The Religon of Rick Steves . . . or, Why I don’t like Rick Steves

November 13, 2008

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So I had this long conversation with a nice lady about two month ago and was told that I should put my thoughts down on paper.  Now I am finally getting to it.

I’m not quite sure how we got to this topic but I was the one who injected the comment “Yeah, that’s the same reason I don’t like Rick Steves.”  Keep in mind I’m talking to a woman I had never met, at a gallery opening featuring the work of Jean-Pierre Hebert and Julien Audebert, which has nothing to do with Rick Steves or travel.  But that quick and seemingly out of place statement lead me to explaining myself for about a half an hour.

So, why don’t I like Rick Steves?  My number one reason is that he writes books on experiencing what others have missed out on when they have gone on a European trip.  He features things like restaurants, parks and festivals that he happened to stumble upon when abroad and he points out how wonderful those experiences were.  That’s fine, any travel guide is going to do that, otherwise their books wouldn’t sell.  My problem is that his writing is about these quaint locations devoid of tourists yet because he has written about them they become tourist destinations.

When traveling abroad everyone wants to have their own experience but to me Rick Steves takes that away.  You show up in Bath, England and find that all the places you have been excited about going to (because you have been reading Rick’s book the whole plain ride over) are filled with people who are looking at the same detailed feature on a fountain that you were going to look at.

I have to pause here and say that I really have nothing against Rick, I have listened to his NPR program and he sounds like a good guy.  Maybe I should change my statement to say that I don’t like travel guide books.  The reason that Rick Steves gets to me more than other writers is that when you are in Europe it seems like four out of five tourist families is reading one of his books, and that is because they are such good reads and do send you to some fantastic locations.

I heard recently that it is very common for American tourists to want to have a one of a kind experience and that this need comes from our history of rediscovering the old world.  If we find out that others have had the same experience as us it seems to cheapen our own experience.  That’s where this is all leading.  As a child I went on three wonderful European trips with my family that I wouldn’t trade for the world.  While we were on those trips my parents read Rick Steves.  Rick successfully predicted the presence of gypsies in two different locations we went, which prevented us from being robbed.  But I wonder what would have been in store if we had been robbed and been stuck in one location for a long time.  I guess I’m just lamenting spontaneity.  I’m sad that we didn’t find that one restaurant, or that park with an accordion player.  We went ‘by the book’.

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