Interview with Tim Tendick

The travel bug has hit Tim Tendick hard, and he's not looking for a cure. A native of California's Bay Area, Tim has lived and worked in half a dozen countries but still calls Oakland home (he finds no conflict in loving both the A's and the Giants). After a decade of steady traveling, he's been in roughly a third of the countries currently available — and looking forward to covering the other two-thirds. In addition to tour guiding, Tim teaches English and writes, and has trouble thinking of any of these as work. Let's get to know him!

How has your independent travel style shaped your outlook on travel today?

My first big solo trip as an adult was nine months backpacking through Europe and Morocco in 2008–2009. Once I realized how cheap it was to be a homeless backpacker who sometimes taught English, I kept going for another five years. On that first trip I remember seeing a couple on the train in Poland looking up directions on a digital navigation doohicky. Turned out they were at the same hostel I was. Staring at the screen in their hand, they went straight to their destination. I tried to get there by dead reckoning…and got lost. But on the way I'd met three locals, saw a great restaurant I wanted to try, and stumbled onto a little park where I could take my lunch the next day. They'd seen their screen. I remember thinking, "Digital devices will never be part of travel." Oops! Now I try to balance the undeniable usefulness of technology with the essential travel experiences of getting lost, happy accidents, and meeting people in THEIR lives instead of just mine.

But a lot of travel has stayed the same too. I always smile when I pass a backpacker hostel, funky in both style and odor, and know that the different facets of travel are all still going strong. (But I'm glad Rick Steves tours stay in nicer places. I've done my time in 16-bed dorms with gaseous and vociferous Brazilians and Spaniards. And I decline to specify which is which.)

What drew you to guiding for Rick Steves?

I lived in Belgium for a couple years, doing awful "immigrant jobs." On the way home from another 14-hour day that would net me a few precious euros, I tried to imagine what my dream job would be. Guiding came to mind with a fanfare of trumpets and blaze of light! (And no, it wasn't my iPod exploding.) To follow up, I trailed a couple guides and companies but found the culture rather abhorrent. I'd heard that this Rick Steves guy was different, so sent in a resume. I had no idea just how perfect a fit it would be. If I had, I probably would have been too nervous and would have kept "working on" my resume for another two years! During my phone interview I went off on a long spiel about my travel philosophy. When I'd worn myself out I heard, "Well that's pretty much exactly the same as ours, so good."

Now that you can travel for a living, where do you go on your time off?

I love traveling pretty much anywhere. I try to alternate European trips with time in the developing world. I love the way each experience helps me better appreciate and enjoy the other. After a few weeks of German-style organization, I crave the exuberance of a little chaos. Then, after waiting for enough buses that never show up, break down, and haven't been cleaned since the Truman administration, I crave even Italian-style infrastructure. But whether it's changing money in an alley in Myanmar, meeting community organizers in Venezuela, or tasting local vintages in a Burgundian wine cellar, the essential kindness and warm vulnerability of people is the same everywhere. It's a good reminder, and antidote to the paranoia on the evening news. Then when I go home it's an awful lot harder to complain about those "first-world problems."

What do you enjoy most about traveling with Rick Steves tour members?

Oy, we're going to need to order dinner if I'm going to cover all that! Might want to put in a breakfast order too. But for a short answer, one of the things I love most about guiding is that it lets me share my passion for places, the people in them, and the ways that experiencing the "other" can enhance growth within oneself. I've talked to and observed both guides and tour members from other companies, and I can quietly boast that on Rick Steves tours we really have the best tour members. People drawn to Rick's way of travel tend to be curious, open-minded, and flexible. Those are easily among the top virtues required for what I consider "good" travel.

You've been leading lots of our 14-day and 21-day Best of Europe tours. How does that work for a vagabond like you?

When I first heard the term "Best of Europe" I thought it was grandiose to the point of uselessness. How on earth could one trip, in less than a year, claim to show the best of Europe? But that was speaking from the privilege of someone who could quit their job, get rid of all their stuff, and wander forever. If that's not an option, Rick's Best of Europe tour itineraries do an incredible job of showing a well-crafted slice of Europe.

I've had a lot of people ask for my advice on "doing Europe" and I bemoan the number of times I've laid it out, then said that honestly the best way to do it in a short time-frame is through our tours, then hear them say, "Oh, I don't do tours." Hey, I wouldn't go near the kinds of tours that treat you like luggage, either! But a Rick Steves tour treats you like a person. A student. Perhaps even an adventurer. As a guide, there are few things in life as sweet as meeting someone on the first day who is a bit scared of being overseas, then two or three weeks later handing them a metro ticket and saying, "See you tomorrow!" — knowing full well that they're about to spend the day conquering and falling in love with a new major world city.


Here's what Tim won't tell you…but his tour members will:

"Tim was tremendous! The right personality, knowledge and approach. He was respectful to everyone and great at mingling during dinners. I was especially impressed that he could relate so well to such a broad range of ages, from 14-year-olds to 75-year-olds. A real gift! His passion for history helped relate multiple volumes of books into easy-to-digest sound bites, connecting it all to our current day. Tim started as our guide and ended the tour as our friend! What more can you say?"

— Robert in Charlotte, NC