Interview with Ragen Van Sewell

Ragen is a wiz at making art, history and travel a kick for kids and adults alike.

Ragen Van Sewell is one of our ace Family Tour guides — but that's just the tip of his involvement. When he's not touring around Europe, Ragen manages the behind-the-scenes logistics for all of Rick Steves' Best of Europe and Family Europe tours (hotel and restaurant selection and booking, planning for daily activities and more). Ragen's upbeat attitude and fun-loving spirit make him the ideal Family Tour guide, and a delight to work with in our office.

How did you get involved with Rick Steves and tour guiding?
For a number of years I worked right around the corner from Rick's Europe Through the Back Door Travel Center in Edmonds. When I traveled to Europe on my own, I spent a lot of time researching my trips there. Edmonds is a small town, so I became friends with Rick and most of the folks who worked at the office. Once I graduated from the University of Washington, going there to work felt natural.

What made you want to lead tours?
Traveling on my own, I always felt discouraged seeing the large tour groups blindly following an umbrella all across Europe. They resembled small armies; they do not visit a sight as much as they invade, conquer, and leave it in ruins. No way I'd want to be a part of that. But I saw that Rick's small tour groups are amazingly different. Rick's philosophy attracts travelers who are thoughtful, considerate, culturally sensitive and genuinely interested in experiencing Europe as a temporary European. After my first tour as a staff assistant, I was bound and determined to become a tour guide and help people discover Europe the Rick Steves way.

What's the dynamic like with grown-ups and kids on a tour together?
It's actually less stressful. Having kids in the group helps to remind everyone that school is out and this trip is a vacation. In the evenings at many of the hotels, the adults might gather on an outside terrace and socialize over a glass of wine or beer. The kids get together to play soccer, Frisbee or learn how to play bocce ball. At group meals, the kids usually commandeer their own table. I believe the conversation improves considerably at both tables and I know the kids are having more fun. All the while, the parents and I get special satisfaction knowing that, when these kids head back to school, their history classes will come alive. Can you imagine how interesting the Roman Empire becomes after actually having been in Rome, standing in the Colosseum? Way cool!

Not everyone is cut out to lead gangs of kids and parents across Europe. What's your secret?
People tell me I am still a kid at heart. It's true. In fact, most tour members reckon I'm ten years younger than I really am. I don't take myself too seriously, I strive to be an extremely positive and happy person, and I love to have fun! One evening at Piazza Navona in Rome, everyone on our tour decided to get tattoos (not permanent ones, but henna versions that wash away after a couple of weeks). I think fondly of the impression we must have made, a group of 26 people, freshly tattooed, walking through Rome together. It was a night to remember. The next afternoon the owner of the hotel was very excited to speak with me. It seems that the maids discovered pictures of different animals and designs on the sheets of every single bed. He could not believe it. On every bed was an anchor, or a snake or a skull...even a kitten. I explained that it takes a real man to have a kitten tattoo on his arm, and rolled up my sleeve to show him. Honestly, I think it's just a coincidence that we don't take groups to that hotel anymore.