I love a good plan — the research, the lists, the execution of a well-planned plan. While there are many benefits to being a planner, I’ve come to realize it’s both a blessing and a curse. My need to plan can sometimes make it difficult for me to go with the flow and when the plan doesn’t go as planned I can sometimes struggle to adjust my expectations. My family appreciates, depends on...and strongly dislikes this aspect of my personality — they get frustrated with my desire to control a situation with “my plan” in addition to my need to discuss the plan ad nauseam (At least I’m self-aware, right?). But they also always end up asking “What’s the plan?” as outings, trips, or gatherings draw near —  a bed, I know, I’ve made. So, I’m sure you can imagine the planning hyper-drive my brain went into when in January of 2016, my husband and I decided we would finally stop talking about taking a trip to Europe and actually make it happen. The three of us (our son would be coming along) would travel to Italy for three weeks and France for one week during the coming summer. Oh, all the planning that would have to be done! Google drive folders were created, travel budget spreadsheets devised with several different scenarios, Gmail folders were labeled to track correspondence, and then the research — all the beautiful research.

While I was reasonably excited about doing the planning for this trip, I was also overwhelmed by all the decisions that needed to be made. There are so many wonderful places to visit in both Italy in France, how could we possibly narrow it down and how would we accomplish all we wanted to do and see! In addition, the fact that neither my husband or myself were experienced with international travel had me a little stressed. Sensing my growing overwhelm, and feeling some of it himself, my husband suggested we get a Rick Steves travel guidebook for Italy and France to which I responded: ”Who is Rick Steves?” My husband promptly pulled up an episode of Rick’s travel TV show on the computer. One episode and I was in love. The next day we went to buy Rick’s Italy and France guidebooks, and over the next few weeks, we proceeded to watch every available episode of his show featuring Italy and France.

A somewhat unlikely travel show host, Rick is very “dad-like” — telling cheesy jokes and always wearing a different version of the same outfit with his backpack slung over one shoulder. The show is the perfect mix of beautiful scenery, delicious food, history, and culture. Rick’s been traveling to Europe and writing about it for over 30 years and his television show is America's most popular travel series on public television.  

While I hope to share more about our travels in Italy and France, I wanted to start by talking about Rick because it was really his advice that guided the planning of our entire trip. We chose the towns and cities to visit based on Rick’s Best Three-Week Trip to Italy, we stayed at places he recommended, we ate gelato where he said we’d get the best gelato, and just as he suggested we asked the locals for recommendations. We cut his guidebooks at the binding for each destination and carried the current day’s destination with us (so as not to have to carry the weight of the entire book), referring to it throughout our day as we wondered where to eat or what we might do with a free afternoon. Pleasurable travel, I’ve learned, requires a certain amount of spontaneity, which I attempted to embrace but I also took great comfort in knowing we were following the recommendations of a trusted source. While I would go on this trip again in a heartbeat, there were many difficulties and stresses that I didn’t expect (more on that later). Having Rick’s guidebook helped us navigate many of our more difficult moments.

So, for all the planners and the insecure travelers, if you’re going anywhere in Europe, I highly recommend Rick Steve’s guidebooks. I’m sure there are what would be considered more exciting guidebooks out there and I know some people prefer to take a more “fly by the seat of your pants” approach but I like a good plan and that’s what I got, along with the most amazing adventure of my life. Going to Italy and France for four weeks was a dream come true and I look forward to sharing more about our travels — the wonderful and the difficult. Until then, as Rick likes to say “keep on traveling.”

P.S. Even if you aren’t planning a trip anytime soon, Rick’s show is fun and educational to watch. My son especially enjoys Rick’s “cheesy jokes.” Be sure to watch through the credits for some fun Rick bloopers.