Travel expert takes LaGrange Park seniors on mind-expanding trip
Rick Steves gives presentation and answered questions for seniors at Plymouth Place Senior Living. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:01AM
LAGRANGE PARK — Rick Steves pushed the idea of open-mindedness, of broadening one’s horizons through travel.
Steves spoke to residents and visitors at Plymouth Place Senior Living center in LaGrange Park Jan. 28 in two packed sessions. Globetrotters, savvy travelers and novices who haven’t yet ventured abroad were eager to hear what he had to say.
The author of more than 50 guide books challenged listeners to step out of their comfort zones and experience Europe’s varied and rich cultures by meeting locals, dining at their favorite spots and asking lots of questions.
“Meeting people different than you carbonates your outlook on life,” he said and smiled broadly as he shared a series of slides and funny stories.
Travelers may encounter anti-American sentiment, but that shouldn’t deter them.
“This is not anti-you or anti-me or anti-American values,” Steves said. “But when the other 96 percent of the world looks at us they see aggressive trade policies and how much is spent on military weaponry.”
Terrorism is a serious issue, he conceded, but “you are 10 times as likely to experience violence in the U.S. than on the streets of Europe. There were 15 Americans killed in your city here this past weekend.”
Steves admitted to being fearful before filming a travel show in Iran in 2011, but found the people warm and welcoming with some of the same values.
While stuck in traffic under a huge Death to America sign, Steves said a man in another car passed over a bouquet of flowers as a gesture to apologize for the traffic and inconvenience to a visitor.
Steves’ driver later exclaimed, “Death to traffic,” explaining the phrase as an expression of frustration with something beyond one’s control.
Steves said his outlook on travel has evolved considerably since his first trip to Germany in 1969 with his dad as a piano importer. Initially, Steves focused on teaching how to pack light, see the best sights and avoid getting ripped off. Then, he broadened his approach to integrate Europe’s rich history, art and culture in the sights and experiences he recommended in a growing travel empire, based in Edmonds, Wash.
In addition to employing a staff of 80, he produces public television shows and radio broadcasts, and more than 12,000 attended 400 of his guides’ tours.
Pat Kreibich a retired teacher from Elmhurst, has taken 11 tours arranged by Steves’ company.
“He’s always enjoyable, and I always learn something,” she said.