For more than three decades North American travelers have been getting advice on European tourism from a folksy, easy-going travel writer named Rick Steves. Over the years, Rick’s best-selling guidebooks and popular Public Television travelogues have encouraged millions of Americans to get their passports and to visit Europe.
Rick has always encouraged Americans to become more mindful travelers and to engage with local cultures. And although he is often trolled for his “aw-shucks’ TV persona, Rick has long been a staunch supporter of progressive values and social justice causes. He consistently uses his platform to promote economic justice, address hunger and homelessness, free speech issues, and even legalization of marijuana in the United States.
For many years, Rick has donated significant amounts of money to groups such as the ACLU, Bread for the World, and NORML. Recently, and with little fanfare, he gifted a $4 million apartment complex near his home in Edmunds, Washington to the YWCA to provide housing for homeless women and children. When asked why he chose to donate the building, Rick responded, “Hey, I’m just helping people that would be living in cars, or motels, or people’s basements.”
On a personal note, I had the chance to meet Rick many years ago and to hang out with him for an afternoon. I was staying in the small Italian lakeside town of Varenna, when I ran into Rick as he was working on updating his Italy guidebook. At the time I was doing some travel writing and I had a few books in print. We compared notes on some Northern Italian travel destinations and Rick asked me to send him suggestions for additions to his updated guidebook. In response, he very generously plugged my books and a travel newsletter that I was publishing in his own newsletter.