An Ode to Rick Steves

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…..

Okay, so I don’t really love Rick Steves. I’ve only met him once, many years ago, in our Ashland, Oregon store, and it’s not possible to love someone you’ve barely (or never) met….except perhaps for Heidi Klum or Johnny Depp, but I digress. I do like Rick Steves a whole lot, and I’ll tell you why. I find the information in his guidebooks absolutely unbeatable. Our family has used Rick Steves’ guides in many countries, including Turkey, Italy, France, Great Britain, Switzerland, and just last month, Spain. When our daughter Sarah was younger, I would pull out our Rick Steves’ guidebook to read about a site or museum we were visiting and she would groan, “not Rick Steves AGAIN”, knowing I was about to read aloud some historical information I was sure she would find scintillating.

While Sarah may not find the information in Rick’s guidebooks scintillating, I do. By the time a trip is over, I have read most every page, and benefitted from many of his recommendations. We’ve hiked his suggested routes in the Swiss Alps, eaten at his favorite ristorantes in Rome, walked his tour of the Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris, and learned the historical significance of paintings in the National Gallery in London. His attention to detail, particularly in museums, is outstanding. For example, in Paris’ Orsay museum, Steves offers step-by-step instructions: “turn left onto the mezzanine overlooking the main gallery. Enter the first room on the left. Working clockwise, you’ll see…”

However, it’s not just the restaurant and site recommendations that I find useful in Steves’ guidebooks. In fact, those recommendations come in second to my favorite reason to use his guides­—the fact that they provide invaluable “insider” cost and time saving techniques for naviating Europe. The Rick Steves’ Paris guidebook convinced us to purchase the Paris Museum Pass, a pass that gave us discounted admittance to several popular museums, thus saving us both money and time as the pass also allowed us to avoid the inevitably long, summer-season ticket lines at each one. In London, Steves suggested we buy an Oyster card—a discounted Tube and bus pass—again saving us time and money. It was in Barcelona last month, however, that Rick went from simply being quite handy and informative to being a genius.

Bob and I were visiting the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s most famous work, and Barcelona’s most visited site, on a weekday in October. We knew this church gets about three million visitors a year, but figured it would not be overcrowded in October. We were wrong. Upon arrival, we realized the line to buy tickets and get in was at least an hour and a half long. What did we do? Why we consulted our Rick Steves’ Barcelona guide of course. There we learned that one can purchase tickets online and entirely avoid the aforementioned interminable ticket line. You don’t even need to print them out! So, we walked two minutes to an internet café just around the corner, and with our iPhone, made our purchase. Then we walked back around the corner to a separate entrance, showed the credit card we had just used to purchase the tickets, and WALKED RIGHT IN. The whole process took about five minutes. It was outstanding. And the most amazing thing of all? We had four other guidebooks with us (Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Michelin and Eyewitness), and not one of them mentioned this ticket buying option. Not one. The tickets did cost one extra euro online, but that was a small price to pay to save nearly two hours in line.

Bob and I are not the kind of travelers who take tours. We’re definitely more of the do-it-yourself variety. If we did however, Steves’ tours would be the first I would consider. Friends who have taken them have nothing but praise for the way they are run, the people they meet and the sites they visit.

I also like to think Rick and I have a similar way of looking at travel. His “back door” philosophy says that adventures abroad can make you a happier American as well as a citizen of the world. “Our Earth is home to six and a half billion equally important people. It’s humbling to travel and find that people don’t envy Americans…..they like us, but, with all due respect, they wouldn’t trade passports,” Steves says. “Rather than fear the diversity on this planet, travelers celebrate it.” Well said Rick.