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Travel master Rick Steves to give lesson to Charlotteans

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Travel-planning can be mind-boggling, guidebooks can be confusing, and a bad vacation can be devastating. Luckily, travel writer/TV show host Rick Steves voices his opinion about European-related travel in an honest, digestible manner that's being consumed by the masses. His words can make or break a destination and, for many American sightseers, will be the final deciding factor on where to go.

Steves, a travel guru known for his budget-minded and culturally enlightening means of traveling, will visit on Feb. 17. The World Affairs Council of Charlotte — a nonprofit organization (founded in 1983) promoting international education/affairs and global understanding — is behind the event, titled "Travel the World with Rick Steves: Become a World Citizen Through Travel." The evening consists of drinks, hors d'oeuvres, a meet and greet/Q&A session and a lecture by Steves at The Westin Charlotte.

"There are so many people in communities and countries around the globe that have so much to share about their culture, their history and their worldviews," says Ljubomir Stambuk, president of WACC. "Steves helps bring that to the forefront very nicely."

Steves, a native of Edmonds, Wash., meandered through Europe for the first time in 1969 with his parents. The family traveled to see piano factories in Germany (Steves' dad was importing pianos) and to visit relatives in Norway. Steves, then a young teenager, was captivated with what seemed like a whole new world.

"I remember being dragged over there as a 14-year-old boy with a bad attitude and by day two it occurred to me, 'This isn't all that bad,'" says Steves. "There was different candy and food, different pop and different women — statuesque with hairy armpits. It was a wonderland for me. I could enjoy Europe without being taken around by my parents. It could be my playground."

Today, Steves, the author of countless best-selling guidebooks in the U.S. — including 30 selections covering all of Western Europe — spends four months a year in Europe researching, updating and taking on new adventures for his guidebooks and TV show, Rick Steves' Europe. His company, based out of his hometown, is staffed with 80 people. "We're all energized by the challenge of organizing information and designing it in a way that helps Americans enjoy maximum travel thrills for every mile, minute and dollar on their next trip," he says.

"I'm doing the same thing now as I did 30 years ago. I'm having as many experiences and learning as much as I can and making mistakes just to see what will happen and learning from all that, taking careful notes and then coming home and designing it into whatever I can to help other people travel smarter."

During his upcoming visit to Charlotte, Steves will focus on highlights from his latest book, Travel as a Political Act, a winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Award in 2010.

"My hope is that those attending the event will gain an appreciation that the most important souvenir you can bring home is a broader perspective and that the richest travel comes when you connect with people and when you get out of your comfort zone," says Steves. "There's a lot of fear in our society these days and it's being pushed on us by people with an agenda. I think fear is for people who don't get out very much. It's time to get out, see the world and realize that the other 96 percent is not going away and it's just nice to get to know the family."

Tickets are $50 for WACC members and $65 for non-members. The event begins at 6 p.m. Feb. 17 at The Westin Charlotte, 601 S. College St. For reservations or more information about the event, call 704-687-7762 or visit www.charlotteworld.org.

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