Andrew Steves: Travels in Dad’s Footsteps

Travel Interviews: For young Americans, the first solo trip to Europe is a rite of passage. But what's in store if your father is the king of Europe guidebook writers? Jim Benning finds out.

06.21.05 | 1:19 PM ET

More image than a few newly independent 18-year-old Americans will make their first trips to Europe this summer without mom and dad, but few will have the baggage of Andrew Steves. Andrew is the son of Rick Steves, Europe travel guru to the PBS-viewing masses, author of countless guidebooks, and the only travel writer regularly assaulted on the streets of Berlin and Rome by rabid, autograph-seeking fans. When I heard that the younger Steves would be embarking on his first solo trip to Europe this summer, I was full of questions. Would he take his dad’s guidebooks? Would he wash his socks in the hotel sink, as his father instructs millions to do? Shortly before Andrew attended his high school graduation ceremony and embarked on the trip, I dialed him up to get the scoop.

World Hum: I’m guessing this won’t be your first trip to Europe?

I’ve been 17 or 18 times with my parents, but this will be my first time without them. I’ll be going with a friend I’ve had since kindergarten, Alex, who’s also 18.

So how will this trip be different from your previous trips?

For starters, one of my pet peeves is walking around when you’re hungry. When you’re a growing young man, you’ve got to eat, you know? But my parents have to check out every restaurant on the street before they decide where to eat, especially with my dad doing research. My buddy and I are similar that way. When we’re hungry, we’re going to eat. And speaking of restaurants, we’re going to be on a tight budget. We’re going to be staying in hostels and going to the market, picking up whatever we can cook back at the hostel.

So what exactly do you have planned?

It’s going to be a 45-day trip. I don’t know quite what to expect. We have a two-month Eurail pass. My dad reserved spots for us for the first and last weeks, but in between, there’s nothing set in stone. We’re going to fly to the Netherlands and spend the first couple of days around Haarlem. Then we’ll spend a week in Paris. Then we might catch the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Then we’ll head into the French Riviera. After that we might catch the Tour de France in Grenoble, in the Alps stages. That’d be pretty cool. We’re going to Prague for a couple of days, then a week or two in Italy.

Are you taking your dad’s guidebooks?

We’re taking his book and Let’s Go. My dad’s guidebooks are geared toward retired people. Let’s Go is written by Harvard students. They list the best clubs in the area. We’re definitely going to be looking for that. We’ll be going to hostels and meeting other people from other cultures in our same situation.

Will being the son of Rick Steves help at times, you think?

I’m not going to push my name. I’m not going to say, “I’m Andrew Steves, son of Rick Steves.” If and when people find out, it might help from time to time. But I’m my own person. For example, I’m going to college next year. I’m not going to study European history and business like my dad did. I’ll study business, but I’m also thinking about architecture and engineering. If you ask me, am I going to pick up my dad’s business? I’ll have to go to business school and see if I like that.

Have you inherited your dad’s passion for travel?

I think it’s really important to travel. I listen to some country music stations, and you hear people say the USA is the best country on Earth, and they’ve probably never been outside their own state. You can think your country is the best, but there are also other people who think their country is the best. It’s important to appreciate other cultures.

You’re part of the first generation of young backpackers heading to Europe after 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. How do you feel about traveling to Europe at this time in history?

I’ve been going to Europe every summer for every year of my life. The last five years my dad has taken us places as a kind of a publicity stunt. Like if there was mad cow disease, he’d take us right to England. If there was Hoof and Mouth, he’d take us wherever that was, to show it’s no big deal. I’ve grown up in a family where we didn’t stock up for Y2K and we didn’t get too scared after 9/11. Many people die of starvation every day in Africa. I’m not going to go into any countries at war like Afghanistan or Iraq, but I’m comfortable going to Europe.

So what was it like going to England during an outbreak of mad cow disease?

If you just watch TV at that age you think that’s another world. Going there, I didn’t see any dead cows around.

Did it make you more skeptical of what you see in the American media?

Definitely. It’s crazy how they blow everything out of proportion so much. I’m sure there’s just as much good going on in the world as evil. If I just watched the evening news—I read the newspaper—but if you just watch the evening news, you’ll get really depressed about the violence all over the world. It’s just the way the news portrays it. So you have to keep your mind in check that way and not get too freaked out.

Okay, a few quick logistical questions: You’re taking a backpack?

Yeah, I’m taking my dad’s latest backpack. That was one of my graduation presents. My friend just got that from my parents for his graduation present, too.

Do you plan to wash your socks in the hostel sink?

We could try that, but a Laundromat isn’t that expensive. (Laughs.) It’ll depend on how our money is going.

Has your dad given you lots of travel advice?

He has. We’re doing a mock-packing session with him to see what he thinks we should bring and what we want to bring.

Will there be conflicts?

Yeah, my dad just got back from Europe. He was there for a month and a half. In his bag I think he had two pairs of pants and three shirts.

Not enough for your taste?

Of course, we’re young men and we’re going to want to meet young ladies, so we have to think about that. If we’re wearing the same clothes all the time we might smell.

Perhaps your dad wasn’t thinking about girls when he was devising his packing advice.

I don’t think so. He was happy enough with the Eiffel Tower and all that.

So the Eiffel Tower won’t be enough this time?

We’re going to see it. We’ll spend a day or two on historic sights and then we’ve got five days for whatever else might come up.

Which hopefully involves girls and clubs and having some fun?

Possibly, yeah. We’ll try to keep it in moderation.

Any other travel plans in your future?

Next summer, I’m hoping to assistant guide for my dad’s tours. That will be a perfect job for me. I’ve been there so many times and really it’s a seasonal job. So I can hop off in time for school to start.

Finally, did I hear that you’re going to keep a journal?

Yeah, we’re going to be posting pictures and keeping an online journal. My dad’s really getting excited about it.

We’ll look for it. Thanks for your time. Have a great trip.

Absolutely. Thanks.

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