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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A branch of the European Union recently held a symbolic and show-of-hands vote in favor of requiring American visitors to apply for entry visas. This has caused some confusion – especially among those who read headlines instead of details. Let me offer an explanation. And to cut to the chase, there is zero chance that Americans will need visas to travel to EU countries in 2017.

Rick Steves holding a passport

The vote was a call from five European nations that the US requires visas for (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Poland, and Romania) to treat travelers from the USA the same: to require an entry visa. This is simply a matter of national pride and reciprocity.

While they make a fair case, these five countries are just a small part of the roughly 400 million citizens of the European Union. And the EU values the economic boost brought by nearly 13 million US visitors a year. Especially this year, with the dollar so strong on the euro, Europe is salivating for the boost to their economies American tourists will bring. A new visa requirement to soothe the damaged pride of those five nations is highly unlikely.

No visa is required for Americans to enter the EU and no changes in this requirement are expected. Changing this would involve all the member states and would take years to actually make happen. So do not worry.

On a related note, many Americans wonder what kind of reception we’ll receive in Europe with the chaotic and generally “ugly American” vibe coming out of the White House. We know from our own experience since our election that Europe may be amazed at the choice of the American people for “the leader of the free world,” they have been rattled by such choices in the past and have always understood that there’s a big difference between US government policy and proclamation and the attitudes and beliefs of individual American travelers. Just like we wouldn’t condemn an Italian for being ruled by a buffoon like Berlusconi or a Turk being ruled by a tyrant like Erdogan, reasonable Europeans will not condemn Americans for what they think about our president.

I’m looking forward to four wonderful months of travel throughout Europe in 2017 as are our guides and the thousands of travelers who have already signed up for our 2017 tours. While we took 20,000 happy travelers on Rick Steves Europe Tours in 2016, we’re on track to take even more in 2017. If you have any questions or concerns about these issues, please email us or give us a ring. Your peace of mind is a big part of a great European vacation.

Happy travels!

Don’t just get mad at the news — make a difference. Here’s how: From now through Thursday, for every dollar you spend at ricksteves.com/shop, I’ll give a dollar to help fund hope in Palestine.

Feeling frustrated and impotent because of the news lately? Me too. But rather than just fume, I want to make a difference. With fear trumping compassion in America’s policy toward refugees and our government’s recent change of policy regarding the Holy Land, I’m inspired to raise money for a good cause in Palestine. And I’d like your help. So, from now through Thursday (March 9, 2017), for every dollar spent at ricksteves.com/shop on any guidebooks, travel gear, or luggage, I’ll give a dollar to Bright Stars of Bethlehem. (This is not just our profit. I’ll match everything you spend.) That’s right: if $50,000 is spent at ricksteves.com/shop (and I hope we hit that mark), I’ll send a check for $50,000 to Bright Stars of Bethlehem. I know this sounds crazy, but if you went to Bethlehem (in Palestine), as I did, and saw their work — or watched the following six-minute video — you’d see my logic.

On my last trip to Palestine, perhaps the most inspirational experience I had was meeting the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor at the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, and seeing the work he’s doing for the Palestinian people — both Christians and Muslims. We stayed in their Bethlehem cultural and conference center, and we filmed a basketball game there — bringing together kids from the entire community, both Christian and Muslim. This clip shows part of that game, and my time in Bethlehem with local guide Kamal Mukarker — including a memorable meal we shared in his home. These images help remind me of the humanity behind the policy, and the idea that, if you believe we’re all children of God, then we are all equally precious.

Dr. Raheb is a Palestinian who runs a thriving cultural center ministry in the middle of walls, checkpoints, and hopelessness, offering opportunities and hope for his community “from womb to tomb.” Having dinner with Mitri, staying in his conference and cultural center on two different trips, and seeing the energy and mission in action, his work brought to mind two beautiful quotes: Gandhi said, “Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment.” And Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it unto me.”

 Rick Steves and Mitri Raheb

I treasure the memory of meeting Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb in Bethlehem.
(Photo: Bright Stars of Bethlehem)

Reading the recent news, and considering the firsthand experience I had on two recent trips in Palestine, I’m more concerned than ever that this fragile, complex, and very human situation needs a careful and thoughtful policy. All of the talk about who’s the American ambassador to Israel, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, building more Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the question of a two-state solution versus a one-state solution is serious business with real consequences — especially to millions of Palestinians, who don’t even have a seat at the table.

After my trips to the Holy Land — and talking to people on both sides of the issue, from Israeli settlers to Palestinian clerics — it’s clear to me that a two-state solution (which President Trump recently backed away from) is best for Israel, and the only viable hope for peace. The alternative — a one-state solution — can only take one of two forms: a modern, pluralistic democracy with equality for all citizens (which would mean the Jewish Israeli population would soon be a minority in their own land, and the Jewish-ness of Israel would fade away); or a state where half the people were Muslim but only Jews would have full citizenship (which sympathizers of the Palestinian cause would call “Apartheid-like”). With a smart two-state solution, however, Israel could be secure and Palestine could be free. I realize that’s a tough challenge. But it’s the only winning option for those who want an Israel that’s both free and Jewish. Further Jewish settlements in Palestine (the West Bank) will make a viable two-state solution even more difficult to reach.

The impact of American policy on people in the Holy Land is not certain. But the impact of this donation is: Again, for every dollar spent at ricksteves.com/shop from now through tomorrow, I’ll give a dollar to Bright Stars of Bethlehem. (By the way, “good causes” come at me all the time. I’m confident this is a powerful way to make a difference: to turn our extra dollars into real hope and joy…and contribute to peace.)

