Please sign in to post.

tour lessons learned ?

We've gone on a few RS tours and were planning to go on one this year prior to the pandemic. Recently I was looking thru old picture albums and began to think of what I'd do differently. I'm curious what other people would change/recommend regarding RS tours but I'll start with these two

1) arrive in the starting town 2+ days early if it is a city. On our trips we arrived the day before which gave a buffer in case of delay. For smaller towns such as Reims that was fine, but one tour we did was Greece. In retrospect we were still jetlagged when the tour started, plus there was lots that we could have seen on our own in Athens prior to the start of the tour.

2) look thru RS tour scrapbooks prior to the trip. When I look thru the scrapbooks for tours we've taken I usually see a few places in towns we visited that look intriguing but that we didn't visit. They may have been described in the guidebook, but a picture can bring something to life in a way a paragraph of text doesn't

Posted by
8397 posts

"plus there was lots that we could have seen on our own in Athens prior to the start of the tour."

I find this to be so true! Most of the locations where tours start are interesting on their own even if they are smaller towns. Often even if the tour is staying 2 or 3 nights there isn't enough time to see everything you might want locally. Three big examples of this are Bath (Best of England), Canterbury (Villages of Southern England) and Trier (Germany, Austria and Switzerland). When it starts in a big city such as Paris, London or Rome...of course there is more to do than you can possibly cover in a tour!

On nearly every tour I've been on either someone was late due to a travel hiccup or had luggage that had to catch up with them.

  • I'd also say that I've learned to do my research ahead of time for each location on tour. I really enjoy cathedrals and often the tour just does a hit and run of the local cathedral so I like to plan to go back if there is free time available. Ditto museums...generally want to do an extended visit. When I did the Belgium and Holland tour in 2019 (Was that JUST last year??) I called the RS office to ask a timing question. While she was answering me the staff person also said....there is a special Rembrandt exhibition while you're there. You'd need to get a ticket ahead of time if you want to go. I'd not seen that listed and yep, pronto got a ticket as she suggested. When we were there the exhibit was completely sold so I was very happy she had mentioned it! Now I am more careful about checking for special things.

  • I take a look at the Trip Advisor destination forums as well as the RS forums. Sometimes I pick up info there on exhibitions, restaurants, day trips etc. Sometimes not, lol.

Posted by
1971 posts

This year would have been my first RS tour. I normally travel solo, but decided to travel with a girlfriend and wanted to give the responsibility of getting us to St Petersburg to the experts.

Like you, we planned to arrive a few days early - not only for jetlag, but to see more of our first city. We also planned to stay an extra day in our last city to see things beyond the itinerary. And we added a city (Moscow) after the tour - figured we might as well make use of the cost of our Russian VISAs.

For myself, used to traveling solo (and even with the abundance of "free time" on RS tours) I was worried about not having enough truly independent time. So I added yet another city (Riga) before our tour and before the meetup with my girlfriend. That helped me feel that I was still getting the independent travel time that I have come to enjoy.

Posted by
6061 posts

I would actually read up on the cities and towns in the guidebooks, and do some thinking (not micro-minute planning) about what to do in our free time there. Lots of people I've seen on tours will wait and ask the tour leader for what things to do, or tag along with the tour leader wherever they were going. I see now its why they want you to bring the guidebook with you (which we haven't always done).

Posted by
4769 posts

I've done two RS tours and another guided one. In each case I've flown to the starting point several days ahead, and on the RS tours I've stayed in the end city several days after. Like with the posters above, this was to deal with jetlag and also get more time in major cities (Budapest, Venice, Barcelona). The 14-day Spain tour provides one full day in Barcelona so I was glad to have three days before that. And spending more time at the end (Rome, Sevilla/Cordoba/Madrid) let me see more at a more relaxed pace.

I try to read some history beforehand, and multiple guidebooks. I copy and paste the tour itinerary into a Word document and add my own plans, tentative or fixed, for each day before, during, and after. That document also includes a to-do list with reminders to get tickets to sights requiring them, trains, etc. On the trip I make handwritten changes as plans evolve (they always do). I also spend pre-trip time with Pimsleur language tapes (from the library) and phrasebooks to learn what I can. Sometimes I watch movies set in the countries I'll be visiting.

For years my wife and I traveled independently, but she's not as mobile now and I still have the energy to keep crossing the ocean. The RS tour "culture" agrees with me, I've enjoyed the people I've met, and I hope to resume with Ireland in fall of next year if possible. I'll get into Dublin several days early, maybe stay in Belfast a little longer, and see what else time and energy allow. No Pimsleur tapes for this one though, just maybe a few Gaelic phrases.

Posted by
3523 posts

The lesson I learned on my first tour was that as a solo traveler it was up to me to reach out to others if I wanted company for dinner, etc. If you are friendly and let it be known that you are interested in heading out for a meal with someone, you will usually get an invite. It is important to respect everyone's personal free time, but just communicating your interest and waiting to see what happens usually brings a good result.

