Rick Steves' Top Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your European Bus Tour

Travel guru Rick Steves knows Europe like the back of his hand. If you ask him the most convenient and economical way to explore the continent, he'll tell you to join a Europe bus tour. Many tourists may prefer traveling via trains or planes because they're fast and cheap, but tour buses offer a different experience, taking you to scenic routes and lesser-known destinations you otherwise wouldn't see with other transportation options.

"Every town with tourism has a variety of tours that show you the sights from a comfortable seat. Orientation bus tours give you a 90-minute once over lightly. Longer tours usually do the orientation route with a visit to a couple of major sights (which involves some minimal walking)," Steves explained to Travel Central. "Hop-on, hop-off bus tours vie for your business in nearly every city. They make a circuit lacing the city's top sights together and give you a ticket good for a day's worth of hopping on and off, with buses coming by several times an hour."

Regardless of which tour company you go for, Steves advises against picking "one-night stands" (where you stay in a hotel for only one night), as those can be exhausting. Tours involving big groups are also a no-no, as you'll be less likely to get an intimate experience and visit hidden gems that showcase Europe's charms. If you want to make your bus tour as meaningful as possible, Steves recommends doing the following: researching your tour guide and customizing the itinerary.

Remember that the quality of your tour hinges on your tour guide

When selecting a Europe bus tour, your top considerations might be the cost and the activities involved in the tour, but Rick Steves notes that there's another overlooked factor that many travelers fail to consider: the tour guide. The travel extraordinaire wants travelers to recognize that researching your tour guide is just as crucial. They'll be leading the way, after all, and if you end up with one whose primary goal is to financially exploit tourists, you can bid goodbye to the prospect of an enjoyable experience.

Steves suggests looking into how a company's tour guides are paid. If they primarily earn through commissions and tips, then you can probably expect them to recommend activities, accommodations, and restaurants that will rake them in the most money. On the flip side, if the guide has a steady salary, they're less likely to capitalize on the tourists and more likely to deliver the best sightseeing experience.

Bus tours that are unbelievably cheap would often have those shady tour guides. "I don't like tours that are sold for less than what they expect to make and then they get you on the bus or on the cruise ship, having not made the profit they need and then you're over there desperate to have a good time," he shared with WGBH. "And then they start bidding and nailing and deceiving you and selling his stuff for kickbacks."

Don't feel obligated to stick to the tour bus' itinerary

While the whole point of joining a Europe bus tour is to free yourself from the burden of planning a trip, Rick Steves encourages travelers to separate from their group occasionally. Unless you're genuinely interested in every single activity and destination included in the tour's itinerary, you may want to excuse yourself and using the time to do some solo exploration. You'll all be returning to the same hotel anyway, so as long as you know how to find your way back, you'll be fine.

Steves believes that doing some independent sightseeing can make your trip much more memorable. "Feel privileged to walk the vibrant streets of Europe as a student — not as a judge," he says on his website. And while you're at it, take it as an opportunity to be one with the locals. "You really want to be there. You want to immerse yourself in the culture," he noted in an interview with Houston Chronicle. "You need the refuge that the hotel provides, but you want to talk to other people, you want to eat with other people, and you want to get out of your comfort zone."