07/29/2013 12:18 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2013

Scotland Tour: The Recipe for a Tasty Tour

I love the challenge of orchestrating a smooth, efficient, and safe European bus tour for 25 happy travelers. There are countless keys to success: a good, modern bus with twice as many seats as tourist; a steady driver with social skills that make him a welcome part of our traveling family; and a low-maintenance group with a positive attitude that is well-organized and packs light. A week into our Best of Scotland tour, it's clear -- we've got it all.

Our bus driver, Roddie, greets us every other morning as we load up the bus and travel on (there are no one-night stops on this itinerary). And we all pack light. It's required: Our luggage maximum is what you can carry onto an airplane -- 9 by 21 by 14 inches.

Our itineraries come with a thoughtful balance of obvious sights and Back Door discoveries. Everyone wants to drive along Loch Ness and scan the lake for the monster. And Urquhart Castle -- overlooking Loch Ness -- is one of the most visited in Scotland. In fact, we rushed breakfast in order to leave our hotel early and beat the hordes of cruise-ship groups that converge on Urquhart Castle late each morning.

Every year, one lucky Rick Steves tour guide gets me on their bus. This year, my guide was one of our rookies, Liz Lister. Liz has plenty of experience guiding groups for other companies, but this was her first time leading one of ours. She apprenticed for two tours with our senior Scotland guides and, as I've seen firsthand, is perfectly ready for prime time. We'll be flying Liz to Seattle this January for our annual tour guide summit and tour member reunion. Our group is already planning for the event...and looking forward to sharing a bit of our culture with her.

There's much more to experiencing a new culture than sightseeing. For one thing, there's tasting. More and more, our guides are making a point to delve into the taste treats of wherever we travel. For this late-morning snack, Liz and our bus driver Roddie put out a delightful spread: mackerel, smoked salmon, various Scottish cheeses, oatcakes, haggis-flavored potato chips, traditional tea cakes, and the local ale: Irn-Bru (Scotland's favorite soft drink).