If you’ve followed me for a while, you will know I co-host the podcast Rick Steves Over Brunch, which has given me a few amazing opportunities, including getting to interview Rick Steves twice for the pod.
Below you’ll find the full transcript of our Rick Steves interview where we discuss his 2020 travel special “Why We Travel.”
You can listen to the full interview here:
Our previous interview with Rick Steves is here:
For a full list of show episodes, check out the podcast page for Rick Steves Over Brunch.
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A Few Thoughts about Interviewing Rick Steves
Yes, I co-host an entire podcast about his tv shows, but as with any public persona, his real personality is not necessarily his television personality. Via YouTube and, formerly, my DVR, I’ve traveled with the man across the Atlantic dozens of times, from Portugal to Paris, from Sicily to Spain to Tuscany.
Of course, that’s all just in my head. While he’s been my private tour guide and travel guru, that didn’t mean he would care about our little show and our small corner of the travel sphere. So having his support has meant the world. It’s wonderful when you find that someone you think you know on tv is as affable in real life, even over Zoom or Zencastr.
This year marks ten years of being a Rick Steves fan (or Ricknick, as some affectionately call us). I first came across his work where most people do, on his PBS show, though I also relied on him to be my personal travel expert for my first trip abroad in 2011.
Using his “Europe Through the Back Door” philosophy, I embarked on my first European travel solo, with functional shoes and all the right converters. Though, admittedly, I was quite overpacked. As a first-time traveler going from America to Europe before the ubiquity of Google Maps and wifi, his travel advice was invaluable.
While I have not actually gotten to travel with Rick Steves, I have listened to his public radio show, his podcast, read his books, and watched his tv show. I’ve seen him adventuring in Europe from Oslo to Romania. Now in the era of Coronavirus and social distancing, when New York feels as far away as Kamchatka, it was so lovely to sit down and talk about how important travel is to individuals and our hopes and fears for travel in the future.
While we may have been spread across a continent, from Edmonds, Washington to Oklahoma City to Toronto, this conversation was one that we enjoyed recording immensely.
Rick Steves Interview Transcript
Stephanie Craig 0:04
Hello, and welcome to Rick Steves Over Brunch, a podcast where two travel writers discuss episodes of the classic travel television show, Rick Steves’ Europe. I’m Stephanie Craig from History Fangirl and he’s…
Christopher Mitchell 0:15
Christopher Mitchell from travelingmitch…
Stephanie Craig 0:17
…And today we are discussing the 2020 special, “Why We Travel.” And yes, we did cover it in January, but we’re covering it with the man himself., So we’re going to go right into that interview.
Christopher Mitchell 0:31
Everybody, we will catch you on the tail end here.
And of course, we’ll chat more about it in our Facebook group, Rick Steves Over Brunch Podcast Listeners.
Thanks, everyone enjoy.
Stephanie Craig 0:42
Alright, our guest today is the man himself Rick Steves!
And he’s on to talk about his special that came out in December called “Why We Travel.”
Chris and I did do our episode in January where we discussed our own thoughts in response to it, but nothing’s better than going to the source. So we dive into questions about it that we have for you. And Rick, we have listener questions for you.
Do you want to just introduce the special and why it was important for you to make it?
Rick Steves 1:11
Yeah, thanks for having me.
And, you know, this is the only thing I’ve produced during COVID. Of course, when COVID hit, we had to shut everything down. I had the crew all ready – we had our flights, we had our permissions, we had the scripts, we were going to do two great shows in Poland and two exciting shows in Iceland. And then, of course, there’s no travel at all.
So I thought, well, what am I going to do over that first summer of COVID?
And I thought, you know, I’ve been thinking so much about why we travel. I just think it is so important that we travel, even with COVID. I think as we come out of COVID, it’s more important than ever that we get together. I think in the future, the challenges that confront us will be blind to borders. And it will be fought with the people working together.
And you know, in the future, you can’t have a win lose solution to these kind of problems. It’s got to be win-win, and everybody’s got to figure it out. And that means nations working together. And that means people understanding each other. And that’s one of the reasons why we travel.
So then I thought, okay, let’s make a love note to travel. And this really is like a sonnet to travel. Usually when I do a half hour show, it’s got 3000 words in it. And this has a little more than half that many words. So there’s just lots of time to think about beautiful images and beautiful experiences and beautiful memories, and the value of travel. So I wrote this little poem.
And we didn’t put any, you know, practical details in it. I’m always looking for practical information in my shows, but this was different. This was just, this was just enjoying and meditating on the value of travel. And we cobbled together my very favorite experiences and my very favorite, you know, eurekas from travel, and put it in this half hour show.
And we could shoot it just using my deck as, as sort of a place for the cameras or we went down to the University of Washington, and there’s a beautiful quad there with all sorts of cherry blossoms. So, you know, in this show, we’ve got just two places where I’m doing on cameras that lace it together.
And another thing, Chris and Steph, that that sort of inspired me is, as I was home, I was looking through my old journals. And when you look at the show, you see these stacks of journals.
And I wrote like a crazy person long before I was ever a travel writer, I just every year I would take an empty book to Europe. And I would bring it home with 200 fine print pages just filled with experiences. And I had never read those things for 40 years. So I had my staff transcribe them, I had them all scanned, and I’ve got this body of work.
Now it’s about 2000 pages of journals! And I’ve got every day, and everywhere I stayed, and all that kind of stuff all documented from these trips between when I was the age of 16 until I was about 24. And then I wrote my first book when I was 25. So it’s a very introspective kind of time this being locked in at home as a travel writer, and Why We Travel is a show that I’m really excited about.
And I’m glad that you’re you found it interesting enough to be a special episode of Rick Steves Over Brunch.
Christopher Mitchell 4:22
I think it was filled with hope and a time where we could all use some extra hope, you know, and it was sort of helping us look towards the horizon and remember why we all looked at the horizon in the first place.
And before we continue on, did you want to read a little section of that poetry style you references? Did you want to pause for a second and read some of the texts or did you want to do you want to continue on and read it towards the end?
