My travel bible, and 3 Things Rick Steves Forgot to Mention

Rick Steves' Book

For a majority of my life, I’ve only relied on one Bible to help guide my decisions and provide direction on the best way to live my life. Although I can’t go as far as to suggest that I follow it out to the “T”, I can say, without a doubt, that I trust what it says 110%. But since I’ve started traveling, I’ve found the need for a different kind of bible… the travel bible.

The travel bible, for me – because Google will tell you something completely different – is any resource you use and come to depend on to help plan trip X. I could be wrong, but I think the travel bible is different from the travel dream bible. The latter usually consists of a plethora of resources (i.e. magazines, blogs, TV. shows) you use to help plan for that “someday” trip. They usually include a lot of beautiful pictures but not a lot of practical information. Both have their benefits, but it’s the travel bible that, if chosen correctly, will be the light that leads you to an amazing adventure.

To prepare for my dream trip to Paris, I relied heavily on Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris: Get Lost and Get Found. I didn’t mean for it to become my travel bible for that trip. I really only purchased it for some direction on the best way to get a glimpse into the lives of Blacks in Paris. But, thankfully, this book did that and so much more. Kiratiana gave insight on tipping, places to eat, AND it’s where I found information about black cultural tours in Paris. I even carried it outside the hotel with me on a few occasions while in the city. It served as an overall, great tool.

After having such good luck with Kiratiana’s book, about 8 months out from my recent trip to Europe, I went on a mad search for my next travel bible. After very little research, I decided on Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door 2013: The Travel Skills Handbook. I was excited when the book arrived in the mail. For some time, I had listened to his voice on my local public radio station and had seen his travels on TV. So, to have his book in my hands, I felt like the ultimate traveler. I began quoting him and name-dropping every chance I got: “Rick Steves suggests we stay at a hostel to preserve our funds.” On this particular occasion, not even he could get my mom to forgo a nice hotel in place of a hostel. But anyway, I highlighted, I asterisked, I folded… I was determined to not let any of his suggestions go to waste. Restaurants, money-saving tips, places to stay, tips on how not to become a victim of pickpocketing, sleeping options while taking the train throughout Europe, he left no stone unturned.

At least that’s what I thought… until I found myself in Rome wondering on a few occasions: “Hey, Rick Steves didn’t say anything about this!” After a few episodes of these sudden light-bulb moments, I took my frustrations straight to pen and paper and began my list of things that Mr. Steves seemed to have forgotten to mention. Here goes my top three:

The Roman Inch

If the feeling has never come over you before, be prepared to experience the slightly embarrassing, character reducing, and very new feeling of having the urge to completely lose it on a geriatric. Stay with me here. Yes, they are frail. Some are cute. Some are even cuddly. But picture this: You are standing in a line. A line that you’ve been committed to for the last 5-10 minutes. A line that at the end of it waits something that, in that moment, means a heck of a lot to you. On a trip, it’s usually the boarding line. The line to the bathroom. The line to the monument that you’ve waited your entire life to get up close and personal with. We’ll call it The Line.

So, you’re in The Line, biding your time, and up (slowly) walks a nice, slightly bent, person of a certain age. Your first reaction is to move out of the way, so that she can break through The Line and continue on her way without having to go around the entire length of people. As she inches closer, you notice that instead of moving through the space you’ve so kindly allotted for her, she simply stops. You wait in a bit of confusion, thinking that maybe she just stopped to gather her thoughts. But as the seconds continue to click by, you notice that she has instead made herself very comfortable in the allotted space.  There is no “Excuse me.” No, “May I.” You look around, as I did, in total shock and amazement wondering if anyone else had seen the treachery that just occurred. You want to scream. Shout. Call the line-skipping police. Tell someone about her politically incorrect-ness.

Calm down. Take a deep breath. Come to the realization that you’ve just been “Roman Inched,” and understand that you weren’t the first, and you will not be the last.

