In his decades of traveling Europe, Rick Steves has been mugged once and pickpocketed twice.
But he wasn’t enraged by thieves.
“I’m grateful for all those experiences because they taught me,” he said during a recent interview.
For Steves, travel is about new experiences. He is known for his best-selling guides, PBS shows and tours, which 25,000 people will take this year alone, about half of them repeat customers. (His travel column also appears every Sunday in The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press.)
On September 7, Steves will be at Chrysler Hall to share his experiences, the first speaker at The Norfolk Forum lineup for its 90th anniversary year.
Jason Davis, president of the forum, said they chose Steves because they like to start the season with a familiar name.
“It should be the world leader in European travel,” he said.
He expects Steve’s conversation to be fun, not too serious, and timely.
“Coming out of COVID,” Davis said, “travel is on a lot of people’s minds.”
Steves said his manuals stopped selling and his tours ended during the pandemic after a successful 2019. But travel demand is back and people who received refunds in 2020 have signed up for this year. There is still a risk of getting COVID-19, but Europe is starting to treat the virus as endemic, and he has seen a return to the energy he loves in Europe.
However, he has noticed some changes in the continent he thinks of as “a playground”.
Historic sites have begun using advance reservations to control crowds. People are used to eating out because of the pandemic. Climate change has made European summers hotter and it shows in countries that do not have universal air conditioning such as the British Isles and Germany. And it’s difficult for an unvaccinated traveler to explore because some countries require proof of vaccination.
Exploration is key for Steves.
When he started his business in the 1970s, he called it Europe Through the Back Door.
People have a better trip when they don’t just check off bucket list items, but try new things, he said.
“How many people do you interact with who aren’t there to make money off of you because you’re a tourist,” he asked. “But how many people want to invite you to the party? And are you willing to join the party?”
However, Steves sees travel as more than just having a fun time. It’s a way to build understanding in a divided political landscape.
“I think the most scared people are generally the people who haven’t traveled,” he said. “Because if you don’t travel, other people can shape your worldview. But if you travel, you can shape your worldview. … I think the world would be a safer place if people traveled. If you had to travel before you could vote, our political landscape would be completely different. The flip side of fear is understanding, and we gain understanding when we travel.”
Steves considers Europe the sister continent of North America and “the basin of world exploration.” It’s where he feels comfortable and it’s the biggest travel market, so he focuses on it for guides and tours, he said.
But his favorite country is actually India because it’s so different from the world he knows: Toilets can be a hole in the ground, people don’t see time as a commodity, and the country doesn’t have a Christian heritage.
“When I go to India, it feels like someone has rearranged all my cultural furniture, and I just love that so much,” he said with joy in his voice.
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“And for me, culture shock is a good thing. It is constructive. It’s the growing pains of an expanded perspective.”
When: 7:30pm September 7th
Where: Chrysler Hall, 215 St. Paul’s Blvd., Norfolk
Tickets: Only full season subscriptions are sold to the first forum speaker; 160 dollars. If available, limited single tickets will be available later.