My wife and I spent a lot of time watching travel shows over the past several years as we formed the vision for a year-long family sabbatical / career break. My personal favorite is Rick Steves’ Europe, the PBS series where the jovial host jaunts through European city after European city, backpack slung casually over one shoulder. In any given episode he strolls through famous museums, sits in ancient cathedrals pondering history and noting nuances in architecture, has engaging conversations with locals and offers tips on packing and where to stay. At night, he enjoys a multi-course meal in one of the top local eateries, toasting his dinner guests with glass after glass of fine wine. At the end of the show, he sums the city up with a concise monologue a la Springer’s Final Thoughts as his viewers look up airfares and calculate their remaining vacation hours. We book our trips with these visions of perfect days dancing in our minds.
But, ever notice how those travel show hosts are usually traveling alone? Here’s what a typical episode would look like if the host brought his (young) family. This week on Barry Steves’ Europe, we travel to ancient Rome where Barry tries to change his one year-old daughter’s blowout diaper in a Vatican City public men’s room. Next, he repeatedly puts his screaming three year-old daughter in “time out” on the Spanish Steps. Barry explores the exterior of the ancient cathedral after he and his family are asked to go outside because his daughter kept saying “this is so BORING” in a loud, whining voice. That evening at Trattoria Monti, the family comes face to face with an irate chef after the kids refer to the specialty of the house as “disgusting” and ask if they can get Kraft Mac N Cheese, instead. Barry wraps up the show alone from the hotel bar cursing into his whiskey glass and wondering why he just blew two month’s salary on Rome when his kids would have rather gone to Wally World.
Yes, I’ll admit that Rick Steves’ is my idol. Not just because he gets to travel around Europe for a living, but because what other man has the cojones to say to his wife each spring: “Honey, I’m going to go tour Europe for 2 months. You stay home with the kids. Thanks.”
Here’s another television show pitch for HGTV. Take an average U.S. family with 2 to 3 children under the age of 8 and send them on European vacations. See how they deal with the jet lag-induced melt-downs, local cuisine, and lack of interest from the kids in museums and cathedrals. That might put a bit more “reality” into those travel shows.