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RS Tour Size Max

For those of you that have completed RS tours recently, is exceeding the 28 tour member "max" number something you have experienced?

Reason for posting, we are scheduled for a RS Tour next month. There are 29 members listed. Our understanding was RS tours had a 24-28 person "max" and that range is rightfully boasted as a positive differentiator. We have been on other RS tours, all within the promised numbers. In our experience, 28 is already an oversized group for some itinerary activities and venues. Given we value the smaller group experience, 29 member tours is not a promising trajectory. I'm sure we will have a good time and this upcoming tour is what it is. Nevertheless, I'd like to know if tour sizeflation is pervasive as we plan travel and compare options going into 2024. I did inquire of the RS office and awaiting a response. Thanks

Posted by
118 posts

We've done 2 tours in the last 2 years; each was about 24-25 people.

Posted by
359 posts

Guessing one of the group participants is a family with children, slightly extending the headcount from 28 to 29. We've done two RSE tours and in both instances there were 1 or 2 families onboard (one tour had 28 persons total and the other 25). I wouldn't worry about the extra person somehow minimizing your experience, have a great trip!

Posted by
16 posts

We just got our list for our tour next month. 30 members. Maybe they've changed the max number?

Posted by
531 posts

My tour that starts in about a month is 28 people, including me and our tour guide

Posted by
1515 posts

We had 28. I do recall somewhere having to acknowledge that on occasion the group might be 29, but I don't recall 30.

Posted by
673 posts

Our last 2 tours were exactly 28 (we lost 2 to covid on the first tour so it was reduced to 26). I agree that 29 and/or 30 is too many.

Posted by
248 posts

If it helps, on my last 2 tours (this spring), there were 2 people who cancelled at the last minute from both tours (not the same people, lol, just same situation). This brought the number of participants to below 28. I agree, however, that even 28 is pushing it to be called "small group".

Posted by
677 posts

I just returned home from the Family Tour - 29 on this one. I wish they would stick to their promised limit.

Posted by
91 posts

With the group of 28-29 plus the tour guide plus the bus driver plus a possible 'trainee' guide, it's getting to feel quite crowded. I do miss the days of 18-24 group sized tours. So, 26 is starting to feel too big to me. I do understand that everyone has been very eager to be back traveling after two years of not being able to do so. But it must be harder on the guides to have groups that big.

Posted by
400 posts

I hope any information from the Rick Steves office on this is shared. The website specifically advertises that there is a maximum 24-28 on tours, one of Rick’s 10 Commitments. And I agree, anything over that tends to get crowded and restricted.

Posted by
5162 posts

Speaking as someone who has never taken a RS tour, it looks like some of you are counting the tour guide in that number. I wouldn't think that the guide would be considered part of the tour (with regards to the group number). Or is that wrong?

Posted by
37 posts

In 2008, my husband and I along, with our two adult daughters, went on the Germany Austria Switzerland tour. We had 32 people on the tour because a France tour had been cancelled and they allowed four people to take another tour. The tour roster had listed only 28 names but the four extra people were added on at the last minute. We were very surprised at the number when we met for our get-acquainted meeting. The year prior (2007) we had gone on a Village Italy tour with only 16 people. It made a big difference to be on a tour with twice as many people. We have been on eight other Rick Steves tours since then and they have all had 28 people.

Posted by
10526 posts

Looking forward to the RS response.

(Perhaps the '29th' is RS traveling under an alias? Would that be "too crowded"?)

Posted by
8204 posts

I think someone, maybe OP, should call or email and ask this question as I dont think the Webmaster has an obligation to follow up questions here. OP can refer to specific tour they were on.

Posted by
103 posts

April 2019 Tour--So. Italy
29 people not including Tour Guide & Driver

Posted by
215 posts

The last week of July I inquired about a upcoming Village Italy Tour that had one seat available if they would allow a couple to go on the tour and have it run with one extra person. This was the first paragraph of the reply (the rest described joining the waitlist, etc.):

Dear Don,

Thank you for your email. We have to keep our tours at a certain amount of people, so when you see that one seat is available, it truly means just one seat is available.

