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What type of person takes a Rick Steves tour?

I have taken 3 RS tours and have signed up for 2 more. My friends frequently ask why do I pick RS? I’ve thought about this for a long time and have decideded that it boils down to people who love to learn about a new culture tend to love the “back door”concept. Many friends would never travel with just a carry-on, stay in any hotel other than a Ritz-Carlton or similar, have little interest in walking tours, and expect their tour company to have a limo & driver waiting as they get off the plane. I find that the key ingredient to RS tours is teaching us to be self reliant and to experience to a certain degree what it feels like to be a local. I often feel like i’m attending a college seminar after a tour is over. The fellowship on the tours is a part of the actual experience and enhances the over all tour. I have several dear friends I would love to have as a tour mate but they just can’t grasp the concept.

Posted by
251 posts

I agree with you! His travel philosophy seems to attract like minded people. Carrying your own bags is just one example!!

Posted by
679 posts

Subordinate questions, "What Type of Person Reads a Rick Steves' Guidebook?" or "What Type of Person Watches Rick Steves' Europe on PBS?" may elicit a similar reply.
There are, of course, no shortage of European travel guides and television programs available for your consideration. What's the attraction to those offered by RS?
For me, the answer is this: the information RS provides is exactly what I want to know. Museum hours, transportation tips, affordable quality lodging and dining opportunities, etc.
I am forever grateful.
I'm also grateful for this format - there is a wealth of information, here.
'

Posted by
1633 posts

I will add my chorus to the main theme. The RS tours also attract people who like to be social and don't mind agreeing to the "no grumps" policy. Of course, if you have a real issue or concern, you are encouraged to bring it to your guide. I have been on 5 tours where the group really bonded. I'm still in touch with several tourmates.

Posted by
3022 posts

I have attended many Rick Steves events at the Edmonds office and my observations are these:
1. Participants seem to be very friendly and eager to learn
2. They seem to range in age from 50-??? for the majority. This group makes me feel like a youngster.....
3. They value travel and the travel experience highly.

Posted by
7834 posts

I started out by being drawn in by the concept of the guides teaching travel skills and the light packing concept. Now that I've got those down, lol, I stay for the lifelong learning, interesting tour members, fabulous and knowledgeable guides and ease of travel to places that might be harder to get to on my own.

I particularly like the No Grumps policy. I do travel with Road Scholar if they have an itinerary Rick doesn't offer and there is a bit more hand-holding with them and sometimes a bit less flexibility on the part of tour members.

It's hard not to recommend Rick to everyone but like you, I know that there are many that just would not want to a) Find their own way to the start of a program b) Manage their own bags to/from the program, to/from the bus, up/down flights of stairs c) Be happy with free time and figuring out what a locale has to offer that interests you.

Posted by
2526 posts

I love his guidebooks because of all the detailed practical tips-like how to get places on public transportation, how to walk from train station, where luggage can be left, names of local guides.

Posted by
2601 posts

I would love nothing better than to take one of Rick's tours, because they seen to really put his travel philosophy into practice. And from what I've read, people who take them do so because they agree with that philosophy. Unfortunately I can't because of some physical limitations.

I love his guide books and have been using them for almost 20 years. They allow me to travel independently, with all the knowledge we need to (hopefully) be thoughtful and informed travellers, and not just sightseers.

And his TV shows, while also educational, are just plain fun thanks to Rick, and also a feast for the eye.

Posted by
2779 posts

I met RS about 30 years ago at a Seattle travel show and had a somewhat lengthy conversation with him. When I finally decided to take my first trip to Europe, in 2001, I went up to the RS headquarters in Edmonds, WA, and took a couple of his classes. The more I found out and the more I talked to him convinced me I was “on the same page” as those folks. I signed up for a RS tour that year, Best of Europe in 21 Days, and had a great time. I have since taken another 13 RS tours in the last 15 years and am signed up for 2 more in 2018. I agree with the observations made by the other responders to this original post. I have found that maybe 90 or 95% of the folks who take his tours are “of like mind” and almost always seem to get along so very well.

I have offered a place to stay for many fellow tour members as well as several of his guides as they have turned out to be really good people. I feel fortunate that when I visit Seattle, I can drive up to the RS office in Edmonds, WA, in about 30 minutes which I do often.

Posted by
3436 posts

A person, like me who has taken 10 of his tours, who wants to be one with the locals instead of being isolated from them like many of the other tour companies seem to want to do to their tour members, is the type of person taking these tours.

Posted by
19 posts

My husband and I are taking our first RS tour in May 2018. I'm not sure what he would have booked, ha ha, but fortunately, I'm the vacation planner. We're going on the Best of Europe trip to celebrate my 60th birthday. I do a lot of research and planning (Trip Advisor reviews, internet searches, etc.) for our trips. The past three years those trips have been two week road trips to the western USA where we fly out close to our first destination, get a car and head off, staying two nights (reservations made ahead of time) usually near a national or state park, hike and explore, then off the the next one, and eventually back at the same airport. I didn't want to have to do that for a trip to countries where I don't speak the language or am not familiar with the customs. I wanted to have a more relaxing trip, that's still active, but doesn't involve me having to stay on top of our next activities and navigate during our drive (we try to avoid highways), and my husband having to drive for hours at a time. I chose RS because of the small group sizes, the reviews, his videos, books, the ability to have free time, and this forum. I like the RS approach that you described, Donald. I look forward to taking a trip with like minded people who seem to be more worldly and interested in not being spoon fed during the tour. Using only a carry-on was a bit shocking and sounded impossible to me at first as I'm notorious at over-packing, but I've warmed to the idea. I used our voucher for the RS rolling carry-on and my personal item is a large zip up tote that someone mentioned in these forums, so I should be able to manage. I'm super excited (can hardly thing of anything else, even Christmas!) and can't wait for our trip!

Posted by
3546 posts

I did not notice alot of diff betw RS tours and some of the companies from back east that give europe tours. Not carrying my luggage is imp to me if i am on vacation. Hotels that are more comfy less quirky are also imp. The tour guests are quite similiar imo. Price higher with RS tour. Most companies must use local guides now to give locals jobs in the tour industry otherwise they would be un or under employed. So it is a :atter of prefernce, budget and itinerary.
His guidebooks are well written and worth alot for the solo trVeler.

Posted by
4155 posts

I can tell you I will never take a tour of any type. I prefer to be fully independent, do my own research and go with the flow. Oh, and I’ve never stayed at the Ritz nor taken a limo. I think I go much more local this way and am 100% self reliant. A tour group would drive me nuts, especially if they are all my parents’ age.

Posted by
396 posts

What size are Rick's tours? - I mean limited to how many people? I couldn't find a FAQ link where that question would be answered. Or does it vary a lot from tour to tour?

Posted by
11613 posts

I have never taken a tour, but have met dozens of RS tourmates during their free time, and they all seem to be in a good mood. They seem to be really interested in where they are, and not just ticking boxes on a list.

So he's doing something (actually quite a bit) right.

