Rick Steves, a travel writer and host of “Rick Steves’ Europe,” hasn’t been home for the past 30 summers of his life, instead spending that time traveling across Europe. But the pandemic this year foiled his streak, and resulted in the global tour operator finding new places to go sightseeing, right in his own backyard.
Canceled vacation plans have left many people hungry for travel, and has led to some digital innovations like Window Swap that lets users peek out the windows of residences from all over the world. Steves, for one, has fed his own travel bug by vacationing around his home in Seattle. He talked with Rob Ferrett on “Central Time” about how he has found success doing that.
This has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Rob Ferrett: You write that you’ve been able to think about travel and the traveler’s mindset and why we do it. With this time on your hands, what kind of realizations have you come to?
Rick Steves: I’m realizing that you don’t need to get on an airplane to be a traveler.
To me, there’s a traveler’s mindset, and it’s a curiosity. It’s an openness. It’s eagerness to get out of our comfort zone and try something different. And I’ve been able to actually employ that sort of mindset here at home. And I find that it’s really an important life skill.
We’re all locked down to a certain degree and a lot of us have had our hopes and dreams dashed and carefully laid plans derailed. And I’m certainly in that category. But I think it’s a chance for us to pause. I’m sort of addicted to productivity and I’m kind of a workaholic. This is therapy for somebody who’s addicted productivity. It’s God’s way of reminding us to just take a breath and slow down. And there are other things in life, and we have a lot to be thankful for.
RF: Instead of getting on a plane or going on a road trip, I’ve gone for a ton of walks around my neighborhood. And you have done that with the traveler’s eye. Can you share with the rest of us how to take what seems really familiar and think of our backyard as a travel opportunity?
RS: I’ve just been astounded, frankly, at how many dimensions to life I was not respecting, not appreciating, oblivious to. Very basic stuff. I almost feel embarrassed that I didn’t know how to use my oven. I’m a busy person. I just have leftover takeout food. But now I’m learning how to cook. I had not turned on my oven in that in the eight years I’ve owned this house. Now I’m friends with my oven.
I cut through an onion at the beginning of this COVID lockdown and I realized I’ve never felt a knife cutting through a nice crispy onion before. I almost, like, jumped for joy. It was like one of the things I experience in Europe for my first time, but right at home.
I’ve never really understood people who have dogs as a big part of their life. I have to admit, I didn’t even have a healthy attitude about that. Now, dogs are a big part of my life. I’ve got a hummingbird feeder on my deck. I’m doing different things. I dusted off my trumpet. It’s been in darkness since I was in college. And I’m playing my trumpet when the sun goes down for my neighborhood.
It’s a celebration of life that we can do right here. It’s just a great opportunity to embrace the simple things and be positive and recognize that we need each other and we need our environment. And we’re all in this together.
We get that when we travel. We can also get that when we employ a traveler’s mindset right here at home.
RF: Share some more thoughts, Rick, of lessons you’ve picked up as a traveler around the world and how to capture that traveler mentality even when we’re not hopping on the plane to go somewhere.
RS: The cool thing about travel is that travel lets you celebrate different things. I always like to say it carbonates your life.
I grew up thinking cheese was no big deal. Cheese was orange and the shape of the bread. And then you go to France and these cheese shops are just festivals of mold. And in the cheesemonger is (an) evangelical. And his favorite thing is to find an American bumpkin and introduce them to the greatest cheese. You go to Europe, and you realize a lot of people spend a lot of money for fancy, stinky cheese. Now, you don’t have to do that. But when you come home, you have that option to be excited about stinky, expensive cheese.
When I travel, I try to be a cultural chameleon. That means I almost physically change. I never go home after a long day of work here in Seattle and feel like a nice cloudy glass of ouzo. But when I’m in Greece, after a long day of sightseeing, I love to sit down and watch the boats in the harbor and nurse a nice cloudy glass of ouzo.
I don’t really understand tea in this hemisphere, but when I’m in England, I love a spot of tea, and when I’m in Scotland I have a little nip of whiskey every evening.
Traveling gets us out of our comfort zone. But you can do that right here at home, too. We need to try new things. I’m enjoying my piano like never before. I’ve enjoyed just turning out the lights and playing the piano, just letting chords move me from one direction to another. And it’s a new fun little game I play. And I’ve had my piano ever since I was a kid, but I’ve never played this chords-in-the-dark game.
When the day comes that we can travel again, we’ll be like birds that are let out of the gate.