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
When you look back on your life as a traveler, which trip do you remember the most? For a lot of us, our happiest travels were the ones we did on a shoestring, slumming around with a backpack. Why? Because these were real adventures: riding serendipity like the wind, taking risks, and enjoying how having no money forced us into the arms of strangers.
I’ve been thinking today about 1973, when my friend Gene and I first experienced “Europe Through the Gutter.” In so many ways, this trip — starting the day after my high school graduation — established the foundation of our entire Rick Steves’ Europe program. Now that we’re adults, we travel with more money, comforts, and reservations than the vagabonds we used to be…but we still tap into the magic that made those early backpacking adventures the best trips ever.
You can hear the story of our 1973 trip in this 26-minute audio clip:
As you listen, consider how you can splice some of that vagabond magic into your next trip. Then, share your thoughts in the comments here or on Facebook, so we can inspire each other to travel with a youthful vigor at any age.
I speak only English. But I know the importance of communicating when traveling. The best travelers make a point to connect with the people they meet, and they understand the value of a good phrase book to do it. So, over decades of travel, I’ve learned which words and phrases are most helpful on the road, along with the most important communication tips, and woven them all into a series of European phrase books.
What’s a monoglot like me doing designing a phrase book series? The fact that I speak only English, have struggled with the language barrier for decades, and am passionate about the importance of communicating is a big part of why I have the bestselling Italian, French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese phrase books in the USA. Rick Steves phrase books are designed with the traveler in mind — I know what you need to know to travel smoothly. And with our new and improved editions just hitting the shelves, this is a great time to pick one up.
Taxi driving too fast in Rome? You can say “Se non rallenta, vomito” (If you don’t slow down, I’ll vomit). Food wonderful in Paris? You can call the waiter over and say, “Félicitations au chef” (My compliments to the chef). Fall in love with a German at the beach? You can whisper “Du bistmeineschönsteErinnerung.” (You are my most beautiful souvenir). And there are all the practical words and phrases, too.
I just wrapped up a wonderful visit to Denver, where I joined the Colorado Symphony for a live performance of my public television concert Rick Steves’ Europe: A Symphonic Journey. Together, we shared seven stirring anthems from the Romantic era that celebrate how different European countries mix a love of music with patriotism. I got to be the tour guide, setting up each piece with historical and cultural context — and then, as gorgeous images were projected on a huge screen, the orchestra took us there musically.
In this clip, you’ll join me on stage for the dress rehearsal and see a few of the happy faces I met after the show. If you enjoy this little taste, you can find the entire original show streaming online — or just grab the bit with your favorite composer using my free video database Classroom Europe. Just go to classroom.ricksteves.com and search for Beethoven, Grieg, Wagner, Strauss, Smetana, Verdi, Elgar, or Berlioz.
Leaning back on my bench, I marveled at the floodlit facade of Chartres Cathedral. Munching on my baguette with brie, I was pondering how, for centuries, nobles and peasants alike have been awestruck by this view. Then in my periphery, I noticed a bum on the next bench, reaching toward me — and offering me a swig of red wine from his battered 1.5-liter plastic water bottle. Backlit by the floodlighting and with a twinkle in his friendly eyes, he looked like a character in an over-the-top romantic painting of folk characters on sale at a French town market.
Even though we hardly talked and I politely rejected his wine, we were both there — connected, sharing the moment. It was a fleeting, yet very human, encounter — and it added to my experience of Chartres.
The essence of good travel is people. If I’m leading a tour or writing a guidebook, the mark of a job well done is how well I connect people with people. If I’m making a TV show and it doesn’t have local voices, the show will be flat. And when I’m enjoying a European vacation, my journal is more interesting when it includes stories of people I’ve met along the way.
Developing a knack for sparking such experiences is our challenge as good travelers. I like to take it a step further — to be a keen observer, connecting experiential dots that may seem random by putting them into cultural and historical context…and then learning from them. As a travel writer, that’s my challenge. And that’s my mission.
What about you? How have you connected with people in your travels? I’d love to hear about your own bum and baguette moments.
I was just in the Alps with my TV crew, filming three new episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe. We spent a couple of days hiking (and filming) on the Tour du Mont Blanc trail, in the French Alps. It’s a whole parallel world there, away from the tourist crowds and intensity of the Alpine resorts, and really peaceful.
After just a taste of this classic long-distance hike, I am dreaming of coming back and doing the entire loop — and once again, I’m reminded that you can never run out of rewarding corners of Europe to explore.
What’s your favorite long-distance hiking experience in Europe?