Posted by
4155 posts

He’s appealing to slightly timid, fairly novice travelers with limited funds who are over 50. What they don’t tell you is that a DIY tour can be much cheaper. The company knows their audience and plays right into it. Same with their promotion of Rail Passes.

Posted by
1633 posts

Emily,
With all due respect, why should RS tell us a DIY tour is much cheaper? This is his business, taking people to Europe. So, yes, he knows his market but that is not a bad thing. He is designing travel experiences for people who have limited vacation time for those still working. We are exercising free choice by signing up for RS tours. In addition, I've been on 5 RS tours and my friends would not describe me as timid. And I would not describe my tourmates as timid or of having limited funds.

I see the tours as a way to learn and experience a country and its culture as an introduction or an overview so I can decide if I want to come back. I also travel independently and so do many of my tourmates.

I think you are fortunate to live in Europe so travel for you doesn't involve overnight flights, jet lag and limited vacation time.

Posted by
4155 posts

Exactly - it’s a business and he knows his market.

Maybe I think you’re fortunate to live in the US. You think I don’t have to deal with jet lag when I visit the US or limited vacation time? What I wouldn’t give for a Target and a mom hug.

Posted by
6458 posts

I think you are fortunate to live in Europe so travel for you doesn't involve overnight flights, jet lag and limited vacation time.

But people in Europe also go places as tourists that involve overnight flights; e.g. when I worked for Virgin Atlantic, London to Las Vegas and Orlando were the most lucrative flights and most of the passengers were from Europe; also I live in the USA and get 5 weeks of vacation.

Posted by
2545 posts

I'm an experienced independent traveler who has traveled extensively since 1999, and less regularly before that. I was hesitant about taking the RS Greece tour last spring, but thought it was the best for certain circumstances. I was prepared to not particularly like it. I loved it. While I love traveling independently, RS will now be part of my travel as well on some trips. I suppose there are neophytes on these tours, but there were none on this tour. All had traveled independently before in Europe, many extensively. You learn a lot on RS tours, more so than traveling independently. All were interesting and interested in history, art, and/or travel, etc. So, for those who don't take these tours and claim it is for novices, they are wrong. A different way of travel than one's own, does not make it an inferior way to travel. It's just different and rewarding in a different way.

PS: I so enjoyed my RS trip, that my extremely well traveled and tired of travel husband, has decided he will join me on one next year! So thank you RS! Of course, that is after my solo trip in the spring. ;)

Posted by
11776 posts

If there was only one kind of vegetable in the garden, it would make a pretty boring salad, yes?

It seems that there are many ways to travel, and none of them are wrong unless it doesn't suit our particular styles. I figure that if it's not my trip or my $$ paying for it, then however one wishes to do if is fine and dandy if makes them happy! Like Zoe, we have never taken a tour but plenty of folks on these forums have and they've been happy with their choice - its suits their style - so the organization is obviously doing something right.

But here's where I struggle a bit? Much is made of the RS "philosophy", which I have just reread as it had been awhile. Some bits and pieces from that...

You can travel simply, safely, and comfortably anywhere in Europe for
$100 a day plus transportation costs. In many ways, spending more
money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you came to see.

Hmmm. OK. I just pulled a random tour; BO Rome in 7 days. In reality that tour is 5.5 days as Day 1 doesn't begin until 3:00 PM and Day 7 is done after breakfast. The tour price starts at $1,995 PP + air with an additional $525 single supplement. 1/2 or more non-breakfast meals are on your own. By my math - rounding to a generous 6 days - this works out to around $333 pp per day, $666 per couple, and $433 for a single supplement. Add in the non-included meals and whatever is spent on free-time sightseeing.

This is considerably more than $100 a day. It's considerably more than my husband and I spent daily as indy travelers for a week of heavy sightseeing in Rome. So as the RS tour-taker is spending a lot more, are they indeed "building a thicker wall"? How is that teaching the ability to travel on more limited funds?

A tight budget forces you to travel close to the ground, meeting and
communicating with the people

You're free to disagree but I don't think $666 per couple per day is anywhere close to a "limited budget". I'm curious how tour-takers are taught the ability of achieving that aforementioned $100 daily figure during the course of the trip? Having spent considerably more, do you feel you could scrape $466 (per couple) per day off that figure, and would that make you feel that it would cause you to meet more people and build less of a "wall" than on a tour?

Understand, I am NOT being critical of the tours (or the many of you lovely people here who enjoy them) but I can't reconcile them with that "limited budget" part of the philosophy. Also, as indy travelers who cheerfully manage our 24" bags, our trains, hotels, sightseeing, public transport, etc. by ourselves, we don't feel like we're having an inferior cultural, historical or social experience. Why is one way a more "back door" method than another? Why would one feel more "like a local" on a tour versus the alternative?

Posted by
599 posts

Kathy, just in my experience on the tours, I think the emphasis for the tours is different than his philosophy of travel in general. As far as tours go, I think his do a good job of a "backdoor" experience, as they work to have you interact with locally owned businesses instead of large corporations, they have local musicians and artists give presentations, and often have local tour group leaders and bus drivers. We were encouraged to pop into pubs during our free time in Scotland and talk about the pending (at the time) referendum vote, for example. We are given plenty of free time to have local interactions. I think the company compares this "backdoor experience" to other tour companies and not necessarily to what could be accomplished by traveling on your own. There are also a lot of other factors that go into the price of the tour. Yes, if you try, you can do Europe for $100 per day. But I would find it very difficult at that price to include the meals, the included admissions, and the local guides that I get on the Rock Steves' tours. Could I go to Rome on $100 a day? Sure, of course. But could I go to Rome, stay in a nice hotel within walking distance to the sites, have a private guided tour and admission into the Borgese Gallery and the Colosseum, forum and Pantheon, as well as a 4 course meal in the wine cellar of a local restaurant with unlimited wine and musical accompaniment for $100? No, I haven't found a way to do so, so I don't believe it is comparing apples to apples.
I don't think anyone who does not like tours should take one, so this is absolutely not an advertisement to convince someone to do so. But I also tire of the suggestion that people who take tours are just people who are too timid or unwilling to plan it alone, which I don't find to be true. I love the tours because I love how much sightseeing can be done in such an efficient manner, I love looking at the countryside from the bus windows while listening to our guides tell us about the history of the place rather than worrying about train schedules, I love the local guiding that is included for every single important place for a thorough understanding of the history, and I love the people I meet on these tours. I don't have many people in my day-to-day life who are interested in travel, history and culture, so I crave these times to talk to other like-minded travelers. And these people are well traveled! Most have been to many countries all over the world independently. My husband and I have traveled quite a bit on our own, and we always include days on our own in each trip, but we feel the tours enrich our experience. It is not because we are too timid to go alone.

Posted by
1046 posts

I think you get a good value on a Rick Steve’s tour. That does not mean they are inexpensive. I don’t think I could have accomplished near as much on my own as we did on our 17 Day Best of Italy Tour and I have traveled extensively in Europe on my own in the past, so I am comfortable doing trips on my own. What I do like about his tours, is the no grump policy, the no tipping policy, small groups, all sightseeing included without all the optional tours, and no lines to wait in. I think they are a good value if you have the money to spend. You can obviously do it on your own for less, but you won’t be as efficient.

