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

Climate Change Is Real…And I Need Your Advice To Help Fight It

These days, simply sightseeing in Europe you learn that climate change is not a theory — it’s a reality. In England’s Portsmouth, floodgates are being built on medieval streets that never needed them before. The Swiss (who don’t build ski lifts these days without plumbing them to make snow) remember summer skiing in the Alps as something their parents did. And the Dutch — famously smart, famously frugal, and famously below sea level — are spending billions of euros (for example, employing hardworking ships like the one in this image) to shore up their dikes and prepare for a rising sea.

All of us who fly to Europe contribute more than most to climate change. (One roundtrip transatlantic flight adds about as much carbon to our atmosphere as six months of average driving.) As a big promoter of travel — and as a business owner who profits off travel and takes 30,000 people every year to Europe on our tours — I’d like to learn about organizations whose work mitigates climate change in smart ways. And I’d love to hear your recommendations.

While there are lots of good ways to help, I’m looking for two specific kinds of organizations: 1) organizations that help farmers in the developing world practice what’s called “climate-smart agriculture,” and 2) advocacy organizations that work to defend the environment by raising awareness and encouraging our federal government to adopt climate-smart policies. Do you have any suggestions?

Thanks, as always, for your help. This is something I’ve struggled with for a long time, and I always appreciate hearing your thoughts and suggestions. Stay tuned for more from me about this issue — and how I plan to address it.

 

Europe Tried Walls. Now It Likes Bridges.

When it comes to walls, I believe we can learn from Europe, which has done more than its share of wall building in the past. From Hadrian’s Wall (built by the ancient Romans to defend the northern boundary of Britannia) to the Maginot Line (built by the French in the 1930s to keep out the Germans), these walls were symbols of mistrust and insecurity. They were necessary back then — but in our age, society is advancing and dismantling walls as we move forward.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the rise of the European Union, walls and border checks have been replaced by free trade, free travel, and a well-funded government initiative (the Erasmus program) that subsidizes young people and teachers working and studying in neighboring countries. Europe’s keys to a wall-free world: weaving economies together, lots of travel, and empathy.

At one point or another, most of Europe’s great cities — Paris, London, Rome, Florence, Milan, Barcelona, Vienna, and many more — were all contained within walls, constructed during ancient and medieval times to defend against invaders. Most of these walls were torn down long ago to allow cities to expand beyond their historic centers and to clear land for grand circular boulevards. But some walls remain intact and well-preserved, such as in Dubrovnik (Croatia), Rothenburg (Germany), Lucca (Italy), and Carcassonne (France). In each case, these are people-friendly park-like spaces where people stroll, gather, and enjoy the views. And a few former walls are now museums and memorials, designed to inspire us to relate to our neighbors in ways where walls make no sense.

Belfast, in Northern Ireland, has a different kind of wall. During the Troubles, the 30-year conflict that wracked Ireland, so-called “peace walls” went up in Belfast to separate its sectarian communities — Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Unionists. But now, instead of helping to keep the peace by separating warring tribes, these walls are a tourist attraction. Visitors from around the world get out of their tour buses and decorate the walls with colorful messages of hope.

Of course, Europe’s most famous wall is the Berlin Wall. This 96-mile-long barrier, built in 1961, encircled West Berlin, making it an island of freedom in communist East Germany. With the fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989, Europe enjoyed its happiest day since the end of World War II. During the euphoria that followed, “wall-peckers” giddily chipped it to smithereens. A few bits still stand — including at the Berlin Wall Memorial, where a stretch has been preserved as a memorial to the victims of the Cold War.

The memorial features a museum and a long, narrow park that runs for nearly a mile alongside the most complete surviving stretch of the Wall. The park is dotted with memorials and information displays, and occupies what was once the notorious “death strip” — that no-man’s-land between East and West, where an obstacle course of barbed wire, tire-spike strips, soldiers in watchtowers, and other devices was designed to stop would-be escapees.

The memorial ends at the Mauerpark (Mauer is German for “wall”). Standing on a ridge next to a fragment of the Wall on a sunny Sunday, I surveyed the scene. The former death strip now hosts the world’s biggest karaoke party — and corralling that action is the long-hated Wall, now a canvas for graffiti artists.

Yes, these walls did work, and many were needed. But true success is finding a way beyond walls. Progress is not measured by new walls, but by overcoming the need for them. Progress is bridges. Euro banknotes feature bridges, not walls. Great statesmen dream of bridges, not walls. And smart governance means working creatively and diligently for economic justice and global stability, so we can live in a world where everyone — even people who have never traveled — recognize that a wall is not the winning solution.

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!