Rick Steves recently dropped by the KUHF studios to take part in fundraising efforts for KUHT, the PBS TV station downstairs — a chance to find out how the program is put together. Steves spends about 120 days in Europe each year. Two-thirds of that time is spent researching museums, landmarks, restaurants and hotels relatively anonymously. Then he summons his producer and camera crew to tape segments that can be used to put together another program.
“You know my main thing is not TV, my main thing is writing these guidebooks. So most of the time I’m alone. People in the business know me and a lot of tourists will see me and know me, but I try to keep my anonymity when I’m working and I don’t want to work with anybody else when I’m doing the research. But when I’m with my film crew, then it’s me, the cameraman and the producer. There’s three of us — pretty small crew. We can turn on a dime. So if the TV show seems real, it’s because it is.”
There are a hundred episodes now, and he’s been revisiting many places to re-shoot some cities in high-definition.
“In 2001 I did my last standard definition show, and I did a lot of my favorite places in standard definition. And then it’s been ten years and now I finally have had the opportunity to go back and do these with beautiful high-def widescreen footage and it makes all, you know, it makes all the difference in the world. It’s like going from black and white to color, to go from standard definition to high definition, 4×3 to 9×16 widescreen. We’ll have 14 new shows this September on Houston PBS.”
Steves recommends “blending in” when traveling overseas.
“You can do that anywhere. You can go to a sauna in Finland. Go to places where you’re really accepted as part of the party instead part of the economy. One of the great tricks in travel is to, you know, go to the little mom and pop places and stay in B&B’s — every country’s got B&B’s — you’ve just gotta know the local word, and they offer double the cultural intimacy for half the price.”
Steves is a minimalist when it comes to packing for Europe.
“My secret on packing a suitcase is to pick up each thing before I decide to take it and just look at it critically and ask myself ‘will I use this?’ And if you need something, you know, you can go buy it, and actually look forward to running out of toothpaste in Bulgaria and you got a good excuse to go into a Bulgarian department store, shop around for something you think might be toothpaste! But I live out of a 9x22x14 inch carry-on-the-airplane-sized bag for two months at a time on every one of my trips: two or three long-sleeved shirts and a t-shirt and two or three short-sleeved shirts. a light pair of long pants and a pair of jeans. One pair of shoes.”
Besides his TV show, Steves is also heard with the radio version of his travel program every Saturday afternoon at one here on KUHF.