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

Is Europe Becoming “Anti-Tourist”?

These days, I’ve noticed that Americans have become very “follow the crowd” in their travels. Our appetite for bucket-list, crowdsourced, Instagrammable travels is funneling countless tourists into the same few places. Consequently, popular cities are feeling crushed by mass tourism, and popular sights are congested to the point where many find them not only less enjoyable… but actually dangerous.

Citizens of over-touristed cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Venice are getting grumpy about mass tourism. And “must-see” sights like the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the Gaudí buildings in Barcelona, and Michelangelo’s David in Florence come with discouraging lines.

What to do? The “bad tourism” that residents of overcrowded cities complain about is mostly a result of blitz travelers — those who day-trip in (from cruise ships and in big buses), congesting streets and squares and leaving more litter than money. I find that travelers who stick around to have dinner and spend the night are still appreciated by locals (and valued as part of the economy).

As for the overwhelmed sights: Whenever possible, make a reservation in advance online. Then you won’t be frustrated with crazy lines at ticket offices that close for the day as soon as they sell out. I was just at the church in Milan that holds Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. It would be a chaotic mob, if not for their very smart program of reservations: Only 25 people are allowed inside every 15 minutes. When I arrived, there was total peace and sanity, as about 800 people a day come in at a steady and organized pace. The trick: Book in advance. Be thankful when that is required!

Another tip: Realize for every Anne Frank House, there’s usually a Dutch Resistance Museum a few blocks away — less trendy, never crowded, and often actually offering a richer travel experience. Remember, ninety percent of Europe has no crowd problems.

Finally, we tourists can be a little more considerate in the way we travel. Here’s a video created by an organization in Venice that offers a good reminder for people traveling anywhere to be more thoughtful guests. In fact, that’s a great practical tip: If you want to be warmly welcomed, be deserving of a warm welcome.

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Europe Through The Back Door

rick steves at piano

In 1980 I self-published my first book, “Europe Through the Back Door.” It was easy: write out the lectures from the travel class I taught at the University of Washington’s Experimental College, sweet-talk my girlfriend into typing it and my roommate into sketching the photos, drive the 180-page manuscript to the local printer with $2000, and two weeks later pick up 2,000 copies of that first edition.

I’ve updated the book with about a hundred days of travel experience each year since. And this year, we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of ETBD. It’s the flagship of over fifty Rick Steves guidebooks and an 800-page handbook — what I like to call “the Kama Sutra of European travel thrills.”

The book has more than quadrupled in size, as it’s evolved as much as everything else in the last four decades. This is the book you read before your trip to learn from my experience rather than your own to enjoy maximum travel fun per mile, minute, and dollar. My best travel tip for anyone dreaming of the trip of a lifetime? Don’t go to Europe without reading “Europe Through the Back Door” first!

My New One-Hour Special is Here!

Over the years, I’ve made several trips to developing countries specifically to learn about why, in a world of such abundance, people go hungry.

I’m privileged in so many ways. I live in a rich and highly developed country. If I’m hungry, I go to the supermarket. If I need water, I turn on the faucet. When I’m sick, I go to the doctor. And my children enjoyed a fine education. Meanwhile, almost a billion people get none of that. It’s like we live on two different planets. And it’s so easy for privileged people — people like me — to ignore this reality.

In my new one-hour special “Hunger and Hope: Lessons from Ethiopia and Guatemala”, I share with you what I learned from locals and experts about key aspects of extreme poverty and how to beat it. Together, we’ll witness the importance of water, education, empowering women, and nutrition during a child’s first 1,000 days.

We’ll see firsthand the impact of globalization and the effects of climate change. And with the help of innovative solutions and smart development aid, world hunger has been cut in half in the last generation.

“Hunger and Hope: Lessons from Ethiopia and Guatemala” — 5 minutes of desperation and 55 minutes of hope — is airing now on public television across the country (check your local listings), or you can stream the full hour online.

Rick Steves Hunger and Hope: Lessons from Ethiopia and Guatemala Preview

I’ve always wanted to produce a show that explores the key aspects of extreme poverty — ever since I first visited Central America and got a perspective-shattering peek into the daily lives of the more than 700 million people on our planet who live on less than $2 a day. For the past few years, my crew and I have been hard at work to capture on camera the inspiring people and committed organizations dealing with this reality, so different from most Americans’ own privileged existence. And now, our TV special is ready for prime time: “Hunger and Hope: Lessons from Ethiopia and Guatemala” will be available for streaming on our website Wednesday, February 5. In the coming weeks, it’ll air on public television stations across the country (check your local listings).

My goal was to distill into one hour the most important lessons in the fight against hunger: What does extreme poverty look like, what’s causing it, and what are the most effective ways to overcome it? I wanted to take a deep dive into innovative solutions, like improving access to clean water, ensuring proper nutrition during a child’s critical first thousand days, providing a good education, and empowering women to be leaders in their communities.

I also wanted to show why smart development aid is a good and practical investment. In Guatemala, one example was Pedro’s snow peas. Pedro used to toil as a low-paid worker on a coffee plantation. With help from an NGO, Pedro gained firm title to his land, where he now grows his lucrative crop. (People in Guatemala don’t eat snow peas, but Pedro knows that they’ll fly off the shelves in England). And in Ethiopia, Abadi has been able to turn his farm animals’ droppings into fuel for cooking (which means he no longer needs to burn wood for fuel) and fertilizer (which means his family will be fed and he’ll have extra harvest to sell at the market) — all thanks to smart development.

Ending hunger is possible. We can do it because we care, or we can do it because it’ll make our world more stable. Or we can do it for both reasons. With “Hunger and Hope: Lessons from Ethiopia and Guatemala,” I hope that you’ll learn as much from these inspiring stories as I have.

Enjoy my preview and check your local listing for air dates in your city.

A look at Auschwitz on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

As a child traveling in Europe, I met a piano player who was a concentration camp survivor. I remember watching the serial number tattooed on his wrist sliding in and out of his sleeve as he played. He told me stories of his experience…stories that I would never forget.

The evils of fascism were incremental. As its small evils became big evils, German society managed to be oblivious to its own atrocities. At first, concentration camps contained people who didn’t conform. Then, they became forced labor camps. Eventually, the Nazis built death camps — which were located outside of Germany and therefore farther from public view. With what the Nazis called the “Final Solution,” the entire Jewish population was targeted for extermination. In total, approximately 6 million Jews died from Nazi persecution. 2.7 million of those died in death camps.

Today, I believe history is speaking to us. As a historian and tour guide, I hear it, and I embrace the challenge of sharing its lessons.

Let us learn from the Holocaust and never let it be repeated.

We remember.