When I first heard of podcasts, years and years ago, I ignored them as a clunky, old person technology. Though “new”, their ties with public radio made them seem like the floppy disks of new technology.
Of course I was wrong. When podcasts came back on my radar in spring of 2014 I tried one, then two, then I downloaded dozens of different podcasts. From one day to the next I had hours and hours of audio in the palm of my hand. I listened while tanning, while riding my bike, cleaning, walking, commuting. I was hooked, and one of my first addictions was the Rick Steves’ Travel Podcast.
I listen to hours of Rick’s podcasts. Though not necessarily geared toward my demographic, I find the guests interesting, the suggestions informative and the open invitation to dream inviting. The content is soft, inoffensive. They require just the right amount of attention: if my mind suddenly needs to focus on something, say the traffic I face while listening on my bike, then I don’t feel like I’ve missed too much when I regain focus. Yet without a specific interruption, the episodes easily keep my attention for an hour at a time. Rick Steves’ is known as the Europe guru, but his podcasts explore travel throughout the world in general. His guests explain their books or trips or stories and they both respond to listener questions.
The more I listen, the more I appreciate Rick Steves himself. He has an infinite amount of patience. With each asinine caller, he responds with a cheerful, “did you have a trip you wanted to talk about?” He expertly steers each rambling grandma to a topic that we might actually care about, manipulating the conversation in a congenial, public-radio way that insults no one. Conversations aren’t ended abruptly by rude morning hosts, instead it’s like a friendly Midwestern phone call, “Ok thank you for sharing! Mmmmhmmm ok, buh bye now”. Ending as always with his happy catchphrase, “Happy Travels!”
I’m not the only one who appreciates Rick Steves’ congeniality. Reviewers call him “non-preachy” , “unpretentious”, and “like your goofy dad.” I can even imagine saying “daaaAAAAAd!” after one of his corny jokes. Sure, he seems to say, travel is important and enlightening, but don’t forget to have fun!
Steves took his first trip to Europe in 1969 with his father, but his journey really took off when he went back without parents at 18. He started Rick Steves’ Europe in 1976 and used his travel experiences as a teenager to self publish his travel skills book, Europe Through the Back Door in 1980. His one-man operation now has more than 100 full-time employees, and that one book grew in to more than 50 other guidebooks, audio walking tours, regular public television shows and, of course, his Travel with Rick Steves’ radio show. Most noticeably for this blog, his Rick Steves Italy was the bestselling international guidebook sold in the US for several years (if it isn’t still). People love Italy, and they trust Rick Steves.
He’s accomplished all of this still living in his hometown of Edmond, Washington, in an office, he says, that “overlooks his old junior high school.” I tend to think that’s where most of his success comes from. While most travel media push us to quit our jobs and travel the world, hiking each and every mountain, blowing each and every dollar in our savings account, Rick Steves is the calm voice that rises above the crowd. His very life is an example of a life of travel enhanced by strong roots, stability and reason.
He gives Americans confidence to cross the pond with the resources they already have. Even after more than 50 years of travel, and 40 years of having his own travel company, he still doesn’t speak any foreign languages. And yet he spins it to his advantage, writing, “Being a monoglot actually gives me a kind of credibility. If I spoke all the languages and told would-be travelers, “Sure, you can handle it…no problem!”, it would ring a little unrealistic.”
With his mispronounced place names and terrible language skills, Rick Steves opens up travel to everyone, making it clear that traveling isn’t just for the fancy schmancy, but to whoever is motivated and curious. His slow American draw soothes listeners who are afraid of big bad Europe and encourages Americans on the cusp of retirement to rethink the lounge chair; to trade it in for a seat on an airline instead.
And in the meantime, to keep on listening!
What are your favorite travel podcasts or other media? I’m always looking for suggestions!