Posted by
396 posts

Rachel S: thanks for revealing that number.

yosemite1: I don't count that size group as small. 10-14 yes, but not 24-28!

Posted by
5287 posts

Most of the people we've seen on the tours have not been inexperienced, timid travelers, or first-timers to Europe. On the contrary, most have been well-experienced travelers, who have decided they did not want to deal with all the logistics and planning, and just enjoy the trip. What RS has put together is a travel program that fits between the bare-bones backpack college student experience, and the hold-your-hand, blue-hair tour where you don't have to have any contact with some strange non-english speaking foreigners. Value is more than the dollar cost.

Surprisingly, we've found that a large number of persons are not familiar at all with the TV show, guidebooks or the EBTD philosophy, before the tour. Word of mouth gets them in.

Posted by
11776 posts

Could I go to Rome on $100 a day? Sure, of course. But could I go to
Rome, stay in a nice hotel within walking distance to the sites, have
a private guided tour and admission into the Borgese Gallery and the
Colosseum, forum and Pantheon, as well as a 4 course meal in the wine
cellar of a local restaurant with unlimited wine and musical
accompaniment for $100? No, I haven't found a way to do so, so I don't
believe it is comparing apples to apples.

Exactly, You cannot do it nor, to my knowledge, are tour groups educated on how to achieve that on their own. It an unrealistic figure for the types of amenities provided on the tours so why even set that expectation in the philosophy? That's closer to a backpacker's budget, during high season, and we see few of those travelers on the RS forums compared to, say, Thorn Tree's.

For any who might "tire of the suggestion that people who take tours are just people who are too timid or unwilling to plan it alone", I'm just as frustrated with the implication that people who travel solo and/or on budgets that can't swing an RS tour are somehow not learning as much, can't accomplish as much in a day, aren't as social and/or can't experience back-door Europe - whatever that is - and the cultures on their own as deeply.

But going back to my original point, there's no wrong way to travel as long as it works for you? It's sort of sad to view the ship cruiser, the large-group bus tourist, the cash-strapped college student or even, yes, the 5-star hotel/limo set as less of a traveler because they aren't doing it the way you or I would. I'd like to think that almost everyone who ventures outside of their sphere - however they can do it - returns with a little bit broader view than they left home with.

Posted by
5424 posts

And if you want to know what kind of people go on Rick Steves tours, look for a Travel Group Meeting in your area. Many of the attendees have taken at least one tour (and the rest of us have libraries of RS tour books and videos)

Posted by
872 posts

Interesting responses and perspectives.......

I took my first Ricks Steve’s tour as a single, professional, well traveled, affluent, educated 34 year old female. So I’m not sure that some of the previous posts with stereotypes hold much water. (I am still usually the youngest person when I go on RS tours.)

There is so much value in having someone else plan the logistics and transportation of a trip. It allows the freedom to really just enjoy the places you visit and to experience the culture and time in each location. Some of the places and people visited on the tours just don’t happen when on your own.

Is it possible to visit the same places for less money? Of course; Rick Steve’s isn’t a non profit company. So I think that it just boils down to the experience one wants when on vacation. I personally like to add a few days on the front and back of tours for some down time; but I really enjoy the experience of a tour with like minded people and someone else taking care of all of the superfluous details.

Posted by
8781 posts

How many of you have actually gone on tours with other companies to compare to RS?

I hear a lot of "Well, I shop at Wal Mart because they told me they offer x, y and z and the other stores don't."

(Wal Mart is just an example comparing retail stores. I'm not saying RS tours are like Wal Mart." )

When I led tours many years ago, we would make sure our passengers knew how to maximize their free time. We'd show how to use public transit, we'd suggest restaurants, we'd show them how to not wait on line if possible, etc. etc etc. We had local guides at many stops, we would teach local traditions and customs to those not familiar with the area, and we made sure people had a good time.

I have taken three RS tours and found these differences when comparing tours in the same price range:

1) The average number of passengers is less. (But there are other companies that offer small group tours.)

2) The average passenger is a PBS watcher who will accept less comfort. (Hotels less quality and carrying your own bags.)

Of course, there are some who will argue because they have a friend who has a neighbor whose second cousin once removed took a "big bus tour" and he said.........

As for the no grump policy, all tour companies do their best to take care of any problems that arise. If a passenger seems unhappy, we would take them aside and find out why they were having a problem.

There is no denying they do a very good job with the product they offer. I had planned to take more RS tours but a recent run in I had with the tour department left a sour taste in my mouth. I won't go into details because it wouldn''t be right but I think I will take my business elsewhere.

Posted by
95 posts

He’s appealing to slightly timid, fairly novice travelers with limited funds who are over 50.

Emily, you've never been on a RS Tour, or any tour for that matter as you informed us, yet you feel well qualified to make such a statement. I might give you the over 50 part, but, as for the rest of your statement, I think you are being quite presumptuous. As many folks before me have articulated, there is no right way to travel. Any type of travel that brings the individual enjoyment is the right method of travel for them. I have traveled independently quite extensively, but I have found that there are elements of RS tours that are difficult to replicate on my own. Do I love everything about group travel? Of course not, but, I find the camaraderie and some of the experiences RS provides on his tours are a big draw for me. I have just signed up for my third RS Tour, and I think I will continue my mix of independent and tour travel in the future.

Posted by
4155 posts

Terri - you do you, I’ll do me, m’kay?

I think I’m entitled to a subjective answer to a subjective question.

Posted by
679 posts

"He’s appealing to slightly timid, fairly novice travelers with limited funds who are over 50."

Pretty good.......but you missed the bean-bag chair and Cheetos.

Posted by
6142 posts

"He’s appealing to slightly timid, fairly novice travelers with limited funds who are over 50."

I actually don't agree much with this statement. Most of the people I know who have done RS tours are actually the opposite of timid. They take his tours in order to get close to the locals and interact with them, not for the timid. And, from what I've read or heard, many or even most of them are quite well-traveled, not novices. There are many different reasons for people to want to take a tour (RS or otherwise), touring with a group is for some and not for others. To each his/her own.

And I think your statement should read unlimited funds, not limited funds. Those of us with limited funds usually travel independently as it's much less expensive than taking his tours. I have also taken tours with other companies that are not as costly but I know they do not offer as much. I wish I could afford to take one of his tours because I know I would enjoy traveling with others like myself who share the attributes mentioned in most of the other responses. But I can't afford $280-300/day + airfare + add'l meals and independent exploration on free days. That's what it would cost me as a solo traveler. At that rate I'd be limited to 7-10 days on a RS tour. On my own I can travel for $100-120/day + airfare (and that includes meals and transportation and admissions to sights). That way I can travel for 4+ weeks at a time for the same amount of $$.

You don't have to be rich to take a RS tour, but you do have to have a somewhat generous travel budget.