Thanks, shalom, and salaam,

Rick Steves

Credit card

We’re all in the same traveling school of hard knocks, and it’s OK to compare notes. I have to admit, I’ve never done the math to see how much I lose in fees and conversion rates with my debit card at ATM machines in Europe. While I’m pretty sure it’s a lot less than the old traveler’s checks, I bet it’s a pretty substantial expense. It’s important to remember that no one changes money because they’re nice. It’s done to make money (either in fees or exchange rates). Tips like taking big withdrawals rather than many small ones to minimize your transaction fees are pretty common sense. There are ways to get better rates and lower fees depending on which card you use and which bank you visit. My gut feeling is that I’ll get a better rate at an actual bank than using an ATM at a convenience store or gas station. Many travelers fall victim to an aggressive scam where the shop or restaurant offers to convert your bill “for your convenience” into dollars. Because of my cynicism for anything in the financial world, I’m pretty confident that this is just a costly little scam to give the unknowing traveler a lousy rate.

What are your insights and tips so we can minimize our money exchange expenses?

We’re all in the same traveling school of hard knocks, and it’s OK to compare notes. Shoes are the most important item you’ll pack. You’ll be walking lots and need a good combination of looks and practicality. I like my ECCO shoes (Track II Low). What’s your favorite travel shoe and why?

shoes on beach

Check out my complete packing list.  

It’s Luther party time!

In 1517, the German monk Martin Luther collected 95 points to stoke discussion about the corruption of the medieval Church. He then nailed his famous “95 Theses” to the door of his hometown church in Wittenberg — unleashing a storm of change and kicking off the Protestant Reformation.

I’m honored and thankful to make a small contribution to the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with a new documentary. Rick Steves’ Luther and the Reformation is airing now on public television (check your local listings) and streaming online for free. This is a story of power, rebellion, and faith that you’ll never forget.

Earlier this year, we sent free copies of the DVD to 8,000 Lutheran churches (ELCA) across the country. It’s been a lot of fun to hear about Luther viewing parties in many of these churches, from a “soup supper” viewing in Kempton, PA to a morning viewing with coffee in Douglasville, GA. (If you haven’t told me about your party yet, please share details in the comments below.)

If you’d like to host your own screening event for your friends, family, community group, or congregation, pick up a copy of the DVD and use this viewing party toolkit.

Enjoy the show!

I’m preparing for my spring research trip, as I do every year at this time, and I can hardly wait to get back on the guidebook-research trail. This season, I’ll be working on guidebooks in Ireland, Scotland, Italy, France, Germany, and even getting started on a new guidebook to Sicily. This little video clip lets you join me for a few minutes as I research in Lake Como.

You can shop online for all of my guidebooks.

It’s Mardi Gras! In this clip from my public television special Rick Steves’ European Easter, we visit Switzerland and Slovenia to join local celebrations of Fat Tuesday.

As Lent begins tomorrow, Europe enters a period of 40 days and 40 nights of austerity and thoughtful contemplation. But we’ll be back with more clips from our Easter special, starting on Palm Sunday. (In the meantime, you can check your local public television listings for our full-length Easter special — or watch it anytime at www.ricksteves.com/easter.) Stay tuned.

It’s Carnival time. And in this clip from my public television special Rick Steves’ European Easter, we don masquerade masks to drop in on “Carnevale” festivities in Venice. For the full special, check your local public television listings, or watch it anytime at ricksteves.com/easter.

I’ve been hard at work updating my “Travel as a Political Act” book, and I’d love some help. Can you recommend any travel organizations that focus on helping thoughtful Americans get a political education on the road?

Ever since I traveled on three trips to Central America with the Center for Global Education (CFGE) at Augsburg College back in the 20th century, I’ve recommended their program for what I call “reality travel.” They were expert at taking groups to troubled regions with top-notch teachers, and connecting their travelers with the various players in confusing and complicated situations. On my CFGE tours, we’d visit with the United Nations peacekeeping mission, the local military’s PR office, professors in local colleges, farm workers’ unions, and church groups. One day we’d meet with Socialists in the morning and the US Ambassador in the afternoon. The next day we’d meet with the pro-business, right-wing political party (supported by the USA) in the morning and “The Mothers of the Disappeared” (women whose sons were killed by right-wing death squads) in the afternoon. These experiences contributed mightily to my political awareness.

Center for Global Education

For years, I’ve recommended the CFGE for travelers inspired to visit places like Iran, Palestine, Cuba, and Central America. But now they are providing travel education only to their students, and I need other “educational tour” companies to recommend.

Today more than ever, the world’s challenges deserve a firsthand look. And I’m sure there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the education provided by “reality travel.” If you can recommend an organization that provides in-depth educational tour experiences like the ones I’m describing, I’d love to hear about it. Thank you!

Imagine 60,000 Dreams Canceled

Think of 60,000 people. Fill a stadium with them and their dreams and aspirations. Because our president canceled that many visas, those lives — which were structured around a trip to America — just had their travel dreams scuttled. And that’s just incoming travelers. Many outgoing travel plans have also been halted.

We’re not just talking about vacations. These are academic visits, business trips, and people seeking a better life for their families…tens of thousands of lost opportunities — in education, in commerce, and in understanding.

Why? They claim it’s for “safety.” As a traveler — who has, again and again, experienced the power of people-to-people connection — I believe that, ironically, this action will make us less safe. Understanding and sharing between the USA and seven countries where understanding and sharing is particularly vital, just took a huge hit.

I fear we’ve entered a backward world. Actions “for safety” will make us less safe. Actions “for jobs” will bring fewer jobs. At Rick Steves’ Europe, the value of our mantra to “Keep on travelin’” is growing by the day.