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Steves in 2013
|Born||May 10, 1955|
Barstow, California, U.S.
|Residence||Edmonds, Washington, U.S.|
|Alma mater||University of Washington|
|Known for||Travel guides|
|Spouse(s)||Anne Steves (div. 2010)|
Rick Steves (born May 10, 1955) is an American travel writer, author, activist and television personality. His travel philosophy encourages people to explore less-touristed areas of destinations and to become immersed in the local people’s way of life. Since 2000, he has hosted Rick Steves' Europe, a travel series on public television. Steves also has a public radio travel show called Travel with Rick Steves (2005−present) and has authored numerous travel guides, the first of which was the popular Europe Through the Back Door. In 2006, he became a syndicated newspaper columnist, and in 2010, his company released a mobile phone application called “Rick Steves’ Audio Europe” containing self-guided walking tours and geographical information.
Early life and career
Rick Steves was born to parents Richard John Steves, a high school band director and piano technician, and June Erna Steves (née Fremmerlid). He has two sisters, Jan and Linda. The family moved to Edmonds, Washington in 1967.
When Steves was fourteen, he and his parents took a trip to Europe to see the factories that manufactured pianos, as they owned a piano store named “Steves Sound of Music” to which the pianos were imported and tuned. He documented what he saw and experienced on the backs of postcards which he numbered sequentially. He still has all of those cards stored in a wooden box. The family also visited relatives in Norway during the Apollo 11 moon landing, and in a park in Oslo, Steves came to a realization that would influence him throughout his life: "This planet must be home to billions of equally lovable children of God." When he turned eighteen, he again visited Europe, but without his parents. He kept journals of all of those experiences, as well.
In his twenties, Steves started teaching travel classes through The Experimental College, a student-run program of non-credit classes at his alma mater, the University of Washington, and working as a tour guide in the summer. At the time, he also worked as a piano teacher. In 1979, based on his travel classes, he wrote the first edition of Europe Through the Back Door (ETBD), a general guide on how to travel in Europe. Steves self-published the first edition of his travel skills book ETBD in 1980. The book contained a page that said "Anyone caught reprinting any material herein for any purpose whatsoever will be thanked profusely." Unlike most guidebook entrepreneurs, he opened a storefront business. Initially, this was both a travel center and a piano teaching studio. He held travel classes and slide show presentations, did travel consulting, organized a few group tours per year, and updated his books. He did not provide ticket booking or other standard travel agency services. He incorporated his business as "Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door." The store was in Steves' hometown of Edmonds, north of Seattle. The company's headquarters is still in Edmonds. Steves' first television show, Travels in Europe with Rick Steves, debuted on public television in April 1991 and ended production in 1998. His second show, Rick Steves' Europe, debuted in September 2000, and has aired episodes through 2019, though because he does not produce a season every year, this accounts for ten seasons.
Steves advocates independent travel. His books and media deal with travel mainly in Europe and are directed at an American audience. As host, writer, and producer of the popular and long-running American Public Television series Rick Steves' Europe, and through his travel books, he encourages Americans to become what he calls "temporary locals." He encourages his readers and viewers to visit not just major cities but also cozy villages away from popular tourist routes. Steves's television series, guidebooks, radio shows, mobile applications, and his company's European escorted bus tours attract fans known as "Rickniks".
Steves's relationship with public television began in 1991 with his first series, Travels in Europe with Rick Steves. Since then he has become one of public television's top pledge drive hosts, raising millions of dollars annually for stations across the U.S. He writes and co-produces his television programs through his own production company, Back Door Productions.
Since self-publishing his first book in 1980, Steves has written country guidebooks, city and regional guides, phrase books, and co-authored Europe 101: History and Art for Travelers. His guidebook to Italy is the bestselling international guidebook in the U.S. In 1999, he started writing in a new genre of travel writing with his anecdotal Postcards from Europe, recounting his favorite moments from his many years of travel. Steves's books are published by Avalon Travel Publishing, a member of the Perseus Books Group. In 2009, Steves published the book Travel as a Political Act, a guide on traveling more thoughtfully.
In addition to his guidebooks and television shows, Steves has expanded into radio, newspaper and mobile applications. In 2005, Steves launched a weekly public radio program, Travel with Rick Steves. Focusing on world travel, although with a heavy emphasis on Europe and North America, each program has a guest travel expert for interviews, followed by call-ins with questions and comments. In 2006, Steves became a syndicated newspaper columnist with his Tribune Content Agency column. In 2010, he launched the mobile application Rick Steves' Audio Europe, a library of audio content (including self-guided walking tours) organized into geographic-specific playlists for the iPhone and Android.
