When Kurt and I planned to spend a month in Europe in the summer of 2010, we knew we needed guidance. In some cities, we knew we would only have a day and half to experience them, so we needed a quick and dirty guide that was not afraid to be blunt about what was good and what we could skip. We found that in Rick Steves’ books, Europe Through the Back Door and the Best of Europe (all guidebooks are updated every year). Rick did not only explicitly offer his opinion on all of the major and off the beaten track attractions, food, and hotels, but he taught us how to travel. We knew what to pack, how to avoid con artists, how to save money, in addition to other tips, tricks, and other timesaving and efficient pieces of advice. Rick Steves became a travel icon for us. When we returned to Europe on a cruise, we bought his Mediterranean Cruise Ports Guidebook and his French, Italian, and German Phrasebook. Whenever we are researching a country, we look to his travel series, which includes television episodes, podcasts, radio shows, and an app, and watch what he has to say about the city or country. We follow him through the territory and familiarize ourselves with the layout. I follow him on Facebook and when he posts about current events and politics and how it relates to traveling, I analyze and reflect on his thoughts and weigh them against what I believe.
When I had the opportunity to attend the National Council for the Social Studies conference in New Orleans in November, I jumped at the chance. As I am perusing the conference website, I suddenly see who is one of the guests of honor: Rick Steves. I’m pretty sure my heart stopped. Rick Steves was going to be in New Orleans at the same conference I was going to attend. Was there a way to meet him?! Suddenly, I knew I had one goal at the conference (outside of learning new and interesting techniques and resources to utilize in my classroom, of course). I had to meet Rick Steves. He helped Kurt and I so much during our time in Europe and taught us so much about globalization and having a personal relationship with the places you travel, that I wanted to be able to spend that thirty second shared space of time with him.
When I arrived on Friday, I immediately flipped through the program to figure out when he would speak. As it turned out, he was giving two talks on Saturday: one about diplomacy and travel in Iran and the other was the keynote address. Plus, his new book Travel as a Political Act, would be for sale and he was doing a signing. My giddiness was palpable.
Kurt was able to come on Saturday as well, because he knew he could not miss Rick either. We arrived early for the 9am Iran talk and managed to sit front and center. Rick gave a great speech on the history and culture of Iran and exclaimed how the people of Iran are very different from the politics of Iran. He was so comfortable with his lecture and at ease, and made the audience feel at ease too with humor and plenty of visuals to encapsulate his words. His room was standing room only, as we were obviously not the only people excited to hear him speak in person and hopefully meet him. When he finished speaking, he waited outside in the hallway and allowed everyone to take pictures and selfies and he signed whatever book you brought.
Kurt and I waited our turn and excitedly told him that his books were our travel bibles and helped make our month long trek through Europe an efficient, exciting, and productive one, not to mention our other three European trips that followed. He thanked us and we took photos with him. I think our joy was evident!
We listened to about half of his keynote address in the big auditorium, but it was lunchtime and we were starving. He spoke on the broader topic of travel as a way to immerse yourself in culture, with which Kurt and I agree completely. After lunch, we met him one more time to have him sign Travel as a Political Act, which I did not have a copy of that morning and which I have not had the chance to read yet, but is a series of essays about travel and what it can teach us. Based on previous experience with Rick Steves, I think it will be something I enjoy.