March 10, 2013

Rick Steves at the LA Times Travel Show

Korea is so cute.
A suite on Singapore airlines. A girl can dream!
On February 23 we went to the LA Times Travel Show at the Convention Center in downtown Los Angeles. It's basically a place for travel destinations and companies to market themselves, and while interesting in some respects, the panels and celebrity speakers are the real draw. 

One of the keynote speakers was European travel guru Rick Steves! I adore Rick Steves. I appreciate his good-natured, down-to-earth attitude about travel and think he's a great American ambassador abroad. We've relied on his expertise while traveling many times, most crucially during our fantastical trip through Norway. His books are the most current, practical, authentic guides out there. Naturally I was excited to hear him speak. 

We've traveled in Europe but not very much. I once worked with a cool lady in her 70's who traveled all the time. She could have been my grandmother and had just gotten back from trekking in Tibet. She said "I can go to Europe when I'm in a wheelchair." This perspective stuck with me. Now, I've never been to London but I have been to Burma

Rick Steves, Sexy Europe Guru.

Rick spoke for two hours to a rapt audience of hundreds. First off, I was surprised by how tall and - dare I say it -  sexy he is. He's commanding. Yeah, he may seem "aw shucks" on his PBS shows but don't forget he's an outrageously well-traveled, fascinating business man at the helm of a huge empire. 

Europe through the Back Door
Rick Steves has been traveling in Europe for at least four months every year for over thirty years. He aims to have as authentic an experience as possible. He knows what he is talking about. 

Rick believes the beauty of traveling is connecting with people and taking advantage of organic moments to be a  "local." For example, if you are driving in a random place and notice that there is a cheese festival happening, by all means STOP THE CAR. Who cares that it's not a village on your itinerary? Celebrate cheese. Of course you will see the Eiffell Tower in Paris- but the best parts of Europe are unpromoted. Rick remains dedicated to discovering "Back Doors." 

A classic Rick Steves Back Door is Cinque Terre in north western Italy. It's a sweet area of five little villages connected by trails, trains and boats. I was in one of the villages, Vernazza, in 1996 and although I am sure it has changed it is still highly recommended by Rick.  

Overlooking Vernazza in Cinque Terra, Italy in 1996
Vernazza, Cinque Terra, Italy in 1996

"If art's not fun then you don't know enough about it"
Too true! Rick, you are so wise! A favorite part of trip planning for me is reading all about the place we are going- non-fiction, novels, the news, so that I gain context. I made it through the epic Path Beneath the Seas about the building of the Panama Canal and the Last Days of the Incas and was much better informed for it. 

It's really not that hard to appreciate art, especially in Europe. Art tells stories of the people and places you are visiting, their religion, their history, their daily life. Start with Rick Steves' Europe 101: History and Art for the Traveler.

"Try Turkey"
Rick is a big fan of Turkey. Me too. Rick argues that once you've "done" Europe, try visiting Turkey. Here Rick became political (one of several interesting moments in the talk where his liberalism was obvious and passionate - have I mentioned I adore him?) and he said how important he thinks it is that Americans understand that most Muslim people just want to raise their kids. Visiting a proudly secular country which happens to be predominately, moderately, Islamic is an educational experience for most Americans. People just want to raise their kids. 

Our trip to Turkey was one of our best ever- like Europe, it's easy to travel in and most people speak English. But it has a vibrant eastern flair. 


Ballooning in Cappadocia
Fresh pomegranate juice in Istanbul

"Fly Home Heavy"
Rick suggests that instead of buying souvenirs at the start of your trip or along the way, try to wait until the final day so that you aren't lugging stuff around. Rick is brimming with good advice like this. There were so many excellent travel tips for practical travel during his talk. Like packing lightly, which is such a critical component to a relaxing trip. If you are on planes, trains and automobiles, you really need to have a small suitcase that's easy to carry. We have had our 22" international-size carryon bags for years. Hotels often have laundry machines or you can send it out, or spending a couple of hours in a local laundromat is a fun way to hang with locals. 

Rick's website is full of great advice of all kinds. There are a ton of fantastic features, such as free, downloadable audio tours of Europe's most visited cities and sights and the Graffitti Wall community to share tips and stories. 

Rick Steves is the jam.

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