Helpline Question of the Month:
How many Rick Steves tours have you taken?
|Got a travel question? Or just want to browse through advice and opinions posted on dozens of travel topics? Check out our Travelers Helpline.|
Rick Steves' Travelers Helpline is where we take a step back, and let travelers share information directly with one another.
Our Travelers Helpline is evolving into a lively social network of travelers — beyond its role as a problem-solving forum. People have gotten to know one another, and they'll sometimes pop a question just to get a conversation going. Gretchen's question about Rick Steves' tours generated some candid comments — pro and con — about 'tour travel'. Here's the long and winding thread, uncensored!
Tag along on Gretchen's journey through our Travelers Helpline...
"I was just curious about who here on the Helpline has the most RS Tours under his/her belt (Ken, perhaps?). How many have you taken? Which was your favorite and why? I've taken 2 so far (Best of Scotland and Village Italy) and I'm trying to decide on the third. Maybe you all will inspire me."
I've taken five, and I know I'm nowhere close to whomever has the most! I've done the weeks in Rome, Florence, and Paris, Paris and the Heart of France, and the Best of Europe in 21 Days.
The Rome tour will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first RS tour, and it got me hooked. The guide was fantastic! But I suppose the Best of Europe was my favorite because we had an amazing group of people, and I got to see places I hadn't seen before.
Now I'm signed up for the Ireland tour in September. It can't come soon enough!
I've actually taken five of Rick's tours. I normally find it difficult to find people to travel with and though I don't mind traveling alone, there are times (dinner usually) when it's nice to be part of a group. The tours usually have a good mix of time with the group and independent time which, since you've taken a few tours yourself, I'm sure you already know.
If you had any specific questions feel free to send me a private message and I'll try to answer to the best of my ability.
@Teresa: Best of Europe sounds great, but I have done a similar tour with another company (in my 20s, before I knew about RS).
@Steve: Yes, I do enjoy the group aspect since I love being around people and also have trouble finding travel partners. I was just curious which tours were peoples' favorites because I want to do them ALL and just can't decide which one should be NEXT (sorry guys, I can't remember how to italicize).
Which was your favorite Steve?
I've done five also: Best of Britain, Heart of France, Ireland, Eastern Europe and Spain and Morocco. Like others, I could find no one to travel with and while I enjoyed several days on my own, I was glad for company after awhile. My problem was solved on my first trip where I met some great people who I have done the rest of the trips with. This year, I am returning to England and Wales with three people I met on the Ireland trip but we are looking at another RS trip in 2012. We usually do some time on our own and then take the tour, which has worked well.
It is hard to pick which one would be my favorite because they have all been great and with great guides. I might have to pick Best of Britain because that was my first trip to Europe and it certainly changed my life for the best. But I could come up with reasons to pick the others also.
Have fun deciding.
We've been on 11 so far and will be doing three more this summer (London, England & Scotland). We're always asked what our favorite tour has been — very hard question to answer as we've loved them all. We did them in this order: GAS, Village Italy (took our adult kids), Spain & Portugal, Paris and Provence, Scandinavia, Adriatic, Paris and the Heart of France (with our kids), San Sebastian, Villages & Vineyards of Eastern France, Southern Italy and Sicily. The first was amazing because I was in Europe for the first time. The tours with our kids were special because we were able to enjoy traveling with our eyes as well as through theirs. We have fond memories of all of the tours. Normally, we arrive before the tour and stay afterward for some independent travel. When we've done more than one tour on a trip, we've always had time before, between and after to spend on our own. This year, we're doing the three tours with only two days between each of them. This wouldn't be our first choice, but it's the way the dates worked out.
I have taken eight soon to be nine and my favorite is probably the "Best of Europe" as it was my first trip to Europe and we saw so much of Europe though even in a hurry. I also really enjoyed "Scandinavia" and "Paris & South of France". "Turkey" was interesting as was "Spain & Portugal" I go to the RS Reunion in Edmonds, WA most every year and they always have a contest to see who has taken the most tours. One older gentleman has taken 20! I go to Europe either before the tour starts and/or after the tour is over so that I can see other things on my own. After G/A/S and Greece, I may skip a year of RS tour and just go and hang out. Being retired helps, if my health just holds out. Happy travels all.
