Story by Greg Lane
Make plans for the perfect European vacation with Rick Steves. Steves, a seasoned traveler from Edmonds, Wash. came to Bellingham High School Nov. 19 to talk about travelling through Europe on a budget. He has made many trips to Europe, and his travel show “Rick Steves’ Europe” and guidebooks can be used as a resource for those interested in travelling.
In his most recent version of “Europe Through the Back Door,” Steves wrote “it occurred to me that by sharing the lessons I’d learned, I could help people enjoy better, smoother trips.”
These guidebooks are written with information from real people, people that will personally support the book and the advice it suggests, said Christina Claassen, the event coordinator for Village Books, which hosted the event.
Claassen has coordinated this annual event for three years now and said each year Steves writes a new edition of “Europe Through the Back Door” based on his yearly trip to Europe, and likewise Village Books hosts Steves at Bellingham High School each year.
During his presentation Steves discussed how tourists can have better experiences and save more money by taking the path less travelled, by visiting the small villages, and digging deeper for destinations and events that are not widely advertised.
Steves said going to Europe should be a different experience than the typical day-to-day American life, and he warned against getting trapped in an Americanized tour.
“Besides being super knowledgeable about travelling,” Claassen said hearing Steves talk is an important opportunity because he has recently been actively speaking about his feelings on cultural exchange and the “politics” of travelling.
In Steves’ new edition of “Europe Through the Back Door” he said that one of the most important parts of preparing for a trip through Europe is to “calibrate” one’s mind for the European perspective.
“The happiest travelers I meet are truly taking a vacation from America—immersing themselves in different cultures and fully experiencing different people, outlooks, and lifestyles,” Steves wrote.
Steves separates American tourists into two primary categories in his guidebook: the ugly American and the thoughtful American.
“The ugly American slogs through a sour Europe, mired in a swamp of complaints, the thoughtful American fully experiences wherever he or she is,” Steves wrote.
Steves also discussed how travelling with an open and broad perspective is vital to having a good experience.
“Even if you’re just interested on the issues of travelling abroad, he has a book called ‘Travel as a Political Act’ which he is quite proud of because it tackles some of those issues,” Claassen said.
Claassen said something that Steves stresses, especially when travelling east to places like Turkey and Palestine, is that tourists need to be respectful of the religions and politics of the people there.
“He said that one of the things he really wishes to impart on people who either go on his tours or read his books is that you need to interact with the people of the place you’re going to if you want to full experience,” Claassen said.
Claassen said Steves came to Village Books on Nov. 19 to educate those who attended the event, and to promote his new book.
“He basically comes and gives his latest tips on travelling,” Claassen said. “He comes every year and packs the house, and he always has something new to share with people.”
This year is different, however, said Claassen. Steves usually comes earlier in the year, around January or February, but Claassen said he decided to come in November before the holiday season.
“It’s great for us because there’s always a big push this time of year with travel guides,” Claassen said. “People are looking for gifts or making plans so they’re more interested.”
Claassen said his annual presentation of “Europe Through the Back Door” is similar to his TV and radio programs and is full of useful information.
His information extends even a bit beyond his book and Europe as well, Claassen said.
“He has a lot to say, he’s been expanding a little bit on his travels,” Claassen said. “He’s been travelling to Palestine, Egypt, and also St. Petersburg in Russia.”
This presentation Steves gave was coordinated by Claassen and Village Books, but she said they partner with the Bellingham High School Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA).
“We donate all ticket proceeds to the PTSA,” Claassen said. “Usually the PTSA uses the money for scholarships and we end up donating anywhere between $2,000 to $3,000.”
Claassen said each year the “Europe Through the Back Door” event generally has an audience of around 350 to 450 people.
Claassen said her job consists of managing all the scheduling, marketing, web information and other details that make this event and others at Village Books possible.
“We host anywhere between 300 and 350 events a year, both in the store and offsite at other venues,” Claassen said.