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What we've learned from RS

Hello all,
We just got home from 3 weeks in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and had a wonderful vacation.
a little over 10 years ago on a trip to Epcot Center, I mentioned to my wife that We could travel to Europe and see the real things for less money. We loved the RS shows. I started buying some guidebooks and planning our first trips. I had been to Europe many times in the 1980's traveling with athletics, so arrangements were made for us. But I had no fear of trying this independently.
Well this made our 22 trip to Europe, and I'd like to share some things we've learned along the way. We have never take a RS Tour, but can see great value in them. While we can do our independent trips much cheaper. RS tours arrange everything and are well thought out and include guides the whole way. Try to do that on your own will be very expensive! We recommend these to anyone who is wary of traveling 1st times or just don't want to plan (planning correctly takes a lot of time, I just happen to dig it!)

I have never had a RS tip or recommendation that wasn't helpful or superb!
2 rules of packing:
1: Pack light, you'll never regret it
2: When going on a long trip and thinking of packing more, refer to rule 1
Museum and Travel/ transit passes: Almost always a great value, and when not the convenience and flexibility and time saved is well worth the extra!
Don't try to do to see or do it all. Slow down and smell the flowers. Take time to talk to people that live there. Always more memorable than stretching your plans to climb to the top of that tower and look around!
Try not to plan to jump from hotel to hotel too much. spending 2 or more days at a place and make day trips from them, will save you the hassle of moving, re packing, waiting to check in so your not dragging your bags around all day or looking for lockers. Will also give some time for those socks and things you washed in the room to dry!
In hot weather, bring a swim suit and find a local pool. After miles of walking, your legs and body will thank you! Not to mention that you will probably meet some interesting people there.
If you're on a long trip, plan for the last few days to be in a nice place for a few days, you'll probably be tired. Here's a good place to slow down and spend a little extra time in cafe's or biergartens. Rushing around at the end can make you a little tired and miserable. Finish your trip on a good note!
Stay in town. Especially the very touristy areas. Early mornings and evenings are a treat once the tourists have left! Always great memories.
Have patience with tour groups. This can be tough, as they can be pushy. Remember that many of them are herded like cattle and only get short periods of time wherever they go and they are fighting to get to see everything. I used to think it was an ethnic thing, but have changed my mind recently on this. I just chill out and enjoy and let them rush on. Not going to take my attitude down! (photo bombing has become a fun way to deal with them!)
Public Transportation. While we sometimes rent cars as needed, when you're driving and trying to find places and navigating traffic circles you aren't seeing the beautiful sites. Study the transit systems before you go and enjoy. You can also have some drinks now!! Transit systems in most parts of Europe will make you wish you had more of it at home!
Politeness: At least learn the basic greetings and thank you's in the countries languages you are visiting. A polite try will open up the people you are talking to for a very pleasant encounter.
Picnics! Some of our best memories have come from doing this. A little shopping and find a nice place to relax and enjoy the views and people!

Posted by
464 posts

Great list! When my two friends and I travel, we always try to make time to "stop and smell the roses". Now, if I could just get my husband to adopt that attitude...

Posted by
3063 posts

I will add only one additional comment: Take a cab from the train/bus to your hotel. On stop after stop over the last 5 years, we have said "Oh, we can just walk", and then we spend 1-2 hours walking with a heavy suitcase. If you don't take a cab, get a clear and very explicit idea of how to take a tram/bus. We spent 1.5 hours in Amsterdam walking 2.5 KM to our hotel. We spent 45 min in Zagreb walking to our hotel. In both cases, a 5 minute tram ride would have gotten us there.

And, yes, we are firmly of the opinion that renting cars is, most of the time, a bad idea. Americans are car-centric. Becoming an adult in the USA means the driver's license and the car. In Europe, renting a car means always worrying about dings and scratches, negotiating unfamiliar types of roads, reading maps while driving, figuring out how to gas up, and then the kicker - the charges on your card after you return home. We did our last trip on trains and buses. Easy passage, cheap trains, and the ability to relax while traveling.

Posted by
93 posts

there are some occasions and locations when a car rental is necessary though especially when getting out into the country and smaller towns.
And yes, always look into travel from your transport to your hotel, good point. That's something I put in my planning after everything is booked!

Posted by
6669 posts

All good points, Pauly, thanks. Of course for rural areas a car can be a better choice, but seldom for getting between areas and never for real cities.

But what is "photo bombing"?

Posted by
93 posts

Photo bombing: for me it's when you have annoying people taking selfies in busy places, I insert myself in the background of their picture making a crazy face or gesture!