Rick Steves 4:48
You know, it was so much fun to to produce the show and then to read it in the in the recording studio. It just was it was so much fun to try to distill into a few words how we travel, why we travel…
You know, there’s three kinds of travel, I wanted to give it some kind of structure. The line right in the beginning is we travel to experience new things to simply have fun and to be amazed. And that’s just the tourist. We travel to learn to become students of the world. And that’s, that’s the traveler to me. And then we travel like pilgrims to search for meaning. So we have that structure, have fun and do new stuff, to learn, and then to search for meaning.
And that whole pilgrim thing is that I found if you leave home and you look at it from a distance, you actually learn things about your own home that you wouldn’t know, if you didn’t stay there.
I’ll just randomly pick something from that first section.
“…on the road, we get more out of our lives. Seeing our first Michelangelo, exploring our first castle, savoring something straight from the sea, reaching for high altitude thrills, being enthralled. Of course, travel is fun – relaxing with abandon, not acting our age, going for broke, joining the party.
Travel is also sensual. We see like an artist, we listen like a poet, we taste the unfamiliar, we celebrate with all our senses.
So I wrote that without thinking about what would I use to cover that, what images would we look a…Then I huddled with my crew, and we then cut images together.
And it was just really, really a fun process. Every time I look at the show, it just takes me away.
Christopher Mitchell 6:44
It’s funny, I found the whole episode for me with the way that you wrap things up, and the outro and intro – that, probably much like many other watchers, I was sort of in a perpetual state of goosebumps.
And I’m curious, you know, other than perhaps the obvious what was the goal as far as hoping to connect with the audience in that way? I mean, it was a different style of show.
I’m just curious, you know, in an ideal world, what were you hoping to accomplish? And, I would venture to say you accomplished it, but I would love to know if that was what you were hoping to do?
Rick Steves 7:28
I don’t want to be annoying with my teaching. So a lot of people just, they just travel to go to the beach and get drunk and have fun and buy souvenirs. Okay, that’s fine. You know, I wanted to remind people, you can also travel on purpose.
And there’s sort of a kind of a hierarchy of travel. I mean, you got the, the mindless, you know, people that just rent a party boat on on a lake and they get together with friends, and that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you also have this opportunity to travel in a way that makes the world a better place. And that means coming home with the most beautiful souvenir, and that’s a broader perspective.
So that was my goal. It was not to say, you got to be, you know, a guru or a pilgrim when you travel, or a monk or a scholar or a poet in particular, but that you have the option to do a little bit of that. And for 20 years, when I’ve been leading groups through Europe, I would have our last dinner and one of the part of the festivities of our last dinner as a group was people where people would share a poem that they wrote some time on the tour.
And it’s “you’re kidding, you made your tourists write a poem and read it in front of a bunch of strangers?!” Well, we weren’t strangers anymore. We had bonded after three weeks together in our bus.
And at the end, people who had never written a poem, people who had never been a poet, we were all poets. And we shared what was meaningful from the trip. And that’s the kind of leadership I try to provide when I’m doing a Rick Steves tour. And our guides do that.
And that’s kind of what I wanted to do here. I wanted to inspire people to be changed by the travel to see, you know…I think there’s a line in here that that culture shock is, is not a bad thing. Culture shock is the growing pains of a broadening perspective.
During COVID I’ve had, I’ve given a lot of gigs, just virtual gigs here and there, and a lot of people want me just to be the travel guy. Some people want me to talk about how travel is a political act. And some people want me to talk about how travel is a spiritual act.
And you know, it’s you got to be kind of artful when you talk about spirituality stuff in a secular media world. But to me, that’s a big part of travel.
And the last segment really is traveling as a pilgrim. And let me jus read this…here’s the sequence number 40.
“Throughout the ages, people have looked beyond the physical world to get closer. To God or some heavenly creator, to ask the eternal questions. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where will we go?
It’s always been a mystery – fertility, abundance, the cycle of life, the promise of something after we die. We sing, we perform rituals, we celebrate. We sit with someone of a different faith and accept their love. We go to war, often mixing up love and fear, pawns of the powerful killing often in the name of God.
We struggle to understand, we trust or at least we hope, someone up there is listening. Whether religious or not, travelers can learn from the holy books of the great monotheistic faiths. Each the story of refugees and nomads, of pilgrims and travelers in the Torah.
The people of Israel wandered in the wilderness. In the Bible, Jesus’s disciples left home and set out to share their good news. In the Quran, Mohammed said, “don’t tell me how educated you are. Tell me how much you’ve traveled.”
So that’s the kind of thought provoking ideas I can share. And then to cover that with beautiful images of people on the road makes for a good TV show.
Stephanie Craig 11:15
So as a thought leader in travel, how do you view your responsibility to the travel community and your community during the pandemic? In terms of balancing teaching the responsibility that we all had for each other during this time and optimism for the future and then also trying to keep your own employees afloat? Because I know you had that responsibility on your back as well.
Rick Steves 11:41
Right now I’m sitting at my dining room table. I have for 14 months now. My office is a 10 minute walk away, but I rarely go there. I’m sitting in front of my little community.
And I always think…it’s like if you were the prince of Liechtenstein, you know, Liechtenstein is that little country nestled in the Alps between Austria and Switzerland. It’s just a two-bit little dukedom, but the palace, the humble palace of the Prince of Liechtenstein, sits on a bluff. And between the bluff is the Rhine River, which goes straight across from left to right, is a semi-circle of land.
And that is his little world, the little country of Liechtenstein. And I always kind of fantasize about that Prince looking (historically anyway)…in the old days looking over his domain…and I’ve got my little bluff here, and I’ve got a beautiful view.
And instead of the Rhine River, I’ve got Puget Sound springing from left to right. And my whole town is between my bluff and the water. And then beyond that are the Olympic Mountains.
And I’ve been sitting here looking at this view for 14 months as I do my travel work without even getting on an airplane. And I realized, man, we have a beautiful community, it doesn’t just happen…people care about their neighbors.
I’ve been really vividly aware of the challenges in a community, the privileged people and the people that are not privileged, the fear and the darkness and the struggles and just the humanity of it, and then also the fragility of our environment. Every evening, I watched the sunset.
