Matt has worked as a Rick Steves tour guide for more than 15 years, leading our 21-day Best of Europe tour, Family Europe tours, and 14-day Best of Europe tour. When he's not guiding, he works as our Facility Manager in the office.
How have the tours changed since you first started guiding?
The hotels have gotten better. There are more creature comforts. Tour members have become a little selective because the tours are more expensive than they used to be. The members now want bathrooms in their rooms instead of sharing one down the hall. But our hotels are still in the town center — in the middle of the action. The company has tried to stay with that philosophy.
What is your favorite part of the Best of Europe tour?
My favorite is enjoying the relaxation of the Cinque Terre. I love the beaches, the incredible seafood, the fantastic scenery and hikes, and of course the local wine. Italy can be very intense with its culture, art, and history. So by the time we get to the Cinque Terre, everyone is looking for a break. Everyone is exhilarated, but tired. It's nice to take a vacation from our vacation.
How did you go about making the transition from assistant to lead guide?
I worked with some great lead guides when I was an assistant. I learned a lot of history and culture from their talks. I read great books that helped make European history come alive, and the local guides were so knowledgeable. I was nervous the first time I lead my first tour, but I had the best group! They really made my job easier. It was a great experience, and I am still in contact with some of them today. I remember one time I was in the south of France with my wife, and I heard someone say, "Hey Matt!" I turned around and saw three couples from my very first tour traveling together several years later.
What makes a great group?
You can tell at the very first meeting. During the introductions, there are usually a lot of "oohs and ahhs" about the trip. There's a lot of laughter and conversation. They ask intriguing questions, and I can tell they are excited. The people who take our tours have a real curiosity about art, history, and food. It's thrilling to get them geared up for the next three weeks of travel in Europe.
Is there any part of the Best of Europe tour that still gives you a "wow" feeling?
When I take our groups to Venice, and we make our way through the winding streets to the Piazza San Marco, I just love watching the tour members' expressions. They always have open mouths, and they're saying, "This is so beautiful, so incredible!" when seeing the square and basilica in front of them. Their expressions give me goose bumps.
You're a tour guide, so you're gone for a while each summer. How do you handle being away from your family?
It's hard being away from my wife and three kids. But my wife knows I love to travel and really encourages it. At some point on the tour, I'll get on the microphone on the bus and say, "Family picture time!" It brings my family closer to me when I get to share photos. Nowadays I only lead a couple of tours per year (which keeps me away from home for six weeks). I have a wonderful wife and a large extended family in Seattle that helps take care of my kids while I'm away.