I also learned that you can't always tell how much free time you will have each day from the schedule. Be prepared. Assume that you have more than you think you will. I ended up unprepared for an afternoon once and really regretted not having done a bit more planning.

Finally, I learned that some of the places that I wasn't very excited about going from the itinerary were actually quite interesting. Expect positive and interesting experiences.

Posted by
1608 posts

We still regret that prior to our first tour, Heart of Italy, we did not add some days in Venice. In those days the tour started in Florence and several people visited Venice on their own. It’s particularly regrettable given it was 2007 and not nearly as crowded as it is today.

Don’t hesitate to buy stuff at the vendors you visit. We wish we’d taken the offer to buy and ship wine at our Volterra stop and one of the best facial scrubs I ever found was in Kardimyli (Greece tour) where the gentleman give us a talk on olives. He also sold a laundry bar that some how gets outs stains that nothing else can. We’ve always found a way to carry stuff - we now bring collapsible duffles and wine bags.

Our last tour was #5 (Southern Italy) and it had lots of experienced RS travelers. Several times people would suggest getting together whether it was a happy hour or a chance to enjoy an incredible view from someone’s room. The invite was extended to all and those who chose to participate usually brought something to share. There was no forced socializing, but I think it did make the group feel closer. I will remember that for our next tour.

Posted by
1907 posts

If you want to see something that's not covered on the tour, ask your guide. We were on the Loire to the South of France tour and we had a day off in Sarlat. I really wanted to see Lascaux. I mentioned this to our guide Virginie a few days before and she made arrangements for me and 5 others that also wanted to go.

Posted by
3492 posts

As some have mentioned, go over at least two days early. Three is even better. Helps get acclimated and over jet lag. Not to mention being able to see things the tour doesn't cover at your own pace. Do your own research on your arrival city so as to not overlook things that really interest you.

Posted by
3469 posts

I have learned, after 10 RS tours, that I don't need to plan every second of my free time with activities.

The first couple tours I was on, I religiously absorbed the guide books and plotted out exactly what I would be doing every minute of every day that had free time. It wasn't fun. I would get annoyed when the bus ran late or dinner took longer than scheduled. I was a bad tourist because of this. I seemed to miss a lot of "fun" things because I was too fixed on seeing every sight. It was a reflection of what my life was like at the time.

I now pick out things I feel I really need to see, and I pay attention to closing times for those places if relevant, but every minute is not booked. This has allowed me to do things I never expected while still seeing the things that are important to me and are not covered by the tour. Like getting into a very enjoyable conversation at a town in Ireland at one of the pubs that looked inviting but I never would have stopped at if I had planned my evening. Or having the best ice cream I have ever had in East Berlin because a few of us were just out for an unplanned walk and found this hole-in-the-wall place (no pun intended) that was set up in a house that made all of their own ice cream from milk from cows the owner had out in the countryside.

Some who like packing so much into their vacation that they are exhausted at the end may see this as wasting time because I can appear indecisive and unprepared. But I am just as prepared as I was previously, although in a different manner. And a lot more relaxed throughout the entire tour.

Posted by
6061 posts

Carol mentioned traveling solo on RS tours. I learned from this forum that we needed to be more pro-actively sociable with the single travelers. We travel as a couple, and on our first couple of tours, I wrongfully assumed that single travelers preferred to do things on their own (as I might be so inclined) or would prefer to befriend other singles. The last couple of tours, we learned different.

Maybe its standard advice for most tourists, but regarding souvenirs or things you need (like toiletries, etc.) the adage "if you see it, buy it" applies on the RS tours. They mean it when they say they're not shopping tours, and I think some people were still surprised there was no "shopping time" in the schedule.

Posted by
4769 posts

As a solo on my two RS tours, I enjoyed and appreciated eating and socializing with others, and I never lacked for chances. I also learned to opt out of group activities that might interest me less than something else I could do with the time, e.g. in Florence I skipped the cooking class to visit the Bargello and a few other sights. But it's important to let the guide know before you peel off, and of course there are times when you can't get away because of tour logistics.

Another tip -- when you pair up with a "buddy" at the start, look for the tallest guy in the group -- bald if possible. He's easy to spot when it's time for a "buddy check." ;-)

Posted by
7 posts

Fortunately, my husband and I are retired, so we are able to bracket our RS tours with extra days on both ends. We arrive 4-6 days early at a major city close to the beginning tour city, so we are able to rest there and then explore it. Depending on our interest in the beginning tour city, we may arrive there the day before the tour starts, so we can explore things that are not included on the tour. When the tour ends, we stay in that city or one close by for an additional 4-5 days of exploration, then travel to a nearby major airport to fly home.

For example, we arrived in Paris 6 days ahead of taking the train to Reims for the RS Best of Eastern France tour. That tour ended in Aix-en-Provence, where we stayed for 4 more days of exploration, including a day trip to Marseilles. We flew from Marseilles to Paris and stayed one night in a hotel at CDG so we would be sure be on time for our flight home the next morning.

