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Preparing for a Rick Steves Tour

I received a very nice email from Rick Steves Europe about preparing for my tour next month. It gave some good, general advice. It talked about anticipated weather, packing, advance reservations and where we will meet to start the tour. All the information was good. However, I realized that there are several other things I do to prepare for a Rick Steves tour that are never mentioned.
1) If I am going to need new shoes, buy them a month out and break them in.
2) Check and double check flight arrangements on a weekly basis the month prior to a tour.
3) Increase my daily walking.
4) Make plans to make sure mail, bills, etc are cared for while I am gone.
5) I only have one credit card that asks for travel notices anymore, but I do make sure that I set that up with that bank.

What are the things that you do to prepare to go on a Rick Steves Tour?

Posted by
12648 posts

In addition to the things you listed (although I make sure I've got the shoes 6 months out, lol) I:

  • Inventory my 3-1-1 bag, my toiletries kit and my OTC meds kit. Make notes, refill and/or purchase whatever's needed.
  • Review my packing list and revise as needed for potential weather and different activities
  • Do a trial pack of my 21" carry on
  • Trial pack my personal item
  • Review my plan for my extra days - make sure my hotels are in place, any train journeys are on the right days (!!) , check whatever museum etc entrances I've got organized on my own time
  • Go thru the apps on my phone to make sure the ones I will use are updated and if that I can access them easily. (Move the Delta app to the front page of my phone, lol!). Check and download new apps for museums or venues as available.

I had a shock this last week when someone posted about not being able to get tickets from York to London on a certain day and I thought well, I did so what is wrong here? I checked and somehow I'd booked for the WRONG day so had to revise that ticket, book a hotel for an extra night in York, undo a hotel night in Windsor...yikes....

Posted by
2249 posts

Your post and Pam’s about covers everything I do except make a plan for my two dogs and cat. But to be honest, I book my trusty (and beloved) housesitter just after I decide when and where I’m going. If it’s a tour, I’ll book her just as soon as I get the confirmation. I’m bookmarking this post so I don’t forget anything😉.

Posted by
1974 posts

Free up space on your phone for all the photos you’ll take.

Make a plan for phone data, if you’ll need it. Turn off data to apps you won’t be using.

Posted by
6172 posts

I’ll pull out my list -

To Do List before an International Trip

Purchase trip insurance for medical evacuation.

Take Airborne the week before a trip.

Obtain local currency (Euros) ahead of time from the bank - avoids transactions when we have jet lag.

Check all ATM cards PINs are active by withdrawing a small amount of cash before the trip

Notify banks you’re traveling.

Switch wedding bands. Store my ring in the safety deposit box

Register trip with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program)

If traveling separate from (husband), have him not be using the same credit card as me while I’m out-of-country.

Make sure I have plenty of my medicine for the number of days plus 7

Replace batteries in my small flashlight.

Wash my clothes a few weeks ahead to make sure I’m not allergic to the laundry detergent. (This happened once when Tide changed their formula with no update on the container.)

Print Google maps for all locations - train station to hotel; highlighted spots for activities if not just using screenshots on phone.

Print a copy of my credit card statement if any hotels were paid ahead.

Print an itinerary summary and a train travel summary with Reservation codes. ICloud folders for train tickets, too.

Send a photo of my passport & CDC card to family & iCloud.

Obtain a duplicate CDC card. [Edit: this was for 2022.]

Have family at home know the number & phone call number if credit card is stolen.

Posted by
6172 posts

And this list adds to the one above:

To Do List before a Domestic Trip

A home for Jackie (dog) -

Plenty of food for Jackie.

Switching wedding rings? Store my ring in the safety deposit box.

Make sure we pack plenty of our medicine for the time period, plus a week.

Set up home lights remotely.

Replace batteries in my small flashlight.

Bring Earth Breeze washing machine detergent sheets for doing laundry & washing AirBnB bedding.

Hold our mail.

Google maps for all locations - highlighted spots for activities.

