Ask Martin why he's escorting Rick Steves My Way vacations around Europe, and he'll tell you he's working on making his life less exciting. He'll say that — having been pushed out of Czechoslovakia by Russian tanks at a tender age, only to end up in Switzerland with the uneasy vibe of all that dictator and mafia money stacked in mountain caves — he craves the predictable and peaceful. His first foray into tour guiding involved taking French campers on tours through US National Parks. But they were poor listeners. And the way they'd dangle their feet off the rim of the Grand Canyon gave him the willies. Today Martin has found serenity working with, as he likes to say, "well-adjusted Rick Steves customers, of the famously no-whiners-no-grumps variety."
Martin, is it true that you speak six languages?
Ja, moi confessione hablar six langues.
After years of experience with Rick's fully guided Germany, Austria & Switzerland tours, you more recently began escorting our "un-guided" My Way vacations in the region. Are there differences or surprises that come to mind?
On the two My Way itineraries I've escorted — the Alpine Europe tour and Germany-Austria-Switzerland — I had expected to have people who would keep to themselves and just take advantage of the great time savings we provide by taking care of transport and lodging. But the nice surprise is that tour members on My Way itineraries are every bit as happy to mingle, make friends, and find people with common interests to go do their activities together. As a My Way escort, I have less to organize and keep track of than on a fully guided tour. This leaves me with more time and energy to talk with tour members one-on-one, listen to the plans they've laid out beforehand, and give my opinion for their best use of the time we have in each place.
Are My Way: Alpine Europe tour members hard-core hikers?
I'd say about half are hard-core hikers and the other half are mellow mountain-lovers. Going to different, fascinating places of immense cultural variety within the Alps is a real draw for both types. And the hikers can't help but mellow out a bit by being around the types who'd rather enjoy the views with a cold beer than work up a sweat.
Do you have advice for people trying to decide whether a fully guided tour or a My Way vacation is better for them?
I've had Rick Steves alums on both types of tours, and the consensus from them is that the fully guided tours are well worth the extra expense. That's especially true for someone who wants to fit as much into their trip as possible and trusts us to organize the best experiences wherever we go. But there are also those who would like to take it a bit easier, maybe on a My Way route that lets them revisit places they'd been to years earlier. My Way vacations still take a lot of preparation from travelers if they want to take advantage of all that's worthwhile. But fortunately, all our stops are well covered by our guidebooks.
So Martin, why would someone as multi-lingual and experienced at living in Europe as you prefer escorting My Way vacations to leading fully guided tours (for more money)?
I love sleeping more than four hours every night. It is so revitalizing! And it gives me the energy I need to go on a bike ride around Mad King Ludwig's castle, hike along the Grand Balcon in Chamonix, spend an afternoon of testing every last gelato flavor in Bolzano, milk a Swiss cow...
We've introduced a My Way: France vacation. Given that you're fluent in French, would you be interested?
Oh, mon dieux! Where do I sign up?