01/22/2016 06:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Busy Week of Work and Fun With Our Guides

More than 20,000 Americans entrusted our guides with their European vacations in 2015. That's a huge responsibility, and one we take very seriously. That's why we fly in our guides (more than 100 this year from all over Europe and the USA) for a one-week series of workshops and itinerary roundtables to fine-tune our tour program and ensure that we'll offer the best possible European tours in 2016.

I've got to admit, stopping traffic to gather our entire family of guides for a group photo in the street -- and getting to be right in the center of this amazing group of travelers and teachers -- is a feeling I really enjoy.

We have about 40 different tour itineraries. For each individual itinerary, the guides who lead the tour and the home-office tour operations person who makes all the reservations gather to brainstorm, debate, and fine-tune each day of the trip. Getting these itineraries just right is the meat of our tour guide summit. We know Americans have among the shortest vacations on earth. Our goal: to be sure our travelers get maximum experience out of each tour minute. Photo: The Travelphile

We've hosted our guides each year for the last two decades, and my staff has it well figured out. Color-coded guide packets explain it all. How well our annual summit is run is a reflection of how well we run our tours. Photo: The Travelphile

Filling our town's Masonic Lodge with the entire gang, I gave two three-hour talks (plus another talk just for our first-year guides) to ensure that all of our guides understand our stateside operations -- and are clear on exactly what distinguishes a Rick Steves tour. A favorite and particularly instructive event: an afternoon-long workshop in which nine of our senior guides gave individual talks as if to a tour group in Europe...and we all constructively critiqued their performance. Photo: The Travelphile

Each year at our summit, we fly in experts to teach workshops on safety, communication, technology on the road, sexual harassment, first aid, and conflict resolution. As we're entrusting our guides with the care of so many tour members each year, these skills are critical in my estimate for any professional tour guide. Photo: The Travelphile

After discussing safety, the refugee crisis, and people's concerns about terrorism, everyone got one of our wildly popular new "Keep On Travelin'" T-shirts. To be sure everyone got the right size, we had human size models: XXL, XL, L, M and S. (Want your own t-shirt? You can pick one up in our online Travel Store.) Photo: The Travelphile