My early independent travel days were defined by Rick Steves and his Europe Through the Back Door (ETBD) brand.
In college, my friend, Kari, and I skipped a day of school for a long weekend in Edmonds, Washington, to attend a free travel seminar hosted by his company. I read Steves’ books and took notes. I tore articles out of the ETBD publications that landed in my dorm mailbox. And I continued to dream about the backpacking trip through Europe that I never ended up taking.
While lots of things aged poorly over the course of my 20s and 30s, Steves is not one of them. In fact, his company’s content and products continue to be one of our go-tos as we plan trips around Europe.
Staying true to the present moment, ETBD’s product offerings now go far beyond printed books and magazines. Today, travelers can access e-books and Steves’ most popular PBS shows on YouTube. But our favorite product by far is the free Rick Steves Audio Europe app.
This has two separate features — podcasts and tours — and we love them both.
The app has hundreds of podcasts ranging from 10 minutes to an hour. Topics include European travel tips and general cultural issues/topics relevant to all of Europe, like art appreciation, coffee, and World War II.
There are also many country-specific podcasts, which we like to listen to while we’re in those particular destinations. For example, on a recent trip to Ireland, we listened to a couple podcasts about Irish music, and while driving in Slovenia, we learned about the local food.
I’m a huge fan of free walking tours offered in many European cities. I also highly recommend the walking tours offered through the Rick Steves app.
They offer awesome turn-by-turn instructions for cities as well as specific sites within cities. For some cities, Steves has created several walking tours. In Amsterdam, for example, we listened to both the general city walk and the red light district tour. And, in Munich, which I’ve been to several times, I finally took the audio tour on my last trip, which offered additional context I didn’t pick up on previous trips.
The best walking tour we listened to was in Venice, and it wasn’t actually a walking tour at all. Rather, we jumped a canal taxi then listened to commentary about what we were seeing as the boat made stops along the city’s main waterway. Since taking this audio tour, I’ve recommended it to every person I know heading to Venice.
This is one of my go-to travel apps, but there are a few shortcomings worth noting:
- Steve’s main emphasis is on Western Europe. The app lumps all content related to Eastern Europetogether under one category. And, there are far more podcasts than walking tours. Unfortunately, there is no content for some Eastern European countries at all.
- Though the material is easy to download and delete from a playlist within the app, there’s no way to mark the ones you’ve listened to before. I would especially appreciate being able to do that for the general Europe ones, as we listen to those sporadically and it’s hard to remember which ones we’ve heard.
- Some content is out of date. In our constantly changing world, this is bound to happen, especially as European countries join the European Union and open their borders. Luckily, all content is dated, so you can easily see when it was recorded.
A note: No paid product endorsement here. This is just legitimate appreciation for quality information from someone who knows the continent extremely well and hasn’t just passed through a la the vast majority of travel writers on press trips.