Story last updated at 12/27/2013 - 2:41 pm
If you've ever turned on your local public broadcasting television station during a pledge drive, chances are you've seen an episode of Rick Steve's "Europe Through The Back Door." You've probably figured out that Rick likes to talk about all things European, but what you probably don't know is that he runs an entire travel universe that can make your next trip overseas a little or a lot easier depending upon your style of travel.
From his early days as a young tour guide zooming around Europe with a self-published book and a few paying guests in a mini-van, Rick Steves has grown his travel business in many different directions, earning 40 million plus dollars a year out of his headquarters in Edmonds, Washington. Similar to Arthur Frommer back in the 1950's, Rick Steves' travel philosophy is that plain and simple lodging and authentic local attractions make for a more meaningful travel experience.
The "Europe Through the Back Door" guidebook came first and soon inspired more books, including the great "Mona Winks: A Guide to Museums" which is indispensable when looking at art. A public television series out of Seattle quickly went national and today, DVD sets of his 100 half hour shows make great gifts or study aids for travel enthusiasts. Radio and podcast fans can enjoy "Travel With Rick Steves" on several hundred stations across the country. The introduction of the Rick Steve's backpack in 2001 and other travel items made more millions and have been picked up by several international retailers including Ex Officio, Brookstone, Sierra Traders and Amazon.com.
In addition to selling the full line of Steve's merchandise, the 80 employees at the Edmonds travel center schedule free travel classes each week with easy-to-reserve seats online, sell European railpasses, and offer personalized travel consulting for a fee. The building has a spacious library for travel research as well as a DVD viewing area and staff can also provide lots of information about their very popular guided tours which hosted over 10,000 people on 35 different itineraries in 2013.
My husband and I were fortunate enough to take a "Europe Through the Back Door" tour in 2010. We selected "The Basque Country of Spain and France" because we had been intrigued by that area of Europe after an earlier trip many years before. Making our way by train to San Sebastian from Barcelona, we met with two dozen other travelers and two guides for an unforgettable week. Both in our 40's at the time, we were the newbies in the group. Most of our fellow travelers were older and virtually all had been on numerous Rick Steve's tours. For some, it was the only way they traveled, and after our experience I could see why.
What initially seemed like a relatively high price per day (about $250 per person per day each) soon seemed like a bargain as the tour commenced. Each day was more marvelous than the next with all our lodging, transportation, education and most of our food needs included in the price. We didn't have a care in the world as we met our group each day for exclusive tours, fascinating lectures, and gourmet meals. A big comfy bus with a bathroom made transit a breeze and there was plenty of free time built in to the smart schedule. We also loved our family owned hotel on the waterfront that included a hearty breakfast each day.
The highlight of our trip to Spain was a day long hike on the Camino de Santiago trail to a 12th Century church followed by lunch in a family owned winery hosted by a charming Antonio Banderas look-alike and his delightful mother. You just can't pay for experiences like that as a solo traveler and it was all so well done it literally made us swoon with joy. We loved every single minute and hope to take another tour the Steve's way someday. If tour groups aren't your thing, the company also offers unguided "my way" tours with all the planning and travel built in, but no guides or special tours.
Find out more about the Europe Through the Back door at www.ricksteves.com and as he always says "raise your travel dreams to their upright and locked position" and see the real Europe or just read about it or watch the DVD's on a rainy day.