I’m sure you have heard of Rick Steve’s Europe. If you have ever been thumbing through Sunday Morning Television, you have probably come across one of his PBS telethons promoting his DVDs, audio guides, and carry-on travel bag. At first glance, Rick can seem a little…outdated (sorry, Rick!), BUT… Rick and his plethora of travel advice proved extremely helpful, knowledgeable, and a handful of times, a life-saver (thanks, Rick!).
Here’s how myself and my husband traveled with Rick and why I recommend him as your European travel companion.
We just got back this week from a 34 day trek across Europe, visiting: London, Edinburgh, Berlin, Brussels, Bruges, Paris, Rome, Athens, Florence, Bologna, and Venice. I am a mega planner, so the Rick Steves travel empire was one of the first things that popped up in my Google search when doing travel research.
Download/Netflix his Rick Steves Europe Dvds…yes, they are all available now on Netflix!
More about our trip planning on another post, however how we planned (for lack of a better word) the beginning of our trip was searching for the cheapest plane tickets we could, and planning our trip around that. So… we knew we would fly into London, and home out of Venice, so everything in between took weeks to plan. The reason I mention this is because we knew which cities we wanted to hit, but I sat down and watched almost all of Rick’s travel episodes on Netflix, and in doing so, we found some cities that looked so enticing (and others not-so-much) and we were able to add/subtract those from the itinerary. Rick does a great job of highlighting the local cuisine and always hits the major attractions in his episodes, and each one is only 20-30 minutes long. I threw them on while cleaning the house. Again, start here…you may never know which city may be calling you to go, and which cities seem better left for Rick to explore.
Once you know which regions/cities you will be visiting, download his audioguides on iTunes (or download his app!)
My husband found Rick’s walking tours and audio guides on iTunes. There is also an APP that we downloaded on the device we would be taking that included maps to go along with each walking tour. I went ahead and snagged ALL of the ones I could find for each city and region, just in case we decided to take a day trip when we got to any of the locations. For all of the major cities, Rick has a walking audio guide tour and audio guides for most of the major museums. Best part– FREE!
Travel Talks by Rick Steves: https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/video/travel-talks
Bring the smallest, cheapest ipod you can find and stock it full of his audio guides and walking tours
This is more for the ones who want to pack extremely light. We took a 22L backpack on our 34 day adventure… and thats it. I had a small travel side purse which never left my person that held all of our important belongings, like passports, credit cards, and cash. A 22L backpack is what most people would consider their “daypack”, that would be packed in their real suitcase or 40L pack. We did not bring our cell phones, mainly to avoid being tempted to use them and incur some wicked international fees. Instead we brought an iphone that was not hooked up to cell service (used wifi) and a ipod nano that I loaded with my plane playlist and the Rick Steves audio guides. I suggest, if possible, to bring an ipod that has a screen or touch display (more on that below). It was extremely easy to clip on the nano to my jacket or purse and walk around town or the museums. It was not restrictive, small, and completely hands free.
Start each “travel day” or first morning in the city with his free walking tours.
Most of our trips between cities had us pulling in to the hotel around check-in time (1-2pm ish) and I made it a point to not schedule anything for that afternoon/evening if I could help it. Instead, we took our mp3 and splitter and did a free walking tour with Rick as our guide. I particularly remember the one in London (I believe he has 2 or 3 for London, actually) which walked us past parliament, through Westminster, and on to Buckinham. While on this walk, we decided to go up in the Wellington Arch, which we had not planned to even see, and found out it was on our London Pass, which added no cost to our trip. Turned out to be a very informative and neat experience.
Bring the MP3 player to the museums.
When we started out the trip in London, we were all about paying $5 or more for the audio guides to the different museums. I guess we never thought about how much it would add up in the long run. After we couldn’t get one to one of the museums in London (and of course, right now I cannot remember exactly why), I remembered that I had my tiny ipod nano in my purse (I never took it out of my purse the entire trip so that I would never accidentally leave it in the hotel). We listened to Rick’s audio guide, paused when needed, and loved all of the information that we got from him that was not posted anywhere in the museum. Rick makes a living on this, so his guides are informative, and usually has little nuggets and curiosities that you won’t find with the museum guides. If you bring an ipod touch or nano (or any other mp3 with a display screen) the art pieces, sculptures, or monuments that Rick is talking about will pop up on the screen. That way there is no confusion about, “Which one is it?”
Also… bring a splitter. This made it possible for myself and my husband to listen to the audio guides together while walking around the museums or town. If you want to each have your own device, that will work too, however we each packed a 22L backpack for the entire 34 days, so we wanted to travel as light as possible. Side note about the splitter: for the locations that Rick does not have an audio guide for, or you are compelled to purchase one from the actual museum, the splitter will save you half the cost.
Use his travel forum as a guide for safety and expenditures.
We did our homework before leaving home, and one of the things that we read from Rick was to ignore travel agencies and other websites that try to scare you into taking out heap-loads of cash to avoid ATM fees. Rick says that the best way to access your money is to either use your credit card (one that has no international fees, like the Chase Sapphire) or to just take cash out of the ATM when you get there. I called the bank to let them know we were going out of town, and the teller give me names of the partner banks in each of the countries that we would be visiting.
When we could not get to a partner bank, there were these stand-alone ATMs conveniently located by most major attractions–Euronet was the most prevalent. Rick says avoid these! we almost took out $300 from one of these, and according to Rick, they charge a transaction fee and a conversion fee (on top of any fees your bank may charge for transaction and conversion).
Honestly, we found that paying with our chase sapphire was the best option most of the time because there was no international fee and we were earning points!
We did not have any issues with safety, however we also knew what to look for– some of the stuff I read on his forums seemed outlandish, but we did witness many of them, especially in Paris. Rick says he has never used a lock in over 20 years of traveling, and some people want to go the extra step with locking up your belongings, but personally we did not need to.
This only scratched the surface on some of the ways that Rick can help you plan and manage your vacation. By no means did we take his advice on everything, but he helped us beat some Vatican crowds, avoid long lines at the Uffizi, Academia, and Colosseum (to nam a few). He also set our sights on some of the places that we wanted to go, and some that we found we did not.
Thanks Rick! You can reach his home page here.