Seeing the world as an expert does Survey: PBS-TV host Rick Steves provides help through his programs, guidebooks, newsletter and telephone consultations.

June 07, 1998|By Barbara Shea | Barbara Shea,NEWSDAY

You've got to love a fellow traveler who says earnestly: "Save yourself the trouble of making your own mistakes. Learn from mine."

That's the philosophy of the amiable if entrepreneurial Rick Steves, host of the PBS-TV "Travels in Europe" series (videos $25 each), author of 16 European travel guidebooks (available in bookstores or from John Muir Publications), seller of rail passes and travel gear, trip planner and operator of a variety of guided tours that should more than satisfy, if they're even half as interesting as Steves' own on-camera jaunts.

Planning a complex journey? You can schedule a phone consultation with one of the advisers at Steves' Europe Through the Back Door's Travel Resource Center at a rate of $25 per half hour (plus your cross-country phone charges). To save time and get more out of your session, you can fax, mail or e-mail some key questions a few days ahead once your consultation is scheduled. And travelers who happen to be in the Seattle area can drop by and consult the resource center's books and maps, gratis.

But anyone can get the benefit of the peripatetic Steves' candid and timely tips geared to budget travelers in his quarterly - which is part newsletter, part tour brochure and part travel-gear catalog. In it, Steves interviews local characters, shares the latest news and offers advice on whatever has ticked him off or tripped him up on his latest travels (recently ATMs and train strikes).

It would be hard to read (certainly to watch) Steves without catching some of his enthusiasm about travel - which he describes in his newsletter as "one of the last great sources of legal adventure." Explaining the name of his organization, he writes that "experiencing the real Europe requires catching it by surprise, going casual ... Through the Back Door."

Some other bits of Steves wisdom:

* Affording travel is a matter of priorities (make do with the old car). You can travel - simply, safely and comfortably - anywhere in Europe for $60 a day plus transportation costs. In many ways, spending more money only builds thicker walls between you and what you came to see.

* Never sacrifice sleep, nutrition, safety or cleanliness in the name of budget. Simply enjoy the local-style alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants.

* If you don't enjoy a place, maybe you don't know enough about it.

* When something's not to your liking, change your liking.

* Travel changes people. It broadens perspectives and teaches new ways to measure quality of life. Many travelers toss aside their hometown blinders. Their prized souvenirs are the strands of different cultures they decide to knit into their own character.

You can get a free copy of Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door Travel Newsletter (or his 1998 Back Door Guide to European Railpasses) by calling 425-771-8303, visiting www. ricksteves.com or writing Box 2009, Edmonds, Wash., 98020. He promises a one-year subscription (four issues) if you buy something you see in your sample copy - "no matter how small."

In brief

Budget

Traveling this summer with a family or group, and willing to forgo some luxuries? Consider low-cost university housing. The University of Toronto, for instance, is renting 81 four-bedroom student townhouses for about $59 to $67 per townhouse per night, through Aug. 24. Each sleeps either four or six in single beds, and includes a living room, bathroom and full kitchen. Bedding, linens, cookware and dishes are provided.

The university is about 35 minutes east of Toronto, the site of two major art shows this summer: "A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum" (Royal Ontario Museum) and an Impressionist exhibit from London's Courtauld Institute of Art (Art Gallery of Ontario). For reservations, contact Wynona Bardgett, Conference Services, University of Toronto at Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough, Ontario, M1C 1A4, Canada; 416-287-7356.

Business

With business becoming increasingly global, the international travel tribe is increasing. Five years ago, about 10 percent of employees made foreign trips. Today, it's more like 15 percent, according to a Runzheimer International survey of 107 multinational companies. And 56 percent of corporate travel policies allow employees to fly business class "if the trip exceeds a specific time limit."

Foreign business trips are hard on travel budgets. An average trip lasts eight days and costs about $3,500, according to the consultant, compared with three days and $950 for a domestic trip. Air- fares for foreign trips are around $1,750 each, with hotels averaging $170 a night and rental cars $56 a day.

Fast solutions

One of the complaints cruise passengers have involving air/sea arrangements are those concerning the flight schedule to or from the ship. Norwegian Cruise Line has now added a Premium Air Service Desk designed to customize passengers' requests for upgrades, stopovers and itineraries to and from the ship.

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