I experienced the Roman Inch on multiple occasions while in the city. My favorite was while I was in the Vatican Museum. Our tour had concluded and we were free to peruse the gift shops. After finding out that there was a Vatican post office that we could mail items from, we were excited to purchase our postcards for family and friends and mail them with an exclusive Vatican stamp. With postcards purchased, we patiently stood in line for the stamps. As my mother made her purchase, I noticed an older gentlemen slowly walk up, not behind me, but beside me. I knew exactly what he was hoping to accomplish. Without saying a word, he slyly placed himself in the space between my mother and me, while still standing to the side. Not wanting to be skipped again, I moved closer to my mom to close the open space. As I did this, he continued to try and inch his way in front of me. I moved up. He took a few seconds and inched in. This happened about 3 times. It was amusing, but not enough for me to relinquish my spot in line. So, when my mom was finished with her purchase, I made a determined step to the counter, leaving my challenger in defeat.

Public Bathrooms, Leave Privacy at the Door

When people talk about the good, bad, and ugly of a trip, there are usually three things that elicit the most emotion: the food, the people, AND the bathrooms. While in Europe, the bathrooms ran the gamut of eat-off-the-floor clean to I-can-hold-it-a little longer dirty. But there was one things that stood out for me that had nothing to do with cleanliness or lack thereof. It hinged on privacy.

When going into a public restroom with multiple stalls here in the States, you have the understanding that the only privacy you will get from the stall enclosure is the opportunity to keep Victoria your secret and your secret only (I had to do it). Although awkward and sometimes embarrassing, you know that all smells and sounds are up for public consumption, at least to the other bathroom patrons. But, here’s the great thing: you sometimes have the option of having the bathroom completely to yourself. I’m not talking just one stall where no one else happens to be in the restroom. I’m talking about a single-serve bathroom, where a door encloses you into a small “room” where there is one toilet, one sink, one mirror waiting for only you to use. No smells, no sounds, nothing that can give even the slightest hint of your bathroom escapades escapes those walls. I love the single-serve bathroom.

With a few bathroom experiences under my belt from Rome, Tuscany, and Florence, I can say this with full confidence: I did not practice my usual water conservation activities in the least. There was no lack of single-serve bathrooms in the places we went. But after 1 or 2 times of noticing a few things that were clear signs that my “business” was seeping out into the public, I knew that in Europe single-serve doesn’t automatically mean private. The most in-your-face sign: the door to the bathroom doesn’t go completely up nor does it go completely down to the floor. Don’t expect your single serve to be a fully enclosed “room.” The worst part is that the bathrooms were, on some occasions, not off and away from a public gathering space. Nope. They were only feet away from the register or the olive oil presentation; places where I wanted to keep my business from the general public. So, in some cases, I had to resort to the old “turn the faucet on so that at least no sounds escaped without at least some sort of muffling.” Yep, water conservation had to take a back seat to my comfort.

Three Courses are for Wimps

When I am home, a three-course meal is a luxury that I rarely get to experience. But when I go on vacation, it’s my time to treat myself and splurge; so three courses are a must. So, in preparation for Italy I saved my money like there was no tomorrow, because I was absolutely sure that dinner would consist of three courses almost every night of our vacation. My money was ready. My stomach was ready. I was all in and ready to experience the food Italy had to offer. Then I saw the menus. Talk about fully involved. Here’s a rundown of the meal structure:

  • Antipasto
  • Primo
  • Secondo
  • Contorno
  • Dolce

And sometimes there’s more! I had no idea where to start. I was never THAT hungry, so I usually only did two courses. It was either an appetizer or a dessert with my meal. But I would sit and watch people, at lunch of all meals, place order after order, wondering how on earth they could eat so much especially in the middle of the day. My advice: go with what you’re comfortable with. But I can assure you that next time not only will my money and stomach be ready, but my mind will be too.

Okay, you’ve probably noticed that my list is slightly trivial. No bones were broken. No people were left behind. All is well. So, I hold no ill will toward Mr. Steves, but maybe on the next reprint of the book he will use some of my experiences to add onto to his varied suggestions and advice. I can see it now: Chapter 3: How to keep your business private in an Italian bathroom.

What’s your favorite travel bible? What interesting things did you find that it completely forgot to mention?

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