Last Saturday, Feb. 2, Gonzaga University hosted Washington resident and travel expert Rick Steves. He and his 80 employees work out of their office in Edmonds just north of Seattle running tours to Europe throughout the year. My wife, daughter and I are big fans of his television show. Thus we were excited for the opportunity to hear him speak in person
He was very approachable, making arrangements with me so I could interview him after the presentation. I was impressed with his candor given that he is a world traveler with his own TV and radio program. In jeans and a sport coat, Steves spoke extemporaneously about “traveling the world like a local.” He repeatedly stressed the importance of getting out of your comfort zone, suggesting going shopping with the locals at the market or taking your family to the park where residents go rather than the tourist traps, saying “you have to be engaged, try and gain some empathy.”
He also used his platform to speak how traveling will “broaden your horizons.” Steves spoke about his first trip to Europe when he was 14 years old. Seeing other young people with “Eurorail passes and backpacks on obvious adventures” made him want to go back to learn more. He said that when you travel you are learning history everyday. While he was relating these experiences it made me happy realizing our daughter has been to Europe twice already in her young life.
Steves brought up numerous political issues like the United Nations, gun control, wealth re-distribution, ethnocentrism, and the two world wars, pointing out how these issues relate to travel today. “I don’t know what the answers are, these are just some problems I see,” he said Steves walked the line better than Johnny Cash for almost two hours leaving me wondering about his political leanings.
When he brought up the specter of terrorism hampering your individual travels he seemed to gloss over the threat of violence upon an individual American. He said, more than once, that you need to get out of America in order to be safe, adding that “the media is making fools out of those who are too scared to travel.” While it is true that over 10,000 people were killed by guns last year in America, it is only prudent to be aware of the particular threat in whatever country you may be traveling in. When I followed up on this topic in our phone conversation he acknowledged being the victim of petty crime internationally.
“When you travel take a wallet you are prepared to lose and leave a cute note in it for the thief,” he said. I however refuse to except that one has to be the victim of a pickpocket.
Toward the end of our conversation he did win me back over, circling back to the possibility of violence in your travels saying, “I would rather travel to Palestine than Chicago.”
If guided European travel interests you, more information can be found at RickSteves.com. If you are more adventurous single traveler solotrekker4u.com may be more your speed. Or to shop really local the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a 10-day trip to Italy later this year.
Phil Kiver is a Cheney High School and Eastern Washington University graduateand Cheney-area author.