and if you waste it figuring out what your are going to do, things get pretty rushed. So ahead of time figure out where you might like to go, what the opening and closing times are, if you need advance tickets, and what else you might do if your first choice is not available for some reason. For example, on my trip to Florence (an independent trip) the Uffizi staff went out on strike the afternoon I had reservations for my visit. :-( So, we hit the Acadamia instead, then walked along the edges of Florence where we had a nice chart with a barrista, and a great lunch for about 1/2 the price of the tourist area of Florence. Yes, I did manage to see the Uffizi on another trip.

Other than that I make sure I have some native currency for when I arrive (100 Euros is usually more than enough), maps of any big city we will be spending time in, and, new this year, I research which phone company has the SIM card deal.

OTOH, it is perfectly possible to do just the minimum and have a great time. Many people have done that including yours truly.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you to everybody that has responded. I really appreciate it! I have already done some of the things mentioned: bought my Rick Steve's Italy book and I have an older copy of Europe Through the Backdoor (2013). Since we are about 16 months out (October/November 2016), there are several things mentioned that may be pre-mature, but I will be creating a to do list with month/week specific deadlines.

My next step will be to map out the trip itinerary and see how much free time I have in each city. I will list the places that will be visited through the tour, and then start my research on things that we would want to see. As we get closer, we can prioritize the things we want to do.

If you have any other advice, let me know, and I may reach out to those of you that offered as we get close. Oh, and I will check out the scrapbooks.

Thank you!

Posted by
14899 posts

To enhance your experience, learn about the places you're going to. Lynn suggested reading The Agony and The Ecstasy (perfect for Florence). For Pompeii, there's Robert Harris's Pompeii He also wrote a trilogy about Ancient Rome. There are lots of other excellent historical novels. Or a course at a local college on Renaissance art or Venice in the Middle Ages . . . There are courses you can get from the public library too, audio or video. Your guides will give you much information, but I find it's hard to absorb a lot when I'm surrounded by the interesting sights and sounds around me. When I already know a lot about a topic, the guide's talk will be like a memory refresher and I'll pick up more of the details.