Day 6

Traveller's mindset is what's getting Rick Steves through the pandemic

Travel writer and television personality Rick Steves — known for his guidebooks to travelling Europe, PBS TV series and the bus tours his company runs — has been sidelined thanks to the global pandemic.

'As I've not been able to travel, I've done things that I've never really appreciated before,' says the writer

Rick Steves takes a break from filming in Italy's Dolomites. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a hold on the travel writer and TV presenter's own travel plans, and tours run by his company. (Rick Steves' Europe)

Rick Steves is stuck at home like the rest of us.

The travel writer and television personality — known for his guidebooks on travelling Europe, PBS TV series Rick Steves' Europe and the bus tours his company runs — has been sidelined thanks to the global pandemic.

And for the globetrotter, who says he has travelled every year since he was young, it's been an adjustment he calls a "forced sabbatical."

"It's sort of God's way of telling me to slow down. Maybe it's like therapy for a workaholic," he told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

"I've learned there's more to life than increasing its speed, and I've kind of enjoyed the break from the focus on my work."

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, recreational travel has been discouraged or limited by governments around the world. 

With vaccination campaigns gaining steam, some say a return to global travel is in sight. The European Union said last month it's in talks to begin accepting vaccinated travellers from the United States as soon as this summer.

"I'm very confident that we'll be travelling again within the next year. And then we will throttle up and we'll put COVID in our rear-view mirrors and we'll travel on," said Steves.

Steves pictured with his television crew in the Scottish Highlands. The globetrotter is well known for his TV series, Rick Steves' Europe. (Rick Steves' Europe)

Traveller's mindset during lockdown

For Steves, his traveller's mindset — the desire to get outside of his comfort zone — played a big role in his own coping with the pandemic.

The key to travelling? A willingness to learn from mistakes, embrace serendipity and open up to new ideas, he says. It's an approach he calls becoming a "temporary local."

"As I've not been able to travel, I've done things that I've never really appreciated before with that traveller's mindset," said Steves.

"I've learned how to cook. I've learned the joy of owning and walking dogs. I've gotten to know the hummingbirds and their rhythm of life. Every sunset for me is a devotional."

Steves receives a vaccination against COVID-19. The writer says that he believes travel could begin resuming in the fall. (Rick Steves' Europe)

The pandemic has also highlighted economic divisions in American society and environmental issues, Steves said.

"It would be a shame if we came out of COVID and fell right back into our old ways. I think we can learn from this time. And it's my hope and prayer that when we come out of COVID that we're better for it — and I think that's a reasonable hope."

Tours will return soon, says Steves

Steves's tour company, like many businesses, was hit hard as a result of that pandemic.

While he says 2019 was the company's best year ever, in 2020 they returned trip deposits to 24,000 travellers. 

Despite the setback, he says that all 100 of his staff have continued receiving paycheques.

"As an ethical business person, I think you've got to take the good years with the bad. And we are happy to make money off of our staff when we're making money," Steves said.

"Right now, I'm losing money, but we'll keep the staff together."

That doesn't mean he is in a rush to get travellers back on buses, however. Though he believes that travel could start picking up in the fall, he expects most of his tours will return next year.

Steves pictured in 1978 while travelling in Asia. Steves says 2021 was the first year since he was a kid that he hasn't travelled in an airplane. (Rick Steves' Europe)

Though his company has thousands of travellers on wait lists, Steves says they have yet to take deposits — and won't until he's convinced it's a "smart time" to do so.

And given it's expected we'll still be practising social distancing for the short term, he's happy to wait.

"Social distancing and Rick Steves travel have nothing to do with each other," he said, laughing. "I don't want to fly all the way to Amsterdam to eat in a bubble so I don't get somebody's germs."

"I want my cheeks kissed in Paris…. I want to go to the pubs in Ireland and clink glasses with people who really believe that strangers are just friends who have yet to meet.

"That's the essence of good travel and we'll be able to do that."

Written by Jason Vermes. Interview produced by Laurie Allan.

Hear full episodes of Day 6 on CBC Listen, our free audio streaming service.

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