And as that sun hits the Olympic Mountains across the Puget Sound, to me, it’s like a daily devotional, I just love the thought that we can employ that traveler’s spirit right here at home.
And during COVID, I’ve been focusing on exercising what I consider”the mindset of a traveler without even traveling.” And I’m realizing that what makes a good traveler is being positive, being curious, being eager to get out of your comfort zone and try something new and to learn from other people.
What makes a good traveler is also something even more fundamental. It’s a life skill when we’re not traveling when we’re stuck at home. And I’ve been employing that here. And it’s helped make this whole pandemic lockdown a much better experience for me.
Christopher Mitchell 14:06
Yeah, I mean all of that rings true for for me as well. And one thing that I kept on thinking about when I was watching the special is that a lot of the ideas and a lot of the poetry, if you will, was about the the power of maintaining focus on the present moment.
And I was wondering if you could speak to travel’s power to do that, and and maybe why it is important that we are focused on the present moment in this day and age. Especially, you know, appreciating what’s in front of us at that moment, as opposed to anything else, be that the past or the future.
Rick Steves 14:40
Yeah, this is the big challenge, Chris, for travelers these days is to be in the moment. And it’s, it seems almost ridiculous, but people need to be reminded.
Okay, okay. All of your friends are going to want to see this on social media, and aren’t you cool? And aren’t you happy and aren’t you doing great? But take the shot and then stow away your camera and be in the moment.
In my last time in Lisbon, I was with one of my tour groups. And, you know, we were enjoying a private photo performance of beautiful folk music, they’re a wonderful group that was singing and performing. And all my group was jostling around trying to get a picture while this group was trying to perform.
And I finally just said, “Excuse me, everybody, let’s all put our cameras down. We’ll have one song later, which is designed for photography, and then you can run around and get all the photos you want. But for now, if nothing else out of respect to these musicians, and out of respect to the singer in the in the culture, let’s just be in the moment.”
I was in Iceland with my partner a few years ago, and we were hiking behind a waterfall. It was one of the most beautiful, beautiful experiences to hike behind the waterfall with all this dramatic view and mist and just the exhilaration of it.
And, and she was so committed to getting a good photograph that I don’t think she took 30 seconds to be in the moment. And I just said, “hey, let’s just, let’s just be in the moment”.”
We have to help our partners when we travel. And we have to remind ourselves when we travel to not be a promotional agent for some social media exercise, but to just enjoy it.
When I’m in Venice filming, it’s hard to see couples in love on a gondola these days. You see couples on the gondola, but they’re looking at their screens, they’re not looking at each other. And it’s honestly hard to get a shot that’s a romantic couple on a gondola in these last few years because of that.
So I think that’s all something we can work on. Definitely.
Stephanie Craig 16:40
So one of the things I’ve noticed about you just following you during the pandemic is how extra active you have been.
You created this special, you’re having your Monday night travel parties, I feel like you and your team are doing so much work to kind of just be present, and to put travel at the forefront.
Did you find just, on a personal level, creating all of these different avenues to be kind of exhausting, or uplifting? And did you find that you spent a lot of your time motivating and helping others? And did you find it harder or easier to do that this year?
Rick Steves 17:18
Well, it’s odd that I have not been traveling, and we’ve not been making any money. You know, I’ve got 100 people on my payroll and almost zero revenue for the last 14 months. It’s expensive. It’s sort of, it’s sort of exhausting. But I’ve been working harder than ever.
Because I need to keep my team together, I need to keep people thinking about traveling. I just want to mention that one of our mantras is “COVID can derail our travel plans, but it can’t stop our travel dreams.”
And what you know, I’m usually gone 100 days out of the year, but now I’m spending a lot of the time that traveling around the country given talks.
Where did I see you Chris? Where what what city was I in? Oh, I remember I saw you come a library where I was giving a talk.
Christopher Mitchell 18:04
Of course, of course!
Yeah, Toronto was where you would have seen me. Yeah. Right, right in the library there. I think I told the listeners about that.
Rick Steves 18:16
And that was so cool.
I’d never met you. And then then right after the class, you walked up and introduce yourself and, and it reminded me, it is so cool to get out and get enthused about travel.
You could you could feel the enthusiasm of all of the people there in Toronto when we talked about travel, and I got to pump them up a bit. And that’s what I do.
And right at the beginning of COVID, it occurred to me, I need to get out there.
It’s like oxygen for me to get out and talk about travel.
And I thought well, why don’t we just have a virtual travel party every Monday. I was just kind of thinking I could compete with Monday Night Football. Monday night travel!
And we’ve had 5000 people every Monday or so tuning in, on this little party we throw and it’s just a weekly chance for me to do what I’m cut out to do. And that’s be enthused about travel. So I need that. And I’ve enjoyed that.
And you’re right, Steph, I’ve been working harder with all of this outreach. You know, when we’re not at home when we’re not able to travel – it’s sort of counterintuitive, but in a way it makes sense. It actually pays off because just last month we decided to start selling our tours again after a year and a half of not. And we opened the floodgates. We’re not doing any tours for 2021. But starting in February of 2022, we’ve got our entire tour program up and running again. And we sold 25,000 seats!
That’s like 80% of the entire year’s seats in a couple of weeks. We’re almost sold out now. And we were selling to five people a minute for 10 hours in a row on these tours – it just reminds me people are chomping at the bit to travel, they trust us, you know. We’re not going to be the first ones out of the gate, we’re not doing tours till early 2022, and we worked very hard to take the high road and the ethical road as a tour company, of not taking a credit or not screwing around with people’s deposits.
You know, when COVID hit, we had 24,000 people signed up. And we immediately sent back all their deposits and said, “we’re friends, we’re going to get through this together. And when we open the floodgates, you’ll be on board again.”
And that’s what we did this last month. And it’s really gratifying. But it has been a lot of work in the meantime, just to kind of keep people’s spirits up and stoke their travel dreams and remind people that coming out of COVID, we’re going to we’re going to find a warm and hearty welcome in Europe. And it’s going to be more important than ever that we travel.
