Rick Steves Named His All-Time Favorite Country And It Isn't Even In Europe

It's no secret that Rick Steves is devoted to Europe. He's spent 100 days a year there every year since he turned 18 (bar two COVID-19 years). Steves loves London, has a passion for Prague, and adores Ærøskøbing in Denmark. Steves' love of travel doesn't end at Europe, however. He's hit up destinations as diverse as Central America, Iran, and Papua New Guinea. 

But surely, Steves' favorite destination will be in Europe, right? Nope. On his blog, Steves wrote how he used to travel in Asia just as much as in Europe. And then he confesses: Rick Steves' all-time favorite country is India. He promises that he isn't saying India for the shock value. Steves claims that "India wallops anyone's self-assuredness. India rearranged my cultural furniture." The country humbled Steves and made him a better person, he wrote.  

Steves' first trip to India was in 1978. In an article on his website, he recounts a journey full of breakdowns, wonder, and loose stools when traveling on land from Istanbul to Kashmir. Sadly, we're unlikely to retrace that journey now, with Afghanistan, in particular, being one of the world's most dangerous countries for foreigners. But we can go straight to India to experience what Steves calls "pure decadence" in terms of culture shock.

Culture shock and making connections

In an episode entitled "First Impressions of India," broadcast on Steves' radio show "Travel with Rick Steves," Steves talked to guidebook writer Sarina Singh about traveling the country. He calls India "fragrant, mystifying, and challenging." Steves' love for the country is clear, though he recognizes that India can be confronting for first-time visitors. In this episode, there's a wealth of advice about tapping into the culture that Steves loves so much and dealing with feeling overwhelmed. 

One bonus of traveling in India is that English is widely spoken, so you should be able to converse with many people you meet. Singh recommends brushing up on your cricket knowledge. While not a popular sport in the U.S., cricket is beloved in India and being able to strike up a conversation on the topic will give you an "in" with many. Another excellent way to immerse yourself in India is by enjoying the cuisine. Steves recommends going vegetarian and eating with your hands, as both practices are common in India.

Finally, if you need an escape from India, Steves and Singh have some tips and tricks. One is to find a five-star hotel and sit in the lobby, whether you're a guest or not. Steves also recommends slipping into a movie theater and enjoying one of Bollywood's finest. The theater will be air-conditioned, and it's a great way to enjoy another aspect of Indian culture.

Rick Steves wants you to go here in India

Steves and Singh go on to give more specific advice about where to go in India. They say that visitors can have vastly different experiences depending on their destination. For many first-timers, the choice is to concentrate on the lush, tropical south or the blockbuster destinations of the north, like the Taj Mahal and the palaces of Rajasthan.

Both Steves and Singh recommend visiting the south first. Singh remarks that traveling in southern India is easier, as the pace is more relaxed. There are fewer touts than in northern India, making traveling in the south a less stressful or awkward experience. Steves agrees, naming the southern state of Kerala as his favorite part of India. This underrated state boasts serene backwaters, verdant tea plantations, and beaches to rival any in the Caribbean. It's also home to magnificent temples where ancient rituals allow you a glimpse of Hindu culture.

Concentrating on a small area of India is also a way to go deep into the culture with less shock. Steves and Singh recommend not trying to pack too much into your time in the country. Instead, they advise taking it slow and realizing that in India, you're not in control.