Rick Steves' Travel Blog

I'm sharing my travel experiences, candid opinions and what's on my mind. If you think it's inappropriate for a travel writer to stir up discussion on his blog with political observations and insights gained from traveling abroad, you may not want to read any further. — Rick

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This is clip #5 of a 10-part series of interviews I did while producing our public television special Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today. Considering the impact of American policies on the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this is my attempt to introduce you to some people in both camps whose voices might otherwise not be heard.

I roamed the residential streets of a well-fortified, hill-capping, modern Israeli settlement in the West Bank, looking for a family to interview. I came upon a young man celebrating the purchase of a new condo. Talking with him and his buddy, we learned of the special appeal of the Jordan Valley and how their community here is small and caring…like a big family. They explained how they manage the boredom of small-town fortified living as they proudly shared their strongly held beliefs.





Over the last week, millions of Americans have been inspired to, in their own way, celebrate and defend what they believe makes our country so…American. I declared that I’d give a dollar to the ACLU for every dollar spent at ricksteves.com on Inauguration Day. A thousand of you responded. And today, I wrote a check to the ACLU for $50,000. Thanks!

$50,000 check to ACLU

On Inauguration Day, we had eight times the normal traffic on our website, as our travelers purchased 305 bags, 901 accessories, 573 books, and 161 DVDs, spending a total of $42,962. (Many more wrote that they were donating directly to the ACLU in response to my challenge.) As promised, I’m matching your collective shopping spree. And, further inspired by the last three days of presidential news, I’m upping it to an even $50,000. Thinking about how the ACLU will use this money to help good people in important ways brings me — and should bring all of us — real joy.

Those of us with passports and who are wealthy enough to travel a lot — especially white, straight, Christian males like me — don’t often think a lot about civil liberties…at least, not in an immediate or personal way. Civil liberties just aren’t an issue for most of us. If a wealthy person is in trouble with the law, he can hire a good lawyer. It’s the poor who are filling our prisons. If I want to smoke pot, no one’s going to arrest me. It’s poor and black people who get arrested, and then disenfranchised. I have a voice because I fit societal norms and I have money. In these greed-is-good days, it’s the poor who have to struggle most for their civil liberties.

Watching our new president declare, “only America first!” — and then thinking about all my friends in Europe who were also watching — perplexed me. (Dutch comedians are joking that they’d be happy to be “The Netherlands second.”) But the next day, seeing the streets of America filled with people in solidarity, all exercising their right to free expression, inspired me.

Thanks again to all who joined us in making this collective statement. And let’s remember that for those who believe in civil liberties, the ACLU is not a charity…it’s a service. It’s doing our work, and it deserves our support.





This is clip #4 of a 10-part series of interviews I did while producing our public television special Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today. Considering the impact of American policies on the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this is my attempt to introduce you to some people in both camps whose voices might otherwise not be heard.

Kamal Mukarker (kamal_mukarker@hotmail.com) was a wonderful guide and fixer for our film shoot — and is now a good friend. As we filmed in the lounge of our Lutheran-run hotel in Bethlehem, Kamal shared with us his take on life — and tourism — in the West Bank. Since working with Kamal, I’ve recommended many Americans to hire him for their own trips, and they’ve also had wonderful experiences. (I’d happily to pay the cost to hire Kamal for anyone in the Trump Administration who might like to balance their understanding of the challenges of this region by hearing the Palestinian narrative firsthand.)





This is clip #3 of a 10-part series of interviews I did while producing our public television special Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today. Considering the impact of American policies on the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this is my attempt to introduce you to some people in both camps whose voices might otherwise not be heard.

Benny Dagan, a former PR man for the Israeli military, was our guide in Israel. Benny is an expert on both historical and cultural issues, and gifted at explaining the Israeli perspective on the region’s troubles. It was important for me to understand and share both narratives, and Benny was a big help in fairly presenting the Israeli point of view. As we sit in a pastoral kibbutz with birds tweeting all around, Benny explains what motivates Israelis to live as settlers in the West Bank.





This is clip #2 of a 10-part series of interviews I did while producing our public television special Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today. Considering the impact of American policies on the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this is my attempt to introduce you to some people in both camps whose voices might otherwise not be heard.

Old rusty keys are found in refugee camps throughout the West Bank. They are the keys the residents of hundreds of Arab villages took with them when they fled their homes in 1948, expecting to return shortly. In this clip, we meet the director of a Palestinian refugee camp discussing the symbolic power of the key. Land for Palestinians is a complicated and very human challenge that deserves a thoughtful response from American leaders.





There’s no doubt, our new presidential administration will bring lots of changes. And one change that has been in the news lately is our relationship with Israel, and with the Palestinians. Not long ago, I traveled in both Israel and Palestine to produce a one-hour public television special called Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today. My goal was to offer a “dual narrative” look at the region, considering the challenges in that part of the world from both an Israeli and a Palestinian perspective. Today that special — which you can stream online for free, in its entirety — feels particularly relevant.