Posted by
500 posts

Every tour in every new base you get an orientation from your tour guide. It’s important to pay attention and take note(s) as needed. Know where the ATM is, the shop for quick snacks and water, wine! Know your closest bus or metro stops. Your place of lodging will have a local map and often they supplement RS guide book maps. Pick out a landmark as a guide point to your hotel.

I am a pro money belt user. I know there is a lot of different opinions here. But I never have concern about my valuables this way.

As a solo traveler I also agree with both Carol and Stan. (Hi Stan and Jan!). I met them in 2014 on Southern France tour. Also the tips about reading about your itinerary and things of interest to do in free time is valuable time saver once you’re there.

When the group breaks you’ll know better and it saves time. Like in Berlin you may need an entry time for the Pergamon. For the interior Reichstag you need to make a reservation a few months before your travel. I also highly suggest as the others the pre and post add on days if you can.

Expect the unexpected and remain calm and be flexible.

Posted by
908 posts

Standing up and cheering at Stan’s comment about couples (or friends/relatives traveling together) and solo travelers. Solo travelers may be single, divorced, widowed, or married. Maybe they didn’t have a friend or family member who had time to travel, maybe a spouse didn’t want to go, maybe they wish they did have a partner, but they don’t and they still want to travel with an organized group. Please don’t ever assume! I’ve been on five RS tours—four as a solo traveler. I’ve dined or have spent free time with other singles and with couples. Maybe this is a little easier on the city tours that seem to attract more of a mix of solos and paired travelers? In any event, let people have their alone time if they want it, and enjoy your time as a couple, but consider that many people would enjoy being invited to join you for a meal or free time activity.

Posted by
297 posts

My best piece of advice was one I learned when I signed up for the Best of Ireland tour. As soon as you get your list of the hotels at the start and end of the tour, go ahead and get information on the prices. Then book a hotel room for two or three nights right away. After you finish planning the rest of the trip you can change your reservation if you need to.

After signing up, I emailed the hotel for their prices. After receiving them I waited to book anything until I had finalized my plans. Several weeks later I tried to book at the initial hotel and the price was now about €100 a night higher than the first price I was quoted. I won’t make that mistake again.

I think we all learned from this pandemic to always book hotel rooms based on the probability that we might have to cancel. I don’t think I will ever book a room with a no cancellation policy.

Posted by
3469 posts

I also want to say thanks to those on the tours that are including the solo travelers when making meal plans and other free time activities.

On all of the 10 RS tours I took, I have always traveled solo. Not by choice, it was just that friends, co workers, family members, and others who liked to travel that I felt I could stand 2 weeks together with could never find the time to join me when I went. Once the tours started, I have always found several other tour members who seemed to enjoy my company for dinners and such. I was never pressured to join anyone, nor was I ignored and left to my own. It always seemed easy to find someone who had the same food and activity interests as I did. On a couple of the tours, over half the members were solo. Those were mid summer tours where a lot of school teachers were part of the group.

Posted by
665 posts

I'll add one more item -- bring a few sheets of paper to keep a log of where we've been, what we saw, thoughts, etc. I remember for our first trip I thought the pictures would capture the trip. And they go a long way, but a few months after the trip I found I was forgetting details I wanted to remember. So now at the end of each day (well, most days anyway) I spend 10 minutes or so writing a half-page or so to capture thoughts and impressions, as well as any places in particular I want to remember.

Posted by
1656 posts

Yes, John, we've always taken a tiny pocket notebook for that purpose. And later, when I'm trying to figure out where all our pictures were taken, the notes have come in very handy!

Posted by
3555 posts

About documenting pictures...

If you take pictures with a cell phone, you likely have the basics about them in the "details" about each picture.

At minimum there should be the date and time. If you're lucky there will be an actual address and a map pinpointing the location. If you click on the map it should enlarge to the size of the screen.

I usually take so long to share my pictures that I frequently need to refer to those details. Mostly I remember the place but not the exact date.

Trying to avoid as much paper as possible, I use the "notes" function on my phone or tablet to further document the pictures. I must admit that I'm lazy and not great at making paper or digital notes.

If I'm being obsessive about detail, I often have to search online to verify just who that person is in that sarcophagus, among other things. In general, my small Facebook audience of relatives and friends doesn't really care about the details, unless I tell a short story. Very few bother to follow my "for more information go to" links.

There are lots of other ways to make notes, like sending yourself an email, or creating a Word or Excel document.

About traveling solo ...

My last trip to Europe with my husband was in 2014. After that, he opted out of any travel that involved spending hours in a metal tube, twice.

I've traveled solo 4 years since then. Three of those trips involved RS tours. My experiences have mostly been similar to those positive ones already posted. Sometimes I've had to step up to the plate myself and ask to join people, especially for meals. Other times I've much appreciated invitations to join them. I've only had one negative stuation where a woman was openly rude and condescending to me. It's a good thing I'm very thick-skinned.