Posted by
5947 posts

OK I'm curious how exactly do you get "close to the locals" on a Rick Steves tour? It seems to be quite the selling point but how does it work?
Are "tame" locals brought to you to interact with or are you taken to observe them in their "natural habitats"? :-)

I am asking as someone who has spent most of their life living in popular tourist towns. I never realised I was one of the sights! If I had known I would have made more of an effort with my mating rituals........

Posted by
8293 posts

Emma, loved your comment. I, too, have wondered how interacting with the locals takes place on the RS tours. I interact with locals when I travel, every time I buy something, every time I check into a hotel, every time I say "Bonjour" to the bus driver in Paris and so on. In what way do the RS folks interact? Do they get invited to dinner by a designated local, or what? Inquiring minds need to know.

Posted by
11776 posts

🤣 Emma!

But I'm wondering the same thing! They don't have to be strictly "local"; chats we've had with other travelers from different parts of the world have been plenty interesting. And how can you be "one with the locals" when on holiday, staying in a hotel and sightseeing most of the day? Most of those locals are working, attending to their errands and/or all the other stuff we do when we're not on vacation.

I do get the piece about not having to handle most of the details and having other RS fans to travel with. It can be particularly nice for singles who don't want to go it alone, or anyone at all who enjoys social interaction with folks who have similar travel styles/interests.

Posted by
6321 posts

OK I'm curious how exactly do you get "close to the locals" on a Rick
Steves tour?

I don't think this is as representative of other RS tours, but it's the only one I went on...so here goes. On a Village Turkey Tour (sadly phased out by now), the group met with a (Muslim) imam, a group of villagers in a very small rural village (we sat with them and had tea and conversed for a few hours), a Turkish archeologist who participated in a diving expedition that discovered the treasures housed in the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archeology, we were hosted for lunch and for wine with a local family, and we toured a few old (former) Greek homes in one town and spoke with the inhabitants about their life and history in that town. Our Turkish tour guide translated all the questions and answers from these folks from Turkish to English and vice versa. She asked all sorts of questions for our benefit and took questions from the audience so that the group could learn from those individuals about life, religion, economy, etc. of Turkey. The language barrier itself would have prevented all of us from interacting with these locals (as well as geography, as some of these towns/villages were clearly off the tourist track). From my understanding, the Bulgaria tour is structured in this same "model" where the group actively interacts with different facets/sectors of Bulgarian society represented by the locals who are brought in touch with the group (e.g. a politician, a group of Roma adults/children, etc). I would say these two tours are in similar vein to the people-to-people cultural exchange trips to Cuba where the participants are intentionally brought together with different locals to enhance their education. Another facet (of the Turkey tour) was that the RS tour group was clearly from a different life experience, economic class, and religion from the folks were were talking with (and that's a very good thing).

I don't know if this spirit permeates other tours where the cultural differences and language barriers really don't exist, or to a much smaller extent.

Posted by
8293 posts

Ah, that is very elucidating, Agnes. Thank you. It sounds a bit “staged” but obviously cannot be other than that, given the circumstances. It isn’t actually “interacting” as I understand the word, but more of a performance. Anyway, very interesting.

Posted by
6321 posts

@Norma
Yes, it was planned of course but it didn't feel fake in any way except that the tour guide obviously "filtered" what experiences the RS folks would be exposed to (this is inevitable on any trip though, whether to France or Scandinavia or Turkey). It felt like a normal interaction through the help of a local translator who knew the language and customs - questions and answers were flowing back and forth on both sides. No one was performing for us or trying to "market" the country, they were as curious about us as we were about them. There were a few totally unscripted, unplanned interactions on the road when the tour guide talked to some folks and tried to initiate a two-way conversation between the tour group and them. Anyhow, I loved that tour...I would highly recommend it (now the only available one is the Best of Turkey Tour). I do believe that this kind of tour wouldn't be for everyone though, it really depends on your travel philosophy. Some people see places only for the sites/ food/ culture, not so much for the people...to use an example, how many people would be happy if on the Belgian tour the guide took the group to talk with some much poorer Muslim population living on the outskirts of the capital to get their perspective? There's a lot that's skimmed over in any travel tour because people want to see only the most beautiful highlights and none of the lowlights, so they get a skewed perspective on the city as a whole (every large urban city has problems of some sort, it's not created for the benefit of tourists). I hope that makes some sense.

Posted by
5947 posts

Thanks for the explanation Agnes.
I don't think I would particularly enjoy that kind of approach. It would make me feel quite uncomfortable even though I am sure the local participants are willing and benefit from the "transaction".
As has been said, no rights or wrongs just different preferences and approaches,

I am now really intrigued to know what the equivalent "meet the locals" approach is for tours in the U.K. :-)

EDIT Agnes, the above comment was in response to your first reply. I should probably clarify it's not that I don't have an interest in the people of the places that I visit. I do, it's more that I struggle with treating the local inhabitants as a "sight" to be experienced. I know that is not the intention but it is, rightly or wrongly, how it would make me feel

Posted by
6321 posts

I don't think I would particularly enjoy that kind of approach.

I totally respect your opinion on that. Like I said, it's an approach that's not for everyone and that's OK. And I too would be curious how the "less exotic" RS tours really operationalize this "back door" and "locals" approach. Looking forward to hearing from anyone on their opinions (those who have taken the other tours).

PS. Emma, I do understand your edited comment completely and no harm/ negative insinuation was meant regarding your views. But just to add, this really was not any kind of "poverty tourism" or anything like that (not that you probably meant that, but I'm just trying to be as clear as possible). Both parties signed up for the interaction for lack of better words. And yes, absolutely, not everyone would get a kick out of this. Oddly enough, when I travel to other regions of the US, I can experience cultural shock too. There are real differences regionally across a country as huge as ours, and interacting with all kinds of people makes one aware of that.

Posted by
599 posts

None of the tours I've been on have had experiences like Agnes's, but I found I learned a lot about locals from the local guides' tours. Like our guide in Venice explained the love/hate relationships Venetians have with tourists and how complicated it is to survive in modern Venice. Our guide for Scotland gave personal insight as to why she was voting the way she was for the referendum and why other people are voting differently. Our guide on GAS had lived in several different countries and talked about some of the policies they have that are different than ours- like the drug policy in his home country of the Netherlands. We had locals in the Cinque Terre talk about running their hotel while doing the pesto demonstration, a bagpiper in Scotland tell us what it was like for her breaking gender barriers in the world of bagpiping, and etc. These weren't as authentic as striking up a conversation with someone at a local pub, perhaps, but as an introvert I am unlikely to do that anyway, so I enjoyed these glimpses into every day life of people we met, especially seeing how much pride and love they had for their countries.

Posted by
8781 posts

I am now really intrigued to know what the equivalent "meet the locals" approach is for tours in the U.K. :-)

Pub?

Posted by
11443 posts

Well Emily.. I think you need to rethink what you believe to be true.

I am not a timid inexperienced tourist at all.

