If there’s one traveling companion that should come along on every trip to Europe—without needing an airplane ticket or a place to sleep—it’s a Rick Steves guidebook for the place you’re headed. Hopefully you’ve already experienced Rick’s expertise in your travels, so you know what I’m talking about. While his books may lack the glossy photos of other guidebooks, they are chock full of incredibly useful tips to make your trips successful.
Last night I had a real treat—Rick Steves came to Austin and I was able to see him at the historic Paramount Theater. That guy is really great. So knowledgeable, so approachable, and so helpful.
I thought you might enjoy my top 5 take-aways from last night’s presentation—things to think about as you think about your future travels.
- Rick’s big thing is encouraging and helping us Americans to experience more of the aspects of local life when abroad. Yet he recognizes the need to visit the tourist spots. After all, there’s a reason everyone wants to visit St. Peter’s Basilica or the Tower of London. We can get the best of all worlds by splitting our time three ways—tourist hotspots, modern/growing areas (e.g. La Défense in Paris, London’s Docklands), and off-the-beaten-track towns or sights.
- Be flexible when traveling. While this is obviously required when traveling with children (you never know when someone will need a nap or have a tantrum), Rick gave the example of passing through a small town in Sicily, discovering that there’s a cheese festival going on. STOP THE CAR! Get out and experience something you hadn’t anticipated, even if it requires adjustment to the plans you’d laid at the hotel that morning.
- The free or inexpensive sites don’t get promoted, so it’s going to take some extra effort to seek them out or to make sure you’re aware of them. Sure, you can head to the well-marketed Madame Tussaud’s wax museum for $30/person, but you can head to the British Museum for free. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with Madame Tussaud’s—you’ll just need to recognize that the rack of brochures in the hotel lobby may lack some of the free options in a city, so don’t sell yourself short.
- The world contains a museum for almost everything. If you or your kids have quirky or specific interests, get searching on the Internet before you go to see if there’s a museum that’s right up your/their alley at your destination. It’d be a shame to get home and find out that as a lover of handbags, you missed Amsterdam’s handbag museum; or that as a collector of thimbles, you missed Rothenburg, Germany’s thimble museum.
- It’s great to have photos of your trip—to capture the moment in a picture that you’ll have forever. But be careful not to spend your entire trip looking at the screen of your phone or through the viewfinder on your camera. Take time to really absorb the sights, sounds, smells, and experiences of travel, and rely on photos to bring all those feelings back to you, not to replace them.
And here are a few additional one-liners from Rick that I can totally embrace:
Europe is the wading pool for world exploration.
Packing light is not heroic—it’s liberating!
Viewing art is the equivalent of time travel.
If you care about your loved ones, you will take them to Europe tomorrow!
Since many of you are probably readers of Rick Steves, what tips have you learned from him that have been invaluable to you and would be worth sharing with others?
Take a second to add one or two of your favorite Rick Steves tidbits in the comments below. Are there other travel guides that you’ve found particularly helpful?