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Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door TV PBS

ABOVE: Rick Steves in Bulgaria during the taping of a TV show.

Is there a place for the shy person or introvert on a group tour?

Shy people who travel alone react in one of two ways: either they die of shyness or they're forced to meet people. That's as true in a European hostel as it is in high school.

With a group, it depends on tour size. We used to do minibus tours with eight people. In a group that small, a shy person or someone who needs privacy can't get away. With the usual 48- or 50-person group tour, a shy person gets bulldozed or ignored. Our tours now have 24 people, and that's a very nice number: small enough so people can bond and feel like a family, but large enough so you can steer clear of anyone you don't feel comfortable with.

Are there any other advantages to traveling with a fairly small group?

Yes, it lets you have a more European travel experience. If you're traveling with 48 or 50 people (the industry norm), you can't do many of the activities that we do. You're going to see a staged Europe--you get massed together with other big groups, and you get a photo of yourself with a snakecharmer on the way out. We do touristy stuff too, but if we're having a folk evening, we'll do it with local people enjoying it and school kids on stage, not in a hall where everything is staged for tourists.

A group of 24 is also small enough for typical European hotels, restaurants, and pubs. You couldn't take 48 or 50 people into a small restaurant or a pension--you'd have to visit the mass-market tour places where locals don't go.

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