I have traveled to and around Europe for DECADES.. solo , with family and with friends.. Did the backpacking for three months thing back in early 80s with a friend, but already had about 1/2 dozen visits to friends and family in Europe before that trip.

I have since traveled to Europe at least 10-12 times , solo, solo with kids, with friends and with hubby. I usually visit for 4-5 weeks at a time, but have done 2 week trips too.

I CHOSE to take a RS tour about 10 years ago , not timid, not inexperienced but wanting a particular type of trip for my then 11 yr old daughter and I ( I had taken my 13 yr old son the year before to europe independently for 3 weeks, but I knew he was not tour group material as he had some issues that made group travel a no no ) knew my daughter would enjoy a tour.

We took the 14 day Family Best of Europe tour.. and it was perfect. We flew into Rome 5 days in advance of tour and stayed in Paris 7 days after tour, so we had some extra time to ourselves.
The tour allowed my daughter to have social interactions with a group of other kids, and it allowed me to take her through many countries quickly for just a taste of each , without me having to always be "on duty" with logistics. I had limited my trip with son to just UK and France.. but with daughter she got to see so many other places.. many of which she chose to revisit on her own on a 11 week backpacking trip she took when she turned 19..

Our tour was mostly people under 55 !! Families and single parents( not always single, but like in my case I was married but it was just a mom and daughter trip) .. 14 children under 17, really cool kids too, not one spoiled brat in the group. Most parents were not first time visitors to Europe... but a few were.

Tours offer a very convenient way to see alot more in a shorter time.. RS tours have the added bonuses of being smaller groups. We NEVER stayed in a bad hotel, all were well located and clean.. and I have ZERO issue carrying my own luggage.

I have not taken a tour since ( this was 10 years ago ) but I WILL definitely take another RS tour one day when I decide I am tired of all the planning and logistics of travel ( right now I love it and take months planning my trips) but I do realize many folks do not have the time or will to do so ..

RS tours are not the cheapest tours around, but I really believe the quality and slower pace are far superior to the big bus tours that whiz through with all one night stays and generic "tour" hotels on outskirts of cities.

Posted by
5947 posts

All interactions are authentic, you shouldn't have to go looking for them specifically. The assumption that the pub is where you go to interact with locals is quite interesting. For one thing you will only be meeting with people that go to the pub. Alot of people don't so it is quite a skewed sample.
People go to the pub for many reasons and chatting with visiting tourists probably isn't one of them :-)
The advice "from Rick" that I have seen quoted on this forum to go and stand at the bar to start a conversation with a local makes me cringe. People will probably be polite but it would be put down to odd American behaviour!

That said I will be in the pub from 2pm this afternoon for my works Christmas party so if anyone wants to join us you are more than welcome. I can offer you an experience of British drinking culture of the highest order!

Posted by
11613 posts

From what I have observed, there is generous "free time" on most RS tours, so perhaps the "meet the locals" aspect takes place then.

I can live in Roma on €100/day, but not every day. Most of my trips involve time in smaller, less expensive cities, so the average is about €100/day per trip.

I can't imagine a tour (except local ones by experts) giving me more education than I can get from my own research, but research is part of my job, and I choose places to visit based mostly on history, art, architecture.

Posted by
4155 posts

Pat - I'm sold! Let me know when you sign up and I'll join too.

Posted by
8908 posts

I can't imagine a tour (except local ones by experts) giving me more
education than I can get from my own research,

While the vast majority of my travels have been independent, I have taken a few organized tours over the years and my single favorite feature of group tours has been the education. My experience is that I learn/absorb/retain more about what I'm seeing when a guide explains and reinforces history every day in manageable doses. I've learned more from a tour guide about European art history in just a couple days than I ever did taking three semesters of it in college.

While I've never taken a RS tour per say, I have never had a bad experience on them, the social element is quite fun. The first tour I took was back in Israel 1980 when I was 13 years old. Even though they are probably all dead by now, I can still remember every person on that tour and where their hometown was.

I do independent travel mostly due to expense and the fact that I like my afternoon naps while on vacation.

Posted by
8781 posts

Emma....it was a joke. ( I forgot to add the question mark originally. I have changed that.)

Posted by
8781 posts

So what have we learned.....there are people who like to take tours and people who don't.

What type of person takes a Rick Steves tour? The kind of person who wants to take a tour using Rick Steve's philosophy of travel. There is no breakdown as to age, sex, religion, education or income level (athough they have to be able to afford it.). Each group is different. Some will be a mix that gets along very well and others will never gel. Some will be experienced travelers and others will be first timers. Some will have done research ahead of time and know what to expect and some will never look at a guidebook or learn one word in the local language. Some will find that touring is for them and will continue to take tours. Others might realize touring is not for them and will continue to travel but independently.

There is no one type of person that takes a Rick Steves tour.

But think about it, all travelers are different. There are some who get a guidebook and follow it as if it was a bible. They dare not go against it. If the guidebook says turn right, they turn right. They would never think of turning left. They only stay in guidebook recommended hotels and eat in guidebook recommended restaurants.

And then there are others who say to heck with the guidebook, if they have one at all, and turn left to see where it takes them.

And lastly there are some who take a little from both.

No one way of travel is right. The only thing that's right is what's right for you.

Posted by
11776 posts

Frank, I think you've hit the nail on the head. 🔨
It's been a lively discussion, though!
Next topic, anyone?

Posted by
726 posts

I can't add too much more to this conversation but will share my experience.
I am a 52 yo female with an advanced degree in a previously(thank goodness) male dominated industry.
I have not traveled to Europe independently. I have taken a tour of Ireland with another company.
I took my first RS tour to Scandinavia this past June.
No one that knows me would describe me as timid or incapable of tackling a challenge. I have planned in great detail every family/extended family vacation down to the detail for decades.
I chose to take a tour because I travel solo to Europe and did not want the full responsibility of day to day logistics on my shoulders without a buddy to help. Also the backup of the main tour guide and her resources if something goes wrong is comforting.
I chose RS for my second tour because I wanted something a little more active and with more free time opportunities than my first tour.
The day I got back from my trip I told my husband, "I am not going anywhere ever again." He laughed (rightly). A week passed and I was contemplating a different way to travel to Europe including My Way tour and on my own. After 3 months of contemplation I signed up for my next RS tour. So what happened?
My first reaction was because I was tired and my knee hurt. After I was rested I knew I had to see more of Europe but the question was how I wanted to do it. My complaints about the tour was that I wanted 3-4 days in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo instead of 2 days. I wanted even more free time to do my own thing. I really liked my tour mates but I am also a loner, so being in a group for 16 days was a little bit of a stressor.
I started organizing my photos for a scrapbook and relived my trip. Even though the above mentioned issues are still true (my knee doesn't hurt anymore) I found that the positives of the trip that I wouldn't get by going on my own far outweighed the negatives. Yes, I am very good at researching and reading, but the information provided by Åsa and the local guides complemented what I learned on my own. It also included an immediate answer about daily life from someone that I had a chance to get to know and understand on a personal level. And... if I spent 3 days in each capital I would have run out of time and not seen something else.
So, I am going on BOI. I am preparing by knowing that I will be tired when I get home but it will be worth it. It is not a vacation, it is a life enriching activity.
Scandinavia has very little language or over cultural barriers for Americans. I felt the tour encouraged local contact by teaching public transportation, staying in small hotels and dining at family owned restaurants. After all you can lead a horse to water but you can't drink for it.
This comment only intended for the very few that should recognize themselves. If it makes you feel superior that you travel on your own instead of a tour group I am happy to supply you with more fodder, just keep traveling and hopefully it will increase your understanding and tolerance of others.

