Rick Steves Travel Blog: Blog Gone Europe
I'm sharing my travel experiences, candid opinions and what's on my mind. If you think it's inappropriate for a travel writer to stir up discussion on his blog with political observations and insights gained from traveling abroad, you may not want to read any further. — Rick
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This year the Society of American Travel Writers recognized my public radio show Travel with Rick Steves with a prestigious Lowell Thomas Award Gold Medal. While perhaps not as well-known as my guidebooks and television show, my weekly radio show is one of my favorite endeavors. Rather than being the guide, I get to be the curious traveler–I act as a conduit between experts on travel/cultural topics and my traveling listeners. We’re in our eighth year and air on over 200 stations, so I’m thrilled this show and its talented production crew are getting the recognition they deserve. Here’s a huge thanks to the show’s producer–Tim Tattan–and his production assistants–Sarah McCormic and Isaac Kaplan-Woolner. This show is great because of their hard work and expertise.
In particular, the award committee recognized our 2012 Mother’s Day episode that followed a mom as she relocated her family to a village in Croatia, an American raising her first child in Paris, and a tribute to my own mother after her death in 2011. You can listen to it below.
Our weekly program is available free to any public radio station, so if your station isn’t airing it, ask them why. You can also go to my radio show to browse our archive and subscribe to our podcast. All my interviews are a simple click away.
Congrats again to Tim Tattan and his staff for crafting a beautiful program.
I didn’t think my goofy old photos would stimulate such a great bunch of comments. I’ve had so much fun reading your questions and thoughts. Many people suggested I write an autobiography and asked for more details on these formative “Europe Through the Gutter” days. I was tempted to reply to each comment directly, but it occurred to me that I have just the book to answer all of your questions: “Rick Steves’ Postcards from Europe.” For each photo I uploaded in this series there is a fun backstory–and it’s all in here. It’s probably my worst selling book. But I must say, those who read it seem to really enjoy it. It’s my best shot at telling the story of how I became a travel writer, how we built our tour business, how we make our TV show, and my favorite behind-the-scenes experiences, encounters, and memories–all lashed into a single fantasy trip through my favorite European itinerary.
To cap off this little nostalgic blog detour, we’ll sell this book for about half price–$10 for the next 24 hours only. Then, I’ll rejoin the 21st century and take you along as I venture to the Holy Land with my TV crew to film episodes on Israel and Palestine.
So, if you want to read all about my vagabond past, take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime chance to buy my worst selling book for half price. You’ll enjoy the most intimate, behind-the-scenes collection of stories this traveler can share.
You and your friends can buy up to five books for this price through this link only (not via my website) until 10 a.m. PDT, Thursday, October 24th or while supplies last. Regular shipping fees apply.
By the way, there are a lot of you, so if the shopping cart is slow, just check back.
This year we took over 16,000 North Americans through Europe on more than 600 tours. But a few years ago, 100 travelers in one year was a goal hard to imagine. Here are a few photos from those days:
It was so much fun reading your comments on my “Hipster” slideshow, that I dug up a few more vintage photos to share over the coming days. I hope they bring back memories of your vagabonding and backpacking days of travel like they did for me. I also hope they inspire you to start planning your next vagabonding adventure. As the saying goes, today is the good old times of tomorrow.
Last month, the New York Times ran an article about hipster fashion trends that claimed sarcastically that “the Rick Steves look is next.” While I’m honored to be mentioned in any article discussing pop culture, I must respectfully disagree with the author. The Rick Steves look isn’t the NEXT hipster fashion trend–it is, in fact, the CURRENT fashion trend. While I generally lay low when it comes to making fashion statements, I believe these photos prove that I was the Original Hipster. Don’t you agree?
Children of the Sixties and Seventies, I’m sure you have similar photos of yourselves–whether hitchhiking through Europe or just hang out at home. Dig them up, and post them on my page. Let’s show the younger generation that they should have been listened to their parents’ fashion advice all along.