I find traveling solo in this context a delicate balance among wanting to join others, not wanting to be a pest and not wanting to appear to be standoffish.

Posted by
473 posts

Like others, we didn't allow ourselves enough time at the beginning and end of our first tour to see and experience all that the cities had to offer. On our second tour (Eastern Europe) we splurged and spent 5 full days in Vienna, 24 hours in Cesky Krumlov, and 3 days in Prague prior to the start of the tour -- and four days in Venice at the end of the tour. I loved having that much time to explore at the front end of the tour, and loved having the slow days of wandering and enjoying good food and not running running running at the end. We had planned to do something similar this time (we were supposed to go on the Southern Italy tour starting next week), allowing 5 days to explore Rome on our own prior to the start of the tour, and 4 days to relax on the Amalfi Coast at the end of the tour. For me, building in time to relax and enjoy some place without a lot of seeing and doing at the end of the tour is the way to go -- otherwise, I think I'd be too exhausted.

For our last tour, I read up on hotel reviews and chose to spend our pre-tour nights in a hotel in the Lesser Quarter of Prague, before moving to the tour hotel. That ended up being a great decision. Not only was the first hotel absolutely wonderful (a small old style family run b&b), but I felt we had a better sense of Prague having stayed in two very different areas.

One thing I would definitely do differently in the future is spend more time in advance reading up and planning dinners on our own. On our first tour we were too focused on saving money (granted the exchange rate was awful at the time) and I think we were pennywise and pound foolish. I don't think I've truly experienced a really special meal on my own on the tours. Sometimes we were just tired, so finding a place near the hotel was the best bet. But I haven't had the best luck just wandering and selecting a place to eat....in the future I'd do more research prior to the trip and maybe even make an advance reservation or two (this was going to be our plan for the Southern Italy tour).

Posted by
65 posts

I've taken 3 Rick Steves tours so far (and 3 others with different companies to Europe/Asia). The one thing I've learned to do by now is to arrive at least 2 days early, as others have said, to get over my jet lag (or, in the case of Greece, to get over a self-inflicted illness, sigh). I also refer to other guidebooks/websites for other suggestions on places to see/eat for more opinions on a particular destination. I'll even wade through social media sites for destination hashtags to see if anything catches my eye (I have some major regrets about Rome, Venice and Athens that I need to re-visit).

Posted by
43 posts

I was a solo traveler on the RS Best of Paris tour 3 years ago. As much as I'd have liked to share the experience with my husband, we'd been to Europe a few times and frankly he's happier fly fishing on a river on Vancouver Island.
Lesson #1. As almost everyone has said, spend at least 2 extra days before the beginning of the tour. I flew from the west coast of Canada to Paris, landing mid morning on the first day of the tour. Kept nodding off on the bus orientation ride the first evening, and was so jetlagged the next morning that I couldn't get the concept of the Metro lesson our tour guide gave us. I figured with the single supplement and the Canadian/US exchange, I couldn't justify the extra expense. Wrong!
Lesson #2. Read your tourmates. There was one other solo traveller in the group. She assumed I would do everything with her, because I wasn't part of a couple. She was also a novice traveller. Had never been on a subway ever, and was distrustful of every stranger. I didn't speak up ( it's the non confrontational polite Canadian in me). I wanted to sit with other tour mates at breakfast and dinners, but she always "saved a seat for me". Eventually I told the tour guide who said this was not uncommon and graciously stepped in at mealtimes and asked her to join whatever table she was at. This allowed me to engage with some of the other tour members.
Lesson #3. Accept invitations from others and include them in your plans sometimes. I had heard that St Chapelle had some terrific evening classical music concerts. I asked the tour guide to reserve a seat for me on a free evening, and when I mentioned it to some of the other travellers, they asked to join me. We heard a group of cellists and violinists play Vivaldi's Four Seasons in a moonlit stained glass church. It was magical and my best "wow" moment of the tour. We had a terrific dinner afterwards and I got to know some really great people. I'd have enjoyed it by myself, but what a wonderful experience to share.
Lesson #4. Don't plan out every free moment. Do your research, but take time to explore that next street or alley, find a market, or sip wine and people watch in the middle of the day at a outdoor cafe.
I was to be on the Best of England this month with my brother and sister in law. It will happen when it's safe, and I will take my own advise to enrich my experiences and meet like minded people.

Posted by
3492 posts

Janet,

And later, when I'm trying to figure out where all our pictures were taken, the notes have come in very handy!

Take photo of the itenerary for the day before taking the first photo of the day. That keeps things in order when later trying to rember where and when a picture was taken.

Posted by
40 posts

May I add another question here? I am planning to do BOEE in Oct 2021. I find myself often wondering how currency exchange will go... does the tour start and stop with currency transfer in each country? Thanks in advance!

Posted by
89 posts

Michelle, We have done the Eastern Europe tour. At your first stop in each country, your guide will point out ATM machines right away. Also, the guide helps in estimating how much cash might be needed for each country. Credit cards were widely accepted as well. Your guide reviews and helps with all currency question. Most people were able to get pretty close to the right amount of cash with little leftover. There are currencies exchanges, but their Exchange rates are poor.