But hopefully we come out of COVID with a with a renewed appreciation of the interest, or the value of traveling in a thoughtful way.
Christopher Mitchell 20:56
This is kind of exactly what I was hoping to chat a little bit more with you about.
Firstly, I just wanted to say, to Steph’s point there, I thought you know, we have to come out of this focusing on some silver linings. And my feeling was that one thing that was a silver lining is that we kind of got to say to hell with convention.
You can say, I’m gonna drink wine and go and talk to the people I want to connect with on Mondays, and I don’t care what was, I’m just focused on what is, and I loved that so many people just stepped up and said, “I don’t really care what I’m expected to do, this is what I’m going to do.”
And and I think that was powerful, and people were clinging on to that.
And I guess what I wanted to tell you too is that we’ve experienced a lot and perhaps a lot more than we bargained for in the last year and a half. But I’m wondering, you know, if this is all going to lead to some sort of clarity, and maybe this is just my misguided optimism, but I feel like and maybe you do as well, Rick, that I have an unusual amount of clarity of how I want to proceed forwards.
And I’m curious if you think that that will translate to travel, you know, is travel going to be richer? Because people will be putting down those phones and savoring those sunsets, because it will be all the sweeter.
Rick Steves 22:16
I sure hope so, I think you were alluding to is what I’ll call the “Corona Bonus.”
Yes, this has been a difficult time, a heartbreaking time in so many ways. But let’s, let’s see if we can make something constructive come out of it. Because we are coming out this long tunnel, and it’s really just a function of are we going to diligently and responsibly get our shots or vaccinations…You know, the whole vaccination thing I just can’t believe we have the miracle of these vaccinations, and people have just really, really been pedal of the metal trying to get them up and running in a hurry.
And now we have a substantial number of people in our countries that for some quirky, goofy reason don’t want to get their shots. It’s not a personal decision, it’s a societal decision. And we owe it to our neighbors to get these shots.
And if you like to travel, of course, we owe it to tourism to get these shots because you can’t travel. I mean, this boat wants to wants to sail but it can’t sail to we’re all on board. And in Europe, they’re struggling to get everybody vaccinated in here. And in United States and Canada, we’re struggling to get everybody vaccinated.
And when that happens, it’s smooth sailing – I mean, this pandemic will be history.
So you know, I think that’s that’s a big challenge for us. I think we’re gonna get there but there’s just a few bumps in the road.
Stephanie Craig 23:30
So one thing that I found as a personal “Corona Bonus” was just really falling in love again with traveling in my own backyard.
And I was wondering for you, like you talked already earlier about the state of Washington and the beautiful views you have from your home, but how’s your relationship as a traveler in Washington changed? Have you been able to do some fun day trips or even just like think about your home as a travel destination differently?
Rick Steves 23:58
You know, a lot of people have.
And my publisher produces you know, road tripping books in the United States and travel books for international travel like mine. But for the last year and a half, it’s been the road-tripping books that have been selling, and my books have not been selling.
You know, and I know a lot of people are focusing locally, I’m just such a workaholic, I’ve just been focusing on projects that I’m doing, so I’ve been producing more than ever, but as far as Chris asked earlier about a “Corona Bonus” in the way we’re going to travel.
Yeah, it’s my hope that we’ll be thoughtful when we come out of the pandemic. I think that’s it’s good to hope for that. The realistic Rick would think “No, we’re just gonna fall right back into our crazy rat race kind of travel.”
But for me, this whole pandemic has been kind of God’s way of telling us to slow down and a kind of therapy for a workaholic, and a good chance to think about how there’s more to life than increasing its speed. And I think when I come out of it, I’m going to be more tuned in to this notion that I just love to share that the world is filled with joy. It’s filled with love. It’s filled with beautiful people.
And if you don’t know that, if you’re skeptical about that, you probably don’t have a passport. And your worldview is shaped by hysterical news media designed to make you fearful. But I’ve traveled enough, you know, a third of my adult life, hanging out with people who find different truths to be self evident, and God given.
I’ve traveled enough to know this world is a beautiful place. And when you travel that way, with your window down and your heart open, you realize that…you can celebrate the diversity on the planet, you can be thankful that everybody doesn’t have the American dream, and people have different dreams. And I just love that notion.
And when I travel, and I hope when people who use my material travel again, they will be inspired to be open, to different, to be thankful for and celebrate different lifestyles, different cultures, and the fact that we’re not all the same. And we’ll celebrate that rather than being threatened by it.
With a with a heightened understanding of the importance of good governance, of the fact that nations will need to work together in the future, because the challenges that will confront us will be challenges that don’t respond to conventional weaponry and they’re impervious to border walls. And we’ll just have to embrace science and work on things together.
And also, I just think the fragility of the environment is something that should drive us if we have an ounce of decency in us. And that will drive us to recognize that when we live, we contribute to climate change, when we live as as privileged, wealthy people in the developed world. And when we travel, we’re the worst culprits.
Now, I’m not going to be flight shamed out of traveling because of climate change. But I am going to honestly work to mitigate the carbon I create by flying. And that is pretty straightforward to any of us. Anybody with half a brain and ethical sense of global citizenship can find a way to be carbon neutral in their travels.
And going forward, our industry needs to do that I wish the government would tax us for our carbon, and then invest that money generated into programs that would create as much good as we create bad when it comes to global warming from our travels.
But we know in our cities in the United States, we don’t really, that’s just not the the priorities. But we can tax ourselves, and prioritize ethical giving to nonprofits that do work to help mitigate the carbon that we create. And that’s what we’re doing as a tour company. I think you guys know about my carbon and climate smart initiative. And, and people can learn more about that.
But you know, if a person travels from Canada or the United States to Europe and back, they create a lot of carbon just with their flight. And if they invest smartly, $30 per round trip, that flight is mitigated. And there’s countless ways you can do that.
But just mitigation, that will create enough good to mitigate, to negate the bad you create when you fly. And then you’re traveling ethically, I just think it’s nothing to brag about. It’s nothing heroic. It’s just ethical.
