Fatherhood’s a long journey, and if you’re travel expert Rick Steves, 61, father of Andy Steves, 29, there’s not always time for rest stops.
Throughout his childhood, Andy recalls, he, his sister and their mother would join his father in Europe every summer while the elder Steves did research and taped TV shows for his burgeoning travel-guide business. There wasn’t a lot of R&R.
“When Rick Steves is in Europe, it’s always a business trip — it’s never vacation,” Andy says bluntly.
What was it like for the kids in those days when Dad was laser-focused on building his brand?
“It was intense. We’d have our daily allowance to get a gelato or something. We’d have our frustrations — walking past the camera 10 times to get it right for a shoot.”
But that all became routine, Andy says, and if imitation is in fact flattery, any childhood resentment seems washed away: Recently, the younger Steves did a major “like father, like son” act, publishing Andy Steves’ Europe (Avalon, $19.99), his first travel guidebook.
I have vague memories of running around castles — of playing hide-and-seek in castles built by Mad King Ludwig
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for 35 years, you’ll know that Rick Steves is generally considered the European travel guru (even he calls himself that in conversation).
From self-publishing his first Europe Through the Back Door travel guide in 1980 and leading trips through the University of Washington’s Experimental College, he’s built a little empire, with tours, bestselling guidebooks, and travel wisdom doled out through a syndicated newspaper column and nationwide programs on public TV and radio.
He has always emphasized traveling light and getting to know local culture.
It has made him a millionaire, all based from his hometown, the Seattle suburb of Edmonds, where father and son sat recently in the head office of Rick Steves’ Europe and pondered their travels through life together.
From his earliest days, “I have vague memories of running around castles — of playing hide-and-seek in castles built by Mad King Ludwig,” Andy says.
As a dad, Rick aimed to engender independence and travel savvy in his son as he grew up. Sometimes it would be a sort of trial by fire.
In Paris, he’d put me on the next Metro (subway) car and tell me where to transfer and where to get off — and hopefully he was watching out for me
Andy Steves of dad, Rick
“In Paris, he’d put me on the next Metro (subway) car and tell me where to transfer and where to get off — and hopefully he was watching out for me,” Andy recollects.
After graduating from Lynnwood’s Meadowdale High School, Andy backpacked around Europe with a school buddy. As Rick recollects in a foreword penned for his son’s guidebook, he had primed Andy with a list of “must-see” museums, castles and galleries.
“When he came home he triumphantly declared that he had skipped most of those conventional sights and, instead, made friends in each country,” Rick recalls.
That kind of person-to-person connecting is what “carbonates” travel, and it’s what his son is so good at, Rick says.
While Andy attended the University of Notre Dame (studying industrial design, with a minor in Italian language and literature), a foreign-study term in Italy opened his eyes to a market for the kind of help his father offers travelers — but zeroed in on college students and technology-driven millennials.
Out of school in 2010, Andy founded his own business, Weekend Student Adventures, for the backpacker crowd that pops among European capitals on $50 budget flights.
The guidebook is an outgrowth of that, as he now divides his time between Prague and Seattle.
Rick Steves say he’s not proud he didn’t make more time for family vacations in earlier days. Nowadays, he takes his grown kids on an annual trip together — somewhere distinctly not Europe. (He and his wife divorced in 2009.)
Meanwhile, Andy seems laser-focused on building his own travel business.
“Your mom and sister would say we’re disgustingly similar,” Rick says to his son.