We first got to know Dimitri Rigas as a coach driver for our tours. Like all our drivers, he enjoyed spending time with tour members. But he also showed a keen interest in learning all about the sights and cities we visited. He would park and lock up the bus — then run to catch up with the group and guide on their walking tour. He didn't just do this once or twice, but on every tour he drove. It did not take Dimitri long to express his interest in being trained to guide our Best of Europe tours. Today, Dimi (for short) flawlessly leads a bunch of our 21 and 14 day Best of Europe tours, our Family Europe tour, and our Heart of Italy tour.
What led you to leading Rick Steves tours?
My dream has always been to travel, so that is why I became a coach driver. After 13 years of driving, I was ready for a new challenge. I had driven for many different kinds of tours, but I really loved Rick's approach about traveling in Europe. I also love meeting new people! These things made my choice easy.
Your name sounds Greek to me. I'm aware that you've lived in Belgium and Greece. Do you have a preference?
I was born in Belgium, but when I was 5 years old, I moved to Greece to live with my grandmother. Now I am back in Belgium raising my family. But I'll never forget those memories of living in Greece — and I really miss the weather. Living in Belgium is economically much better, but all things equal, I would prefer to be back in Crete. I return there with my family almost every year and one day hope to lead Rick Steves' Athens and Heart of Greece tours!
With a family that includes six kids, how do you manage to do such a fine job leading tours when so much must be happening at home?
This is the toughest part about a job that takes you away from home. I especially miss my 2-year-old daughter. My wife and our 12-year-old daughter are incredible people in the way that they can hold the fort while I'm gone. They make it all possible, so I can focus on my work without worrying. While I know it must be hard on them at times, they understand how much I love this work, so they are good sports about it.
It's rare for a bus driver to make a successful transition to leading tours, as the job requirements are so very different. What's your secret?
In fact, I found it easy. On many Rick Steves tours where I drove, Rick Garman was the guide. He would let me assist him with group activities off the bus, and I could learn a lot just by seeing how he did things. When I was assigned to drive for other guides, I could learn from their styles as well. For me, it was the perfect classroom for learning how to be a good guide, taught by the very best.
You've now seen so much of Europe. Do parts of the tours still excite you?
On any tour, whenever the bus turns south, it's almost like I get an energy boost. It's also a thrill to guide in cities as magnificent as Venice, Florence, Rome, and Paris. But the best thing is to be in these places and see the thrill in the eyes of people you are sharing it with. That's what makes me realize what a wonderful job I have.
Here are some things Dimitri won't tell you about himself...but his tour members happily will!
"Dimitri was 'the bomb'! He's got a great sense of humor. He was a huge hit with everyone. And from what I could sense he is well respected by other guides and business proprietors. He was like a walking navigation system (never getting lost) and extremely knowledgeable in the rich history of each location we visited. He was always on time for everything. I'm not sure if he ever slept, and I know he probably ate a meal or two that he didn't order, when a teen had changed their mind (after pre-ordering a meal) and wanted something else — Dimitri was the consummate professional and gladly ate it. There was never a doubt that we were always safe no matter where we went, and he was always calm. We look forward to traveling with him again. I would like to thank him for always having us pull out our phrase books, talk to locals, ask for help if needed, and be open to new things. Dimitri taught us all the Rick Steves ins and outs of becoming a temporary local."
— Nicholas in Bakersfield, CA
Family Europe in 14 Days
"Dimitri was FANTASTIC!! He found a great balance in meeting the various needs of a diverse group of people. He gave great encouragement for each of us to get out and meet the local people. He was a wealth of knowledge about local and regional politics and history. He gave me some great insights about Italian and French wines. He was ALWAYS available — not a day job for him, but rather 24/7. I would do another tour with Dimitri in a heartbeat. While I realize it is a job for him, he really became a friend over the two weeks we spent with him."
— Kenneth in Abbotsford, BC
Family Europe in 14 Days
"I would sign up for another tour, based strictly on Dimitri's presence. He is truly a delight to travel with. I look forward to seeing him again at the reunion in January."
— Scott in Medina, WA
Heart of Italy in 9 Days