Happy Travels with Rick Steves
Around the World and Back Again
Jul 3, 2012, 1:40 p.m.
Edmonds native Rick Steves, genial host of the popular public television television series Rick Steves’ Europe, has been called a master of the low-budget travel experience—with the emphasis on experience.
Much more than a leading expert on European travel, Rick has perfected the art of educating American audiences about engaging in local cultures, or what he describes as becoming a ‘temporary European’ rather than a tourist when traveling in Europe. He views travel as “a way to connect much more intimately and authentically with Europe — and Europeans — for a fraction of what mainstream tourists pay.”
The 57-year-old took his first trip to Europe in 1969, visiting piano factories with his father, a piano importer. But, “…as my Dad was busy doing business with European piano-builders, Mom was my first travel partner,” he says.
Rick reflects on that first trip with his mother. “Back when I was a 14-year-old who had hardly set foot on an airplane, together we were immersed in the wonders of Europe. On that first dip into Europe, we stood in front of our hotel in the Netherlands watching bicyclists gather at a stoplight on the way to the fields — wooden shoes filling their little handlebar baskets. Together we collected souvenir pins to fill my Bavarian felt hat. Venturing into our first subway ride ever, we found our way to a stop called Trocadéro, emerged, turned the corner, and set eyes for the first time on the jaw-dropping Eiffel Tower.” They also traveled with Norwegian relatives to a fjord to find the actual house his mother’s mother left for the “New Land” — in her case, Canada.
“On that first trip, I was attached to my Mom — literally — as back then a mother and her child could share the same passport. And flying home… I have a hunch my Mom had a hunch she had helped plant in me a seed that would sprout into a lifelong passion for travel.”
And sprout it did. By the time he reached 18, Rick says, “I realized I didn't need my parents to travel!” He began traveling each summer on his own, funding trips by teaching piano lessons.
“On a super tight budget I made lots of mistakes and learned the hard way.” His passion for travel, he says, showed itself in a powerful interest in teaching others from his mistakes. “Eventually I was giving talks about budget travel at the University of Washington, throughout Seattle and even using my piano studio recital hall more for travel lectures than for piano concerts.” He finally had to decide: teach piano or teach travel. “I chose travel and the rest is one very well used passport.”
“The rest” includes starting ‘Europe Through the Back Door’ (ETBD), a business that has grown from a one-man operation to a company with a well-traveled staff of 80 full-time employees.
According to the ETBD website: “This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the first edition of Rick's budget travel handbook, Europe Through the Back Door. Compiled from his travel-on-a-shoestring experiences in the late 1970s, Rick sweet-talked his girlfriend into typing it on a rented IBM Selectric, and his college roommate into doing the illustrations with a ball-point pen. Rick drove that precious pile of pages to nearby Snohomish Publishing, and — on his 25th birthday — returned to pick up 2,500 bound copies. And what a long, strange trip it's been for Europe Through the Back Door since then!”