Upload everything on TripIt.

Masks for airplane & indoors!

CDC cards

Any travel requirement docs, i.e. Hawaii

Pack Swimsuits & sandals

Notify at least one neighbor to remove any fliers, watch for anything odd.

A tank full of gas in the vehicle.

Clean out refrigerator the week before.

Pay bills ahead of time if not on auto-pay

Arrange snow removal.

Water the houseplants

Posted by
3669 posts

We first check with the dog/ housesitter's availability, and THEN we look for flights. This is usually 10-11 months out. As you know, good pet sitters book up fast. For our first post- COVID trip in Sept, 2021, we also reserved her for the week after, just in case we tested positive. We can't enjoy our vacation if the furry family members aren't well- taken care of.
Safe travels!

Posted by
190 posts

I like to create a 2-sided single page document by cut and paste of the RST itinerary, and 2 weeks out will add in the daily hi/lo temps. I will break down the guide book to the hard copy sections I want to bring. I will charge my portable battery charger and bring my own earbud headphones for comfort sake. I will have provided my flight schedule and accommodations list to someone in my inner circle. I will change push notifications to fetch on my mobile phone. I will have added the airline app and local transportation app(s) to my phone as needed. I like to have some of the currency used where I'm headed on me before departing. I will have Google walked around to familiarize myself with the 'neighborhood' of hotels and determine the ease of walkability with luggage for my day of arrival.

Posted by
2249 posts

Yes, Pat! Those critters are planned for just before air reservations for me, too! Happy to know I’m not the only one whose travel plans revolve around my animals. Planning her to stay for extra days after makes perfect sense. I think I better get hold of her and do that-just in case. What a great idea. Not only has she been booked for a few months for my May trip, but also for the trip planned for October. And true to form, I haven’t booked air reservations yet.

Posted by
132 posts

I load my kindle with some good books. I also rip out the pages I need from Rick’s travel guide. (Yes, I like paper guides.)

Posted by
12648 posts

Jean! I'd forgotten STEP. Just did mine with your nice cue!

Posted by
2326 posts

Make lots of lists, test pack half a dozen times, then update the lists. Itinerary list. Packing list. And the all important hubby list. Since my hubby won't travel and doesn't do much on the computer (geezer), I have to be sure he has all the information about my trip and what to do at home while I'm gone:
1) Write out a detailed itinerary -- where I am going (city & country), how I am getting there (flight info, train info), where I am staying (hotel name, address, phone number), what I am see each day (if he cares).
2) Write out a detailed list of which bills need to be paid and when (so he won't ignore the annual or unusual ones), be sure he has enough stamps to mail them (he won't do anything with money online or auto-pay). List includes when social security is deposited into and Medicare supplements are deducted from checking.
3a) Leave the travel/evacuation insurance policies with him. (I can get them online if needed) And 3b) be sure there is a contact person with a passport who can travel if I get sick or injured.
4) Leave notes on my indoor plants so he waters them on their schedules. No pets anymore.
5) He's self-sufficient when it comes to cooking, laundry and cleaning.
6) I call him every night when I travel to let him know I'm OK. If I'm late, he starts to worry. 9pm Europe time is noon Arizona time. If I will be out later than that I let him know the night before. I use Verizon International plan so my phone number is the same if he needs to call me.

Posted by
7556 posts

@horsewoofie. Have you ever tried the Trip-It App? It would organize all that information for you and your husband as you went along planning and then all you would have to do is print it out for him. I have used it for a few years now and I really like it.

Posted by
6172 posts

We have T-Mobile, so it’s free to text & data use. But, to connect with family or a friend back home, I use FaceTime on my iPad in the evening before dinner (morning in the US). It’s free using the hotel wifi. It’s nice to see friends or family member’s faces while traveling.

Posted by
311 posts

Wow! What great lists everyone has shared! So many of these to do's I have done haphazardly and make lists of preparations before each trip. But I love these check lists and am keeping them for future trips. Thanks to all.

