Interview with Travis Smith

Travis Smith has traveled to Europe every year since he was born. His pop, Steve Smith, co-authors Rick's France guidebooks and his family owns a farmhouse in Burgundy where he does his laundry and gets a good night sleep between tours. Travis has assisted on Rick Steves' Family Europe tours since his sophomore year in college. In his last season he graduated to being a tour manager on Rick's My Way Europe itineraries.

How did you come to know Europe so well at such a young age?

As a kid, I had the fortune of traveling to Europe every summer with my family. During these trips, we would spend time at a house in the French countryside and travel periodically around France and occasionally to other bordering countries. When I turned 16, I purchased a Eurail pass and took off with a couple of friends to see what the rest of the continent had in store. The rest is history! I got hooked on the unique cultures, enchanted by the various languages, addicted to the nomadic lifestyle of travel, and eager to find a way where I could make this my job.

How does your role change, depending on whether you're working on a Family Europe tour, a fully guided Best of Europe tour, or a My Way Europe tour?

As an assistant on the Family Europe tours, my role is to be the bridge that connects what's fun and educational for kids on the tour. On the Best of Europe Tours, I act as an assistant for the lead guide, working to organize dinner orders, picking up tickets, arranging hotel rooms, answering questions from tour members, and giving occasional history talks and language lessons. On the My Way tours, I'm available on the bus and at the hotels to advise tour members on how they can plan their days, to deal with any questions or concerns they may have, and to organize optional (but always extremely popular) group happy hours and get-togethers.

What do you feel a college-age assistant guide brings to the family tours? And how do you work with the lead guide on these tours?

A college-age assistant is not a babysitter, but a tour guide that caters to the younger tour members. I'm there to bridge the gap between the kids and the lead tour guide, no matter where we are or what we're doing. From museum visits, to group dinners, to soccer games during free time, the age of the younger assistant allows for kids to feel comfortable approaching them with questions about what's being taught and the places we're visiting. While the assistant works closely with the lead guide to plan activities and help with tour duties, such as scheduling and rooming assignments, they also can slightly cater their leadership to appeal to the mix of kids on the tour. Simply put, a college-age assistant is an avenue for kids to become comfortable and interested in what Europe has to offer…without having to go to their "embarrassing" parents and admit that yes, it's a pretty cool trip!

What kinds of kid-oriented activities or sights are organized for the family tours? What's your favorite?

Most people automatically assume that itineraries of family tours are "dumbed down" to appeal to a younger audience. This is not true in the slightest. On family tours, we do nearly everything that we would on a regular "adult" tour. The museum visits are still led by local experts, the dinners still explore local cuisine, and the historical/cultural information is still of premier quality. The difference on family tours is that we may have one guide lead the parents through the Uffizi in Florence, while another leads the kids. Or, we may stay at a hotel with a pool – or even a foosball table – and allow for extra free time there. Easily, my favorite activity is visiting Guédelon. It's a Philippian castle that is being built in Burgundy, France by volunteers using only the methods and tools of the 12th and 13th century. Kids love it, and adults love it, too!

What's the weirdest thing you've had happen on one of your tours?

On a Family Europe: London to Florence tour last year, we had some extra time following the medieval adventure at Guédelon. Our lead guide (Ben Cameron) and I decided to take those who were interested to Saint Fargeau, a nearby town that prides itself on its renovated château. As we began to explore the château, we soon discovered that its "renovations" had turned the old castle into a place that could have acted as a set in a horror film: skeletal mannequins were placed in the sparsely decorated rooms, a series of bones were discarded in the otherwise-vacant basement, an entire wall of the great hall was covered in real deer hoofs, and — among the labyrinth of attic passageways — a grim reaper statue lingered in the corner. It was scary. It was somewhat concerning. It was also the highlight of the trip for every kid (and parent) who came with us that day.