At the end of the tour, most of us on the tour gave the guide our leftover loose change, which they donated to charity.

Posted by
40 posts

Thanks, Ellen! I was picturing long lines at the beginning of each segment! :)

Posted by
1608 posts

Lo - anyone that passes up an opportunity to spend time with you has missed something very special. I still treasure the lunch we shared at Windmill Gardens in Puyallup.

TC - so glad you mentioned taking a picture daily of the itinerary on your phone. It helps not only with picture identification, but sometimes it’s useful in real time for knowing where you’re supposed to be when.

Also, grab a hotel card for each hotel you stay at. If you’re out an about and get turned around, it helps to find your way back where you belong and circumvents any language barrier.

Posted by
6061 posts

A couple more practicalities. Be ready to ask questions of general interest at the orientation meeting. For example, ask which hotels will have air conditioning, and what the best opportunity for getting laundry done will be. That way you can plan ahead. Some folks are a bit shy at that first meeting, but I'll bet they want to know too.

Posted by
2788 posts

I have taken 18 RS tours and look forward to the resumption of tours next year (?) - Hope so. I can not add very many suggestions that have not already be made. Since we fly from Seattle to Europe and spend all that money on airfare, we go about a week early before the tour starts and visit another place before heading to the tour start place. We also tend to stay in Europe after the tour is over. Ask questions at the orientation meeting. Take a picture of each days schedule that is put up by the guide - a good marker when sorting pictures later. If anything is bothering you during the tour, contact the guide right away rather than sit and suffer.
We tend to have someone who claims motion sickness and needs to sit in the front of the bus next to the guide. If you have motion sickness also, please let the guide know early so the guide can rotate the motion sickness members. We travel to Europe for about one month with only an 18" RS carry on bag and do "sink washing" as necessary. Questions? send me a message.

Posted by
1907 posts

Another suggestion on the bus travel. It's only fair that everyone rotate seats on the bus so be fair, but if you can, avoid the seats directly over the wheels, I found those to be extremely rough and jarring.

Pre-trip, if you're not active, get active and go on long walks to get yourself used to the walking you will do. Add a few hills to your routine if you'll be going to hilly locations like Edinburgh.

Posted by
137 posts

Excellent post and I'm hoping/praying/ohm-ing resumption of lively and entertaining RS tours are in our 2021 future. I've learned having my own 3.5mm phone jack earbuds for the whisper system is much more comfortable. I know having excellent footwear appropriate for the terrain and weather can literally make or break my day. And, it's not just the steps and mileage but the standing in one place that can tax "head-shoulders-knees-and-toes-knees-and-toes," let alone my back. Having an eye on the posted schedule as a responsible group participant, coupled with an open mind for serendipity and unforeseen happenstances causing changes to that schedule, is a successful attitude and helpful magnifier of great times on all RSTs. I keep tissues/seat covers on my person, like to have a water bottle, always remember to grab accommodation/dining/retail/site business cards or maps or brochures and take pics of wine labels/street signs/storefronts for the memory joggers that they are and what I need to hopefully repurchase and relive some pretty fabulous moments. I advise to always consider purchasing items on the rare occasions they are part of the tour. It has always been a regret-free choice and not necessarily requiring a splurge. I have managed wine bottle and olive oil containers without incident swaddled carefully in my clothes in my checked bag. Scarves, stationery, football jerseys pack very easily for mementos/gifts.

Posted by
16 posts

I have a tip for the last "day" of the tour. This is always just breakfast with the rest of the day free. I find that after all the planning, anticipating, and fun of the tour I am always a bit down when it is all over. My first tour I was not motivated to do anything that day. But since then I have made a point of scheduling something interesting for the late morning to take my mind off the letdown. I say my last goodbyes and then go off on a walking tour, a class, or to a site that particularly appeals to me. Or, a few times I have booked transportation to a new destination. I always have something fun to look forwards to that last day!

Posted by
314 posts

We've been on two Rick Steves tours. Both were fabulous. I have come up with four tour tips.

We don't plan extra nights in the first tour city. It's impossible to know what sites you're going to visit on your guided walking tour of that city, and I'd rather not spend two days exploring the city, only to find out that all those places are going to be re-visited on the guided tour. We plan our pre-tour overnight(s) for a nearby city that isn't on the tour, then arrive in the first city just an hour or two before the welcome meeting. Our pre-tour city for the Germany, Austria, Switzerland tour was Bacharach, and we loved our time there! This approach isn't for everyone but we've liked it!

A tip relating to learning names: On the first tour, it took until halfway through the trip (or more) for me to feel confident that I knew everyone's name. Rick Steves tours are very social. Your tourmates will become your good friends. Don't be shy about getting to know them early in the trip, because the time will go fast. You're a step ahead of the game if you work on learning the names even before you get there. You will get a list of fellow tour members prior to travel. For our second tour, I made it a point to look at the list of names a few times a day, and by the time we traveled, I had all the names memorized and just had to put faces to them, which happened at the orientation meeting. By day 2, I could call everyone by name.