Posted by
4519 posts

Pam, I always have the Delta app on the homepage - I check it incessantly before a flight to see how many days I've got to go!! :)

Posted by
8942 posts

I am like Pam -- I keep it way in the back (or sometimes not even on screen), and it only gets front screen status a day or two before I travel !

Posted by
2326 posts

Carol now retired, No I haven’t tried Trip-it app. Started to down load it but decided I didn’t need to keep that many records. It won’t work on his flip phone to share info since it’s set up for calls only He doesn’t even have voice mail. He really is a geezer. But he’s handy to have around when something needs to be fixed. After 53 years, I’m not trading him for a new model.

Jean and Pam, funny you mentioned STEP. I updated my trips before I read the posts. Like minds…

Posted by
60 posts

Excellent lists, everyone! I’d add:

Download and activate esim for your phone (if your phone allows) for data use, etc while out of the country.

Day before, charge phone, ipad, earbuds, portable charger, whatever else.

If nobody will be at home, turn off the water supply to the house. We had an expensive lesson on this in February 2020 after returning from a lovely week in Mexico.

I have a shared google doc called Worst Case Scenario ( what you’d imagine, e.g where are our wills, contact info for accountant, lawyer and so forth) that I update regularly; before travel, I remind my daughter of its existence.

Posted by
298 posts

Thanks ladies- I’m happy to see I’m not the only ultra- planner. My years of ultra planning have helped me a lot. Im bookmarking this and agree! And the only other things I can add are:

Arrange for transport to and from the airport. (If necessary) Be sure to KEEP the name and phone number of your transport agency. The app “what’s app” helps.

Bring a filtered water bottle (Brita- look at Amazon) to hydrate and save some money if you are going on a long trip.

It was discussed a bit above but I always print out a hard copy of every day with screen shots with the tours and info with confirmation numbers in case my phone poops out.

I love the advice about fur babies and I agree!

Make sure you remember to check off and pack your chargers. Remember to check to make sure your international meet the standards of the country you are traveling to. If you get there and realize you don’t have the correct chargers- check with the front desk for temporary ones to use.

Little bit of local language with a translation app on the phone is very good.

This detailed thread should be posted in Ricks travelling tips. Just saying….


Posted by
724 posts

There are so many good suggestions on this thread. These tips are good for any travel, not just RS tours, btw. I'll add that we turn up our home AC in warm weather and turn down the heat during the cold weather.

Posted by
2081 posts

A few to add:
Check on-line (network directory) for ATM locations for the network your bank(s) participate in to ID some close to your hotels; even better if you can locate some INSIDE banks.
Check your medical insurance carrier (especially those younger and under more traditional group/individual medical policies) to find participating providers in the key cities (just in case). If Medicare, make sure you have made some sort of travel insurance that carries medical coverage and/or verify you have (and general details of) international coverage. Medical evacuation coverage good, too.
Turn off inside water to house (leaving outside on for plant watering person), IF you have the pipes separated.
Turn off pilot light to your waterheater and its water source.
Set light timers/alarm/trusted person with key/code.

Posted by
4519 posts

Free up space on your phone for all the photos you’ll take.

My iPhone Photos settings are set to "Optimize iPhone Storage" so I can keep all my 15,000+ photos on my phone (one of these day I need to organize them and weed some out, lol!). If i need a higher res, I can download specific photos but it's a great way to free up space on an iPhone. I'm assuming Androids have the same capability. Plus my family pays for extra storage and it's worth it not to have to worry about that.

I also have a shared Google Sheets spreadsheet that lists all of my hotels, links to their website, and the dates I will be there. It has specific information about day trips, boat rides, activities and so on so that if my daughter needs to reach me for some reason and can't get me on my cell, she has a pretty good idea of where I am. I also email her the TripIt information as well.

I'm more of a digital gal and have created a mini-guidebook in Google Docs with itineraries and activities I plan on doing. However, I do print that out before I go, since it's easier to get to when driving. Then when I'm done with a place, I just discard the paper version.

