Today, my magazine writing students and I, along with members of the Stevenson University community, were treated to an afternoon session with guidebook author and travel television host, Rick Steves. Steves’ warm and friendly demeanor and sense of humor had the attendees listening intently as he shared his travel and work stories.
If you’re not familiar with this expert traveler, you are missing out. Steves runs a company called Rick Steves’ Europe, which has grown from a one-man operation to a thriving company with over 100 employees. In this capacity, he produces more than 50 guidebooks on European travel and is able to host a weekly hour-long radio show on NPR, write a weekly syndicated columm, and take viewers on adventures in America’s most popular travel series on PBS.
My magazine writing students were armed and ready for the interaction and had prepared a list of questions for Steves. After I was introduced to him upon his arrival, he asked if the students would have questions, to which I replied—”Lots of them!”—and showed him the list they had put together at his request. Luckily for us, he decided to start his talk by answering questions the students had assembled, which was a lot of fun.
In this Q&A session, we learned that his favorite place to travel is India and that he feels quite at home with “his people” in Norway. (I could relate, as my favorite place I’ve traveled has been Italy, as I’ve felt quite comfortable with “my own people” there. I suppose our heritage does have a lot to do with those sentiments when we travel).
Ironically, at 14, he didn’t want to travel at first, but his dad made him, and he began to fall in love with it. By 18, he was traveling on his own, and the seeds of his future were planted. It’s not all easy, according to Steves, who puts in 60 hour weeks at work. But it pays off tremendously for him, as he stated that he “loves what he does,” and we didn’t have to ask twice about it, because it was quite apparent from his talk that Steves not only loves his job, but it has become a part of him.
Perhaps the most poignant moment came when I saw the students nod after Steves said that you “must find work that you believe in; my company is mission-driven” and that mission makes him passionate about his work. He encouraged all of us to find our own passion and to go for it.
When he answered the question, “What do you do when you get writer’s block?” Steves said, “I don’t get writers block. I don’t allow it to happen. I just write.” He likened finding good stories to “catching butterflies” — that you can’t let a story get away. That you have to capture each butterfly one at a time. You must write it down, even if it is in a little notebook and transcribe it into your computer later in the day. Afterwards, you can play with what you wrote and turn it into something meaningful.
When asked how Steves was able to be so successful, he replied that it was always his intention to “generate good content” and that that is the key to success, along with work ethic and passion. If you provide superb content for folks, they will continue to seek out your advice and suggestions, and Steves believes this is what has led to his growth and ultimate success.
I’ve been teaching travel writing as part of feature writing for over ten years now; additionally, I have taught a stand-alone travel writing course, whereby the students must travel locally (in Maryland, Virginia, D.C., or Delaware) for a minimum of two days to a place, immerse themselves in the place, take 20 pages of notes, do research, and then construct a 2,500-word article about traveling to that place. Students seem to like this course a lot because it melds everything that they have learned from their degree in communication into this one class, from writing to interviewing folks to intercultural and interpersonal communication theories and practices to finding out a little bit about themselves.
For all of these reasons, it was a thrill for meet to meet a true world traveler who writes books and articles and helps guide us to learn about the world and ourselves through travel. He promotes traveling without fear, and encourages us all to get out and see the world.
This was an episode of Rick Steves’ show that we watched in class. Having been to the Cotswolds, I absolutely loved this episode.
Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.