Third tip: photography is a big hobby of mine, and nothing is more disappointing than getting home from a trip and realizing I missed the most iconic photos of some of the places visited. I spend some time online looking at professional photographic images of the places we're going to visit, so that I can get some of those shots myself! This allowed me, for example, to know about the "secret stairs" that go down below the Charles Bridge in Prague so that I could take a photo of the canal framed under the arch of that bridge, a much better canal picture than the one taken from the top of the bridge.

The tour leader is not able to coordinate ways for people to stay in touch with each other after the tour, but tour members can do this on their own. Pass a sheet of paper around the bus to collect contact info for everyone who has an interest in photo sharing or remaining in contact afterwards. Collect names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and find out who is on Facebook. You want to make sure everyone knows it's optional. Our tour group ended up creating a facebook group to photo share afterwards. Six years later, some of us still use the group to share messages related to travel.

Posted by
8397 posts

"Lesson #2. Read your tourmates. There was one other solo traveller in the group. She assumed I would do everything with her, because I wasn't part of a couple."

Susie makes a very good point here, especially for solo travelers! As much as I'd like to think everyone on an RS tour is inquisitive, eager to learn and wants to be independent, you'll occasionally find someone who is more comfortable leaning on someone else or who has done no research or reading of the guidebook to see what might be interesting to them. Although I'm not Canadian, lol, I'm pretty polite and it took me a bit to figure this one out. DO talk with your guide if there is someone who is trying to lean on you too much. The guides are generally very skilled and can do a subtle intervention.

I hope this does not sound mean as there have been plenty of times when I'd sussed out something interesting and was happy to have company or when I joined others who had found something I wasn't aware of.

Posted by
927 posts

I have learned the value of a day out or vacation from my vacation, if the tour schedule permits. I first learned this as a solo traveler when on a tour with a plethora of other female soloists. Day by day, the solo women seemed to become more and more of a cohesive group - if one was a single woman, an expectation seemed to develop that of course one would breakfast with that group. A characteristic of that particular group is that several of the members wanted to speak about health issues. As I was travelling as a vacation from family-care responsibilities, I began to find this stressful. And while I tried to separate from the bunch or change the subject of conversation, I struggled. One day, when the tour group was over-nighting in a multi-night base (Delft) and taking a day trip, I mentioned something to the tour guide who suggested that unless I was really interested in the day trip (NOT), I might consider staying behind in Delft. I had a wonderful, liberating day and was able to see many Delft locations and features the group had no time for. I slowed down.

Since then, I have been more sensitive to my needs (group vs no group) and have taken some days out when the schedule permits. I spent a lovely day at the agriturismo during Village Italy, and I was one of about 5 who did so! We ate lunch together by the pool. I also opted for the beach, not hiking, in the CT. I have found there are often like-minded tour members who opt out just like me, and then sometimes we spend some time together. I have never pre-planned a day out, but I like to be open to the opportunity if it feels right and works with the schedule.

Posted by
2316 posts

I've never taken a Rick Steves Tour; BUT, on a small-group tour from Bayeux, I felt a bit sorry for a woman who was traveling solo. She made a few comments to me over the course of the day, and I made an effort to respond. When we were dropped off for our lunch break, I sensed that she was hinting for an invite. I told my husband that I wanted to ask her to join us for lunch. BIG MISTAKE! She didn't even feign interest in anything my husband or I had to say as she talked non-stop about herself. I had no idea we were so uninteresting. We ate as quickly as possible and excused ourselves.

I should have valued our time together instead of giving in to a feeling of obligation to reach out to a solo traveler who had absolutely no interest in us.

I'm not saying that it is okay to shun the solo travelers on your tour, but I think it should be okay to "dance with who brung you", as we say in Texas.

Posted by
2 posts

This might not apply to most RS tours since most countries and tours are on the euro, but for multi-currency trips (e.g., RS Eastern Europe), make sure you know what the conversion rate is, for the first country at the very least. One poor lady on our trip spent the ENTIRE 14 day trip trying to convert the Czech currency to each of the various country currency (there were 5 different ones as only Slovenia was on the euro) instead of using the handy ATMs. Apparently, she used the default setting at the Prague airport ATM and it was a HUGE amount.

Posted by
1025 posts

We have been on six RS tours, and as we speak were supposed to be on #7 (Best of England). We have always added on time before and after the tours, but have found that we enjoy the pre-tour independent travel more than post-tour. The RS tours are tiring (in a good way) and post-tour travel seems anticlimactic. There are always exceptions, of course, such as staying on a a major city when the tour ends in that city.