Lastly, I go to Google maps and I save every place that I know I'm heading to in the app. I create a list for each town and save the specific destinations to that place - it's very handy when driving or traveling since it's easy to pull up and you don't have to search for someplace. Plus it's nice to look at all your destinations on the map since it makes it a bit easier to plan your sightseeing by area/location.

Posted by
6 posts

I am worn out just reading all this!

But have invested plenty of time most days to prepare for our Tour of the Adriatic, first R S Tour. We've done many trips on our own, with R S books, but felt a tour would be good for Eastern Europe because of the unfamiliarity with the language and the alphabet.

One thing that we've been doing for several weeks now is shifting our time zones. We are now getting up at 3:30 am! Sounds crazy, but it has helped with past trips. We go to bed at 7:30. All the meals shift too--so breakfast at 4 ish, lunch at 10, dinner at 4. I happen to have one of those lights to provide something like sunlight in the dark days of winter, so we turn that on in the kitchen for a few hours until the sun comes up. We will be in Belgium for a few days before heading to Ljubljana, so that will give us time to adapt even more to the change in time zones.

Posted by
12648 posts

@ Felicia - I love the "Worst Case Scenario" folder! My Dad, who was a fighter pilot in WWII, had his folder titled "When the Chocks are Under the Wheels".

One thing I realized yesterday when I was working on my "Tech Cube" is that I have to be sure I've got the appropriate charging cubes with the cords that have the ends I need for my current array of electronics. I've got an iPhone 14 with a lightning port, iPad Mini with a USB-C port and Air Pods with a USB-C port. I've got to make sure I've got cables to match as I've got some older charger cubes/cables I've had in the Tech Cube - need to make sure the ends match the devices now.

I'm taking 3 sets of ear buds - the Air Pods, the wired ear buds that go with my phone and the old ear buds that have the round connector in case I need them for any museum audio devices.

Posted by
557 posts

These are very helpful! The only thing I can add to the list:

-check that your clothes are not "reshape/dry flat".

I was out of practice on my recent trip and found 3 of 5 blouses had this annoying demand. In my next life I will be smart enough to read the washing instructions before buying!

Posted by
117 posts

The only thing I would not do, and won't do for our trip in 2 weeks, is to buy Euros here in the U.S. We did that last year for our RSE tour to France, and ended up spending a lot for exchange rate at Chase Bank.

Instead, I'll find the nearest bank in Florence when we arrive on the 28th, use the ATM to get some Euros there. The exchange rate will be much lower than what US banks offer, plus I don't have to make 2 trips to a local bank.

The key is to use an ATM that is attached to a bank, NOT a free-standing ATM, where exchange rates are almost always higher.

Posted by
10 posts

Great tips! We are going on the RS Paris and the Heart of France on October 10the this year. It will be at the end of our month in France. We begin our trip in Provence on September 20th. I am nervous about packing for such a long trip in a carry on. Mainly, I am worried more about the limitation on liquids in a carryon and a month's worth of meds (I take a few pills - LOL).I usually wear make up and bring my own hair stuff. I am thinking about going to a Sephora type place in Provence and buying stuff there.

Posted by
6172 posts

@Asteiner, don’t worry about the products you might need unless you’re allergic to some ingredients. France has most of the good brands and some nice ones we don’t carry. And it’s surprising how little product you need. Place your normal product in a little travel container or anything tiny to see over two weeks how much you actually use and then multiply that volume by two.

I am leaving for a month soon, and have everything I’ll use the entire month in my quart Ziploc bag, except I will replenish my toothpaste. And especially in France, I enjoy stepping into a shop and picking up a nice small container of lotion as something special to use during the trip.

Posted by
10 posts

RS recommends bringing a bar of soap. Is this really needed? Every hotel I’ve ever been to in Europe has soap. Thanks!

Posted by
457 posts

I am bringing two little bars of soap to use for handwashing clothes.

