What is Rick Steves Doing During Coronavirus Quarantine?
What happens when the travel guy can't travel? Rick Steves talks quarantine, European travel and more.
Much like the urge to point to yourself while watching Mister Rogers or allowing yourself to be hypnotized by the dance of Bob Ross’s paintbrush, fans of Rick Steves’ Europe have probably found themselves muttering the show’s signature signoff along with host, Rick Steves: “Keep on travelin’.” But what happens when you can’t keep on traveling? That’s right, even Rick Steves has to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Steves’ company had to cancel thousands of trips and he had to postpone filming for his TV series. But, he hasn’t let that get him down. Steves says he feels privileged to be able to stay home comfortably during this time.
He is also adapting to our current situation and embracing viewers with technology. On October 14, he hosted a virtual event with KCTS 9, A Conversation with Rick Steves. Participants were able to submit their own questions for Steves to answer, you can read those answers here.
In person (or on Zoom), he’s still the affable guy you see on television who can just as easily chuckle at life’s levity as he can deliver gentle, intentional wisdoms.
Here’s what Rick Steves had to say about COVID-19 quarantine, travel after coronavirus and his upcoming event with KCTS 9.
How are you spending your time in quarantine?
I’m doing my best to stay positive — and keep busy, and be healthy, and get my sleep, and be patient. Patience is not an American forte, but I think we have to be patient.
This quarantine is kind of like therapy for a workaholic. I’m addicted to being really productive. And this is teaching me that there is more to life than increasing in speed. So, I’m doing things you wouldn’t expect a travel writer to do. I’m learning how to cook. I’m cuddling with the dogs. I’m playing the piano. I’m getting to know the hummingbirds.
Are you enjoying any sights right now in the Seattle area?
Well, no. I’m very privileged. And, there’s a lot of very less privileged people. I think that’s really important, that this sheds a very stark light on the fact that there’s a huge gap between the people who have a good job and live at home and work at home and other people who are worrying about how they are going to make their next rent payment.
The sightseeing I am doing is noticing things I didn’t notice before. Just the other day, I was noticing a slug on my neighbor’s fence and all I could think was “escargot.”
The sunset, to me, everyday is like a performance. The sound of the train coming and going, the sound of the ferries coming and going. It’s just a beautiful soundtrack of my life here in the Puget Sound.
Where were you planning on traveling this summer?
I was going to do what I do every year and go to Europe for 100 days — make TV shows. I was going to make a couple of TV shows in Poland. And, right now, I’m supposed to be in Iceland filming. But that all had to get put on hold.
I was actually going on one of my Rick Steves tours as a participant. I booked out an entire bus. And, my son was going to be the tour guide. My daughter’s getting married. I wanted to get to know her fiance’s family ... We were all going to fill the bus with a few of my extended relatives who have yet to get to Europe. And, I was just going to be on vacation, relaxing, sharing all those exciting firsts with this extended family. And, it was going to be so much fun! When we canceled that, it broke my heart. But, I reminded everybody, it’s not canceled, it’s waiting. It will be rescheduled when things open up again.
What advice do you have for people who had to cancel international travel?
The only advice I’ve got is, be patient. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Most people on this planet wish they had trips to cancel. You’ll get to do your trip in due time. But, 2020 is the 1940 of our lifetime. We all just gotta stay put for a little while and get through this together.
We need to be worried more about how we are going to help our community, not leave anybody behind and how we can show leadership in our own ways at a time when we don’t have any leadership coming from our federal government.
So, canceling a trip — I’ve canceled 24,000 trips with my business. It really saddens me to think about all those dreams and travel aspirations that we’ve had to cancel and send back all those deposits. We just told people, “We’ll be here when we open up again, and we can all rekindle our travel dreams then.”
When we can travel to Europe again, do you have any thoughts on how it could look? Or how it could be different from what we’re used to now?
You could ask all the experts in the world and nobody knows. I just know it’ll be incremental when we go back to Europe. First, it will be local people traveling locally. Then, it’ll be rugged individuals venturing out. And, finally, it will be organized tourism like the bus tours that I like to lead.
My style of travel is all about — it’s the opposite of social distancing. My kind of travel is touching people, kissing on the cheek, sharing a bench in a beer hall in Munich, crowding together around a square in Rome for the evening passeggiata.
There’s going to be an interim period where we don’t have that. But, when we do come out of this, it will go back to something close to normal. It might be like how we’ve gotten used to life at the airport now with TSA and security. The essence of travel will return. It’s just going to take time.
KCTS 9 is hosting a virtual event with you in October. What can attendants expect from this experience?
I’ll be sharing dispatches from my friends in Europe to share how they're doing and trying to get a global perspective on this. This is one challenge that really knows no borders. And you don’t fight it in a conventional way. You fight it, not with walls and military might, but you fight it with science and working together with other nations.
One point I like to remind people is half of the world is living on $5 a day, half of the world is in crisis. Now, it’s crisis upon crisis for people south of the border. Even if we don’t have that love-thy-neighbor ethic, I think it’s just a practical consideration and a practical investment to realize that we gotta beat this in a global way. Not just have America beat it and build walls to keep other people out.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
One of my favorite things is to answer questions from travelers. And, I’m looking forward to meeting with all the supporters of public television in Seattle and the travelers who are patiently waiting for their trips to happen.
I’m looking forward to answering questions about Europe, about how we make our TV show and how to employ the traveler’s spirit — the traveler’s wonderment, the traveler’s curiosity, the traveler’s optimism — right here at home when we can’t physically travel. In the last five months, I have learned quite vividly that you can employ a traveler’s spirit at home and it makes your life richer.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
Season 11 of Rick Steves’ Europe begins October 20 at 7:00 p.m.
Caroline Gerdes is a digital and social media editor at Cascade Public Media. Before working for Cascade Public Media, Caroline was a freelance writer and she worked for National Geographic as a grantee and digital producer. She is also the author of the book, An Oral History of the New Orleans Ninth Ward.