On his PBS specials and in his dozens of guidebooks, European travel guru Rick Steves extols going off the beaten track on the continent. His affable, college-professor charm and straight-shooting, often budget-focused advice has launched a zillion trips to Italy, Germany, et al. He’ll be doling out advice for globetrotters of all types — and showing images from his favorite trips — as part of the Washington D.C. Travel & Adventure Show this weekend.
You’re famously a light packer, and even tell travelers to pack old underwear and ditch it en route. Why do you recommend that?
You want to be mobile and enlightened. Americans always pack for the worst scenario. But you can buy anything you forget abroad, and you’ll be fine.
Your books and your company, Europe Through the Back Door, focus on Europe. Why does it always lure you back?
Europe is a big puzzle, and it’s also where my cultural roots are. I’m curious about what shaped me. And I think the challenge is to stop people going to Orlando or Hawaii for the rest of their life. There’s no curiosity there! Europe is a wading pool for the rest of the world.
What spots in Europe are up and coming?
Eastern Europe is the new frontier. It’s just as diverse as Western Europe, but we don’t know its Henry VIIIs and Christopher Columbuses. But it’s so accessible. Prague is the gateway, and then you’ve got frontiers — Bulgaria is beautiful, and the former Yugoslavia. And Turkey — Istanbul is a city that deserves at least a week. It’s tasty, friendly and surprising.
What countries are a bargain for Americans?
I always say not to go somewhere just because it’s a bargain. If you’ve always wanted to go to Norway, which is the most expensive country in Europe, just go there. Just travel smarter.
Some people don’t trek to foreign countries because they fear the language barrier. What do you tell them?
First, I tell them I don’t speak the language either! Americans speak the world’s linguistic common denominator anyhow.
Where do guidebooks belong in the world of TripAdvisor and other peer-review sites?
Sometimes there’s too much information, and you need someone to sort through it all for you. That’s where guidebooks come in. Those websites aren’t guides, they’re crowdsourcing. And [a random tourist] who says, “The chocolate was to die for” at the shop near the cruise ship dock isn’t always reliable.
Is climate change — and all this unpredictable weather — altering how people travel?
I think travelers will experience less reliable weather. And things adjust. All the ski slopes in the Alps now produce man-made snow. And in Andalusia in Southern Spain, they schedule bullfights for later in the evening now since it’s gotten hotter.
You always seem unruffled when traveling on TV. How can I be so zen?
Well, maybe I just don’t show when I’m ruffled on TV! But I think the better prepared you are, the better you can handle when things go wrong. You need to be a cultural chameleon and not be hung up on what’s less than perfect.
Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place NW; Sat., 10:30 a.m. & 3:45 p.m., Sun., 11:30 a.m., $10-$24; 202-249-3000, adventureexpo.com.
(Mt Vernon Sq)