Christopher Mitchell 28:32
We can include some some links to that in our show notes for the episode in all that, for sure.
We are going to shift to some of our questions from our listeners, they were really excited that you were going to be on board with us. I just wanted to mention to Rick, with just a lot of what you were saying there.
Years ago, I stopped wearing a watch actually, because I was so focused on where I was going next and what time I had to be there.
And instead, I got a travel tattoo before leaving Istanbul, Turkey after living there for three years, with the phrase “yavaş yavaş” which means slowly, slowly. And whenever I used to go to the shop, you know the shops to get a çay, I had a particular fellow, Güven, who used to always see I was a little bit in a rush, and he would always used to put his hand on my shoulder and say, you know, abi (brother), yavaş yavaş.
Rick Steves 29:19
Chris, that is a great story.
And it reminds me when I’m in Italy, I don’t know a lot of Italian words, but I do know “piano piano,” and my Italian friends will do the same thing to me that your Turkish friends did you, and they’ll say the equivalent in Italian which is “slowly slowly, piano piano.”
You know, take it easy!
And also about the watch. I remember when I was in Nepal. Oh man, I I didn’t have a watch. I just I celebrated the fact that I didn’t have a watch and I never really had an appointment to be mindful of.
And one day I was in Kathmandu and I was going to go to a culture show and I had one appointment, and I remember it put a damper on the whole day. Just a beautiful part of being on vacation was not wearing a watch.
Christopher Mitchell 30:00
I still check my phone, I must admit, here and there for the time and stuff, but it was more, you know, this phrase I started to dive more into it.
And I found out it doesn’t just mean “slow down.” It also means there’s a certain amount we can’t control anyways. So we have to respect fate, too.
Stephanie Craig 30:19
I know we were going to ask a different listener question first. But this conversation dovetails so well Diana’s question. So Rick, she wanted to know, for you, (and she said this knowing that it’s different for everyone), what is the perfect ratio between planned and unplanned time when you travel?
Rick Steves 30:37
Well, these days, if I was just traveling in a footloose and fancy free way, I would probably be different. But I’ve got big work obligations and responsibilities when I’m traveling. So I’m sort of an odd one that way. But I still value a good balance between planned and unplanned. And my travel style has morphed over the decades, to where I get every night planned. I know where I’m going to sleep every night, but what I’m doing during the day is generally unplanned.
I don’t want to have a hard plan for each day. But I do want to have a hard plan for where I’m going to sleep each night. That just gives me some sort of parameter.
Christopher Mitchell 31:15
Yeah, that makes that makes perfect sense.
I’m going to shift over to our question from Allison McNulty.
And first she said “how exciting” with a big old exclamation mark when she heard we were having you back on the show, which is great. She actually just wants to know when do you plan to go back to Europe? And where would it be? And whether it’ll be for scouting or filming or updating guidebooks?
I guess, she would just love to hear when you’re heading back and what you’re gonna do.
Rick Steves 31:44
Well, Allison, thank you.
And it’s so interesting for me – you know, patience is not an American forte. But patience has been my middle name during this COVID time, I’ve just disciplined myself into not chomping at the bit. I’ve told my staff Europe is not open until Europe is open. Just because you can go to Cyprus and Croatia and Iceland, I’m not going to jump in there and say alright, it coast is clear.
I’m going to wait a few months until you can travel across borders. And you can go to Amsterdam and know you’re going to get into Anne Franke without them telling you it’s going to be eight people every 15 minutes or something like that. So I’m going to just take my time, and right about now I’m thinking, alright, now I can let myself start planning. And in the last couple of years, I’ve had amazing experiences.
Hiking around Mount Blanc when we were filming on the Tour de Mont Blanc, that’s a big 10 day 100 mile hike. Also doing a canal barge on a Canal in Burgundy. These barges where the captain is usually a gourmet chef. And it’s just to me, it would be the epitome of relaxation.
And I’m just so tempted to take an honest to goodness vacation with my partner, and we would hike probably halfway around Mount Blanc – maybe five days , 10 miles a day, staying in beautiful mountain lodges eating rustic.
I mean, after you’ve hiked all day, in a rustic setting with no meal, you just eat whatever they’re cooking, just a unforgettable dinner with new friends you’ve made hiking, and then a van will come and take your bag to the next lodge that you have a reservation for and then you spend the whole day hiking to the next spot. And you do that five days.
No, that would be great. I want to do that. I want to take a five or six days on a barge tour in Burgundy, because that is really relaxing. And that would be an interesting challenge for me to see if I could actually slow down.
But the practical thing I’m going to do, and we’re just finalizing this right now, is in October, I’m going to take our Heart of Italy Tour, which is just 10 days in Italy, Rome, Florence, Volterra, my favorite hill town, and the Cinque Terre, my favorite part of the Riviera.
And I’m going to go on a mentoring tour with 20 of our new guides – guides who came to our guides summit in January of 2020, a month before COVID hit and they were the most energetic group of young guides, they were so excited about guiding Rick Steves tours, and then COVID hit and they’ve had two years of nothing.
And I want to take them personally on a fast track, learning the Rick Steves style of guiding and mentoring a tour with my lead guides from my tour operations staff. And we’re going to do that in October, God willing. And that’s going to be a really fun sort of vanguard tour, where we’re going to just be in Europe.
I’m going to I’m going to live the tour with our guides so they can have that experience of traveling with me. And then they will be fast tracked to be Rick Steves guides after a few more apprentice tours, and they’ll be up and running as Rick Steves guides for the next year. And there’ll be kind of the the new generation of guidance as we take our program forward. I’m so excited about that.
So that’s probably all I’m gonna do in 2021.
And then in 2022, the big deal is going to be updating all our guidebooks and making TV shows. And I got to get over there with my coauthors and my researchers, and we got to sweep through every guidebook and we’re gonna have the first, honestly, post COVID, guidebooks out in the bookstores by late 2022.
But to be honest, you can’t research the guide book in 2021, you’ve got to retouch it after COVID is over to see what the reality is. So you’ll see guidebooks that claim to be updated, but they’re not updated any more than my current 2019 books. But we’re gonna research in the spring of 2022.
