Every summer for four decades, Rick Steves would go on an annual tour of Europe. His travels have been well documented on several PBS shows and specials, and reproduced in a range of bestselling guidebooks.
But over the past year, one big trip for Steves has looked more like this: a simple stroll through his hometown of Edmonds, Washington.
Since COVID canceled his travel plans, he mostly stays indoors, practices the piano, and explores the alien land that is… his kitchen.
“I never knew how to make pasta!” Steve told correspondent Conor Knighton. “I have never felt the joy of a knife slicing through a good crispy onion.”
“By that you mean that you have never cut an onion first? “
“I’ve never cut an onion before!” Steves asserted.
Knighton asked, “Are there any devices that you are discovering for the first time?
“Yeah, an oven!” he’s laughing. “I didn’t know how to light the grill.”
Steves never learned much about domestic life – he was too busy traveling abroad. After his first trip to Europe at 14, he got hooked. He returned time and time again, ultimately marketing his expertise through an empire of guides and group tours. It now has its own line of suitcases and travel wallets, all on display at its headquarters in Edmonds (which closed to the public in March 2020).
Knighton asked, “How did these sales go? “
“Our sales are almost nil, you know? Steve replied. “And that’s understandable. Who’s going to buy a guide to Paris right now?”
2020 was shaping up to be Steves’ best year. But as soon as COVID hit, he was forced to cancel all of his tours. “It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “And it’s not heartbreaking because I’m losing all this money. I made money every year for 30 years; you take the good years with the bad. So I am not making money this year. . But 20,000 people dreaming, saving, planning the trips of a lifetime, taking their kids, taking their grandma, all scuttled? It breaks my heart. “
Steves sees himself as a teacher – a trip abroad is full of valuable lessons for Americans. “For me, Europe is the paddling pool for exploring the world. And my profit isn’t how much money I earn, but it’s how many Americans I introduce to international travel, for help broaden their perspective. “
Of course, at the moment, international travel is largely prohibited for Americans. But Steves remained in teaching mode, hosting talks he dubbed “Monday Night Travel” from his living room via Zoom.
Even when things open up again, Steves doubts his group will be the first to return.
“My idea of the trip – Rick Steves’ whole Europe – is the opposite of social distancing,” he said. “I’m going to Paris to have a kiss on the cheeks. I’m going to Rome to gather in the square, then I do the passeggiata with everyone, walking down the street together. I’m going to Ireland to walk into a pub and share a Guinness with someone.
“So the beauty of the trip for me is the people. And it will be back, but I’ll be patient.”
In the meantime, Steves made sure to hang on to his employees. Knighton asked, “Are you still paying your staff?
Steve replied, “I still pay my staff, yes. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do from a business standpoint, because whether it’s next year or the next year. next year we’re going to get out of there – and my staff will be intact. “
Until then, Steves is happy to continue enjoying the simple pleasures of home living, recalling past trips while finding new ways to connect with people – from a front porch.
“My trumpet has been in the dark for 30 years,” he said. “And I took it out of its holster and oiled it, and now I’m standing here at sunset and playing ‘Taps’.
“And when I’m done, all through the community, that little noise of people clapping and shouting, and just for this moment we’re all reminded that we’re here together.”
For more information:
Story produced by Amol Mhatre. Publisher: Emanuele Secci.
Web Extra: Rick Steve on Expanding Ourselves Through Travel