Posted by
6669 posts

Geez, Pauly -- Remind me to stay out of your way! ;-)

I know how annoying it can be to have people all around me taking pictures and me trying to stay out of their shots. And likewise to have people moving into the perfect shot I'm lining up. I try to be polite to photographers, as most people try to be polite to me, but there are limits. Like the guy who spent several minutes kneeling across the Bridge of Sighs, blocking everyone's way, to get his perfect shot of the canal (maybe he was waiting for the perfect gondola to pass). Or the two women in the Tate Britain posing for each other's glamor shots between me and the bench I really needed to sit down on. So sometimes I just go on where I'm going regardless of others' photo goals.

In one of Donna Leon's wonderful Comisario Brunetti novels he's walking home from work through the most crowded part of Venice, remembering how he used to stand back and wait for tourists to take their pictures until that became impossible, so now he just plows on through, contemplating how slideshows being presented all over the world will include his elbow, or the back of his head, or one of his feet at the edge of the frame. ;-)

Posted by
11480 posts

Well done!

I like the idea of staying the last few nights in a nice place with a less hectic schedule. Gives you time to reflect on the trip and talk about the next one. We rent apartments most of the time but interspersing a trip, and especially at the end, with a few hotel nights is very relaxing.

Also learned from Rick and the Forum: Find your own gems or “back doors” if you will. When you slow down you have time to do so.

Posted by
9853 posts

A very nice wrap-up, Pauly. I always think of Rick’ advice to take a day of rest and give yourself a vacation from your vacation. I don’t always do a good job of adhering to that, but when i do, it definitely benefits me!

Posted by
729 posts

Re: Photo Bombing. I have learned to enjoy taking pictures of other tourists. Seriously. I love to take pictures of people, but there is nothing I hate more than taking a picture of myself, and my traveling companions tend to be a bit camera shy. So, if someone is posing, I take a picture. When I was in Turkey a few years ago, I got some great pictures of (mostly Asian) tourists dressed to the nines and posing in front of all sorts of monuments.

Posted by
4920 posts

Yo Pauly, what a great wrap up. You've given me a different way to think about the last couple of days on my upcoming trip that I think will make a pleasant difference in how I enjoy it. Thanks!!

Posted by
418 posts

Yo Pauly, I think you must be my "brother from another mother"! You make two statements which fit me to a T. "Planning correctly takes a lot of time, I just happen to dig it! I also love to plan travel. When I take a tour, I will read travel books multiple times to make sure I don't miss anything. It is like eating candy!
I have also become a photo bomber. Especially selfies! I get so irritated with someone taking many pictures of themselves in front of iconic sites. Especially, If they are "hogging" the sites and not allowing others to take their shots, I have learned how to manipulate myself into position to be a thorn in their side. I only do this to the really bad "selfie-takers", not all of them.

Posted by
93 posts

oh now don't get me wrong about the photobombing. Its more like I turn and give a big smile and a wave. or if it's someone taking look how pretty I am selfies, I might blow a kiss!

Posted by
4 posts

In San Marc square I stopped for a photo and heard "Kanada Kanada Kanada" , I have a Canadian flag on my backpack. I just took my photo and moved on. My daughter caught up and said some guy was mad at me for being in his way for a photo. I looked around and replied " there are 2000 people here and I'm in his way?"

Posted by
4292 posts

A good friend of mine loved to say "Experience is something you get 5 seconds after you need it." This forum and the RS books have some great advice; whether we always use it is another matter. My wife used to find it important to travel with a dozen lipsticks, hair dryer, multiple pairs of get the picture. She became a convert to the light packing for the first time last Fall for a trip to England and she hasn't looked back. We snickered in May while on an RS tour in France. At our hotel in Arles, our room was on the 2nd floor, but to get to it we had to climb about 10 steps, turned right and then down 5 steps, one more turn and then up 3 or 4 more steps. We smiled with our carry on size suitcases and motored up to our room. Behind us, one of our tour mates-a very sweet librarian from Minnesota was in the middle of getting her experience 5 seconds after she needed it as she lugged her plus size suitcase up and down the steps behind us, the whole time swearing enough to make a sailor blush. She swore she was going to become a light packing convert.

Posted by
9436 posts

Yo Pauly - love your name! This is a great thread with good info from everyone. Thanks!

Posted by
14580 posts

With my digital Canon camera, I take a ton of pictures in Europe, never heard of photo bombing...totally irrelevant to my picture taking.

I don't rental cars in Europe so no dings, GPS, parking tickets, getting gas at unmanned gas stations, car break ins, etc and other nuisances I need to deal with.