At home in the chic, down-to-earth seaside village of Edmonds is the Travel Center for Rick Steves’ Europe. Approach the building from 4th Avenue, with its classic red brick exterior and sculptural stonework just off Main Street, and you’ll get a sneak peek of the exciting travel possibilities to come. Enter under the watchful gaze of gargoyles. Five steps beyond the cheerful “Open” flag clapping in the breeze and you’re inside a one-stop resource center for European travel.

The Travel Center contains everything you’ll need to know before you step on the plane or even start dreaming of an overseas excursion. You’ll find maps, books, DVDs, travel bags, accessories, free classes, one-on-one consulting, tour sign-ups, and a resource library with fireside seating area. You’ll also find a well-traveled staff on hand to answer questions about everything ranging from international cell phone usage to rail system know-hows and the best foodie hot spots in any given city.

The Travel Center staff is quite possibly the best resource you’ll find inside. All staff members regularly travel abroad and possess different skill sets and expertise. Their advice is hard-won. You won’t find guesswork here, since staff members probably visited your destination very recently, maybe even last week.

“Everyone has someone they can connect with. That’s why (the Travel Center) works so well,” said Jenn Schutte, manager of the Travel Center. For example, if you have questions about traveling with kiddos, ask Schutte. This 23-year veteran of Rick Steves’ Europe travels yearly with her two children and knows what it takes to have a good time, stay on budget, and keep the whole family happy. According to Schutte, the Travel Center is its own destination. People from all over the country travel to see it and plan their trips with the Travel Center’s staff. “Our travel center came before almost everything else,” Steves wrote to me from Normandy, “even back in the 1970s when I had my piano studio on 4th Avenue. My recital hall doubled as a clubhouse and lecture facility for travelers. Today, even though we enjoy a national presence with our teaching, I am committed to having our public gathering place for travelers to share and learn. As I used to say back in the 1970s, ‘We’re all in the same travelers’ school of hard knocks… and it’s OK to compare notes.’”

Rick Steves’ Europe, which includes the Travel Center, has come a long way since the days of his hometown piano studio on 4th Ave. Most know Steves from his more than 100 public television shows or have used several of his travel guide books — most notably “Europe Through the Back Door,” which he self-published in 1980. The book is now updated yearly and published by Avalon Travel Publishing. Steves’ weekly travel show can also be heard on NPR or you can read his syndicated column in newspapers across the country. Time Magazine, 60 Minutes, The Washington Post, and several other prominent media outlets frequently interview Steves for his know-how and inside travel scoops.

Steves’ mission is to make travel accessible, affordable, smart, authentic, and perspective-broadening. “When an American travels, he or she has a chance to not only have a fun vacation but to become better connected to our world. It’s my joy to design the information we gather through our experience in such a way that it helps our travelers enjoy maximum travel fun and meaning for every mile, minute, and dollar during their vacation,” says Steves.

The more we experience other cultures and meet newvpeople, the better we understand our world and appreciatevthose in it. If you’re traveling for the first time or 100th time,vRick Steves’ Travel Center is the place to gear up with tips,vtools, and accessories.

After polling the staff on hand, be sure to check out some of their favorite accessories including packing cubes, which keep all your personal items organized to avoid the typical clothing explosion at each new destination; the Velocé shoulder bag, a perfect size day bag that doubles as a oneor two-shoulder backpack; and the Hide-A-Way Tote that can be folded up smaller than your hands and expanded to a carry-on size bag to bring home purchases and souvenirs.

If you’re not ready to travel on your own, try one of the Rick Steves’ Europe tours, which also doubles as a training ground. You’ll get language lessons and how-tos along the way so you’ll be ready for next time. More travel tips and information can be found on the in-depth Rick Steves’ Europe website. Bon Voyage!

Rick Steves’ Travel Center
130 4th Ave. N., Edmonds
425.771.8303 | ricksteves.com

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"You won’t find guesswork here, since staff members probably visited your destination very recently, maybe even last week."