Posted by
5947 posts

Well if anyone is interested I am still in the pub and you are still more than welcome!

Posted by
8293 posts

Stay there, Emma! I’m on my way. Will you be wearing a tag that says “.Interact with me, I’m a local” ?

Posted by
5947 posts

Damn Norma! I'm now at the bus stop hoping the beer angels will get me home. Pray for me!

Posted by
8293 posts

My prayers don't work in the UK. I think I need an adapter. Be brave.

Posted by
1352 posts

Emma you are too funny! The only RS tour I have taken was the best of England which included northern wales. I've been wracking my brain trying to remember any one particular thing we did to "interact with the locals". Can't think of anything that really qualifies. We did a pub evening in the Cotswolds which included a local group of musicians performing. We went to a sheep farm for a demonstration and explanation of the different type of sheep. We went to a slate mine for a tour. All of these things I would say are truly local experiences but I don't feel that I interacted with locals any more than I do when traveling independently - probably even less so. The best way I have found to really interact with locals is traveling by bike. It really forces you to slow down and interact more with locals - stopping at small stands, parks etc.

We seriously considered doing another tour during our trip next summer, but decided against it for 2 reasons. 1. Cost - it is so much cheaper to do it on our own, and 2. My husband is not the most social person:) I was concerned he would get weary of being forced to be in a group so much of the time. One other thing is that my experience on the tour was similar to another poster. I found I really wanted more time at several of the stops! We're going back to North Wales for 5 days and the Cotswolds for 3 on our own next summer:)

Posted by
290 posts

I've taken a number of RS tours and traveled independently. I know that my personality, likes and dislikes did not suddenly change when I traveled with RS and then change back when I traveled on my own. As shocking as this may seem to some, I am actually the same person.

To try and label a RS customer as this type of person or that type of person is foolish at best, and, in many cases just plain arrogant.

How in the world can some stranger who knows so little about another stranger even think they can label others, much less write about their personality, likes, dislikes, fears, etc. etc. etc.?

Travel as you see fit, enjoy yourself, and don't worry what the Trolls think.

Posted by
406 posts

Interesting read. Just wondering why these questions have turned so snarky?
We have been on 5 tours and with our kids ( from the age of 10 to now teens) no family tours. My kids have been the youngest on all but the BOE but there have been plenty of people under 55 on all five tours. Personally I like to be around people of all ages. I have traveled on tours & on own. I like that on RS tours you get the best of both worlds. About half the time you are on your own. Also once at a spot you take public transportation everywhere. I don't remember RS tours promising interaction with locals like they were a tourist attraction so not sure if you are getting that from his books or a tour ? No one is forcing anyone to go on a tour.

I think part of travel is meeting all kinds of people with many different outlooks and outside my normal day to day bubble. I get that with RS tours. Other may on their own or another tour company.

Heck it's your vacation do what you would like but please it is not helpful to judge something you honestly have not done yourself in person

Posted by
1865 posts

"He’s appealing to slightly timid, fairly novice travelers with limited funds who are over 50. "

Whew....are you actually talking about lumping all RS tour participants into one carry on? I only actually fit into one of those categories and I have been on several tours. They suit me. My husband and I have also traveled extensively on our own outside of the US. Have you been on any of his tours? I am just wondering what you're basing your assumption on.

Posted by
17768 posts

This is considerably more than $100 a day. Kathy

Of course it is. When Rick made that comment about $100 a day, I don't think he was referring to organized tours but to someone traveling alone or with a partner under his philosophy. And the target of $100 a day is actually quite generous .

Using a target of $100 a day is kind of ridiculous. Travel expenses on the continent are in euro, and while my travel cost, in euro, have stayed pretty much the same for the last 17 years, the conversion rate to dollars has varied a lot. Over that time, my cost of travel, by myself, has been steady at about 65-70 euro per day. That was less than $60 a day in 2000, when the euro was 89¢. My most expensive trip, almost $100 a day, was in 2011, when the euro was $1.44. Thank heavens I wasn't traveling in 2008, when it was almost $1.60. I just came back from a trip with the euro at $1.18. My total expenses, for 2 people, were 135€, about $80 a day per person.

But travel on a tour has to cost more. You have the cost of a large piece of equipment (the bus) and a driver for two weeks spread out over maybe 6 or 7 days of actual travel vs a train that runs almost all day long, every day. The cost of a bus has to be similar to the cost of a car, and I know from experience that using the trains cost one half to one third of what a car costs.

When I travel I stay in a lot of Privatzimmer, rooms in a privat home. These generally run about $30 per day per person. But you are unlikely to find Privatzimmer for 28 people in the a whole town of the size I stay in, let alone at one place. And, although it's never happened, it's not the end of the world for me if my accommodations don't turn out to be perfect. But Rick can't afford that, so he tends toward more expensive places.

And I am my own, free, travel guide. And I spend hundreds and hundreds, probably more than a thousand hour planning one typical trip. Rick can spread that out over a summer of tours, but planning still cost money.

So does the extra expense of a group tour build a higher wall. Yes, it has to. You can't get the same intimacy in a modern hotel that you can get in a Haus with 2 or 3 quest rooms, where the owner, who lives there, serves your breakfast in the morning, and you can have a personal conversation with him. I've done that many times. Plus, you can't get the same amount of hob-nobing with the locals on a bus full of other Americans that you can get on a train, particularly if you choose a compartment.

Rick first wrote his guidebooks for people doing the trip on their own. His tours are a more expensive alternative for those unwilling or unable to DIY.

Posted by
8781 posts

After years and years and years of travel, I have learned something very important:

There is no one right way to travel.

Each of us travels in a way in which we prefer.

I really don't care how any one else travels. I travel in a way that makes me happy. It's my time and my money. If others travel differently than I do, that's fine. I'm not traveling with you. (Granted, on a tour, you do have to compromise a little but that is a choice that was made.) I just hope people are traveling in a way that makes them happy. To do otherwise means a less fulfilling or happy trip.

Sadly, there are those who try to prove that their way of travel is the best or at least better than others. At times, I've seen some become very critical of those doing things differently. I have to wonder if that's really about travel or something else.

In regards to tours, there is no one "type" of person who takes them. When it comes to budget, there are those who believe that if they spend more than the absolute minimum, their trip is ruined while others want to splurge a little.

There is no one right way to travel nor one type of traveler. Go where you want to go, travel in a way that you enjoy, and take whatever you want to take.

The most important thing is that you go.