Posted by
3833 posts

John, definitely agree with the comment to arrive early. For the GAS tour, we stayed on our own in The Netherlands five days before the tour started. For the Best of Italy tour that started at Lake Como, we arrived three days before and took the train to Verona. For both of those, we felt like we stretched our vacation experience, were able to enjoy the fun of being on our own - own achievements and a few humorous mishaps. Plus, we were well past jet lag to be fully ready for the tour.

Bring less stuff: I’ve appreciated the “pack light” that I learned from the RS tours and traveling independently. Now I just take four outfits and rotate them, washing in the sink every other night. I’ve been complimented on my clothes by fellow tour mates, and it’s much easier to have less “stuff” and more room for a souvenir. I create a specific list of what I’m taking. When I’m back home, I mark any changes I would make for the following trip - very helpful!

Use my phone less: Bring a couple of pens and small post-it notepads. It’s easier to mark down what your guide points out or handy to write down metro stops ahead of time. I like to avoid walking around with my phone in my hand unless I’m taking photos. If I’m not looking at my phone, I’m taking in my surroundings much more.

Getting excited pre-trip for being there: When you receive the list of hotels from the RS office, virtually “walk down the street” to get a feel for the neighborhood and the look of the front of the hotel ahead of time. It helped me get acclimated quicker to the place we would be for those two nights.

Remembering the stories: I’ve posted a Trip Report on the forum the following week after my last 5 trips. It’s helpful for others, and I receive some very nice responses, but mainly I do it because it forces me to write it down while it’s fresh. Then I print a copy of it and store it inside the on-line photo book that I have printed.

Posted by
449 posts

Great thread, everybody. Thanks, John, for launching it.

Keeping a journal: it's already been cited, but another do it! vote here. When our folks were alive, it was a way to share the traveling with them later, down to what flavor gelato, but I've kept up the habit & love having stuff in writing. Re-read them for pleasure, especially these last stay-at-home months, sigh, plus can dig out info when anybody asks. Best physical journal is one small enough for your pocket, for any moment's jotting. "Slouched on the hot Spanish Steps, just slugged entire water bottle, a babe in stilettos is posing nearby for her bella figure dude, how are they not sweaty??"

Posted by
6 posts

To help identify my pictures and jog my memory later, before I walk into the church/museum/local monument, I take a picture of their entry sign. If I take a picture of a sculpture or painting, I also take a picture of the artist’s name card next to it. It saves me lots of time and frustration once I get home and all those churches & museums start to run together.

Second the idea of taking a picture of the daily schedule and hotel/restaurant business cards. I wish I’d started doing it at the beginning of my HOI trip last year instead of midway. It was very helpful when I went back to organize my pictures later.

Dreaming of my next trip....

Posted by
21 posts

My big tip is to do a video journal each night. The trips that we have done this on I really enjoy watching them, the times we have not got it done I wish we had. I hate to write, so I would have no journal otherwise. Just setup your camera on video mode, and tell your travel tales for the day. When you watch them back you will be surprised at what you have forgotten.

Great post John.

Posted by
1833 posts

Great tips everyone! We only have #1 RS tour under our belt (Greece), so I have learned a lot from this thread and forum.

@CJ-great tip on doing a video of your travel day! I had not thought of that! Also, I loved your comment in your profile-everywhere else! Yes!

Posted by
350 posts

check when the group dinners take place. On those days have a light lunch - perhaps gelato or a pastry and a cafè. You will need the room for the dinner. And you also save some money and a bit of lunch time so you can explore more

Posted by
4 posts

When I return at night from a day's touring, I unpack my day bag tossing garbage, organizing souvenirs, and corralling paper items (see next paragraph.) I then get it ready for the next day with gum, tissues, etc stocked. I jot down a few notes about the day, including purchases. I find I remember major events of the touring from the itinerary, but need help recalling seeing the Scout troop marching down a quiet lane or being asked for directions by a native city dweller and being so flattered.

I always bring a very thin plastic folder with enclosed sides...not a big notebook, but file folder size and the weight of school report holders. I use this to hold post cards, menus, brochures, ticket stubs, business cards, receipts and basically any paper that I don't want to lose track of in Europe or once I get home. This prevents nice things from getting bent other things from being scattered. When I do get home, I have good reference material for my scrapbooks or further journaling. It's fun to recall what I ate (from a receipt) or how much my magnets cost or the name of that tiny leather shop in Italy where the proprietor showed me his workshop.

Posted by
21 posts

This is a great thread. I long to travel again, but as everyone else, I hold out hope, but practice patience. This is a neat way to get my hopes going in the right direction.

All of my tips have been covered by other people, so I won't be repetitive, but I read an article by a woman who said that she still buys postcards when she travels and sends them to her friends. That would be a nice treat if I received a postcard from a friend visiting a great place - better than the ads, trash and bills for sure. But she also sends one to herself. Great idea if you think about it as you can write a note of a wonderful sight, dinner, people, funny story, etc., and when you get it a great reminder later in the mail of a place you visited and a chance to remember again. Besides it can then go on my refrigerator.

