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The secret to a successful vacation in Europe

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Dreaming about a European getaway but not sure where to start? A simple travel guide focused on the city or country you plan to visit is always a smart investment. Just ask European travel expert Rick Steves. The author of Europe’s best selling travel guides spends at least 120 days a year traveling through European cities researching the best and worst spots to visit. He loves his work so much that he practically never takes a vacation. Last year Steves’ tour company hosted 12,000 Americans visiting countries throughout Europe. His mission: helping people turn their “travel dreams into a affordable reality.”

Q: Do certain European cities lend themselves to a solo traveler on a budget?

Rick Steves: No. Everyone is always asking where is the best place, best value for this year. I would say if your travel dreams are taking you Ireland and someone tells you Portugal is cheap, well not for you. You want to go to Ireland, [so] you should go to Ireland and just do it well.

You can go to Norway and travel remarkably inexpensively if you know how to, that’s the trick. There are dormitory accommodations where you provide your own laundry (sheets, towels). You'll save $20 a night just by bringing your own sleeping stack and they don’t have to do laundry for you. That’s a trick.

A lot of Americans go and say “who’s going to carry my bag?” Well, that’s a whole different kind of travel. You have to be mobile. You have to be self-sufficient. You have to enjoy making mistakes and getting out of your comfort zone. I’ve always found that local people are really impressed you're there and they want to help you out. As long as you get away from the people who camp out in front of the tourist traps to rip off the travelers.

Q: What are some of the most common mistakes that are made when planning a trip to Europe?

Well, people make a lot of mistakes. People pack too [much] so they aren't mobile, that’s a drag. People wait in lines. There are two IQs of European travel: those who wait in lines and those who don’t wait in lines. If you see a line, you can avoid it if you have a good guidebook or figure out how you can make an appointment to get in around that line.

RS: You got to remember when you go to Venice, Italy that everyone wants your money. Most of us are attracted to the fancy, shiny things. Or you can do a little studying and take the reins yourself and get out and explore the lagoon. It’s up to you not to be taken advantage of by clever marketing gimmicks in Europe that shape your itineraries in ways that are different than what you want to do there.

Q: Italy is a top destination for American tourists. What do people need to know about traveling to Italy for the first time?

RS: Italy is not Denmark. A lot of people go to Italy and they go, “oh body odor, temper tantrums, transit strikes, traffic jams,” but that’s beautiful. That’s what Italy is--lovable chaos. You can get lovable order when you go to a place like Denmark or Germany or Holland. There’s something about that mix in Italy that really I find enchanting.

Q: Do you ever take a vacation?

RS: I love my work so much I don’t need a vacation. I spend 4 months a year working in Europe. If someone gave me a free trip to Mexico, or Cancun or Hawaii right now to lie on the beach at the nicest hotel, I'd say no thanks. I'll pay my way to Portugal and visit little villages and eat new food and get to know people who see things differently. To me, the excitement about travel is getting out there and gaining an understanding and empathy for the other 96% of humanity.