Actually, I'm not the record-holder for RS Tours. Charlie and some of the others are ahead of me on that point. The gentleman that Charlie referred to is Larry and as far as I know he's still the "king of the RS tours".
At this point, I've taken four tours: Ireland, South Italy, Paris & The South of France, Greece & The Peloponnese. I'm now booked for my fifth tour later this year, which will be Holland & Belgium this time. I'm still working on the details for my pre & post tour travels.
@ Teresa: It's interesting that you'll be taking the Ireland tour in September, as that's about the same time of year my tour was. Do you know yet who your guide will be (not that it matters, as all of Rick's guides are fantastic!)? I had a great visit with three of the Ireland Guides at the Tour Reunion in January. I'm sure you'll have a great time!
We've taken two ETBD tours (Best of Europe and one that isn't offered anymore, Village Europe) always adding on a bit before and/or after the tour. I'll label the original Best of Europe as the favorite, simply because it was our first time in Europe. We've also gone independently four additional times (three of which involved volunteering) staying from one month to four months and relying a lot on RS guide books. In September we'll take a Turkey tour and then go to Greece on our own.
I'm sure you'll be pleased with any tour you take! Enjoy.
None. I've taken one guided tour (Gibraltar tours).
While I think Rick Steves tours might be better than the experience I had, I know I prefer traveling independently.
None. I would go mental on a tour, RS or other.
I love the planning of my/our trips and independent travel. I've never taken a tour but some day would like to take the St Petersburg, Tallinn & Helsinki, an Adriatic and a Greece & Turkey tours because of the ease of getting around but especially for the excellent info provided by the guides. A RS tour is the only kind I would ever even consider!
PS: Great question, Gretchen! It's always interesting to get to know more about each of us on the Helpline.
None. My travels, in Europe and North America, are almost always linked with family visits. Group tour travel doesn't work well with that, I prefer my individual planning.
I have just been on one. It was a week in Rome, it was wonderful, I would recommend it to anyone. We have been on 3 other trips to Europe on our own. I would love to do another one of his tours one day, but with my work I am very limited on what days I can take off, so it is easier to go on our own.
St. Louis, MO
I haven't taken any either. I also like planning my own trips and having the freedom to decide where I want to go and how long I want to stay there (and saving money).
One point to add to my previous reply....
I always structure my trips to include both a RS tour as well as some time on my own either before or after the tour (or both). I find that's a really good combination for me.
As I often travel "solo" it's nice to be with a group for a week or two, and the people on the RS tours have been fantastic. However, I like to explore and visit historic sites (especially WWII sites) that are of interest to me, so the self-guided part of the trip provides that.
I find that travelling with a tour is a very efficient and interesting way to travel. They take care of all transportation, hotel and other "details", which allows me to just enjoy the experience. I also learn FAR MORE about the history and culture with a tour than I would on my own, so it's a more rewarding travel experience. Rick's tour and local guides are incredible!
Whitmore Lake, MI
None.... although I use the RS guides to help me.
The only tour I have ever done is one I set up for a group of photographers to Spain & Morocco. I really prefer my freedom, but if, and when I am ready to let someone else plan for me and take care of logistics it will be RS... those new My Way trips might be just the thing for me eventually.
I have travelled to Europe many times independently, but I have taken one RS Tour, the Family Europe in 14 days. It was great, and I built in an additional 12 days on our own. The taking of the tour was to give my then 11 year old daughter some tour companions (there were 26 people on our tour, and 14 of them were under 16, so it was great for her) .
Although I am not a "tour person" I do think the RS product was wonderfully done, and not at all like the tours I have heard about with other companies. I don't think you can compare them at all, so if one's only knowledge of tours is that of rushing about and being herded, then one really does not know what a RS tour is like at all. It's not for wimps or grouches, and you do get free time, and choice to participate or not in most things. If you need hand holding and luxury services then a RS tour is not for you.