Posted by
369 posts

I wonder why RS recommends bars of soap? I have never needed my own soap except perhaps in my earliest travel days that included some youth hostels. That was in the dark ages..........

Hand-washing works well for me with the shampoo or liquid soap found in the hotels I frequent. I don't know the amenities available at RS hotels, but I have trouble believing soap is not included. I wouldn't want to be packing a damp bar of soap, even in a plastic baggie or plastic case.

When out and about, perhaps there is an occasional public restroom without soap? Hand sanitizer wipes would be my preference in those situations.

Other ideas for when bars of hand soap are needed? I may well be missing something.

Posted by
6172 posts

I wouldn’t add a bar of soap to your packing list….but I actually do bring one.

I have two items that are a bit of a splurge for me despite my very lightweight packing:

  • I bring a small colorful silicone cup that’s collapsible down to a tiny pancake. I don’t use the glass or plastic hotel cups.
  • I have a small bar (or cut off a third of a regular bar) of soap in a snack Ziploc bag. It keeps my backpack smelling nice during the trip. Sometimes I use up the soap during the last week of the trip or earlier if my skin is feeling dry since it has olive oil or something skin softening as ingredients.

The silicone cups I’ve been using for five years:

Posted by
72 posts

The only time I've seen Rick recommend bringing your own soap is to avoid the waste of leaving partially used bars of soap behind at each hotel. He calls them "itsy-bitsies".

These days, more and more hotels are switching to providing liquid soap/body wash, often in bottles mounted in the shower. This does a good job of eliminating waste.

Also, some people just prefer the soap/shampoo/conditioner that they are used to so they bring their own.

Posted by
369 posts

Thanks for the soap ideas above! Nice smelling soap for luggage/backpack refreshing - I hadn't thought of that, but I bet it is effective. Certainly bringing your own preferred soap or shampoos or conditioner makes great sense. I always travel with "my" brand of shampoo and moisturizer even if I know hotels will have them. I like the idea of bringing my own collapsible cup - I always take the time to rinse out any hotel glassware/cups with very hot water before I use them.

Always fun to hear others' travel hints and preferences. I might not adopt all suggestions, but keeping an open mind and not getting stuck in a travel packing rut is good for me!

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks for the clarification re: a bar of soap. I have started packing a few of the scented laundry soap sheets in my backpack. You can use them for hand washing or in a laundromat. They smell great, are lightweight, and not liquid. In fact, I use them all the time at home now - much more earth friendly.

Posted by
46 posts

After 14 tours;
I’ve learned to always have a bandana with me. I tie it to my day bag somewhere. It’s handy to dry hands on when there are only air hand dryers in the restroom. In hot climates you can wet it and tie around your neck or cool wrists, etc.
I also like to have a small hand-held fan for hot or stuffy places.
I do find some space for an umbrella. Yes, you can pick up cheap ones, but there is nothing like having it right on hand in a quick downpour. Also, it has come in handy for shade on a 101 degree tour of an Italian vineyard (that was our guide’s suggestion)
One of those little sewing kits you get in some hotels
I make a small ‘foot bag’ with blister bandages, a silicone stick, toe cushion, etc., and keep it in my day bag.
Before the tour, for personal peace, I pray through my itinerary and for the tour members’ travels.
And, always, always, always have a tin of Altoids! 😉

Posted by
10 posts

To clarify about the laundry soap sheets - I meant to wash garments out in the sink k by hand, not washing my hands. 😂

Posted by
3 posts

Highly suggest using the app Wanderlog. Their free version is very good. You can plan out separate days for multi day trip. You can add your airline tickets, links to hotels and sites with maps embedded, It is very visual so it isn't like just a list of things. You can assign times to different activities. Something changes you can drag it to different time or even a different day. You can invite your fellow travelers like family and friends to be able to see the trip plan and even contribute to it. I used it for a 10 day trip to Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion and surrounding areas with my two adult sons. It was really amazing to help stay organized, add ideas on the go, even restaurants. Amazing free app and has additional features for a monthly fee.