This was my response as when I got the reply from the RS rep it was the same night I was reading a post of a tour being over the limit:
Thank you for the information. I just happened to be reading the Forum on the evening of receiving this email and a trip report for the June 16-25 Heart of Italy tour was posted. The poster indicated they had 30 people in their group. Out of general curiosity, what is the criteria for deciding when a tour will exceed the small 24-28 max?

And lastly, this is the reply from the RS rep answer to my question about the forum post of 30 people being on a tour:
Thank you for your email and interest in our tours!

I can confirm that the June 16 departure of our 2023 Heart of Italy tour had a total of 28 tour members on it. Perhaps the person on the forum was counting the guide and bus driver as part of the group? Or, if there was an apprentice or assistant guide on the tour, they might have been counted in the person's total? I'm not sure, but that tour did indeed have 28 tour members.

Posted by
3109 posts

I'm wondering which tour companies ...fill every seat of a 50-person bus which limits options and can feel like a mob. To me, 28 people on a tour feels like a mob, no matter how many people could fit on the bus.

We have a travel style that works well for us - We travel independently to wherever we want to go, and stay where we want to stay. When it comes to sightseeing, we make liberal use of small-group tours - never more than 8 people so far. Rabbies Tours in Scotland advertise a maximum of 16 - we'll see how that works.

Posted by
61 posts

Demand has been so high that they're squeezing in a couple extra guests per tour? Tour costs (to RS) have risen, so allowing a few more per tour helps balance that cost? Hotel/guide/bus/site tour times/etc shortages, so they've been unable to add dates for popular tours and therefore allowing extra guests onto existing tours? 30 isn't 16, but it's not 50 either, which is what they've always compared themselves to when marketing. Everybody wants small group size, but everyone wants to travel, so you do the math...I don't mean to be snarky, just that we all know there is a ton of demand, and tour companies trying to recoup losses over the last few years, in the face of inflation and labor shortages, etc. I would guess they won't push numbers much if any more, but demand will keep groups at the higher end for the foreseeable future. RS may also be a victim of their own popularity, in terms of demand for their tours! Keep on traveling! (but adjust expectations? or consider other companies that set a lower max?)

Posted by
118 posts

RSE tour buses vary depending on the tour, but generally speaking, a typical bus will have around 56 seats depending on the manufacturer and model; they can have anywhere from 36 to 60 seats. If I were to guess, I'd say that the ones we've traveled on RSE tours were about 56 seats (that's 14 rows with 2 seats on each side of the aisle). Very roomy.

The tour director always grabs the front seat; on a 50-passenger bus for example, this would leave 24 2-person seats free, although I think there were more than that in our last trip through Tuscany. At any rate, when there are 28 people, almost every person could choose a single seat for him or herself; my wife and I like to sit together, and on our last trip there were at least 5 or 6 other couples who always did the same.

I don't see that as a crowded bus, by any means; our Tuscany tour only had 24 people, but even if we'd had 4 more, it wouldn't have been bad at all. When we're doing our walking tours, we always like to walk a bit ahead, so that we can grab clear photos, so the group size hasn't been an issue there either.

Group size has never crossed my mind on the 2 RSE tours that we've done. Others will of course disagree, but this is my personal experience, and my wife feels the same way. Even if there had been another 6 people, I doubt it would have made a noticeable difference.

Posted by
150 posts

I wonder if RS is doing some judicious overbooking like airlines do. They probably have historical data that on average, 1-3 people per tour drop out at the last minute, or something, so they are playing the odds. While I agree that 1 or 2 extra people on the bus is not going to be a problem, having more than 28 guests is plain and simple not what they promise. Please let us know what the office says.

