Rick Steves, On Returning From The Trip And Why It Matters

One recent morning, Rick Steves was walking around the ancient Tuscan town of Volterra with a new generation of tour guides. His company’s travel to Europe is set to resume in February after a nearly two-year hiatus due to a pandemic, and the guides were halfway on a nine-day trip to Italy to learn “what makes a Rick Steves Tour A Rick Steves Tour “.

One of the stops on their route was Volterra, a medieval town perched on a hill whose stone walls are 800 years old. Steves – who has been to Tuscany several times for his popular public broadcast and YouTube channel – relished his comeback.

“We’re surrounded by the wonders of what we love so much, and that just makes our endorphins flip flops,” he said in a phone interview.

This unabashed enthusiasm has fueled the empire of Steves’ guidebooks, radio shows, and TV shows, as well as tours that have taken hundreds of thousands of Americans overseas since he began working them. direct in 1980.

Along the way, Steves has built a reputation for persuading hesitant Americans to take their first trip overseas – and that first trip is often to Europe, which Steves called “the paddling pool for exploring the world.” . But he also speaks passionately about the value of traveling to places like El Salvador and Iran, and he’s open about how his time in other countries has shaped his perspective on issues like hunger. around the world and the legalization of marijuana.

But Europe remains Steves’ bread and butter, and he’s back on the continent now – both preparing for the return of his tours and working on a six-hour series on art and architecture. Europeans that he hopes will be broadcast to the American public. television next fall. As he walked through Volterra, we explained why he didn’t count the number of countries he visited, why his tour operator would require vaccinations, and why a world without travel would be a more dangerous place.

The conversation has been edited slightly for clarity and length.

Q: How does it feel to be back in Europe?

A: I work with 20 guides here and people are almost moved by the revival of tourism. The professional tour guides have been on hold for two seasons, and they are so overjoyed to be able to do what they do, as the guides are programmed to excite, inspire and teach their culture, art and history. And it’s so much fun to be here and be filled with hope. And while we are still in the pandemic, we are also coming out of it and there is an energy in the streets and in the museums.

Q: Do you think Americans are ready to travel overseas again?

A: I would say it’s not for everyone, but if you don’t mind being well organized and are keen to follow the rules and regulations, that’s okay. And Europe is ahead of the United States, I believe, in the fight against COVID. There is great respect for masks. More and more museums require reservations to enter because they want to make sure it is not crowded. It’s kind of a blessing, actually. I was just at the Vatican Museum and really enjoyed the Sistine Chapel because it wasn’t that crowded. It was an amazing experience for me because the last time I was there I had to wear shoulder pads.

Q: You have long believed that travel can do a lot of good in the world, but what about carbon emissions, overcrowding and other negative effects of travel?

A: Climate change is a serious problem and tourism contributes a lot to it, but I don’t want to be ashamed of my travels because I believe that travel is a powerful force for peace and stability on this planet. My company therefore imposed a carbon tax of $ 30 per person that we take to Europe. In 2019, we gave $ 1 million to a portfolio of organizations fighting climate change. We gave half of that amount in 2020, even though we stopped bringing people to Europe after the pandemic. This is not heroic. It’s just the ethical thing to do.

And on the other side of things, when you go to Europe, you can consume in a way that doesn’t disrupt retirees and ruin neighborhoods. Homeowners all over the world can make more money renting to tourists for the short term than to locals for the long term. So if you’re complaining that a city is too touristy and you’re staying at an Airbnb, well, you’re part of the problem.

But we would be very lost if we stopped traveling, and the world would become a more dangerous place. We have to travel in a way that “leaves only footprints, only takes pictures”. What you want to do is take home the best memory, and that’s a broader perspective and a better understanding of our place on the planet – and then use that broader perspective as a citizen of. a powerful nation like the United States that has a huge impact beyond our borders.

Q: How do you try to encourage people to travel in a meaningful way?

A: The responsibility of the travel writer is to help people travel smarter, with more experience, more economically and more efficiently. And everyone has their own idea of ​​what it is, but for me it’s about remembering that traveling is about people. It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. So we’re trying to help Americans travel in a more experimental, empowering, and transformational way. You know, you can have a transformational journey or just go shopping and a to-do list.

Q: You said you didn’t count the number of countries you visited. Why is that?

A: Why would you want Is it a competition? Anyone bragging about how many countries they’ve visited, this is no basis for the value of the trip they’ve taken. You could have been in 100 countries without learning anything, or you could go to Mexico and be a citizen of the planet. I find that there is no correlation between the people who matter their countries and the people who open their hearts and souls to the cultures in which they find themselves.

Q: I heard that you are working on a new big project. What is it about?

A: Something I’ve been preparing to do for the last 20 years is to bring together all of the finest art experiences we’ve included on our TV show and weave them together into a six hour series on European art and architecture. We’ve been working on the show for a year, and it’s going to be my magnum opus, my big project. It’s going to make art accessible and meaningful to people in a way that I don’t think we’ve seen on TV before. I’m inspired by people who have done art shows in the past, and I have a way of looking at it through a traveller’s lens. I am very excited about this. It’s just a cool creative challenge.

Q: How have things been for your travel agency since the start of the pandemic?

A: Well, 2019 was our best year. We took 30,000 Americans on about 1,200 different tours and we were just exhilarated. We had 2020 basically used up when COVID hit, and then we had to cancel everything, so we had to resend 24,000 deposits. We all crouched down and I did what I could to keep my team intact. A few months ago we decided we were confident about Spring 2022, so we opened the floodgates and immediately those 24,000 people who had to cancel two years ago – basically they re-registered. And now we have 29,000 people registered in 30,000 seats for next year.

So we are doing very well, but we just need to continue to be diligent in our society and in Europe to responsibly fight COVID. So I’m losing my patience with anti-vaccines. Maybe they are exercising their freedom, but they also impact a lot of other people. So we have just decided to require that people be vaccinated to participate in our visits. Here in Europe, unvaccinated people were outside most of the time anyway, as they couldn’t get into restaurants, on the train, on the bus or in museums. The world is getting smaller and smaller for people who want to travel without getting vaccinated.

Q: Do you think travel will ever get back to normal?

A: Some people decided they didn’t want to travel after September 11 because they didn’t want to deal with security. You know, these people have a low enough bar to fold their shop. I got used to security after 9/11 and now I’m getting used to COVID standards. But I think next year we’ll start traveling again – and hopefully we’ll all be better for it.

McClanahan is a freelance writer. This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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