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Podthoughts: Travel with Rick Steves

Vital stats:
Format: a travel guide talks to travelers and tourists
Episode duration: exactly 53:30
Frequency: weekly

Growing up in Seattle, I thought of Rick Steves as a guru for locals aspiring to European travel just as I thought of Dan Savage as a guru for locals suffering sexual complications. But even though both men initially became famous in western Washington state and continue to reside there under auras of regional heroism, they’ve eluded the attentions of that cruelest mistress, “Seattle fame.” Unlike the work of, say, Ted Narcotic, Savage and Steves’ writing has spread across pretty much the entire Anglophone world. Both have reached even wider audiences still by launching first radio shows, then podcasts. I wager that most Max Funsters already know about Savage Love (reviewed by my esteemed predecessor Ian Brill here), but stand to benefit by learning about Travel with Rick Steves [RSS] [iTunes].

Just as Savage’s sex-advice column, reliably printed each and every week in Seattle’s “cooler” weekly paper, quickly became a fixture of my adolescence, Steves’ television program Rick Steves’ Europe felt ever-present. Yet I never really sat down and watched it, since I got from some of Steves’ fans the vague impression of a certain detached, cheapskate Europhilia, the kind that obligates Joe and Jane Washingtonian to go somewhere rustic in Italy or France, marvel photographically at boulevards and cathedrals, fumble through a phrasebook, and after two weeks return essentially unchanged to Microsoft or Boeing or wherever. This impression sounds uncharitable, I realize, but surely you understand the essential distinction of in-depth travel versus perfunctory tourism. While Steves is not to blame for the attitudes of his less intellectually engaged followers, I do faintly recall seeing him, in one of his shows, provide tips on how the busy traveler can best wash his underwear in the sink. This still horrifies me.

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