Keep on dreamin’

Rick Steves talks travel during the time of coronavirus

Rick Steves

Photo: Rick Steves’ Europe
Rick Steves is not in Europe for the first time in 30 years—learning there’s more to life than travel… like cooking.

The Norwegian American

“The virus cannot stop our travel dreams.”

As Winston Churchill once said, “Never waste a good crisis.” In challenging times, one must accept the reality that things are going wrong and the answers may not come that quickly, yet it is important to take action.

Photo: Rick Steves’ Europe
Rick Steves celebrating a fine meal with his quarantine partner and cooking coach, Shelley Bryan Wee.

Fortunately, there are voices to turn to for wisdom, and when it comes to travel, Rick Steves has been one of the most respected authorities for over 30 years. It’s no wonder that his PBS series is soaring in the ratings during the coronavirus crisis.  So many of us miss traveling—and trust Rick.

These days, while Rick is quarantined at home in Edmonds, Wash., a quiet waterfront community located just 15 miles north of Seattle, he’s not wasting a crisis. I was fortunate to connect with him on the phone for a quick chat to learn how he is making the most of this most unusual situation.

Rick is normally the voice that tells us to not be afraid, but admittedly, the current situation is different. “The odd thing is that it’s such a mystery,” he said. “It could be over in a little while, or it could be a new way of life.”  Rick feels there is something exhausting about not knowing how long it will last. But most of all, he expressed concern that we must all keep our eye on the common good—and that is exactly what he is trying to do.

“We need to keep our communities together as best we can,” said Rick. His travel company, located there in his hometown, employs 100 people, and he is committed to keeping them all on the payroll. As a privately held company—he is the sole owner—he has the capacity to do this, and he perceives it as a smart business move.

“I want my company to be intact when the travelers come back,” he explained, and with the many cancellations and questions streaming in, the staff is all hands on deck. Rick Steves’ Europe has canceled all of its tours through August 2020, offering customers 100% refunds. The company has always been extremely customer-oriented. “Our customers are our friends,” said Rick, “and ethical business practices are good business practices.”  Rick is in it for the long haul and knows that the bookings will come back. 

Photo: Rick Steves’ Europe
Rick Steves in his shuttered hometown of Edmonds, Wash., trying something new: staying home and walking the dogs.

But that doesn’t mean that America’s favorite travel guru doesn’t have some real concerns. The coronavirus crisis will have its casualties, both here and in Europe. He sees there will be a ripple effect down the supply chain. Some small businesses will not survive, and these losses are bound to have some impact. For Rick, travel is about meeting real people: in a small café in France, in a quaint family hotel in Scotland, on an Italian piazza, or in a Irish pub, where a stranger is a good friend yet to be met.

“It would be terrible if a hug or a kiss on the cheek were to become a thing of the past,” he said. For Rick, the personal experiences are what make a trip meaningful and memorable. “While health and safety are primary concerns during the time of the pandemic, we cannot let it overtake us with fear. We just don’t know how social distancing will affect the travel experience over time,” he said.

At the same time, the cost equation is changing, and the overall impact on travel is still an unknown. Rick recognizes that you need to pack airplanes, tours, hotels, and restaurants. Prices may increase significantly after COVID-19, making travel more exclusive. But the European travel expert is optimistic.  People may be dreaming of travel more than ever right now, and Rick believes that this is a healthy thing. “The virus cannot stop our travel dreams,” he said. “The demand does not dissipate—and we’ll be welcome when we come back.”

Now at home, Rick is doing more writing and creating new content for his fans. His staff is working on the yearly updating of the guidebooks, developing new educational programs, and keeping the company website and social-media channels relevant with tips and information to guide us through the time of coronavirus. There is a coronavirus FAQ on the website for tour members, daily doses of travel to enjoy on Facebook, blog posts from guides on the ground in Europe. 

And then there is the rich offering of learning resources in Classroom Europe on the website: the TV show, radio show, travel talks, audio tours. While we are spending more time at home, it’s a great opportunity to plan for our next trip. The resources are well designed and fun, a valuable resource for students learning at home. And Norway fans, take note: Classroom Europe offers 10 clips on your favorite country. Rick is a Norwegian American, after all—and he is proud of it. Best of all, everything in Classroom Europe is free.

Photo: Rick Steves’ Europe
For Rick Steves, polishing off old passions—like playing the piano—is a great way to make this quarantine more livable.

So what is Rick Steves’ new normal like when he’s not busy making the world go round? “Life is good,” he said, “but I am keenly aware of how privileged I am.” For the first time in 30 years, Rick is spending springtime in the Pacific Northwest and making lots of new discoveries. He can hear the hummingbirds chirping in his yard, he is walking the dogs, playing piano, and learning to cook for the first time in his life. He even dug out his old bugle, and each evening as the sun goes down, his neighbors can listen to him play taps from his balcony, as he looks out on the sweeping view of the Olympic Mountains across Puget Sound.

Of course, Rick misses Europe, but there may be a silver lining to the coronavirus, as we gain a new appreciation of all we’ve experienced, what we have, and what we have to look forward to. And while we can’t hop onto a plane bound for Oslo tomorrow, we can still keep on travelin’ with Rick Steves as we keep on dreamin’.

See also “Keep on travelin’ with Rick Steves” by Lori Ann Reinhall, The Norwegian American, Jan. 24, 2020.

This article originally appeared in the May 22, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.