Rick Steves is coming back again to Bellingham to converse journey

Rick Steves might love Bellingham as much as your grandmother loves Rick Steves.

“Bellingham’s just a place where, I think, Kathmandu (in Nepal) is a household word,” the famous travel writer said in a phone call with the Bellingham Herald. “People are outward looking, people prioritize for travel, and people are thoughtful.”

That last detail is especially important for the “Europe Through the Back Door” author, who views his job as inspiring thoughtful travel.

“The mindless traveler, they just walk down the main street in Amsterdam, Damrak it’s called. And right there between Hooters and the Hard Rock Cafe, they find a box office selling tickets to commercial gimmicks,” Steves said. “They’ll buy those tickets and they’ll think that’s what there is to do in Amsterdam here – the torture dungeon, and the wax museum, and the Dalí exhibit.”

Steves is coming to town on April 4, for a talk hosted by Village Books at Bellingham High School. The Edmonds-based author has a history of making the drive an hour north, dating back to his days as a self-published author in the 1980s. More recently, he’s given talks at Village Books, which he called “one of the most beloved bookstores in the United States.”

“For about 20 years or more, I think, I’ve been coming up to Bellingham to give a talk with Village Books,” Steves said. “We try to do this each year and share the latest on European travel, so people can learn from my mistakes rather than their own and travel smartly.”

How COVID changed European travel

Steves, who just returned from a trip to Italy, said he plans to focus his talk on the ways travel in Europe has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Europe’s always changing, my job is to make mistakes, take notes,” Steves said. “When I get ripped off I celebrate, they don’t know who they just ripped off. I’m going to learn that scam and pack it into my talk, and come home and share it with people.”

Over the pandemic, tourist hot spots grew to appreciate the controlled crowds caused by COVID-19 safety protocols, according to Steves, and many kept them in place.

“In Europe, they are enjoying the not being in a pandemic with gusto, it’s just wild and crazy. But one thing they kept is a lot of formerly crowded sites appreciate being able to require people to have timed entry, so they don’t have a mob scene at their front door,” Steves said.

Travelers who haven’t adjusted to these new protocols risk a trip full of delays and pivoting on the fly.

“If you didn’t know that, you might very well go to the Sagrada Família church in Barcelona, or to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, or the Borghese Gallery in Rome and think you can just walk in,” Steves said. “But no, you cannot buy a ticket at the door, you’ve got to have it in advance at a lot of these places.”

That’s a problem for Steves, who’s made a career of advocating for well-planned travel.

“A trip, if it’s well-planned, can be a life-changing experience,” Steves said. “I love the idea of transformational travel, that just involves a little bit of planning.”

Where, when and how to get tickets

Where: Bellingham High School, 2020 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham

When: The event starts at 7 p.m., April 4.

Tickets cost $10. Get them here.

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