Andy Steves: In the (Travel) Footsteps of Rick Steves
Interview by Everett Potter
Travel writer Andy Steves was born into a traveling family, heading off to Europe each year while his father, Rick Steves, updated his guidebooks, made TV shows, and researched new tours. Today, Andy brings his tips and tricks to the next generation of adventurers with Andy Steves’ Europe: City-Hopping on a Budget (Avalon Travel), a great resource for student and budget travelers.
“It picks up where crowdsourcing leaves off,” says the blurb, providing what students, backpackers, and gap-year travelers need to know to get the most out of Europe’s top cities. That includes booking cheap flights online to finding rooms on AirBnB and following Andy’s three-day plans to explore each city. The stated aim is to help young travelers become a temporary local. When he’s not on the road, Andy splits his time between Prague and Seattle. I caught up with Andy a few weeks ago to ask him about his traveling life.
Andy, tell us a bit about your childhood. Did your Dad bring you along on many of his travels?
We traveled with my dad just about every year of our lives growing up. My dad would spend nearly 100 days abroad in Europe each year updating guidebooks and making TV shows. That’s a long time to be away from the family, so my mother, sister and I would visit him somewhere in the middle of his trip to break it up a little. We would tag along each summer for 2-4 weeks visiting countries like Germany, Italy, Ireland, England, Scotland and more along the way.
When did you decide to go into the travel business for yourself?
I worked as an assistant tour guide for my dad’s company during my undergrad at Notre Dame, and studied abroad during my Junior year. I had the chance to spend 4 months in Rome studying and traveling around the region. I made some great friends, and I loved every second of it.
How did you get the idea for Weekend Student Adventures?
Because of the frequency of the trips my friends and I took, I saw a big opportunity for weekend trips for students abroad in Europe. When I graduated, I wanted to take this business idea into a real thing, and I launched WSA in June of 2010.
Are these trips aimed at Americans who are studying abroad or are they for those in the US as well?
Our adventures are based on the experience I had while abroad in Rome in ’08. But I’m coming to realize that these packages have a much wider appeal than just students abroad in Europe. Everyone wants to travel efficiently and affordably. The cultural connections we offer are a huge draw too.
Can you give us three under-the-radar European cities that students would like but may not necessarily have on their wish lists?
I say go East: Budapest, Krakow and Prague are some incredible and affordable cities. These cities are much more active and much more experience-based than the heavy sightseeing cities like Rome and Paris. Instead you can explore salt mines, bathe away the afternoon, enjoy wild nightlife and climb medieval castle walls. Central Europe easily offers the best bang for your buck when it comes to Europe.
How about social media as travel tool, how do you recommend your student travelers use it?
Smart phones take amazing pictures and videos. It’s incredible the technology we have in our pocket these days. However, I see phones often creating a barrier that people use like a nervous tick when they’re unsure of how to socialize in different cultures. It’s so easy to get behind a screen. Instead, I highly recommend preparing yourself and getting past the uneasy awkward feeling that sometimes comes up when there are language barriers so that it’s not a big deal if it happens.
What’s your favorite European destination at the moment?
Madrid is one of my favorite cities for it’s food, sights, people, nightlife and siesta culture 🙂
Where are you off to next – and why?
I head to Colombia on Monday. I’m on a Colombia kick–practicing and learning spanish, love the cuisine there, the people are nice, and it’s 80 degrees there 🙂