Posted by
2 posts

I've met RS travelers in Europe and have a cousin who went on a RS tour. I think that they should wear an "I Survived a Rick Steves' Tour" t-shirt! Upon being asked about the RS tour, they first say they were exhausted and smugly comment on how proud they are that they survived the fast pace, carried their bags up steep hills, and lived out of one small carry-on bag. No mention of the quality of the tour, the educational value and what they learned unless I ask specific questions!

Posted by
4243 posts

cw, I was a little surprised by your comment:

I've met RS travelers in Europe and have a cousin who went on a RS tour. I think that they should wear an "I Survived a Rick Steves' Tour" t-shirt! Upon being asked about the RS tour, they first say they were exhausted and smugly comment on how proud they are that they survived the fast pace, carried their bags up steep hills, and lived out of one small carry-on bag. No mention of the quality of the tour, the educational value and what they learned unless I ask specific questions!

I've been on a number of RS tours, and know other people (in addition to our tour-mates) who have been on them, and the pace, luggage, and hills have never been the first topics of conversation. Instead, I've heard glowing reviews of the guides and itineraries, with emphasis on the learning experience.

Am I proud I made it up the hill at Civita de Bagnoregio? You betcha, but that's not what I tell people about when they ask me about RS tours.

I will say one of the things people ask us about is if we really do live out of one bag. Some travelers do, some don't. I guess it's your use of the term "smugly" that made me do a quick examination of conscience. I think I pass the test; I certainly hope so.

We do talk up RS tours, but for the range of experiences, the wonderful guides, great museum visits, and ample free time. I hope you run into some of the other RS alums, who quietly savor their experience without bragging or smugging.

Posted by
46 posts

I am a bit baffled why some folks are so very long winded about this subject. It is pretty easy to summarize a RS tour.

Background:

  • Traveled to Europe 7 years straight
  • 2 Rick Steves tours, 2 Cosmos, 2 Globus, 1 on my own, drove a rental car, and stayed at RS recommended hotels.

RS Tours are fairly priced based on the central location of the tours. Tour members tend to be more liberal politically, and will share their political views openly. Globus and Cosmos folks are more blue collar and not as "educated" about European history.

This is neither good or bad, just what I have experienced.

Can you travel cheaper on your own? Yes. But only about 15% less.

Do you enjoy a group experience? IF so, tours are fun and you may make friends.

I will only travel on my own in the future, as I am pretty confident to plan, and drive on my own, but I owe this confidence to my experiences with the group tours.

Leaving in May 2018 for 14 days in Austria, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Belgium, and Holland.

I recommend RS tours.

Posted by
4 posts

We've done trips using Rick Steves books as our guide. By the time we take off I've typically been reading RS every night for a few hours for months... it is committed to memory and engraved in our trip plan. I love being able to point at the long line at the ruins in Rome and say "they didn't read the book" which has made my husband a true believer. He witnessed all the work I go to in the months leading up to a trip - and decided to take most of that work off my list and booked not 1 but 2 back to back RS tours for the following year - Ireland for me for my heritage, and Scotland for him just cause. We have since been on other tours, we recently returned from one - and have 2 booked for next year.

The beauty is the quality of the onboard tour guides who are with you throughout the trip AND the bus where everyone usually has the choice of any seat on the bus and an empty seat beside them if they choose since the tours are around 24-26 people.

When you arrive at your destination you are met by a local guide. The local guide takes you to sought after locations and some that are known only to the guides. What other trips on your own or with other companies get you into the last known occupied palace in a location ? And so much more.

The bus drivers know all the other drivers from all the other company tours... how great to hear the call - let's load up so we can beat the "XYZ" bus with 52 passengers on board.... you arrive enjoy a leisurely tour and on the way out see hoards of people piling out of a big and totally full bus... it is the extra miles they go that make all the difference in your enjoyment.

Hotels and BNB's are a mixed bag sometimes. That can happen even with the best of planning. We have had unbelievably fantastic rooms and some where the mattresses are from the Spanish inquisition. That can happen anytime to anyone. For the most part they are just fine. You want a nice bed and a good shower.

Your time is a mix of free time and tour time. And that is great... sometimes you just want to wander with the people on the tour you have grown close to. Then there are the surprises the tour guide will spring on you - when they treat you to a tour you were going to do on your own and they provide it to all your tour members.

I have to say we have seen more than what we would have done on our own. We learn more than we would have done on our own through our local guides. And the best - the work in arranging is already done.

We are some of the fortunate few who are in Ricks backyard and can come and take classes when offered. We can easily go to the reunion events. If you can't - the tour programs are on Public Television regularly. And the books and videos are available to order.

We highly recommend Rick Steves tours. You should try them and see if they are right for you too.

Posted by
2545 posts

CW, Maybe your friends and relatives are not fit enough for an RS tour and that is why they feel they survived a tour. Personally, I found the tour much less strenuous than I expected, but I travel independently so I am always responsible for my luggage...not a big deal. I also don't understand the big deal about one or two night stays when the transportation and hotels are all planned for you. On my independent trips I stay much longer as traveling independently is different and takes longer to achieve the level of learning, if possible to achieve, that one receives on an RS tour. My RS tour, Greece, had lovely, interesting and curious people who were fit and ready to experience and learn.

Posted by
3357 posts

I don't know if I'm a typical Rick Steves tour taker. I'll turn 72 next month. I've traveled in Europe solo and with my husband a total of about 12.5 months over the past 40 years. I'm not counting any travel in the US, Canada or in Europe when I lived in Germany.

I did all the planning for those trips except for a Rick Steves week in Istanbul tour (all couples except one single woman, age range from late 70's to early 30's) and an RS 2-week Village Italy tour (more women than men, many female singles, no male singles, age range from mid-70's to mid-teens), so I'm something of a Rick Steves tour novice.

I chose to do the Istanbul tour as an adjunct to a 4+ week trip to Greece which I planned for us. Even though I love doing my own planning, I felt totally out of my depth to try to do the planning for Istanbul.

In keeping up on the forum, I kept seeing people rave about Village Italy. I found the itinerary fascinating primarily because of all the places that I would never think of going. That's a good example of not knowing what I don't know. Even though I had some physical challenges, I loved that tour. I spent some time on my own in Rome, Ravenna and Venice before and in Milan after.

I enjoyed Village Italy so much that I decided to sign up for another Rick Steves tour for 2018, the Best of Scandinavia one. I'm adding some time in Amsterdam before and after the Scandinavia tour, as well as in Stockholm before the tour starts there and in Bergen after the tour ends there. I was somewhat reluctant to go to Scandinavia because I've been there before. Then I had to get a grip and realize that was 40 (count 'em) years ago.

In 2016 my husband decided that he didn't want to travel to Europe anymore, so I've been traveling solo since. I did 6 self-planned weeks in the UK that year. The Village Italy tour convinced me this year that even though the pace is faster, it's fun to be with a group.

There's been lots of discussion about the costs of self-planned trips vs. RS tours. I always paid for our trips. My husband is not a cheap date. I do my cost comparisons based on that. I have learned that doing a solo self-planned trip does not cut the price by 50% for lodging, but it does cut the food cost by about 2/3 and ground travel or site entrance fees by half.