And then people in 2022 will have to use old guidebooks. And that’s fine, you just have to expect a few things to be closed. But we’ll know what the impact of COVID is on European sightseeing, and eating and sleeping. And that’ll be in our new guidebooks by the end of 2022.
And then on the TV front, I’ve got to go over there with my crew. And what we’re working on now is six, one hour episodes (a six hour series) on the history of art and architecture in Europe.
I’ve been waiting, I’ve been working, I’ve been shooting this sort of on the side for the last 20 years. And we’re we’re putting all the shows together. But I need to go over to Europe, probably for 40 days, with the crew and shoot things that we don’t have in our archives and on cameras, and opens and closes. And that’ll be a big part of my travels in the next year, as we work really hard to get that mini series out by the fall of 2022 on public television.
Stephanie Craig 36:31
I look forward to that.
Let’s make this our last question because we’ve already held you a little bit over what you told us you could give us, so Craig asked….He said first give him a virtual hug from me then, “Rick is so open and even curious about other religions, cultures, ideas, etc. Does this all come from his parents upbringing? Or is it a result of being exposed to so much travel as a teenager?”
Rick Steves 36:55
Oh, thanks Craig, that’s a good question.
I’m fascinated by people’s personal fates.
You know, I’m enthusiastically Lutheran and all my family came over from Norway. And if you were a Christian in Norway, in the old days, you were a Lutheran. I married a woman whose family was enthusiastically Catholic, and they were from Ireland, and you know, culture really has an impact. I just feel like people have a deep internal need to get close to God, and your culture changes what flavor of religion you might have.
And what I’ve really found in my travels, is that we’re all people of the book. And it’s just so fun to have a respect for different religions. And I, I make a point when I’m traveling to try to embrace the religion of the culture that I’m in.
For years, I went into St. Peter’s as an angry Protestant at the Vatican. And it was just not an enjoyable experience. And then I realized, “hey, Rick, if you just park your Lutheran sword at the door, and go into that amazing church as a temporary Roman Catholic, you’ll have a much better experience.”
And I’ve been doing that, and it’s a very practical tip. It works very well. So I just enjoy that part of travel is to appreciate and respect other people’s religions. And I think it heightens the travel experience in a beautiful way.
Stephanie Craig 38:20
And the one question that we skipped is, Carin had asked in the Facebook group about your tours, and we already talked about your tours a lot.
But if any of our listeners were on the fence about booking a tour for next year with you, because I know, our group is full of a lot of enthusiastic independent travelers, but then also huge news fans – what would you say to someone who maybe has been to Europe independently 10 times, but is curious if they should add a tour of yours to their travel experiences?
Rick Steves 38:53
Well, you know, our tours are different because I started our tour program back in the 1970s, after taking some conventional tours, and I was so frustrated by the tours, fundamental business style, which is keep people in the dark and sell them things so you can get your cut and make more profit.
And I decided I wanted to do tours that are designed for independent, thoughtful travelers that capitalize on the economy and efficiency of organized travel group travel, while maintaining the adventure and the independence of going on your own – because I am fundamentally an independent traveler, obviously. But I’m very enthusiastic about tapping into the efficiency and economy of group travel.
You know, you got 24 people on a bus, and nobody has to drive and then you relax on the bus and you get a nice view and the guide can teach you as you’re rolling. And then you get into town and you do what you should do together. You get oriented, you have an experience that nobody could afford on their own, but that everybody can afford if you share it.
You have handpicked guides in each location that really inspire you, and then you know the lay of the land and you have the the rest of the afternoon on your own to do your own thing. And you have a social circle of people who are attracted to the tour, because it’s designed for independent minded people. So the social end of the Rick Steves bus tour, really is a plus, I think.
So the the tours are designed for independent people. I get many people that sign up for our tours, and the first thing they’ll say is, “I’m not a tour type person,” but then they take our tours. And as an independent traveler, I’m just proud of our tours for independent minded people, because they’re so darn efficient and economic if you consider the value of your time and the experiences that you may not have if you just bumble around Europe on your own.
As far as 2022 goes, we’re about 80% sold out, we’ve got 25,000 people signed up and about 30,000 seats open. And I asked my staff to alleviate some frustration when people are looking for our tours. So if they go to the tour page at ricksteves.com, you can hit a button and have the tours organized in order of which ones have seats available.
And then you’ll find hundreds of departures, and probably 10 or 20 different itineraries that still have seats available.
It is sort of an unpredictable time, and people are understandably anxious about making deposits when they don’t know the future. So we’ve got a program that is totally flexible.
You need to put a deposit on the tour for us to take you seriously and to hold that seat and to turn other people away once the tour is full, but you’ve got the 100% opportunity to get your money back for any reason at all, until the end of the year.
So on December 31, you can just call up and say, “you know, I just decided I want to buy a TV instead. And I’m not going to go so give me back my money.” And that’s fine.
So with that sort of approach people can sign up with no stress and just know that if things go well, they’ve got a seat on the tour of their dreams. And then we’re on our way.
So I just had a meeting with my staff. Tomorrow I’m meeting with our 100 European guides. And I’ll tell you our guides in Europe, they’re independent contractors, they’ve had no work for the last two seasons. And they are so excited to get back on the bus and to be rolling around Europe, enthusing about the cultures that they know and love to share.
Christopher Mitchell 42:18
I love that.
I think you know, there’s plenty of messages on Why We Travel episode itself where people can sort of leave the episode with a smile and a little bit of optimism and some hope. And I think that’s wonderful.
As Steph said, we want to respect your time here. And we’re so appreciative for you coming back on the show. And you know, I think we’ll just have to have you come back on the show in 2022 or something to let everyone know how things are going. But I was curious just for all our listeners, and we’re lucky to have many, do you have any last message for everyone?
As we sort of head into what I’d like to think is a new era for for travel in some sense. I’m just curious if you have any message, or even just something you’d like people to carry with them.
I’ll just do that open ended purposely and hand it off to you.
Rick Steves 43:06
Well that’s a great open ended way for me to tidy things up here.
