For The Best Trip To Europe, Travel Pro Rick Steves Says To Splurge On This One Thing

Planning a vacation to Europe involves some pretty intensive planning and preparation — especially if you're hoping to make the most of your experience abroad. From being extra cautious of what type of clothing to pack to mapping out your itinerary in advance (and knowing which cities to skip in order avoid running into crowds during your trip), it takes research and flexibility to make the most of your journey before you've even boarded your flight.

Unfortunately, the challenge of trying to work your way around an unfamiliar place doesn't stop once you've touched down. In fact, it only gets more hectic and, considering you're already there, even more vital to adapt quickly. After all, there's always something new to see, somewhere else to explore, and someone exciting to meet during your travels that you hadn't taken into account when you first started planning — all of which can make for an extraordinary experience ... as long as you have the right guidance to help you figure things out.

Thankfully, travel expert and writer Rick Steves has a handy trick up his sleeve to make sure your European vacation meets your expectations and doesn't fall flat because of your lack of local knowledge or potential itinerary-disrupting circumstances: Make sure you always hire your own local tour guide. That way, Steves argues, you'll have a much-needed insider scoop into everything that makes a destination truly unique.

How hiring a local guide can elevate your experience

Per Steves' travel blog, there's really nothing "as rewarding as hiring a professional guide to show you around their hometown." After all, when you hire a local guide, you're not just hiring them for whatever historical knowledge they might have of a specific destination or tourist attraction — you're also getting a much more personal and in-depth look into the culture and how locals actually live, eat, and interact with one another.

From recommending a hidden gem restaurant that offers the best local food (and isn't in any of the brochures) to sharing their own personal stories intertwined with the history and traditions of a destination, local guides typically have more on-the-ground insights than any online guidebook ever will. Plus, hiring a local guide to show you around is also a great way to open up your mind to even more diverse perspectives and cultural nuances. By interacting with someone who "isn't like you" and didn't grow up around the same things you did, you'll have a much easier time leaning into empathy and understanding — both of which can, eventually, enrich your views of the world and broaden your cultural horizons.

Not only that, but hiring a local guide can also save you time and stress (and, in some cases, money) when it comes to navigating unfamiliar places. Whether it's helping you book tickets in advance, securing a dinner or lunchtime reservation, or knowing what the best time to visit a landmark might be so you can avoid the hordes of tourists, you'll be able to optimize your travel experience with their help (and local connections).

Where to find reputable local guides

In spite of all the benefits, there's a slight catch that might put some travelers off from hiring a personalized local guide: the cost. According to Steves, hiring a guide for a half-day tour can set you back anywhere from $100 to $300 depending on the destination, while certain cities can be even more expensive. A private tour with a local guide in Paris, for example, can cost upwards of $600. However, when you think about the value of getting shown around by a true local, the benefits tend to outweigh the cost. Plus, since most guides charge for the tour — not per person — you might even be able to split the cost with your travel group and still get that personalized experience.

In terms of where to find good local guides, there are plenty of online resources and websites that can help you. Some of the most popular platforms for connecting with licensed and professional guides include Airbnb (through their "Experiences" tab), as well as Tours By Locals, Viator, Showaround, and GetYourGuide. Alternatively, speaking to the front desk staff at your accommodation is another great option to help you find a guide that's both reputable and knowledgeable — and it saves you the hassle of having to research for hours online.

Lastly, if you're on a tight budget but still want to experience a semi-personalized and locally-guided tour, look into joining a free walking tour at your destination. These typically meet in the morning and the afternoon from a central location in the city — a main square or park — and will take you to all of the nearby attractions. Keep in mind, however, that these "free" walking tours generally expect you to tip your guide by the end.