Political and civic advocacy
Steves is a vocal proponent of legalizing cannabis and an active supporter of efforts to reform cannabis policy in the U.S. According to Steves: "Like most of Europe, I believe marijuana is a soft drug, like alcohol and tobacco. Like alcohol and tobacco, there is no reason why it shouldn't be taxed and regulated. Crime should only enter the equation if it is abused to the point where innocent people are harmed."
Steves serves on the Advisory Board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He was also a major supporter of Initiative 502 to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis in the state of Washington. Steves hosted an ACLU-sponsored educational program called Marijuana: It's Time for a Conversation, which was nominated for an Emmy.
Steves also supports solutions to homelessness. In 2005, he constructed a 24-unit apartment complex in Lynnwood, Washington, called Trinity Place and administrated by the local YWCA, to provide transitional housing for homeless mothers and their children. In 2017, Steves donated that $4 million apartment complex for homeless women and kids to the YWCA. Members of the Edmonds Noontime Rotary Club help maintain the buildings and grounds, providing everything from furniture to flowers. The club also raised $30,000 to build a play structure for the children there.
As a lifelong traveler, Steves avows that terrorism is something Americans should get used to, a natural outgrowth of the United States' position in the global community and how it is militarily advanced. In an interview with the Seattle Times, Steves said:
"I think we're 300 million people and if we lose a few hundred people a year to terrorists, that doesn't change who we are and it shouldn't change the fabric of our society. Frankly I think we should get used to losing—as long as we're taking the stance in the world of being the military superpower, you're going to have people nipping at you. And if it's hundreds or thousands—we lose 15,000 people a year to have the right to bear arms and most people think that's a good deal, year after year. We spend 15,000 people for the right to bear arms. What do we spend to be as aggressive and heavy weight on this planet? We're always going to have terrorism."
When he traveled to Iran, he noted the similarity of Iranians and Americans each giving up freedoms to make themselves less fearful:
"They traded away their freedom for a theocracy, out of fear. It's just like Americans. We don't want to torture people, we want to have civil liberties, we don't want our government reading our mail. But when we have fear, we let fear trump our commitment to our civil liberties and decency. We allow torture, we allow the government to read our mail. It's not because we're bad, it's because sometimes fear is more important than our core values. And Iran is afraid. They've given up democracy because they know a theocracy will stand strong against encroaching Western values."
In Travel as a Political Act, Steves wrote that displaying the American flag on car antennas "creates a fearful, schizophrenic dynamic that may stoke today's terrorism and tomorrow's international conflicts."
In 2017, Steves posted on his blog, stating that he would donate $1 for every $1 spent on his website on Inauguration Day to the ACLU. According to Steves, the website had higher traffic than usual and that customers purchased $42,962 in merchandise. As a response, Steves wrote a check for $50,000 to the ACLU and stated: "Those of us with passports and who are wealthy enough to travel a lot — especially white, straight, Christian males like me — don't often think a lot about civil liberties ... at least, not in an immediate or personal way. Civil liberties just aren't an issue for most of us. If a wealthy person is in trouble with the law, he can hire a good lawyer. It's the poor who are filling our prisons. If I want to smoke pot, no one's going to arrest me. It's poor and black people who get arrested, and then disenfranchised. I have a voice because I fit societal norms and I have money."
In June 2019, acknowledging that travel is a source of environmental destruction, he announced that his tour company will donate $1 million a year to a portfolio of environmental nonprofits, to mitigate the carbon emissions made from the 30,000 annual travelers who use his tour program. Critics contend that travel can never be carbon neutral and that his donations amount to being a way for the wealthy to feel better; Steves counters that if travelers prefer booking with his company due to the carbon offset, other travel companies will be forced to follow suit to stay in business.
Steves is an active Lutheran and has written and hosted educational videos on subjects such as Martin Luther and the European Reformation. He supports liberation theology. He has spoken at the Lutheran Peace Fellowship. To recognize his "outstanding service to church and society", the Luther Institute, an affiliate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, presented their Wittenberg Award to him.
Steves is of Norwegian ancestry. His sister Jan is an Iditarod racer. He was married to Anne Steves until 2010, when they divorced. They are the parents of two adult children. Their son Andy Steves followed his father's footsteps and founded his own travel company, Weekend Student Adventures Europe, and wrote Andy Steves' Europe: City-Hopping on a Budget.
Steves spends about a third of every year in Europe researching guidebooks and filming TV shows. His home is still in Edmonds, Washington, where he has lived since 1967.
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