One regret I had in producing our Holy Land show was that a lot of fascinating material wound up on the cutting-room floor. We filmed several insightful interviews with both Israelis and Palestinians that have never been available online…until now. Over the next 10 days, I’ll be sharing 10 different interviews with people I met in the Holy Land. Considering the impact of American policies on the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this is my attempt to introduce you to some people in both camps whose voices might otherwise not be heard.

First up: While we ate a fast-food lunch in a West Bank settlement shopping mall, we met a smart, young, professional Jewish couple with a big family. They were not only willing to talk with our camera rolling, but they were well-spoken and expert at articulating the Israeli case.





We’ve just finished our annual Rick Steves’ Europe guide summit. A hundred guides are flying home, and we’re ready to lead our best-ever tours in 2017. Here’s a couple minutes of video fun we had as I hosted the entire gang in my house. It’s four clips edited together.

During our annual guides’ talent show, the Portuguese guides (men and women) grew cute moustaches and bushy eyebrows to become charming old men and sing a folk song. Cathie Ryan, our Irish singing angel, feted Steve Smith with just the right song to celebrate his retirement. Our Italian guides actually organized with the French guides to go on strike and refuse to perform (demanding that Steve stick around for “one more year!”). And finally, we all sang “Happy Birthday” to tour guide Keith in our own languages at the same time.

That wall of happy sound — so incomprehensible yet so full of vigor, fun, and love — reflected to me the amazing beauty of working with so much passion and talent from so many countries through so many amazing guides. Thanks to all our guides for their dedication, and for traveling all the way to Seattle to make sure we have the best-led tours of Europe for 2017. Happy travels!





Last week we were very busy, as well over a hundred of our guides gathered for our annual guide summit for Rick Steves’ Europe Tours. In addition to the reunion festivities, “Test Drive a Tour classes,” and busy brainstorming sessions (designed to perfect each one of our itineraries), a great dimension of the gathering was the opportunity for guides from all over Europe and the USA to socialize. Each night, after hours, tour guides party. Here’s a little series of photos that capture a few of the countless wonderful moments that filled this week.

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Photo: thetravelphile.com / facebook.com/thetravelphile

For me, a highlight of the guide summit is having the entire gang over to my house. We set up a tent to extend the garage, hire a food truck to feed everyone, and open the doors. Having 100 European tour guides take over your home is an exhilarating exercise of gathering 100 fun-loving, high-energy, fascinating people under one roof. Thunderous! My favorite night of the year.

 

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Photo: thetravelphile.com / facebook.com/thetravelphile

While guides are good at getting the attention of a group of tour members, getting the attention of 100 guides can be a challenge. We finally settled down to enjoy our annual tour guides’ talent show, during which guides from various countries share a fun little act from their homeland.

 

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Photo: thetravelphile.com / facebook.com/thetravelphile

The big buzz among our guides is the election of our new president. In one of the talent show acts, our Slovenian guides did a skit parodying our new first family, with a hilarious peek at what people from her homeland think of our new First Lady (who happens to be a Slovene).

 

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Photo: thetravelphile.com / facebook.com/thetravelphile

This year was a bit bittersweet, as we celebrated the retirement of Steve Smith — one of our first guides, who, for the last 20 years, has worked to assemble and manage our guiding staff. Steve is my right-hand man in so many ways (as the co-author of our France guidebooks, in addition to his brilliance at developing and managing our tour guide staff). Thanks, Steve, for the years of fun and wisdom, as you have been so instrumental in building our tour program. The love and respect you have earned from our guides is testimony to the excellence of your work.

 

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Photo: Colin Mairs

Each year, during a workshop break, we all gather in the street for a “family of guides” group photo. To be in the middle of this crush is lots of fun. Our Art Department staff — standing on a rooftop above us — designed this mosh pit of travel teachers to take the photo.

 

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And here we are, the Rick Steves’ Europe tour guides…class of 2017.

 

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Photo: Jorge Román

It’s so much fun as we host our guides to see how they make the most of their free time here in Seattle. From going to trapeze school, to making a pilgrimage to Bruce Lee’s grave (Bosnians celebrate him rather than political or military leaders, as their country has suffered so horribly because of nationalism and tribalism), to exploring marijuana stores (they’re sleek and so normal here in Washington State — but pretty wild if you live in Europe or a state here that has yet to legalize), to simply enjoying a little bowling.

 

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Photo: Seumas Macletchie

Several of our guides (including Liz Lister from Scotland, shown here) were at Seattle’s big Alderwood Mall when there was a stabbing. The entire place was shut down, and our guides got a little taste of America and its jitters.