If I ever took another RS tour I would probably choose one of the more unusual ones, like Turkey, where having the language might be more difficult for an independent traveler. Even using a phrase book there would be tough (to me anyways).
I have taken one RS tour: Village Italy last October. I do have a 2nd tour planned with RS: Istanbul in October 2011. Whenever I travel to Europe independently or with some other tour group I bring along the RS guidebook to the country/cities I am visiting along with the RS 21" carry-on suitcase. The RS tours are good value and I like the fact you sit on the bus where you wish. Including the tips for the guide/bus driver in the price is great. The only negative on the Village Italy tour was the distance from bus to hotel in most of the cities.
In June will be going on a Switzerland tour with another tour company.
San Francisco, CA
I've taken 2 RS tours. My first trip to Europe was for his Paris city tour, with unbelievable guide Patrick Vidal. I loved everything about it, and learned so much that since 2001 I have been doing my own independent tours for myself, family and friends. I love to do this but also like the tours. I took the week-long Venice RS tour a few years ago — which he doesn't do anymore. It was fabulous.
Santa Barbara, CA
We haven't taken any RS tours although we do use his guide books to help us plan our independent travel. We think the 2-3 nights per location type of travel is way too rushed for us. We have been traveling to Europe on our own since 1982. Three times we have lead semester abroad travel/study programs for college students, usually visiting about 10-14 countries per semester. Once we lived in Germany for 7 months while on sabbatical. We prefer to slow down and see smaller regions of Europe on our month long summer forays now. We do this very economically by doing home exchanges.
I like the guy and I like his books and I would probably like his employees, but I would never go on a tour. Planning is at least half the fun for me.
I've done 2: one week in Rome and one week in Florence. I also just returned from 2+ weeks in Paris & Sicily, with no tour. While I enjoyed doing the planning and we had a great time, it was quite exhausting having to handle all the logistics myself. It was also a much faster paced trip, as we shifted locations about every 3-4 days, rather than the week we spent in one place on tour. It will probably be a couple of years before I make it back to Europe and I will likely either do northern Italy (no tour) or take the one week Istanbul tour, and probably combine it with a return visit to Rome, if at all possible.
I'm taking my fifth RS tour in May — can't wait. My four Italy tours have been great, so I am doing Paris and the Heart of France. I too take the tours partially because I lack a travel partner. I never thought I was a 'tour person,' but the RS tours allow me to have the major things like hotels and transportation taken care of, allow me to meet some interesting folks and still gives me time for planning of my free time, as I do enjoy travel planning. I always go to Europe before the tour and stay after. My favorite tour so far is my first, the village tour of Italy. This was due in part to a fantastic guide (Trish) and in part to a group of people who shared my love of wine. So we met almost every night as a group for a glass of wine and snacks. We bonded very quickly.
None. I've got no interest in a group tour. I do, however, really enjoy his books, and follow the advice therein.
Zero. I know there are pros to doing any guided tour like an RS tour, but I just don't do well on buses. I have tolerated a couple of river cruises (I hate to admit it but they were actually quite enjoyable) because that's what my mother wanted to do — and how do you say no to your 82 year old mother especially right after she says: "I don't know how many years I have left to travel to Europe." (You just suck it up and go.) However, my best Euro experiences have been the independently planned days.
Lake Forest, CA
None. I enjoy travelling independently, stopping where and when I want to stop and going where I want to go. However, if and when I do feel inspired to take a tour, it would be a Rick Steves tour. He has received many rave reviews.
Staten Island, NY
I have taken 8 RS tours and will be taking my 9th tour this June to Ireland.
I never wanted to do a bus tour as I did three in the 90's with another company and felt it was too rushed.
I like staying a whole week in a hotel and really seeing the cities. I have been on the London tour, Prague tour, Paris tour twice, Florence tour twice and the Rome tour. My first bus tour with RS was last September on the 15 day France tour. All were excellent.
I like taking the week long tours back to back. I have gone on the Prague and Paris tours back to back and the Rome and Florence tours back to back and the Paris and Florence tours back to back.
