This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the SF/Bay Area Travel and Adventure Show in Santa Clara, CA as a member of the press. If you are reading this blog you know I LOVE anything travel related. When I saw this show was coming locally, I had to go.
Besides getting to meet and learn about destinations around the globe I got to see a talk by Rick Steves, one of my absolute travel favorites. If you have ever been to Europe, there’s a good possibility that you used Rick’s books, apps, or both. Every time I am booking a trip to Europe, I make sure to run to the library or bookstore to pick up his latest books. His books give you tips on the most popular sites in each city as well as excellent tips off the beaten path. As someone that never travels with a tour group (and to be honest, never wants to) these books are invaluable.
Mr. Steves had a standing-room only audience at the Travel and Adventure Show and for good reason. He is funny, engaging, and full of amazing tips for traveling in Europe. His presentation was part anecdotal and part personal travelogue, but all useful. Here were some of my favorite tips from his presentation.
“Spend the night in a busy touristy area. Most day travelers are gone by 4 or 5pm, back on the tour bus to their hotels. At night, cities become romantic and alive without the onslaught of mass modern tourism. Early mornings and evening/night exploration makes for great sightseeing.”
I totally agree with this tip. My mom and I stumbled upon the Parthenon in Rome at night. The way the majestic building was illuminated and all of the local Italians walking to and fro made for a magical evening. There were no huge tour groups following the leader with a flag, no school children, yet still tons of people watching.
“You don’t need to be a scholar while traveling, you only need to be engaged and your travel will be much more rewarding. Make a point of understanding what you are looking at either through an audio app or a guide book.”
I used the Rick Steves Italy Audio Tours throughout Rome and Florence. These guides are like having a personal tour guide in your ear. He gives wonderful history of top tourist sites as well as many interesting anecdotes. One of my favorite Rome memories was using these guides in the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica which Mr. Steves showed in his presentation. You can start and stop the audio whenever you want and it travels with you on your smartphone. The other best part? They are free!
“Be a Cultural Chameleon. Eat what locals eat, drink what locals drink. In Belgium, eat chocolate. Drink ouzo in Greece and red wine in Italy. Sip on tea in England.”
I know this tip might be difficult for those of us with celiac disease, but with a little bit of research you definitely can find gluten-free local cuisine. I ate croissants in Paris, took a traditional Thai cooking class in Thailand, and ate Czech goulash and dumplings (and even drank beer on tap) in Prague. I had a full traditional afternoon tea in Scotland. All 100% gluten-free. I just made sure to do research ahead of time, used translation cards, and asked lots of questions before ordering. I will never understand eating at American chain restaurants overseas (or here for that matter) and I will always search for local (and gluten-free) specialties.
“When something is free, no one promotes it since they don’t have a marketing budget. Sometimes the less expensive a tour or a historical site is to visit, the more valuable they are.”
I really liked this tip especially since I try to be a budget traveler. Mr. Steves pointed out that you don’t need to spend a ton of money to have a wonderful travel experience. I totally agree! Some of my best travel memories are from things that were totally free like climbing to the top of a dormant volcano in Scotland, visiting a crazy cemetery in Prague, and talking two different free walking tours with Sandeman’s in Prague and Edinburgh which are totally worth a small donation/tip.
Rick Steves has so many more wonderful tips that I cannot even do him any justice with just one blog post. I highly recommend you check out his website, books, and podcasts for your next trip to Europe!
Overall, my Saturday at the Bay Area Travel Show was well worth it. While I talked gluten-free travel with a few people, I really went for the tips and inspiration for my next big adventure… oh and I even rode a camel!