It's always smart to pack a guidebook to give you recommendations for local activities, hotels, food, and nightlife.
But you better make sure your guidebook is up to date.
"I am amazed by the many otherwise smart people who base the trip of a lifetime on a borrowed copy of a three-year-old guidebook," Steves told Business Insider. "The money they save in the bookstore is wasted the first day of their trip, searching for buses that no longer run and restaurants that have long since closed."
"Guidebooks are $25 tools for $4,000 experiences."
You may think it's impossible to pack light — after all, you're going to Europe for two weeks and you'll need plenty of changes of clothes. However, there's a difference between items you'll "need" and items you'll "want."
"You'll never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags, 'Every year, I pack heavier,'" Steves said. "You can't travel heavy, happy and cheap. Pick two."
Steves said his company has taken tens of thousands of people of all ages and styles on tours through Europe — and they only allow them to bring one carry-on bag. That's it.
"For many, this is a radical concept," he said. "But they manage, and they're glad they did."
He added that after you enjoy that "sweet mobility and freedom," you'll never go any other way.
Choose overnight stays that will enrich your trip
When you're traveling, you may initially feel more comfortable staying at a hotel chain that you're familiar with back home.
However, Steves' advice? It's better to branch out and try a local accommodations.
"No matter where you go — whether a bustling city like Paris or a mid-sized destination like Siena — the neighborhood and hotel you choose help shape your experience," he said.
Plus, you might save money in the process.
"In many cases, the less you spend, the more you experience," he said. "You can get transplanted American niceties, but you're going to pay American prices (plus shipping) for them. And that's not why you travel to the rest of the world beyond our borders."
Spend money to save money — but also prioritize what you spend money on
You may be a budget traveler and aim to save as much money as you can while you're on a trip.
But, as the old adage says, "time is money." And Steves agreed.
"People sometimes focus on saving money while forgetting that their time is equally valuable, and limited," he said. "If it will save you a half hour, hop in a taxi. Considering the value of your time, even if taking a taxi costs you and your travel partner $5 more than bus tickets, it's a good investment."
Speaking of spending money, when someone says they can't afford to travel, Steves says to think again.
"It's a choice," he said, and all about priorities. "Some people can't afford to go to Europe and they spend more on a sofa than I do on a trip," he said. "Buy a used car instead of a new car and you've got enough money for three months in Europe."
Almost any popular tourist destination is bound to have a never-ending line, which can really eat into your travel time. But, with a little advance planning, Steves said, you can prevent this.
"As far as I'm concerned, there are two IQs for travelers: those who queue, and those who don't," he said. "These days, thanks to crowdsourcing, it seems everyone is packing into the same bucket-list sights, forcing many of these overwhelmed favorite stops to offer or require skip-the-line timed reservations."
He said this is the key to not wasting time in line and, instead, waltzing right in.
"Take advantage of this fast and easy alternative to standing in needless lines," he said. "With the right information, you can avoid nearly every line that tourists suffer through — and any good, up-to-date guidebook will show you how."
Adapt your tastes by becoming a 'cultural chameleon'
When you immerse yourself in a culture, you'll have a different experience than someone who just skims the surface, if at all.
"Cultural chameleons drink tea in England, beer in Prague, red wine in France, and white wine on the Rhine," Steves said. "They eat fish in Portugal and reindeer in Norway."
He said that going with the local specialties gets you the best quality and service for the best price.
"And you'll win the respect of the locals at the same time," he said.
Speaking of food, don't you hate it when everything on the menu looks appealing but you can only choose one thing? Steves has a solution.
"Whenever possible, I order family-style so I can eat my way through more of the menu," he said. "Often, my travel partner and I will order one high-risk and one low-risk dish — and at worst, we'll split the edible one. Or, we order a little buffet of appetizers or first courses — they're filling, less expensive and more typically local than entrees."
Although not every type of cuisine lends itself to this kind of eating, Steves said you can simply ask for a small extra plate and double your enjoyment by sharing.
Make saying 'yes' into a habit
When you're traveling, lots of unexpected opportunities may arise, and, initially, it might be easier to dismiss them than accept them. But Steves suggests embracing them.
"Pledge every morning on your trip to do something entirely different that day — and when you're invited to experience something out of the ordinary, just say 'yes,'" he said. "You'll be surprised how many things you will enjoy that you didn't expect to. Meet people. Create adventure."
Put down your phone and be in the moment
You may hear of people taking a digital detox or putting their phone into airplane mode so they can enjoy the present moment more. Steve said it's a good idea.
"I've noticed, in our social media age, that many travelers are more keen on documenting where they are than actually experiencing it," he said. "Sure, you need a photo. But after you take the photo, stow your phone and actually be in the moment."
He also recommends that you have your travel partner do the same, so you can savor the moment together.
It's OK if you don't see everything — be confident that you'll return
If you feel overwhelmed when you're traveling — How can I possibly see everything? — the answer is, you don't have to.
"You can't see it all, especially in one trip, and that's a blessing," Steves said. "Enjoy seeing what you can and be thankful you have important experiences left over to enjoy on your next adventure."