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

Video: A Travel Writer’s Work Day

It’s day 71 of my 100-day trip to Europe, and I’ve just wrapped up a whirlwind week of guidebook research in Vienna. When I’m on the road researching, I have to be disciplined to, every few days, stop learning and sightseeing — and take some time to massage all that new information into the existing text. This has been my routine for decades during my annual four months on the road. The result (with the help of my wonderful staff of fellow researchers and editors, back in the home office): about 50 guidebooks, each one the most lovingly updated (and usually bestselling) for its destination. This little clip shares my workaday reality as a travel writer. Knowing how much it will help countless travelers next year makes this work very rewarding.

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Video: Earning Ridicule from the Vienna Philharmonic

At Vienna’s Haus der Musik, every wannabe conductor gets a chance to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra…after a little coaching from Maestro Zubin Mehta. As I waved my virtual baton, the orchestra actually followed the beat I set. And when I got too sloppy, they put their instruments down and jeered. It was humiliating and fun at the same time.

When describing a museum in a Rick Steves guidebook, I make sure that my readers know not only the cost and the hours, but also how to fully experience and enjoy that particular sight. A good guidebook…it makes a big difference in your travels.

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Vienna’s Haus der Musik: Not Musical Chairs…But Musical Stairs

Museums all over Europe are trying to be interactive. Many fail. But the Haus der Musik in Vienna is wonderfully interactive, letting its visitors learn and have fun at the same time. And for the first time in ages, as a tour guide I get to use some of my old piano teacher skills. Run with me up the scale.

Here in Vienna, I’ve been thinking about my first trip to Europe. It was the summer of 1969, and I was 14 years old.

young rick steves with his parents and a man with a handlebar moustache
The old man on the left (with the big mustache and fancy pipe) claimed to have witnessed the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. That’s my mom next to him, and our friend from a piano factory is in the window. It was here that I began to realize, “Hey, this travel is fun.”

My father, who was a piano importer, brought me to Vienna’s Bösendorfer factory, where the world’s finest pianos were made — not on an assembly line, but in former monks’ cells. I remember thinking it was as if the pianos were birthed, each with its own personality, depending upon the skills and techniques of each craftsman.

My dad carefully analyzed the personality of each of these grand pianos, matching it with his client’s taste back in Seattle. He’d make a selection, autograph the sounding board, they’d put it in a box, and ship it to some lucky American pianist. Bringing that Old World quality to the New World was the joy of my dad’s work — and it inspires me even today.

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Video: Surly Goodness and Coffee in Vienna

It’s Day 68 of my 100-day trip to Europe, and I’m in Vienna. I’ve been all over this city, inhaling every detail I can — and taking notes on everything. My mission: to help your next visit to Vienna be meaningful, economical, efficient, unforgettable, and wildly fun.

Facing a morning of writing for the next edition of the Rick Steves Vienna, Salzburg & Tirol guidebook, I was going to get some work done in my hotel room or at the busy Starbucks on the corner. But then I thought, “Wait a minute! I’m in Vienna, home of a café culture that’s designed to let creative thoughts and caffeine work together in elegant, timeless splendor.” So, I grabbed a window table at the neighborhood hangout, Cafe Tirolerhof.

In this clip, I share a few café skills. I’m excited about the practical skills those who read my book will enjoy next time around. Working with 5th edition to make a better 6th. Happy travels.

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Video: Thoughtful Travel in Vienna

It’s been great to hear from so many of you lately, over on Facebook. Together, we are building a real community — a community of travelers who believe the best vacations are both fun and educational. We find joy in travel, and we also seek to broaden our perspectives personally, culturally, and politically.

I’m in Vienna right now, right next to the Albertina Museum, the Hofburg Palace, and the Opera House. I’m having a lot of fun, but I’m also traveling thoughtfully. And here at Albertinaplatz, where several hundred people are entombed below my feet, I’m pondering the value of history.  

I got a history degree accidentally. (Because my parents had taken me to Europe as a kid, taking history classes was simply fun — and the next thing I knew, I was a history major.) Now, decades later, history is as compelling and inspiring to me as ever.

One reason I love Vienna so much is because of its rich history. Watching this clip, I hope you get a sense of the power of that history and the lessons that come with it. The wind is buffeting my mic, and there’s a stir in the air…just as the rain is about to hit. And I can’t help but think of the storms European society has weathered.

Travel can and should be fun. But if you want your children and their children to live in a world where travel is even possible, travel should be educational — and political. When you travel, consider the importance of having information to give meaning to your sightseeing. The typical tourist walks by the Monument Against War and Fascism, knowing nothing of its meaning or of the hundreds who were buried alive below their feet. It could happen again.