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Rick Steves, beloved for his public television series and bestselling European guidebooks, sat down with me to share his travel style and plug his first-ever food book … Rick Steves Italy for Food Lovers.
Check out the video below or listen to it on Johnny Jet’s travel podcast for our whole conversation. Or read the transcript below for his abbreviated answers. (And please subscribe to my YouTube channel!)
Rick Steves short bio: Rick Steves, America’s most respected authority on European travel, empowers Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. In 1976, he started his business, Rick Steves’ Europe, headquartered in Edmonds, Washington, near Seattle. There he produces a best-selling guidebook series, a popular public television show, a weekly public radio show, a syndicated travel column, and free travel information available through his travel center and ricksteves.com. Rick Steves’ Europe also runs a successful small-group tour program taking 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.
Hometown: Edmonds, Washington
Residence: Edmonds, Washington
College: University of Washington
College major: History and Business
How many countries have you been to?
I have no idea and don’t care.
Earliest travel memory?
My earliest travel memory was going to Europe when I was 14 years old with my mom and dad to visit the piano factories. And in Vienna, the best pianos in the world are made in the Bösendorfer factory in a former monastery. They don’t have an assembly line. They kind of birth pianos. There’s a piano being birthed in the former monastic cells there, and it’s an amazing situation. And on a Sunday, we went with the salesman from Burson N route to a village right on the border of Hungary. And I remember I went to this church, and it was all the people dressed in their formal black outfits. And then after church, everybody walked across the square past the dusty fountain into the wine garden. And it was filled with multi-generational families getting together. And we sat down with a man who had a handlebar mustache and a fancy old pipe. And he looked just like a caricature out of some old European dream and we were smearing lard on rustic bread and drinking white wine. And he told me how he witnessed the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 that started World War One and I was just like, ‘Wow, tell me more.’ But that was a moment when I was just a little kid and I thought, ‘Boy, Europe is a fun place to explore and if you understand a little history, it’s even more fun.’
Favorite American city?
Well, from a tourism point of view, New Orleans, Boston, New York and Washington, DC.
Favorite international city?
London, Paris, Rome and Istanbul.
Friendliest people in the world?
Well, that’s for me, Norway, because I’ve got relatives in Norway. I love that Ireland is super-friendly. Part of that is because we speak the language so we can enjoy the hospitality. I’m in a Morocco frame of mind because I was just there a couple of days ago, constantly impressed by how friendly the people were there. I find people are friendly all over the world, they just have a different life story. I mean, it’s hard for people in war-torn and difficult corners to be friendly sometimes because they have to be on guard. It’s hard for people in big cities to be friendly because life is a little more aggressive. So you know you’re doing better to go away from the tourists and away from the big cities if you want to find that warmth and that easy going, you know, hospitality.
Country with the meanest immigration officers?
I have no desire to go to … ?
Favorite U.S. airport?
Don’t have one.
Favorite international airport?
Don’t have one.
Favorite aircraft type?
I don’t even know what kind of plane I’m flying on. Yeah, I was on a real nice plane the other day, but they’re all nice. I mean, I don’t care. I’m flying 600 miles an hour at 30,000 feet for a good price. I’m going to go from Istanbul to Seattle nonstop in 12 hours. How could you complain about the food or the legroom?
Aisle or Window?
Over the years, I do develop my favorite hotels in each city. And when I’m getting lazy, I don’t go to a new hotel, I go to my favorite hotel. So when I’m in Madrid, I go to Hotel Europa. When I’m in Sevilla, I go to Hotel Amadeus. When I’m in Rome, I go to Albergo Santa Chiara. For me, the key is to find a hotel that’s kind of convivial, family run and beautifully located. The location is critical.
Do you ever go on vacation and if so, where do you go?
Up until COVID, I never really went on vacations because I just love my work so much. But since COVID, I’ve been going on vacation every year with my girlfriend and I enjoy long distance, venerable long distance hiking in Europe. We spent eight days hiking around Mount Blanc. I took a tour for that, meaning, I hired a company to book the hotels that came with nice dinners and provide a Sherpa service that carried our bags from one hotel to the next. And every day, we would hike for about six to eight hours. We’d go up 3,000 feet, have a picnic on the ridge and hike down 3,000 feet.
Last year, we did a hike where we didn’t have a tour, but I just set it up on my own in my favorite part of Switzerland, the Berner Oberland.
I also did a luxury gourmet barge tour in Burgundy last year, which is the most decadent thing I’ve ever done.
And then my trip to Morocco just this last couple of weeks was a vacation because I don’t have a guidebook on Morocco and I’m not doing a TV show in Morocco. We don’t have tourists in Morocco. So I was just able to relax and have a good time.
How many times have you been pickpocketed?
Three. Paris. Brixton (a bad neighborhood in London) and Lisbon. I like to venture into the edgy areas when I’m doing my guidebook research just to see what’s comfortable and what’s safe for my readers because I I kind of like the dodgy neighborhoods. If you’re sloppy, you can get pickpocketed or purse snatched.
I would just remind our listeners that thieves target American tourists not because they’re mean or they don’t like us. We’re just common-sense victims because we’ve got all the good stuff in our purses and wallets. So you know you’re going to get targeted.
Do you carry your passport with you when you’re doing tours?
I keep it in my hotel room. The safest place for me for my valuables is in the hotel room, but I’ve never used a safe in a hotel room.
Best travel tip?
Equip yourself with good information and expect yourself to travel smart and you can. And to realize that your time is a precious resource like your money. So don’t just do things that are cheap if it costs you time needlessly.
5 things I bring onto an airplane?
Everything I bring with me on a trip because I never checked my bag. I just live out of a 9 by 22 by 14 inch carry-on (the airplane size suitcase). What do I have in my ready access bag that I don’t put upstairs that I keep with me on the plane? Noise reduction headphones, a fully charged laptop and Ambien so I can get some sleep.
How can people find you?