Reid Coen has been guiding Rick Steves tour groups around Europe for nearly 20 years. His first-ever tour was the Best of Europe in 1996 and since then he's led many different itineraries including Spain; Berlin–Prague–Vienna; about any tour in Italy; Belgium & Holland; Germany–Austria–Switzerland; and Greece. Reid's background in education and European history combined with a deep-rooted passion for travel make him the quintessential Rick Steves tour guide.
Reid, you've led all four of Rick Steves "Best of Europe” itineraries. From your perspective what makes these tours so special?
All of our tours are beautifully designed, blending the best-known tourist sights with unique "back door" experiences. But I really believe our 21-day Best of Europe tour is the jewel in the crown. The pace and scope are demanding, but the rewards are tremendous. We visit the world-class cities of Amsterdam, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Paris and stop in little-known hill towns and quiet "off the beaten path" villages. Even though the earliest days inevitably illicit multiple "wow” moments, I'm always able to guarantee the tour will get better and better until we reach the grand finale in Paris — the City of Light!
You recently escorted your first My Way® Europe tour. Tell us about the differences between a fully guided Best of Europe tour and the "un-guided” My Way tour, where you don't give history talks and walking tours?
Overall, our tour concept seems to attract an intrepid, adventurous, independent type of traveler, and I see that kind of traveler on all the tours I've done. The big difference I observed on the My Way tour was an absence of group bonding. On a fully guided tour we share experiences and meals, and those activities help facilitate relationship building. Tour members on fully guided tours often comment on the new friendships they make as being unanticipated highlights from their tour. I also found that leading a tour where I didn't give history talks was very difficult for me. I have a deep and abiding passion for history, and therefore a desire to share it. And since I believe having an historical context for what you're seeing and experiencing is essential to travel, it was hard for me to see the My Way tour members working their way through Europe without that context.
You had a VIP guest on a Best of Europe in 21 Days tour you recently guided. Can you tell us what it was like having Rick Steves as a tour member?
Having Rick on my tour was a completely positive experience. He blended in like any other tour member — just there to enjoy Europe and the tour. The other tour members were initially a bit star-struck, but quickly got used to him and he became a regular part of the group. Rick was overtly deferential to me as the guide, insuring there would be no confusion or ambivalence about who was running the tour. Eventually, with encouragement, he began to periodically contribute his perspective to a given sight or activity. And it was great! The 21-day Europe tour is our signature tour and one Rick was intimately involved in developing, so he was very interested in the details of the tour and fine-tuning them. We would put our heads together every few days, and discuss how things were going and how they might be improved. I found it refreshing to have Rick along to evaluate the tour and my performance as guide. He was always constructive and very respectful of my professional perspective and long experience leading this tour.
You've led so many different itineraries, which is your favorite and why?
I'm often asked what my favorite country and/or favorite tour is. Honestly, that seems impossible for me to answer, but if forced, I would choose Greece and the Athens & the Heart of Greece tour. As an arm-chair historian, Greece is the Holy Grail of guiding. It's the cradle of our western civilization and I'm salivating at the thought of returning there to share my passions with new groups of Rick Steves travelers. Furthermore, as a surprise bonus for most first-time visitors, Greece is stunningly beautiful. I can't wait to walk in Socrates' steps on the Acropolis and in the Agora of Athens, climb the sacred way of spiritual Delphi, hike the scenic trails of the Peloponnese, and relax with an Aegean sunset on the island of Hydra.