Behind the Scenes at the Rick Steves Travel Festival
A little backstory on why this blog exists. A couple of years ago, I received a call from my office at Rick Steves Europe, asking if I could possibly teach a class the next day on how to pack a bag. They had an emergency and their normal speaker was not available. I'd been doing slide lectures for years, usually about Italy, England, art or architecture, which are my specialties. I'd never done a class in packing, but they made me an offer I couldn't refuse- class salary plus a gift card for coffee. I'm a sucker for and am easily bribed with coffee (or wine). So I agreed.I had just returned from a long trip, guiding tours for 6+ weeks, and hadn't even unpacked or washed my clothes. I figured bringing a bit of harsh reality to the class would be good, no matter how stinky. I also brought the reality of how I actually pack, which was different than the other people presenting the class. I'm trained as an architect and worked in designing highly efficient apartments and townhouses, so that's the way I approach travel. Numbers matter: the number of nails required in a building changes the cost just as the number of pounds in a suitcase changes the travel style. That's how I think about packing, so I brought my scale and told people about my weight-based way to construct a Mary Poppins-style bag, full of useful things but light to carry. I was sure everyone would think I was nuts (and they did) but it struck a chord, apparently. I'm pretty specific about the HOW of packing light, not just the WHY, and I'm not really ashamed that I'm known as the guide that weighs her underpants. In any case, I've been lucky to have been invited back to speak about my crazy packing style a bunch of times since then.That brings me to this past summer. The office asked me if I'd like to do my packing class at the November travel festival and have it recorded for the website. I happily agreed, but decided it was time to get myself organized. I tend to do speaking gigs by the seat of my pants, no two lectures are the same. I think the spontaneity keeps it interesting...or maybe I'm a little lazy. Both.I began by writing a bit on each topic that I wanted to touch on at the festival. I wanted to organize my thoughts into chapters. It sort of got out of hand, though, and I wrote far more than I could possibly cover in and hour and a half. I also rediscovered my enjoyment of writing. I used to write and research for the RS guidebooks but haven't done that for a few years. I decided to post my ramblings on a blog website and--boom! Readers! What?? What a delight that my organizational project has been interesting to others.Yesterday was the travel festival, with classes in two venues and the RS team out in force. I always enjoy the festivals and the crowds that come who are really excited about travel and the work that we do. I'm so impressed with how the company has grown, we've gone from a funky family to polished concern in these years that I've been around.My talk was filmed, broadcast live on the Internet, and will be edited into episodes for YouTube in a few weeks. It's fun and flattering to be asked to be in the spotlight for a bit, but it's a little strange for someone shy like myself. Kind of like being a stranger in a strange land. Want to see what my day looked like?I arrived at the theater while Rick was on stage, the theater audience was energized and obviously enjoying his talk, which was being streamed live to thousands of his fans. The class was being recorded by a whole team of technicians and cameramen, and peeps from the Rick Steves Europe family managed the staging details.While I waited for my slot, the crew wired me for sound, taped a microphone to my neck and clipped a battery pack under my dress. I felt like Beyoncé or something with my little mic. Lesson learned, it must be hard to be Beyoncé, you always have to watch what you say with a mic taped to your head.Rick finished his slideshow and came backstage for a quick chat and to wish me well. He's a hard act to follow, of course, but he's a really supportive person to work for. Last time I did this sort of thing, I asked him what would happen if I started swearing uncontrollably or fainted on stage. He just smiled and said that they probably wouldn't use the footage in that case.Then it was showtime. I don't really know what happened after that. I get in "The Zone" when I'm speaking, I just sort of do the thing I do. The audience laughed at my jokes, always a good sign. A few friendly faces were in the audience, folks who've traveled with me on tour that came to support me. Their smiles were great encouragement. I have fun when I speak, but remembering to look in a camera was hard. I like to look the audience in the eyes, that's what makes it enjoyable.The 90 minutes passed so fast, I didn't get to do everything I was hoping for. I did add a new little segment about what not to bring, engineered with the help of my trusty best friend Heidi. I was pretty happy with that bit, although maybe just because we laughed ourselves silly coming up with it.After I was done, the crew helped me stuff my belongings back into my bags. My highly organized bag had exploded into a heap of clothes and gear that refused to go back into the suitcase. Hm. Hope they didn't catch that part on camera. I checked in with the crew and with our social media goddess, Amy, who reported that the viewers were pleased. Apparently Twitter is a popular thing. Guess I'll have to get on it, my brand new account had heaps of comments and new followers. From everyone's comments, seems like it went pretty well. Amy, by the way, is usually the one you are talking to when message us on Facebook or Instagram.The amount of energy and passion put into these events is so impressive. There are lots of people behind the curtains of the stage, making us look and sound good. I feel lucky and honored that I get to be a part of an endeavor with a good heart and soul, working alongside of people who love what they do as much as I do.I hope you got to catch a bit of yesterday's festival. If not, keep an eye on ricksteves.com, they should be posting excerpts of the event on the site in a couple of weeks.