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

Exhilarating Fun with Our Family of Rick Steves Tour Guides

We just flew in more than 140 tour guides from across Europe and the USA for an intense week of workshops, radio interviews, tour reunions, travel talks…and rip-roaring fun.

I love our guides. They are remarkable people — big personalities who embrace life with gusto and passion. Here’s a little series of photos that capture a few of the countless wonderful moments that filled our time together.

For six nights, well over a hundred tour guides packed various venues with events around town (and, later on, many invaded the bars on Main Street for after-parties).
For me, a highlight of the summit is having the entire group over to my house. It’s an exhilarating exercise to gather more than 100 fun-loving, high-energy, fascinating people under one roof. Thunderous! My favorite night of the year.
The guides always make the most of their free time while they are in town. This year, some of the gang checked out Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture.
Our European guides love their American travelers — and they are always up for a little dose of American culture during their annual visit.
Our tour guides came together to raise $1,000 to send one of their favorite Edmonds bartenders to Europe.
This year, we capped our annual Tour Guide Summit with a Wild West dance.
From cowboys to cows, we had a blast.

 

Thanks for the photos, Jorge Román, Stephen McPhilemy, Francisco Glaria, and Trish Feaster (The Travelphile)!

Meet Our Newest Batch of Wonderful Guides

I’m so excited to introduce you to our 26 new tour guides!

I just spent more than a week with this gang, and I couldn’t be prouder to have them on board at Rick Steves’ Europe Tours. Each one of them has a deep, personal knowledge of the regions in which they guide — and after a week of intensive training and the necessary apprenticing in Europe with our senior guides, they will be ready to meet and even exceed the very high expectations of our travelers.

I’m particularly thankful for the high caliber of these guides because it means we can continue to grow as a tour company without compromising the ideals we’ve had for almost 40 years. These guides are our future, and they are sure to give our tour members the Rick Steves travel experience of a lifetime in 2019.

A Busy Week with the Best Guides in the Business

There was a time when I couldn’t imagine anyone but me leading a Rick Steves tour. For 25 years, I personally guided our tours. But for the last 15 years, rather than lead them, I’ve joined them as a tour member — and in 2018, 150 guides led more than 1,100 Rick Steves tour groups around Europe with my complete confidence.

I’m adamant about hiring guides I know and trust, and who share my love for Europe and passion for teaching. And to ensure they are clear on exactly what distinguishes a Rick Steves tour, I fly them to our headquarters in Edmonds, WA every year for a weeklong tour guide summit.

Each day of our Rick Steves Tour Guide Summit is filled with workshops, itinerary brainstorming sessions, first aid training, and so on. (And each night is filled with parties — I’ll share more about that later.) This annual event dominates my staff’s time for weeks and costs us hundreds of thousands of dollars — but we all share the strong feeling that it’s a beautiful investment. In 2019, over 30,000 travelers will join a Rick Steves tour, and we’re confident that, thanks to our shared commitment to excellence, our guides will provide the best tours on the market.

We have 45 different tour itineraries — and we hold roundtable workshops for each one during our annual Tour Guide Summit, such as this meeting of our Portugal tour guides. Photo Credit: Tour guide Robert Wright
Each year, we bring in experts to teach workshops on topics like communication, sexual harassment, and conflict resolution. 
Photo credit: Bulgaria tour guide Stefan Bozadzhiev.

It’s exhilarating to flood our small town with guides, and we take full advantage of having them here. They attend five huge reunion parties for our tour alums, give talks to full theaters of travelers (streaming on demand on Facebook), and join me in my radio studio to record more than 20 hours of interviews.

 

Many of our tour guides are also guidebook researchers, and our Book Department is always sure to bring them all together during our annual Tour Guide Summit.

Photo Credit: Tour guide and guidebook researcher Trish Feaster (The Travelphile).

Thanks to all our guides for their dedication, and for traveling all the way to Washington state to make sure we’re ready to lead our best-ever tours in 2019. And thanks to all of the travelers who keep us so busy by joining us on our tours. We love this work. And we love traveling with you!

The Rick Steves Tour Reunion: Welcome to the Party

Photo Credit: Tour guide and guidebook researcher Trish Feaster (The Travelphile)

For the last 23 years, I’ve thrown a big party every winter for everyone who has traveled with us over the previous year. We fill my old junior-high-school gym with tables and balloons, and pack in hundreds of people for five big Rick Steves’ Europe Tours reunions over two days.

This year’s party was the best and busiest yet. 1,500 tour alums traveled from across the USA and Canada to reconnect with their travel buddies — and they were joined by more than 140 of our tour guides, who we flew in from all corners of Europe.

It’s always a thrill to look out over the busy scene and watch old friends gather to swap stories, share travel memories, and dream of future adventures together. I have so much fun getting to know everyone — especially the many alums who come back for more and more tours. (Almost half of the people who travel with us have already been on at least one Rick Steves tour, and many have taken a dozen or more.)

 

This year, we set up a selfie station — and it was a big hit. (Photo Credit: Tour guide Mine Karahan Taner)
We flew in tour guide David Tordi’s band Bartender from Italy to add a bit of musical fun to the festivities.
A big part of this annual event is Test Drive a Tour Guide, a daylong series of talks that give our travelers the chance to learn more about our itineraries. We live stream several of these presentations as they happen — or you can watch them on demand anytime on Facebook. I enjoyed talking up our Italy tours on the main stage with an auditorium full of travel dreamers.
Want to be part of the fun? We’ll be doing it all over again next winter for everyone who travels with us in 2019. 

 

Joy and Gratitude: $1,187,352 for Bread for the World

I just got great news: the final update from Bread for the World about our holiday fundraiser. (Gifts just kept coming in, well into January.) More than 3,200 of you participated — and together, you donated $487,352. With my $700,000 “double match,” we raised a total $1,187,352 — far exceeding our million-dollar goal — to help build the political will to end hunger. Just thinking about what this money will accomplish fills me with joy and gratitude…and pride in the big hearts of my fellow travelers.

When I rave about the work of Bread for the World (as I have for 30 years), people often ask, “Just what does it do?” And when I explain that it’s a lobbying organization, some people react with, “Why would you pay for lobbying when you’re fighting hunger?” I reply that “lobbying” is actually just “advocacy” — and it’s more important and impactful than ever, now that the Trump administration and House Republicans are championing budget cuts and tax reforms that will do great harm to hungry and vulnerable people.

In 2018, Bread for the World was a key player in the legislative arena, getting impressive results. Here is a wonk-ish paragraph from their current newsletter:

“Congress’ record on hunger-related issues in 2018 was better than expected, partly because of Bread for the World’s advocacy. Congress passed the Global Food Security Act, which mandates the continuation of effective agriculture and nutrition assistance programs for the next five years. They decided not to try yet again in 2018 for trillion-dollar cuts to programs that help hungry and poor people in this country. The final version of the Farm Bill did not include the House of Representatives’ plan to cut food assistance (SNAP or ‘food stamps’) to struggling American families by $20 billion. (That’s a lot of groceries.) Finally, Congress passed – and the President signed – a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill. (This will reduce mass incarceration which results in hunger and poverty–particularly in our Black communities.) Bread for the World and its network across the country played a significant role on all these issues.”

I know we all have a lot on our plates these days. But many people, at home and abroad, have the opposite problem. And — thanks to the collective effort of more than 3,200 of you — we’re making a huge difference. Our friends at Bread for the World report that our initiative has injected palpable energy into the organization at the beginning of another daunting year. If you care about ending hunger…Bread gets it done. Thanks, and congrats to all involved!