As a little way to clean my palate between trips, I enjoyed a short lecture tour around the USA this last week–giving talks in the Midwest (Sioux Falls, Fargo, and Des Moines), New York (Albany and Rochester), and Alabama (Auburn). At these locations I found myself talking to (and with) librarians at their regional convention; TV and radio station staff and their supporters; venerable women’s club members at their lecture series; and professors, administrators, and foreign-study program staff at universities. I met people both proud of their cities and curious about the world.
While I was hired to share what I’ve learned through my travels, I enjoyed learning from the people who hired me to teach. In Alabama I explained how the anti-USA graffiti travelers encounter is not really anti-USA or anti-USA ideals, rather, it’s anti-aggressive US trade policies. For instance, in struggling countries throughout the developing world, hardline First World trade tariffs allow poor countries to export raw materials but often not finished goods. In other words, if you grow peanuts, you can sell raw peanuts but not peanut butter. Discussing this over dinner, my host told me back when America was living under British rule, farmers in the South dealt with the same kind of structural poverty. They could produce cotton but not refine it into textiles. Being forced to sell the raw material to England so the English could make the serious money stoked local anger–and likely anti-English graffiti.
Crossing from Georgia into Alabama, I noticed huge fireworks emporia along the freeways. I said that where I live, fireworks are only sold in the weeks leading up to the 4th of July. My host explained that in Alabama fireworks are on sale all year long. “Rednecks like to blow things up all the time. Why wait for the 4th of July?” he said. The fireworks draw lots of people from neighboring states too.
Alabamians have a particular kind of pride. When I asked about the freeway exit to “Phenix City,” they said that’s just how they spell “Phoenix.” They added, the next time I come, I must spend some time on the Gulf Coast, which they called “the Redneck Riviera.” And driving back into Georgia they had a good laugh at how, at the border, the sign still reads, “Welcome to Georgia, Home of the 1996 Olympics.”
I enjoyed a wonderful day at Auburn University, and before my lecture I was given a “golf-cart tour” of the campus by two wonderful young people whose responsibility is to show prospective students around. Here’s a little video clip which splices in a particular Alabama love of peanuts.
If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.
I normally fly home from Europe in time for Hempfest, when over 100,000 people cap the summer by gathering in a Seattle park to call for the civil liberty to smoke marijuana in America. Because my home state passed I-502 (a referendum legalizing the adult recreational use of marijuana), the 22nd Annual Hempfest was the first one where smoking pot was legal at this “protestival.” I really wanted to be there, but I wanted to be in Russia and Iceland more, so I missed it.
But I did get home in time for High Times’ Cannabis Cup, which was celebrated in Seattle this year. And I was honored with their Lifetime Achievement Award for my work in helping to end the US government’s determined war on marijuana. (Yes, it’s early for a lifetime achievement award but, like the “most interesting man in the world” honors, I hope to earn two.)
Imagine being on stage in a smoke-filled room looking out over a thousand stoners and trying to get some serious ideas into the heads of these heads. I thought you might enjoy my three-minute attempt to do just that with this little video clip.
It’s been a good year for drug policy reform in the USA. Last November, Colorado also legalized the adult recreational use of marijuana. Last month the Obama administration gave us the go-ahead to make it a taxed and regulated market like alcohol. And the scare-mongering claims against I-502 (mostly by people who profit from the black market and fear legalizing pot will hurt their bottom line) have proven wrong. Here’s my take on a new kind of travel that’s no longer illegal in two states–and I’d bet is coming soon to what I now call “the Lower 48.”
If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.
I’m in a great mood. I’m home from a great season of travels; the ambassador of the European Union to the USA just flew to Seattle to give me the EU’s Outstanding Friend of Europe Award; next week I fly to the Holy Land; and our tours and guidebooks are selling–literally–better than ever. To celebrate, I met with Russ, my inventory man, and we’ve got a Blog Blowout deal I hope you’ll find hard to refuse.