Similarly, paying for the single supplement on an RS tour sounds expensive, but it's a bargain for me compared to paying for him to go, too. Not only do I see, experience and learn things I would never know about if I didn't go on an RS tour, I can do it in a much more efficient way even if I do know about them.

I'm not sure how some people decide to base their European trips around a Rick Steves tour, but based on my somewhat limited experience, I think I may be going that direction. I think RS tours are worth every penny.

Posted by
315 posts

I recently was reading a travel blog by two ladies who were maybe 30. At this time in their life, they have dropped out from their careers in the Netherlands to explore the land. In Europe, they were hitching and couch surfing. They had further plans outside of Europe. They were having the time of their current lives. Life experiences change with time, enjoy your travels!

Posted by
254 posts

Hi Donald (op),
Thanks for the topic-I've loved reading the responses. Why do people take a tour vs FIT? My husband jokes that it saves him money from the divorce that's bound to happen if we try to do it ourselves, lol! However, the real reason is the people. It's the like-minded travelers that make new places fun. Sure, we all have friends that we would love to travel with, but won't (hope they're not reading this)! And of course, there are the scrooge-friends, that boast they can see it in a fraction of the cost (see what, I wonder). RS tours attract curious travelers who are not hostel-stayers and don't want the comfort of the 5-star because that's a sterile way to travel. I want quirky, fun, and educational. I only wish I had more time and money! We do travel on our own (domestically and to Europe), but as busy professionals we appreciate someone else seeing to the details. This summer we're bound for Ireland (RS Best of tour) and a week in the Netherlands (on our own).
Stay safe and happy travels!

Posted by
4 posts

I agree that the RS tours attract like-minded people. In fact, we have gone on subsequent tours with people we met on an RS tour. This fall we will be going to Village England and join up with one couple that we met on the Ireland tour in 2012 and have traveled with 2 more times. This will make 4!
That said, I do think RS has let their tour size get too big. It used to top out at 24 - much more manageable for conversation and getting to know people. One tour I went on was full, plus had 3 tour guides + a driver, which made for 31 people - too much.
We like to mix taking RS tours with going on our own. Then we use the very good RS guide books to help plan our time. It is fun running into people reading RS guidebooks along the way. You know they are a kindred spirit right away.

Posted by
56 posts

My husband and I have just signed up for our very first tour of any kind - RS Berlin-Prague-Vienna in 12 days in September although we have been serious travellers for years and are RS devotees. His books are always a large part of my planning whenever we go to Europe and his philosophy is our own - "temporary locals", small, family-run hotels, public transit, picnics, etc. And we've been travelling with carry-ons only for years now so this will be nothing new for us. So, I really think the RS tour will be a best of both worlds situation. They do the planning and bookings but do it the way I would and we get the added benefit of an excellent guide/escort and some fun travelling companions.
I am especially excited that the tours are active - we are definitely NOT "limo at the airport" types and feel that the best way to get to know anyplace is by walking.
We'll head on to Budapest for a few days after the tour ends in Vienna and use "the book" to help us maximize our time there.
The impetus for signing up for this tour was the recent PBS airing of RS' Christmas in Europe program. I signed up as a PBS supporter and was sent some swag as a thank you - this included a booklet about the tours, an excellent CD of choral music, as well as 2 DVDs, one with a segment entitled "Travel as a Political Act". I love it. This embodied why WE travel, what we look for when we travel and why we WANT to travel. It is fun but it is also personal growth.

Posted by
1633 posts

Sharon,
You will love the Berlin, Prague & Vienna tour! I did it in June 2015. I went a day early to Berlin and stayed 2 days after in Vienna. Our group had 20 people. I've been on tours with 19 people, 20 and 28. Great variation in number of people. I've been on 5 RS tours and am booked for the 6th one - Best of Turkey Oct. 15 - 27. I travel independently but also enjoy the group experience on RS tours.

Posted by
347 posts

Based on the casual observation of this site's postings, the majority of Rick Steves tour takers are

Over 50

Couples or groups

In decent physical health

In good financial health

Not minority

Posted by
3436 posts

But the majority of the posters on this site:

  • Have never taken a RS tour.
  • Have never taken any group tour.
  • Have no desire to take any group tour including those from RS.

So, given these facts, how can the previously stated facts tell you anything at all about those who actually take RS tours? (Your assessment is fairly accurate from what I have seen on the 10 tours I took.)

Posted by
484 posts

you meet the people by not being on a tour (the local tour guide does not count as meeting a local).
On my RS tour, we met a lot of local people during the free time we were given. Go out and meet people. I've learned so much more from meeting the clerk in the shop, the photographer guy eating a burger, the couple having a coffee in Arles, the father listening to his son play music in Split.
Tours are good, but leave the group and walk around, have a coffee.
Who takes a RS tour? I think they are people who have watched many, if not all RS shows. They definitely own more than 4 RS travel books. They are also primarily from the west coast.

Now, we've also taken another tour group (small group). I like the RS tour itinerary as there is a good amount of free time. I find the local tour guides as either so in depth or so superficial that I would rather they just let me alone. If you read RS books, then the local guides are just giving you the same thing back.

Posted by
4243 posts

tgreen, we have had some local guides who could have phoned in the information, but only a couple. We have had many more who just blew us away with their knowledge and their passion, and went way beyond what's in the RS books. I'm thinking specifically of Francesca in Rome, Federico in Madrid (especially at the Dalí exhibit,) Gillian in London, Antonia in Florence, the wonderful man at the Greek temples in Agrigento - I'm afraid I've forgotten his name.

Oh, and any time we have had a local guide that we considered less than stellar, we noted it on our reviews. Same for the exceptionally good ones, as well.

I do agree with your suggestion that people get out and about during the free time. We've had some very interesting conversations with waiters or folks with whom we've shared a table somewhere.

Posted by
55 posts

I haven't taken a RS tour yet. My wife and I have traveled as part of 3 different tour companies and independently. I agree with the people that say doing a tour and going on your own is just different. Personally I think the tours are more expensive then going on your own but I like the tours for a few reasons as follows: 1. camaraderie of fellow travelers (there's always one grump in every tour we've been on but the rest of the people are fabulous); 2. knowledgeable guides (good guides can really enhance the knowledge you gain of the area you are visiting); 3. not having to drive (and confidently enjoying few glasses of wine); 4. not having to worry about picking the "right" accommodations. Going on your own is a different experience which parts of which I like very much. We like going on our own because its fun to explore. This is why my wife and I typically combine the tour with some independent travel. For example, we are going on one of the RS tour through the Loire Valley but we are spending an extra 5 days in Paris and an extra 2 days in Nice on our own. In our opinion its the best of both worlds. Finally I wouldn't go some places without taking a tour. For example, our daughter is in Nepal right now on a REI Adventure to Mount Everest Base Camp. This is doable on your own but I feel much better knowing our daughter is in the company of a reputable tour company.