Happy Birthday ETBD! Celebrating 30 Years of Travel, Teaching and Europe
|Budget travel was seen as subversive...and it was just the first step.
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And Europe Through the Back Door, Inc. has changed. It seems like just yesterday I was calming wigged-out members of my tour groups as they tried to settle into my favorite "characteristic" hovels...er...hotels. Now the hotels we recommend and use come with both character and comfort.
Back when I wrote the first edition of Europe Through the Back Door, "back door"-style travel was seen as counter-culture stuff, and not welcome in the travel industry. Bob Davis, a wonderful travel editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, was the first to recognize the public's interest in our brand of real, non-package travel. In 1982 he ran a series of columns, each featuring a "back door" destination from my ETBD guidebook. As a result of the furor his advertisers raised, he lost his editorial position. Later, I had a weekly newspaper column in the Bellevue newspaper, which I called "The Budget Traveler." Within a month of the appearance of that column, travel agents threatened to pull out their ads and organize a boycott. The travel editor and I saved the column by coming up with a new name: "The Practical Traveler"...same subversive information, but with a more palatable title. In those days, when we offered to pay the standard $500 for a display table at the local consumers' travel show, we were told "not at this consumers' travel show."
Today, independent travelers have become a legitimate — if perverse — segment of the tourist industry, and that's newsworthy. My syndicated travel column is now being run in dozens of newspapers and websites I never knew existed. No longer an offbeat Northwest secret, we found ourselves featured in the New York Times Magazine in 2004, on TV's 60 Minutes in 2005, and in Time Magazine in 2009. And this month, a 100-page special edition of Smithsonian Magazine titled "Travels with Rick Steves: Europe's Top 20 Destinations" is on magazine racks across the country.
When I look back on thirty years of travel writing and teaching, I see a progression in my teaching focus that reminds me of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Just like humans progress from lower material needs to self-actualization and higher creative and fulfillment needs, our teaching program has evolved. In the 1980s it was budget skills (the foundation for Europe Through the Back Door). In the 1990s it was appreciating history, art, and cuisine (the guidebook was Europe 101: History and Art for Travelers). And in the 2000s — underscored by the aftermath of 9/11 — our teaching passion was all about broadening our perspectives through travel (and I wrote my latest book, Travel as a Political Act). These three books together create the whole traveler: savvy, embracing art and culture, and eager to bring home the ultimate souvenir: a broader perspective.
At the same time, we've embraced technology to amplify our travel teaching in ways we'd never dreamed possible. Starting with a primitive, dial-in "travelers' BBS" for computer users in 1991 (anybody remember what 1200-2400/8/N/1 means?), we got a real website up and running in 1995...elegantly named etbd.com/rsetbd. By 2000, ricksteves.com had become the teaching and business backbone of Europe Through the Back Door, with online articles, news, tours, railpasses and travel gear. Today that amplification extends beyond our own site, with audio and video content on iTunes, YouTube and Hulu, plus lots of traveler interaction on Facebook.