Posted by
1988 posts

My understanding is exactly as Andrea stated.
I’ve been on a couple 50 plus tours and I hated it.
28 to 29 is a good number. Any smaller and you might get a large group traveling together and pretty much sticking together like a click. I’ve had that on several tours that were not RS. It happened once on our four RS tours. For me, I love interacting with tour members! It’s a big part of my trip expectations.

Posted by
980 posts

IMO the difference between 28 and 30 isn't as important as whether there is a large group of friends or family on your tour. On one RS tour we did there was a gentleman who was treating about 8 other family members to a trip. They were nice people but the group dynamics definitely were affected. At breakfast or group dinners they'd all sit together and even when everyone was at one or two long tables it was like a conversational desert.

Posted by
14150 posts

Rabbies Tours in Scotland advertise a maximum of 16 - we'll see how that works

Rabbies buses only have 16 seats.

Posted by
13241 posts

I’ve done a bunch of Rick tours as well as Road Scholar tours. My last Rick tour was October 2022 with 28 on Best of Italy, not counting driver and guide. That is more than I like. I actually canceled a Road Scholar tour for 2022 when I realized it was not a small group and had 39 enrolled, not counting leader and driver.

My last group tour was a true small group through Seymour Travels (Mark is a former RS guide) and was 5. I thought that might be too small, lol. What if someone was a “pill” as Mama used to say…or worse what if I was the pill? Turned out fine and I really enjoyed the dynamic of the group and the flexibility of that size group! There were 7 total including Mark and one of his other guides who was along doing research. I’m starting another of his tours today- not sure of the numbers but we’ve got 2 vans so maybe 12? Will know at the meet up later today.

I have had the experience some people mentioned of having a group traveling together forming a clique and it’s a negative experience. A skilled guide can do some intervention if they choose to. My particular guide on that tour did not so it was uncomfortable at times.

My opinion is that I think RSE is pushing the numbers by one or two to make up for lost time. There HAVE been reports of 30 tour members (not counting guide and driver) on tours no matter what the office says. That makes me sad because it seems like his original promises are being compromised. I hope for 2024 he’ll go back to his values.

Posted by
14150 posts

Rabbies van layout is opposite of the van rental.

The good thing about a 16 passenger van over a 50 pax bus is the van can go places a bus can't.

When I did Rabbies tour a few years ago to the Isle of Skye, the weather was clear with hardly a cloud in the sky. Our guide took us up a dirt road to the top of a mountain for wonderful views. A coach would not have been able to make that drive.

Posted by
2552 posts

I completely agree with Pam. I’ve seen many notes on the forum in recent months about group sizes over 28. And the fact is that the website says 24 - 28 is the max group size so I’m curious as to how it happens at all. To me, that is a promise of a maximum tour size.

It’s academic for me - all of those group numbers are too large for me. It really can be fun to do some traveling with others - but a group of 18 or under is really my preference.

Posted by
15 posts

My husband and I were on many, many wait lists for a trip last year. I won't go into details, but I eventually called the office, and the agent requested and was granted permission to overenroll a tour and let us in. So the tour roster listed 29 of us. One couple, however, tested positive and couldn't join the tour and another couple had to leave a few days in, so we ended with a group of only 25. Given that we were the "extra" couple, I can hardly complain, but I agree that pushing it to 30 is not great. There are many travel companies that tout their small group sizes, so I'm counting on RSE to be mindful of that and not allow too much "scope creep."

Posted by
74 posts

I've been on many RS tours over the years and several of them had 29 tour members. I seem to recall there is something in the tour agreement docs that say the number of participants can go up to 29 but of course I can't find it now.

Recent tours, including my spring tour of RS Holland and Belgium, had some site or town imposed limits of tour group size (specifically the Amsterdam city tour and Rijksmuseum tour). For those tours, we were split into two groups, each with its own local guide. That was sooooo nice! I would love to see this happen more often but also understand it would increase expenses and therefore tour pricing.

That said, I don't think I'd notice a difference of one more tour member.

Posted by
400 posts

This really should be quite simple. If the size of the tour members is advertised to be between 24-28 maximum then that’s what it should be. Of course, there’s going to be people where size doesn’t matter but there’s others that base their decision on whether or not to engage with a tour company on the size of the group.

