Rick Steves hosts the popular public television series, “Rick Steves’ Europe,” and is the author of 24 European travel books. In addition to his guidebooks, Steves writes columns for various newspapers and magazines, and he appears frequently on television and radio talk shows and online travel chats as a leading authority on independent European travel.
How did you get started traveling?
At age 14, my father dragged me to Germany to see the piano factories (he imported fine pianos). I didn’t want to go. But when I got there (different candy, one-armed bandits in hotel lobbies, women with hairy armpits), I realized the continent could be my playground…and it was lots of fun.
How did you get started writing?
I wrote in my journal long before I “became a writer.” Then, after years of giving travel lectures in and around Seattle, I simply wrote out my talks. After self-publishing the first edition of Europe Through the Back Door in 1980, I got serious about writing.
What do you consider your first “break” as a travel writer?
Offering a “budget travel class” at the local “free college” and finding that 200 people my parents’ age signed up. It occurred to me that there’s a need for the information I had to offer. Later the Seattle Post-Intelligencer travel editor serialized my collection of articles featuring my favorite places (which I called Back Doors).
As a traveler and fact/story-gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
While I am comfortable and confident recommending and reviewing sights and hotels, sorting through restaurants is more difficult. You could eat at 100 good places in Paris this year and not know how they’ll be next year or if you missed any that should definitely be included. But guidebook readers want hard opinions on eateries.
What is your biggest challenge in the writing process?
Taking time in Europe to collect all the details and descriptions before moving on to the next site or adventure. It’s impossible to get all the facts right when you’re somewhere else.
What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint?
To keep the business profitable and keep my staff of 60 happily employed while maintaining my idealism. Providing information and services to my traveling clientele at a rate that causes them to ask “how do you make any money?” is a great and ongoing challenge.
Have you ever done other, non-travel-related work to make ends meet?
I paid for my first six trips on a piano teacher’s income.
What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?
The Art and Adventure of Traveling Cheaply by Rick Berg and Turn Right at the Fountain were my two favorite books back in the early ’70s.
What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
Travel a lot. Maintain a focus. Take notes carefully in the field. Share your information generously — almost as a publicity stunt. If it’s any good, people with an ongoing need or appetite for good travel information will come back for more. Gradually you can build up an income.
What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?
Developing a network of good friends in the most fascinating corners of Europe. Seeing how, as a teacher, I can help people enjoy the magic/challenge/experience of travel as I have.