Rick Steves’ transformational approach to European travel

Regardless of his globetrotting repute, Rick Steves has a gentle spot for cities nearer to house.

The European journey skilled has been talking in Bellingham since he was a scholar; 4 a long time later, he’s gearing up for a Village Books occasion on Thursday, April 4. Ever puzzled how Europe has modified since lockdown, or how one can keep away from vacationer traps within the digital age? Right here’s your probability to search out out.

“It’s like coming house and giving my fundamental discuss how one can journey neatly in Europe,” Steves stated. “And it’s the identical discuss I’ve been giving for many years — however it’s up to date to precisely what’s happening right now.”

Having lived in Edmonds since 1967, Steves is a tried-and-true Washingtonian — although few Individuals know Europe higher than him. His guidebooks have been the No. 1-selling journey collection within the U.S. in 2023, and he’s additionally notable for his TV exhibits and small-group excursions. Steves’ first publication, “Europe Via the Again Door” turned 44 this yr.

Steves teaches a Journey Expertise class on the Edmonds Heart for the Arts. (Photograph courtesy of Rick Steves’ Europe)

However European journey appears very completely different than it did in 1980. For starters, you’d be hard-pressed to stroll as much as a museum with out pre-booking a ticket. The thought of discovering an honest room sans reservations is laughable within the age of Airbnb. Within the ‘80s, people have been extra involved about traveler’s checks and snail mail than Instagram and Apple Pockets.

Modern readers will discover no scarcity of journey suggestions on-line — however the want for curated recommendation stays. Fortunately Steves is well-equipped to assist vacationers navigate the age of inflation and influencers.

“They might have a greater time extra effectively and fewer expensively in the event that they discovered the suitable data, in order that’s my mission,” he stated.

Steves takes this mission critically: His small-group excursions shepherd greater than 30,000 vacationers by Europe every year. Steves and his crew of researchers can even spend a mixed 350 days in Europe in 2024, meticulously updating his guidebooks. Steves compares this expertise to “respiration oxygen” — and whereas the 68-year-old might actually retire, he has no plans to take action any time quickly.

“I’ve acquired too many issues I wish to do as a trainer, as a journey chief,” Steves stated. “I get to collaborate with so many hardworking, gifted colleagues. Europe is an enormous beat, and it’s extra necessary than ever that Individuals journey.”

Rick Steves’ guidebooks have been the best-selling journey collection within the U.S. in 2023. (Photograph courtesy of Rick Steves’ Europe)

The advantages of tradition shock

What began as a means to assist people go to Europe in a budget-friendly method has grown into one thing extra principled. Now, Steves’ core mission lies in encouraging readers to method journey as a transformational expertise, not simply escapism.

“I believe tradition shock is constructive,” Steves stated. “It’s the rising pains of a broadening perspective. It must be curated, however it shouldn’t be prevented — and that’s sort of what tour information does.”

Steves sees the evolution of his work as a pyramid, akin to Maslow’s “hierarchy of wants, however for the traveler.” His first decade corresponded to the underside tier, or the naked requirements: how one can finances, catch a practice, keep wholesome, pack gentle and so forth. The subsequent tier is reserved for tradition, artwork and historical past. However the pyramid’s pinnacle is what Steves refers to as “journey as a political act.”

In Steves’ view, journey is a matter of stewardship. Life is brief and cash is proscribed — so why not spend these sources ethically? Patronizing family-owned companies helps native economies, and selecting trains over automobiles or planes is extra power environment friendly. Furthermore, selecting to interrogate and embrace cultural variations would possibly simply make somebody “extra inclined to construct bridges and fewer inclined to construct partitions.”

This doesn’t imply forgoing consolation: Whereas Steves’ earliest books have been designed for shoestring budgets, he’s broadened his focus to accommodate the occasional splurge. However on the identical time, he encourages all who’re “blessed sufficient to journey” to query their very own ethnocentric tendencies.

“If you journey, you be taught extra about your property by leaving it and it from a distance,” Steves stated. “You go house with what’s the most stunning memento, and that’s a broader perspective.”

Steves holds up a ebook of analysis notes whereas “within the subject” in Europe. (Photograph courtesy of Rick Steves’ Europe)

Giving again for optimistic change

Steves has an extended historical past of supporting organizations working to create optimistic change at house. He’s personally donated to causes starting from local weather justice to starvation aid, arts and training, and even drug coverage reform.

Steves additionally provides again by training: He provides a wealth of free sources, starting from TV exhibits to an audio tour app. His collection “Classroom Europe” database, which consists of greater than 600 instructional movies, is well-suited for vacationers and academics alike.

Lastly, when he’s not train-hopping in Europe, Steves participates in outreach and academic efforts at house. He cited a current journey to St. Petersburg, Florida, the place he hosted two sold-out exhibits with the Florida Orchestra.

“I wished for instance how we really feel so good after we hear ‘America the Lovely’ … after which take that fantastic — if ethnocentric — musical emotion on the highway and notice that, in Norway, individuals don’t care about John Philip Sousa,” Steves stated. “They’re all enthusiastic about Edvard Grieg. In Vienna, it’s the Strauss waltzes, and in Italy, it’s a Verdi opera.”

Steves stated it’s these sorts of multicultural experiences that humble us and “carbonate our existence.” He goals to unfold this gospel in cities throughout the U.S. — though, in comparison with different areas, he stated Bellingham tends to be extra open-minded.

“After all, I really like touring and educating up in Bellingham,” Steves stated. “However what’s actually a problem for me is to go to a neighborhood that has far fewer passports per capita, and is extra fearful.”

Bellinghamsters may be much less hesitant to go away their consolation zones, however that doesn’t imply we don’t have extra to be taught. In any case, “everyone may be impressed to get on the market somewhat extra creatively, and aggressively embrace cultural variations.”

Rick Steves is talking at Bellingham Excessive Faculty at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 4. Tickets are $10 and may be bought upfront on-line. Data: eventbrite.com.

Cocoa Laney is CDN’s way of life editor; attain her at cocoalaney@cascadiadaily.com; 360-922-3090 ext. 128.