"Oh, the places you'll go." - Dr. Seuss
So how does someone really start planning a trip like this? It turns out the answer for us starts about a decade ago. Rick Steves came to our hometown for a talk. Barbara & John attended and she was hooked! We've always been a traveling family, but hadn't really explored too much of Europe. That changed pretty quickly (thanks to a variety of reasons) and Rick Steves' Europe became our go to for planning. Among other places, he's guided us through artistic Amsterdam, plentiful Paris, vivacious Venice and lavish London.
When we decided to head to Europe again we wanted to do it a little differently than before... enter Rick Steves tours! We scoured the website to find the one most appealing to us. In the end it turned out to be Germany, Austria & Switzerland in 14 days. Our reason was pretty simple, we had never been to those countries.
Our Tip: Use the handy search by country feature on the Rick Steves website if you have your heart set on a certain location, but not a certain tour!
Time for some real talk... a two week tour is a commitment. For those of us still working, it was a good chunk of our vacation time for the entire year. There is also the cost to consider. The tour itself, flights, food and souvenirs can add up quickly. With all that being said, we knew this was an investment we wanted to make.
For anyone wondering if a Rick Steves tour is worth the cost, our answer is a resounding YES! We couldn't know it when signing up, but the trip is priced very reasonably for what's included (like breakfast everyday, about half of your other meals and several activities). We also found ways to keep our costs down in other areas. For example, we found a much cheaper flight by going in and out of a different city than we normally do. We also split meals when we could and stopped at grocery stores to get snacks. You get a tour guidebook as well so no need to buy something similar. We also did extensive research before leaving on the trip. We looked at everything from restaurants to attractions we wanted to check out. Thanks to the guidebook & internet, we had a pretty good idea how much everything would cost. Of course, there are some surprises along the way. But in the end, we were able to make a pretty good plan (for activities and our money) and stick to it.
Now to one of the most important parts of planning... PACKING! I'm a classic over-packer. Always have been and (sadly) probably always will be. But have no fear if you are in the same boat... we all made it through our entire trip with just a carry on! There was a debate in the Wild households about backpack vs. a roller. I will let you know we ended up being in the minority... nearly everyone else on our trip had rollers. Personally, I like having my hands free and I feel a backpack is easier to carry up stairs when required (which it might be in Europe). But there is no wrong choice in this debate!
Rick Steves recommends packing light and so do we. You might be wondering how to do that and just use a carry on? The answer is plan to do laundry. We found it was pretty simple and not very expensive. Check to see if your hotel has a coin machine or maybe it offers laundry service. Another option is washing items in your bathroom. I know a couple people did that on our trip and it seemed to work out well!
Kristin's Tip: Invest in packing cubes! If I were a poet I might write a sonnet to the wonders of this travel hack. They are great for the most organized of travelers and even the not so organized!
Barbara's Tip: We found the clothes dryers to be a bit lacking so be prepared to hang up your clothes to finish drying. Pretty much everything was good to go by the next morning.
John's Tip: Pack a couple laundry pods or scoops of your detergent from home to keep the cost down.
As for what to pack... our trip was in the late summer and included several different types of climates (I'm talking about you mountains of Mürren!). We each ended up with a couple pairs of shorts, a pair of jeans and a variety of shirts. Depending on the time of year you go, I would definitely plan for light layers and bring a GOOD rain jacket! When it comes to toiletries Mom & I opted to try shampoo and conditioning bars during this trip (we used ones from Basin). I still took one travel size bottle of shampoo and it all worked out really well!
Finally, as it states on the tour's website... this one is pretty active. We would definitely recommend being in good walking shape to make the experience more enjoyable. Do you need to be a perfect athlete? No! But you will be walking several miles a day with some hills (or mountains) along the way. I can easily admit I should have prepared a bit more for this, but there are options along the way to make sure everyone, of all fitness levels, can have a great time.