Illinois Tourism & Travel

Crazy About Travel

Thomas Jefferson fan follows his idol’s European itinerary

Derek Baxter says that Thomas Jefferson has long been his hero, and he has the proof: He began visiting the Founding Father’s home, Monticello, as a child; starred as Jefferson in a fourth-grade play; took his prom date to the Jefferson Memorial; and majored in history at the Jefferson-founded University of Virginia.

So it makes sense that when Baxter was in the throes of a midlife crisis – dissatisfied with his predictable job as an attorney for a government agency, exhausted by the demands of parenting two young children – he looked to his idol for direction. His discovery of “Hints to Americans Traveling in Europe,” an obscure, unpublished travel guide Jefferson wrote in 1788 for two young men planning their grand tour of the Continent, captured his imagination. In his debut book, “In Pursuit of Jefferson: Traveling Through Europe With the Most Perplexing Founding Father,” Baxter winningly details his experiences following Jefferson’s itinerary while also grappling with his complicated legacy. 

Jefferson’s “Hints” starts in Amsterdam and ends in Paris, with stops in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Because Baxter isn’t in financial shape for a grand tour himself, he plans shorter trips over a period of several years, accompanied at various points by his exceedingly supportive wife, his children, and his parents, all of whom come to life through his warm and witty anecdotes.