As much as I've loved getting back to traveling in 2022, I have to say…it's been a crazy year to be on the road: feisty COVID variants, heat waves, and headlines about airport chaos and canceled flights. And yet, despite all of that, I keep hearing from so many travelers who are still going to Europe…and still having a blast. We are determined to keep on traveling — and, while a few of us are taking our lumps, we're making it work.
For decades, I've celebrated the value of being what I call "militantly optimistic." Even having faced occasional hurdles myself — like the time this spring when an overbooked flight forced me to spend an unplanned night in Bologna instead of Munich — it's clear to me that those little setbacks are temporary, and that they're well worth the trouble once you're living the European good life.
Being militantly optimistic doesn't mean being naive. Quite the contrary: I think proactively about how to avoid potential problems, I remain flexible…and then I don't let worrying about "what might happen" get in the way of enjoying my trip.
COVID remains a risk for anyone on either side of the Atlantic. Fortunately, vaccines are making the virus — for most people — more inconvenient than dangerous. I've enjoyed four COVID-era trips to Europe so far, and I am so thankful for each one. I'm vaccinated, boosted, happy to wear my mask when it's smart, and careful to avoid unventilated, crowded places. And yet, I'm realistic, and understand that even while taking these reasonable precautions, I'm still assuming some risk. If I get COVID, I know I'll have to take it seriously, and it will impact my trip. We're applying similar logic to our tours this year, and of the 13,000 travelers who've joined us so far, nearly 97 percent have avoided COVID. We credit that number to the thoughtful, science-driven policies we've put in place, which we've adjusted as we've learned lessons on the road.
This year is bringing other challenges as well. Heat waves in Europe are essentially the same as heat waves in the US. Frankly, extreme heat is becoming the "new normal," thanks to climate change (and our societal refusal to tackle it). And anyone traveling just about anywhere in the peak of summer should anticipate the possibility of record-high temperatures. That's why many travelers — including me — simply avoid Mediterranean Europe during July and August. And when an unexpected heat wave hits, which is happening even in Europe's unlikely corners, we're prepared to sweat it out.
Of course, the headlines are also full of stories about "airport chaos": canceled flights, lost bags, and missed connections. As we ramp up air travel after a two-year slowdown, demand is exceeding the industry's capacity to handle it smoothly. Even in this crazy year, the vast majority of our travelers are having no trouble getting to their Rick Steves tours and getting home. But a few are running into hassles. When I fly, I anticipate problems, and do my best to mitigate them. That means packing light (with only a carry-on bag), booking direct connections when possible, and giving myself some extra time — both arriving early at the airport and when I have to book a connection.
In each case — COVID, heat, and airport snarls — it's easy to fret about potential hassles. Realistically, any of these could crop up on your trip. But for those of us who are determined to keep on traveling in 2022, that's just part of the deal.
I believe being militantly optimistic also means being thankful to have a wanderlust...and to have the wherewithal and the good health to enjoy it. I'll be flying out again in August. And my bottom line is to travel in a way that's experiential, that uses my time smartly, and that lets me bring home the best kind of souvenirs: lifelong memories and a broader perspective.
For those of you ready to hit the European road, we have many exciting ways to turn your travel dreams into safe, smooth, and affordable reality. Whether you're grabbing a seat on a tour this fall, joining one of our winter tours, or planning to jump on board for 2023...we are at your service.
To help inspire your future travels, this month's Tour News features a colorful slideshow of our best off-season getaways covering Europe's greatest cities, and Sicily, Turkey, Austria, and Germany. Plus, past tour members share their winter-travel raves, and we'll meet long-time Sicily tour guide Alfio Di Mauro and take a video tour through a few of Paris' world-class museums.
I hope you can join us in 2023 (or sooner)!