Posted by
118 posts

On our RSE Best of Tuscany tour in May, there were 24 tour members plus our guide; when we toured the Academia in Florence to see the David, and again when we went through the Uffizi Gallery, we were split into 2 groups of 12, plus our guide who wandered around behind the two groups, making sure nobody got detached.

I wonder if the reason for groups swelling from 28 to 29 (or even 30) is because there have been some families who were perhaps a group of 4. I tend to agree with the person who said that if RSE advertises 28 max, it should stick to that rule.

Having said that though, group size hasn't been an issue with us, but we've only done 2 RSE tours so far (will be doing Best of Scotland next summer), and each of the tours we did were only 25 people (Loire Valley) and 24 people (Tuscany).

Posted by
51 posts

Over the years we've taken three RS tours that had 24-25 people. When we took the Best of Scotland tour almost a year ago we had 28 plus our tour guide.
Just like a regular classroom (former teacher here) those extra four folks made the group seem bigger than just "four more people."
I understand the groups can go to 29 or so. It was just a little nicer at 24-25.

Posted by
16893 posts

Hi, Dootle. I'm not sure that we received your earlier message.

It's correct that our goal of 24-28 Tour Members on Rick Steves Tours does not include the Guide or Driver, so people sometimes count that wrong. For instance, the FRH091923 and ITS042719 tour have or had 28 TMs, not more. Nancy and Dootle were or will be on tours with 29 TMs signed up. In Nancy's case, I can see that a family of 6 was the last group booked, so they might not have fit any better onto another tour date.

We work very hard to stick to the published group limits and even harder not to go over 29. So I doubt there have been many with 30 TMs, aside from a situation like Terry describes. A key reason for this in the past two years is not a practice to encourage overbooking at the time the tour departs, but a practical need to allow overbooking to 29 earlier in the process, due to the high proportion of cancellations and transfers that have been happening since Covid. For 2022 tours, about 25% of all places booked were later cancelled and others transferred from spring to fall. Luckily, the "churn" has been less this year. For 2024 tours, we are not overbooking to 29 routinely, though it still could happen several months before departure, assuming the possibility of additional changes to each tour roster over the intervening months.

We need each departure to operate very near to capacity in order for it to be profitable. The more people who drop out on short notice, the more "borderline" that equation becomes, and it's unpredictable. At the same time, we've been committed to running those tours, even when some ran only half-full last spring, to support the guides, hotels, and other vendors; to fulfill our promise to the others who traveled; and just to keep the wheels turning.

Also, this is the relevant section of our Tour Member Expectations document (bold added):

Embrace and participate in our NO GRUMPS policy:
* Travel is all about experiencing things we're not used to. Tour members are expected to be flexible and open-minded and to practice considerate social behavior toward one another.

  • Understand that if you are a solo traveler, you will be assigned a same-sex roommate who may have different sleep habits and might snore like a gorilla (that's why we recommend earplugs). If you do not want a roommate and prefer a guaranteed private room, if one is available, you will need to pay the single supplement fee.
  • Accept that in rare circumstances your tour may have one additional tour member above the advertised number.
  • Agree that you won't be allowed to smoke or vape on the bus, in the hotel, or where other tour members are present.
  • Look forward to surprises, understanding that itineraries, like the rest of life, are subject to change.
Posted by
20 posts

Laura, thank you for the response and all your RS tour teams efforts.

Posted by
6477 posts

Laura, thanks for the clarification and sharing the reasoning behind the decisions.

Posted by
207 posts

Thanks to the Webmaster.

I do want to ask a clarification question. You mentioned people dropping out on short notice. Many companies won't when you get to say 60 or 45 days before the tour. At that stage if one cancels, it shouldn't effect the tour co. as they are paid and anyone canceling would have to seek reimbursement from insurance if they took it out.

Does RS refund on short notice that overbooking would be necessary?