Thought I would pass it along as I think I will try to do that on my next trip. I hope that will be sooner versus later - but patience, patience.

Posted by
3555 posts

What a great idea, Clementine!

And you brought back a fond memory for me. I was having lunch at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2018. While there I decided to take the time to prepare the postcards I had for sending. One of the staff noticed what I was doing. She struck up a conversation about my postcard prep, saying that it was a shame that people so rarely send postcards anymore.

I guess it is kind of an old-fashioned thing to do, but I enjoy doing it and the people I send them to seem to enjoy receiving them. In the future I'll include myself as a receiver. 😊

Posted by
114 posts

I have been on 3 RS tours and was planning our 4th last April. So this year I we are hoping to do our first back to back tours. Heart of Portugal is the primary tour, along with either Paris and the Heart of France or Rome.

I can't agree more with getting to the start of the tour 3-6 days early. We loved our time in Padua and a trip to Verona for our Villages of Italy tour. Also try to stay an extra day or two at the end. The one good thing that came out of the cancelation of our April trip was we were going to have to get up at 3:00AM to make the flight out Porto at 5:30 missing breakfast and final good byes. No plans to repeat that in the future.

One pre trip idea is to schedule a local food tour. I have used Eating Europe for 2 of my trips and have been very pleased with introduction to the local foods. We also took in a concert in Stockholm. Paul Simon was doing is farewell tour and we were able to get tickets. So check in on the local scene before you arrive to see if there is something you would like to see.

Over our 3 tours we have traveled with other couples. One trip we had 13 people, which was half the tour. We always try to include solo travelers in our plans and let people know we are open to joining with others.

Posted by
267 posts

I love the idea of a video journal CJ! I really enjoy reviewing my travel journals when I get home and even at later dates. They are a wonderful way to relive my travels and are so helpful when I am working on my scrapbooks. My issue is that I usually run out of steam toward the end and don't always get the last couple of days documented. Then when I am doing my scrapbooks aI have to rely on my memory---and that can sometimes fail me. So while I do like to have that written journal, using the video approach would be a great way to fill the gap!

Posted by
267 posts

I'm with you Stewart&Vickie. Rereading my journals of wonderful trips have helped to sustain me these last few months! Rereading the ones when our children were young are especially fun remembering seeing things through their eyes. Hopefully we will be able to create a new journal soon.

Posted by
246 posts

Take time to look through the photos taken each day and delete the bloopers and select the best of duplicates. The best or funniest photo of the day with a short note is emailed to home. I do this as I am winding down before bed. Also look at the next days activities.

Plan fun unusual free time activities. Spa time, a music event(many are free), small museum that interests you, etc. I try for something that doesn’t duplicate the pace of the tour.

As someone else suggested, eat lightly on meals not included. Local “fast food” is an ideal choice. Some American fast food can be a welcome break. Wine/beer and cheese/crackers/cold cuts/fruit and a “sweety” shared on a balcony with other guests can be fun.

Posted by
1 posts

Picking Buddies on RS Tours - If you are a couple, don't pick another couple to be your buddies. Here is an example of what could happen. My mom and I chose two sisters to be our buddies. One morning we were running a little bit behind, our buddies thought we were both on the bus. We missed the bus by a minute. We were able to take a cab to the next location and caught up with the bus. If we had picked buddies separately, one of our buddies might have noticed we were missing. Of course, the better solution is arrive 5 minutes earlier than the posted time to meet.

Another tip is to take a photo of the next day's agenda on your phone. This is usually posted by your tour guide in the hotel lobby.

Posted by
4 posts

Great thread to read for new ideas AND to dream about our next trip! Here are my suggestions: 1) re-read the guidebook and tear out each town's segment for your day pack. I love unplanned wandering time on a tour, with the guidebook handy in case I want to find a good place to eat or one more museum. 2) AAA will let you order euros or other currency in advance, at market rates and no fees if you are a member. Saves you from the queue at arrival time. 3) Total Wine sells bubble-wrap type wine bottle holders so you can stash a purchase in your suitcase without worrying about your clothes.

Posted by
242 posts

Like others, I like to keep a small journal and write each (or most) days in it. I also take a small glue stick and glue museum tickets or other paper momentos to make it a bit more interesting.

I now take photos of the name-sign of restaurants before I eat....in case the meal is memorable. And it might be a good idea to write what I ordered before I start eating...least I forget.

Pack less. Way less. Be the envy of the group by having the lightest luggage.

Posted by
665 posts

I thought of something else I'll add, plan for free time when you have a large block such as when you're on your own after a morning tour activity. Others have touched on free time too. I don't mean in a micro-managed way, but to look at the tour itinerary and come up with an idea or two for what you might do (looking at the RS book and others). You can also look at trip scrapbooks and see what others have done.

In retrospect a few afternoons when the tour was in smaller towns I wish I had considered taking the train or maybe a bus to a larger town within an hour or so travel. I could have gone somewhere, done some sightseeing, had dinner, then returned in the evening. This is something you really need to plan before your trip.