The guide Jamie in Rome was amazing. Honza did the Prague tour, also amazing.
They were all excellent, but some better than others mostly due to the group you get. On the whole, if they all really come together, that makes the tour. But even on some of the tours where the group is good, but not as together, I always make friends with several people to really go touring with.
I chose Ireland this time around. I really wanted to do Rome and Istanbul back to back. It would have to have been in May, and due to other commitments could not go.
However, after reading all the comments about the RS Ireland tour and looking at the Ireland Scrapbook photos, it convinced me to do the Ireland tour as I was unsure as to what tour to do next.
I think that reviewing all the scrapbook photos and reading peoples' comments about how they enjoyed the tours and why, and what they did not like, will inspire you to pick a tour.
Hope this helps.
I've never taken a Steves Tour. I often wondered about the cost of a tour compared to traveling on your own. It seems to me that it is much more costly then independent travel.
White Plains, NY
None, but am considering the RS Best of the Adriatic (Croatia) tour for a future trip.
Los Angeles, CA
I've never done a RS tour but I'm doing "Paris and the Heart of France" this coming September. Last year I did an Elderhostel (now called Road Scholar) tour of Italy and loved it. I had mostly traveled independently in the past, which I enjoyed, but on the tour I really learned a lot more about the history and art than I would have had I been going independently. I also enjoyed getting to know the other tour group participants. I'm looking forward to the RS tour, which will probably be a little more "rugged" experience than the Elderhostel tour. Don't know how much longer I'll want to have the rugged experience, so I'm doing it now. I plan to add on some days of solo travel at the end and I'm sure I'll enjoy that as well.
Fort Pain, AL
ZERO = Rick BETRAYS his own spirit of backdoor/freelance travel with outrageous tour prices. Just cost out the average daily cost of his tours. Sure, some competing companies charge more, but I've been on two that charged less. I'd like to go on one, but I am not a Donald Trump. Rick Steves' tours are TOO EXPENSIVE!
As a follow-up to my earlier post: My wife said she would never go on an organized tour as she had seen lots of the world on her own (prior to me) and likes to do all the planning herself. Well, I decided to take my first trip to Europe alone and decided that the RS tours fit my desires. My wife then decided that she had better go along so as to keep an eye on me (good idea-I get lost easily). She so enjoyed that RS tour (Best of E in 21 days) that she has accompanied me on another 7 RS tours. She claims that his tours are like none other and she gets to do our planning for time spent before and/or after the tour. We penciled out what it costs for all the things we get on a RS tour and compared that to what we spend on our own and find his tours a good financial deal with a lot less stress. Happy travels!
Like many of those who say they've never been a Rick Steves tour, I enjoy the planning. And, I like being to drive my own car and stop where I want to stop and take my pictures. But, I often can't find people who want to travel when I do or who want to do the kind of travel I want. Most of the time now, I join some friends for walking and tag on some solo travel at the beginning and end of that week.
But I need to break out of the Scotland rut now and then, and so while I don't mind traveling solo part of the time, I do like traveling with people as well. And, sometimes work and other pressures leave me less time to plan. So, the last time that happened, I took the Berlin, Prague and Vienna Tour. It was terrific. I did have time to travel solo not only before and after the trip, but also there was amazing free time during the trip.
So, be careful about blanket denials of never doing a tour. You might find yourself eating those words some day. And as for cost, don't forget that time is money too. And if you are not having to plan your tour, you can spend your time on other things which may be pressing you.
I've taken three and about to go on my fourth in July: two weeks in England (I've done Paris & The Heart of France, Best of the Adriatic, and Southern Italy). I planned and took two trips to Europe before I went on a tour. I think it's well worth the money for the RS tours.
This thread was gently edited for brevity and clarity. Ask your European travel question on the Travelers Helpline.
Planning to travel with an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch? Be sure to get the new — and free — Rick Steves Audio Europe app!
Our independent, volunteer Travelers Helpline contributors are sincere, but not infallible! Follow their advice at your own risk.