You know, Chris, I think I would remind people to watch Why We Travel and just look at those images and let them take you away.
As you know, you can watch any of my shows, anytime without any ads or any breaks for free if you go to ricksteves.com and go into the TV section.
I’ll just read you the last couple of paragraphs of the script of the show. And then you can kind of let that be our our sort of departing thought as we open up again, to travel post COVID.
Through travel, we see a world filled with joy, with compassion and with good people. We learn the more we reach out the more we receive, we learn that we all share the same world and we all share the same window of time.
Travelers seek bridges rather than walls. Every wall has two sides and two narratives. For one to be truly understood, both must be heard.
Traveling, we realize the challenges of our future will be blind to borders and best overcome not by conflict and walls, but by community and bridges.
There’s so much fear these days, the flip side of fear? it’s understanding and we gain understanding when we travel.
Travel is more than a holiday. It gives us new experiences, acts as our greatest teacher, makes our lives more meaningful and connects us with a global family.
We can’t all travel physically, but anyone can travel with a traveler’s mindset. Anyone can live with a traveler’s mindset. It’s a choice.
Travel makes us more comfortable with the world. It makes our hearts bigger, and it makes our lives richer, and it makes us happier.
And that is why we travel.”
Stephanie Craig 45:02
So we just wrapped our interview.
And we were talking, and I think Chris, you mentioned “goosebumps,” and I said, “wait, let’s record this!”
Christopher Mitchell 45:11
Yeah, you’re like, “stop talking now. And let’s record all of this!”
Yeah, it was wonderful. I mean, I think we kind of live live for these chances to chat with the man himself. And I just really enjoy hearing his philosophy on travel, I think there’s no secret that we are very much aligned in a lot of our philosophy, hence why we started a podcast around his content in the first place.
But you know, just once again, that affirmation of how gracious he was with his time. And also, you know, what I was most thrilled about Steph was, goosebumps aside, all the information he was sharing with us where I don’t know if that would be public anywhere else yet.
Like he was telling us about future plans that I’m sure are somewhere on this site, but we were able to get so much information for our listeners that I’m just thrilled we got to share, you know,
Stephanie Craig 46:03
Yeah, it’s one of those things where it’s like, I know, none of it’s probably top secret.
But you have to pay really close attention. If you wanted all that information in one place, it’s not the same thing as like, when like a big, you know, profile happens of him that goes really in-depth, because that, you know, to some extent, is for new people. Whereas we are already Ricknicks. And we got to have a conversation.
And just thinking about things from our perspective, and our group. And our patrons have a very kind of specific worldview that has come from having our conversations amongst ourselves for three years. So I feel like some of the things that I was the most curious about, we got to talk about, even though it may be something that like a general population wouldn’t care about.
I loved when he was talking about, you know, when he was he would mention in the script, like what the section of the script was, because it was like, I’ve looked at his scripts once a month for three years!
Christopher Mitchell 47:01
Yeah, no, I know, I know what you mean.
And also, it was an interesting to play as host, because we’re used to blabbering on and being cohosts and filling up all that airspace.
But our job really here was to ask questions and shut up as much as possible. And I think that, but that was a good thing. But I will say, I was debating whether I was going to mention the tattoo, you know.
And his reaction to it – was the most validating thing I’ve ever heard for this tattoo. I might, I might have to get another one on the other wrist!
Stephanie Craig 47:39
I was hearing his voice reading the overview of the script, and like picturing myself in the house I was living in in 2013, with a DVR full of Rick Steves and two weeks of vacation a year because it was before I quit to travel full time.
And just thinking like how much that meant to me then, and reflecting on like, my own life, and where how different my life is now. But also, just like, he has been that for so many people. You know, like, he’s that the fact that we got to have that experience privately.
And then with our listeners, as like a collective 1000 or 1200 or whatever. Like, that’s so crazy to me, because, you know, he mentioned that 25,000 people already booked a tour for next year. I forget how vast his audiences because we have such a weird little niche corner.
Christopher Mitchell 48:50
An intimate community, yeah!
Stephanie Craig 48:52
Like, you know, I forget everyone knows Rick Steves.
Christopher Mitchell 48:56
But you know, what the fun part, to add on to that is that, I guess we get to know him a little better, which is really cool.
But at the same time, too, obviously, what makes it special is that he kind of shares his full self and his full views. And I really appreciate that.
I mean, it was just a fun experience to be a part of, I know that you and I have been at this for a few years now, and I know we feel really fortunate to have this community, but we’re also always looking for ways to thank our community for standing alongside and supporting us and all that good stuff. And this feels like a clear way that we all win.
And, you know, I mean, this is other kind of more behind the scenes stuff, but to start the episode, I mean, really, we just started off by saying, hey, Rick, you know, we want to respect the time here. I know , you’re a busy fellow and he was pretty much like, “just tell me what time you need.” And I, you know, I appreciate I appreciate that.
And that’s something I’d love to share with the audience too, that you know, the character the character you think he has, he sure seems to have, you know?
Stephanie Craig 50:00
You know, we don’t talk about this ever, but really, it’s very important that Rick – like, we could run the show without his permission, It’s not like we asked his permission. We just launched the show. We’re just like, you know, there are a lot of TV rewatch podcasts in the world. It’s not unusual. It’s unusual in the genre that we’re in.
But I was like, I think we need to start the first TV rewatch podcast in travel. And it’s been so fun and rewarding.
But if he didn’t like it, our lives could have been harder. Like we could have gotten lawyers, and even though we probably legally have the right to do a show like this, would we want to do a show like this? On the chance that he hated it. That would have been, I don’t know, I think I would have been crushed.
Christopher Mitchell 50:56
So this is a throwback to the previous time that we had chatted with him. And maybe we can throw those episodes in the show notes or whatever (here’s our first interview with him and the episode that we reviewed together, Rome: Back-Street Riches).
But I remembered so distinctly that I went to the event at the Toronto Public Library, where he was talking about his book, “Travel as a Political Act,” and I went up afterwards, and I expected nothing.
And I said “hey, Rick, you know, I don’t want to bother you but I’m, I’m one of the cohosts of a podcast called Rick Steves over Brunch.”