 

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A very important dimension of our annual guide summit is the chance for me to sit down with our amazing guides in our radio studio for interviews. This week, we recorded about 20 hours of interviews for Travel with Rick Steves, which airs for an hour each week on 400 public radio stations all around the USA. Over the next year, we’ll be airing these interviews — ranging from Siena’s Palio (talking with a woman who lives in this year’s winning contrada) to getting a variety of views on Brexit (from English, Scottish, and Irish guides who voted either yes or no) to a celebration of Bulgarian cuisine (all of our guides know how to share their country’s cuisine as if it’s the greatest in Europe). In this photo, I’m talking with Irish guides Stephen McPhilemy and Cathie Ryan about all the latest on the Emerald Isle.





Last week, our little town of Edmonds, Washington, hosted about 2,000 of our 2016 tour alums for our annual Rick Steves Tour Reunion — as well over a hundred of our guides gathered for our guide summit. Along with six huge tour alumni parties, our guides gave 20 talks to full theaters (many of them streamed to thousands of travelers online); we held 30 roundtable workshops brainstorming ways to make each of our tour itineraries more efficient, fun, and experiential; and each night, our guides partied. While this annual event dominates my staff’s time for weeks and costs us hundreds of thousands of dollars, we always bid our guides goodbye at the end of this summit with the strong feeling that it’s all worth it. In 2017, well over 20,000 Americans will join us in Europe, and we’re confident that — thanks largely to these great guides, and our shared commitment to excellence — we’ll offer them the best tours on the market. Here’s a little series of photos that capture a few of the countless wonderful moments that filled this week.

 

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We filled my old junior high school gym with those who enjoyed our tours in 2016 during six successive parties — a perfect chance to share memories and reconnect with tour friends and guides.

 

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I have so much fun meeting with travelers who not only enjoyed their tours last year…but who are “repeat offenders,” coming back for more and more tours. About half the people who traveled with us in 2016 had already traveled with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours. Many have taken a dozen or more.

 

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We give a prize to the group with the best attendance. Having led 900 tours in 2016, that’s a lot of groups. And many had a good little reunion crowd, as tour members traveled from across the USA to share travel memories (and dream of future adventures).

 

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With about a hundred guides taking part in this event, everywhere I looked I saw fun mini-reunions. Here, Sicilian guide Alfio di Mauro reconnects with a couple of happy tour members.

 

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Photo: Kate Mulhern Graham

A fun part of our annual Tour Reunion is the series of 20 “Test Drive a Tour Guide” talks, giving our travelers the chance to learn more about our itineraries and meet some of our guides. As a speaker, I’d throw questions to our guides (for example, Trina Kudlacek and Alfio di Mauro joined me onstage for my Italy talk), and they’d have fun sharing their experience with our audience.

 

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Guides are multitalented. Between travel talks, Irish guide Cathie Ryan and Italian guide David Tordi (who both perform as musicians when they’re not guiding tours) entertained our travelers with delightful sets of music. They artfully interwove Italian and Irish musical themes. I’m so thankful that our guides make music such a delightful part of our travels.

 

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And everywhere, there were guides meeting with travelers — helping them turn their travel dreams into smooth and affordable reality (by selling them a Rick Steves tour!).





Let’s empower the ACLU: For every dollar you spend on Inauguration Day at ricksteves.com/shop, I’ll give a dollar to the ACLU.

Even though I canceled my flight and hotel reservations for the inauguration in Washington DC after Election Day, I still want to celebrate this important day for all of us Americans. And I want to do it in a way that reflects my values and what I love most about America: tolerance, diversity, and freedom.

Inauguration ACLU DonationThat’s why I’ve decided to dedicate Inauguration Day (this Friday) to the ACLU. The American Civil Liberties Union stands on principled grounds in defense of our civil liberties as promised by our Constitution. I believe that Americans of any political stripe can feel proud of the ACLU’s mission, as it boldly defends minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Political movements, presidents, and trends come and go, and, as a traveler, I well know how the world looks to America — in good times and bad — as a beacon of freedom…a land with a constitution that declares people of all religions, sexual orientations, and ethnicities should enjoy equality under the law.

So, to celebrate and help fund the ACLU — which will be working hard for civil liberties in the coming years — I’m happy to give them an amount equal to the money spent at ricksteves.com/shop on January 20th. So what’s the deal? It’s simple: For every dollar you spend buying any guidebooks or travel gear on Inauguration Day, I’ll give a dollar to the ACLU.

Yes, next week, the ACLU will get an amount equal to what was spent at ricksteves.com/shop on Friday, January 20.

Let’s hope and pray that with the inauguration of a new president on that day, America finds a way to continue being the bold, compassionate, generous, and inspirational leader our world hopes to see when they look at the Stars and Stripes.

Happy travels in 2017, and God bless America in the coming years.