For $10 we’ll send you our latest two seasons of Rick Steves’ Europe–21 episodes on four disks. That’s a $50 value. Included are 10 shows on the big five cities (London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence), three shows on Spain (Si!), three shows on Scandinavia (Ja!), and three shows on the former Yugoslavia (Da!).
This is your chance to clean up, so spread the word! You and your friends can buy up to five DVD combo-packs for this price through this link only (not via my website) until 10 a.m. PDT, Friday, October 11th. Regular shipping fees apply.
Perhaps you’ve noticed how regularly I’ve been posting to my Facebook page. Part of the reason is this year I’ve had the luxury of my own portable Wi-Fi hotspot device. (Telecom Square gave me one to use for my travels this season, and I’m flying to Israel with one next week.) Here’s my take on the experience:
You can now travel with a tiny hotspot that frees you from messing with the gobbledygook of getting online while on the road. Telecom Square rents a handy little unit about the size of four fingers called a Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot that works virtually everywhere in Europe (and most of the rest of the world too). While it’s not cheap, the convenience, reliability, and luxury of being online anywhere and anytime in my travels makes it a great value for a traveler like me.
There are a few different rental options. You can get a single-country plan with unlimited data for about $13 a day or an all-Europe plan (with 1 GB per month in 40 countries) for about $10 a day. Or you can spring for the “World Wide Wi-Fi” plan which gives you unlimited access almost anywhere (which is what I had) for about $25 a day. That’s about what many hotels and airports (that still charge for Wi-Fi) cost.
The downside: When you rent your own hotspot device, you need to pay every day you have it, whether you use it or not. The upside: You have it right with you and are nearly always able to connect with loved ones or business associates back home (assuming you’re not in some Wi-Fi hole where nothing can connect). A further advantage: It allows you (and anyone with you) to connect up to five devices at the same time for no extra cost. I experimented this year with this portable hotspot on our tour buses (while I was on our Scotland tour). We’re considering using something like this in the future as a standard feature on our buses so that up to five tour members at a time can be online during long rides.
All over Europe, it’s routine to see travelers scavenging free or cheap Internet service–in hotel lobbies, sitting on the floor at airports outside the VIP lounge door, and wasting valuable shore time while on cruises. I personally am tired of putting on my clothes at midnight to ride the elevator down to the hotel lobby to get online.
Now, with the luxury of my own private mobile hotspot, I can get online without fiddling with login credentials, petty payments here and there, and worrying about time limits. And, since a single hotspot allows access for up to five devices, my travel partner and I can have all our gear–smartphones, laptops, and tablets–online as we like and need. I’ve been online–communicating, working, or being entertained–on taxis, buses, trains, and cruise ships. I’ve used it in airports and even in cafés overlooking remote beaches. I also appreciate the device even in hotels where online access is free because my signal is often stronger and faster.
These devices are easy to use and hold their charge a long time. You only need to sign in once because your computer will remember the device every time. Getting online is as simple as turning the power on. To learn more, visit mobilewifi.telecomsquare.us.
Join me today (Oct. 7th) from 7 to 9 p.m. Pacific Time for a live webcast on my Facebook page as I receive the first ever Outstanding Friend of Europe Award from the European Union’s ambassador to the United States. View it by either clicking on the “Rick Steves LIVE!” icon on my Facebook page or by going here.
Following the award presentation, I’ll speak on “Travel as a Political Act” with a special focus on the European Union’s role in making the continent more accessible to travelers. During this talk I will return to my backpacker beginnings, and share how so much travel has shaped my world view. After showing how I graduated from “Europe Through the Gutter” to “Europe Through the Back Door,” I’ll discuss how thoughtful travel can broaden every person’s perspectives, challenge outdated assumptions, and create a force for peace in the world.
If you live in the Seattle area, free tickets to attend this event in person are still available. Learn more and register here.