And honestly, Steph, I was thinking in my head, “okay, he’s gonna say, what Rick Steves Over Brunch? What the heck is that?”
Instead, of course, as I told you afterwards, keeping in mind here, I was walking excitedly like a little kid through the Eaton Center, in Toronto afterwards.
Yeah. So you know, and I told you the story, of course, that Rick was like, “No, no, I, I know your podcast.”
And I was like, “would you come on?” and he’s like, “yep, here’s just my email,” and I was like, “this is amazing!”
I think this was a special opportunity for us to be able to talk to him at a time at this. Really, I don’t wanna say necessary fork in the road, but we’ve come to one end, and we’re at the beginning of another. And I think we talked about a lot of things in this episode, that were a sort of a keen reminder of what we want to be considering when we walked down this new road and travel, you think that’s fair to say?
Stephanie Craig 52:21
Yeah, and like, to me also, too, it was a real nice reflection of like, how far the show has come how far the community’s come.
We’ve grown, our community’s grown and we have had another thing we need to talk about.
So it was weird to be like, you know, in very separate places, like career wise, business wise, etc. I just want to thank him for coming back on the show. I want to thank our patrons who we asked, we took some questions.
We went in and looked through the Facebook group, and then we asked the patrons, if there was any last minute questions.
And that was a way we could say thank you to our patrons for supporting us. Yeah. And everybody. If you’re not in the Facebook group, please join it. It’s really fun. It’s the Rick Steves Over Brunch Podcasts Listeners Facebook Group.
Christopher Mitchell 53:59
Sometimes we’ll get a review on Apple podcasts. But we have good reviews for you know, for the most part. And everyone who gets it is like five stars, five stars. I think we have we’re closing on 100 ratings or something like that, we have a good rating and stuff. But there’s every once in a while there’s like a one star where it’s like, I don’t understand what this is.
Stephanie Craig 54:23
it’s very important to me that we look like a different entity that we’re very much a rewatch podcast. I’m happy he supports us instead of him saying like, “oh, you’re about to hear from my lawyers.”
Christopher Mitchell 54:48
Yeah, that’s right. No, I think the thing is, we started this, I think with a good understanding of what sort of spirit he carries with him in the show and he’s very notably active in in the community, and he’s got a reputation for being rather gracious and charitable with his time and efforts and income, you know, as well.
And so I think we thought, that’s the way we’re going to approach the spirit of the show. He’s a great guy. If we don’t stop now, we’ll probably just ramble on for 20 more minutes about about that, but I,
Stephanie Craig 55:33
This was the best thing that happened to me in the last 48 hours, because I have a toddler with hand foot Mouth Disease.
Christopher Mitchell 55:44
I was going to say like 48 months, but 48 hours works, too.
Stephanie Craig 55:49
But yeah, just to our patrons, I’m glad we got to ask your questions. Thank you so much for supporting the show.
To everyone in the Facebook group, when we post this, let us know your thoughts for sure.
And if we ever get a chance to interview him again, we will definitely give you guys a heads up again.
But we really appreciate you guys. This was one of the more fun days, this is a fun podcast to run all the time. But today, it was definitely a highlight.
Christopher Mitchell 56:22
Yeah, for sure.
I mean, we put in the work necessary to keep everybody happy and keep this bad boy flowing.
But you know, that it’s funny to think about where we started, you know, these sorts of episodes, which feel like milestones in some way.
It’s funny to think I almost feel like we were little kids almost when we started this we were at the start of our careers in so many regards. Three or four years ago, whatever the heck it was now.
And now. Here we are. But you know, I started off by talking about how this episode was about him and not about me. And so let’s, you know, we’ll let’s fade off into the distance and let everyone enjoy Rick, and we’re very we’re very accessible. People can find us in the group – wherever they want. We’re free. Not a big deal.
But yeah, all jokes aside. Thank you. Everybody who’s tuning in to this episode and has tuned into other episodes.
And I know that, Steph, I just really appreciate engaging with everybody on social as well. I should say we both notice that support. And I guess, should we just quickly go over our channels if people want to know where to find us engage with us stuff?
Stephanie Craig 57:23
Yeah. So Chris, where can people find you?
Christopher Mitchell 57:30
Oh, awfully nice to pass it back.
You can find me at travelingmitch.com across all social, and I also have an Ontario website ultimateontario.com. And yeah, both are doing great these days, so that is exciting. I just feel reinvigorated to be traveling again. I just feel reinvigorated, period.
And certainly, this interview did not hurt that reinvigoration. So I won’t say that word again, because no one wants to hear it again. But I will pass it over to you Steph, and ask, where can people find you?
Stephanie Craig 58:03
My main personal website is History Fangirl. And that is mostly cultural travel guides in the USA and Europe. And then a little bit beyond that. But that’s the bulk of where my expertise lies.
If you are in the US, I have a website that is called Oklahoma Wonders that covers specifically Oklahoma, and this is what surrounds it. And that has been really fun. And when we talked about, you know, getting to know our own backyards, like that’s where all of that stuff has been going for me.
And then I have a website, Sofia Adventures, if you’re headed to the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria anytime soon, there’s tons of stuff on that. And that website, I can tell the pandemic travel restrictions are abating because that website has like quadrupled in traffic in the last month. So if you’re thinking about going to Greece again, which it seems like you are at everybody, so that’s good, too. And guys, just thank you so much for listening.
Christopher Mitchell 58:59
The last thing I was gonna say that I’m laughing one year from now we’re probably going to need an extra minute or two because we just keep moving, keep adding things to where people can find us.
Stephanie Craig 59:09
Well now we actually make enough money from those efforts to like, you know, those efforts now support us instead of being the things we were building in hopes that they will support us in the future!
Christopher Mitchell 59:21
Turning our seeds into flowers!
Alright, thanks, everybody. We hope you really enjoyed it. Honestly, feel free to reach out. Let us know what you think we’ll post it in the group. We’ll post it all over the place because we’ve got to recap. It was super fun. Alright, take care, everyone. We’ll catch you again soon. Thanks, guys.