Growing Bolder's What's Next: Rick Steves | Ep. 34
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Two. One. ♪ Growing ♪ ♪ Bolder ♪ ♪ What's Next. ♪ - Hello again, I'm Marc Middleton from Growing Bolder. I hope you guys are hanging in there and doing well today as we move into the final stretch of what has been a very difficult and challenging year for all of us, and our thoughts are with everybody in the Northeast and the Midwest in particular today, as you guys deal with this monster winter storm. So many lives and so many industries have been decimated by this pandemic.
And one of the industries that has been the hardest hit of all has been the travel industry. In fact, since the beginning of March alone, the pandemic has resulted in nearly $600 billion in losses for the U.S. travel economy. And because of that, there's been a loss in over $63 billion in federal state and local tax revenues. So everybody is really, really struggling with this, and coming up in just a moment, if you are a fan of travel to Europe, he is your guy. Travel guru, Rick Steves is gonna join us in a moment to talk about the future of travel. When is it gonna come back to what it used to be? And what is it gonna look like when it does? And also we're gonna talk to Rick about what he's been up to during this pandemic.
And in fact, he told us that he spent this summer at his home in Seattle for the first time in over four decades. He actually spent his birthday at home for the first time in more than 40 years. And you're gonna be surprised at what Rick says about the pandemic's impact on his business and on his life.
And despite the so many challenges this year, we are here, we remain hopeful for better days ahead, and it does help to stay connected with like-minded people with a community of support, with a tribe that has your back. So I wanna let you know that in addition to our weekly e-newsletter, the Growing Bolder Insider, we've just launched a daily email that's called The Bold Start. It's one of our many pandemic inspired initiatives. It'll take you just a few seconds to absorb each morning, but I promise you, it will stick with you all day long. It's just a quick, timely reminder to stay positive, to help others, to take some risks, to be grateful, and to keep your chin up. And we think this is what we all need right now, just a little inspiration.
In fact, we've been told that The Bold Start is as satisfying as that morning cup of coffee. Of course, it's all free and you can sign up at bit.ly/gbboldstart. All right, let's get onto the main event, because Rick Steves is perhaps the most popular travel show host of all time. He is without question, America's foremost authority on European travel. In fact, his show on public television Rick Steves' Europe is now in its 11th season. His public radio show has been on the air for 15 years.
He's the author of many bestselling guide books. He's a syndicated columnist, and he runs his own small group tour program, taking about 30,000 travelers to Europe each and every year, except of course this year, when it all ground to a halt. Now, Bill Shafer and I had the pleasure, recently, of talking to Rick from his home in Seattle. And as you're about to see, it was a chat that was as much about life as it was about travel. - Well, let's bring in the man himself, Rick Steves who's joining us from his home in Seattle.
Rick, how you doing today? - Well, I'm doing very well considering everything, thank you. - You know what? You're not only doing well, you're doing good. I don't know whether this is true or not, but the pandemic has shut down just about everything. It has shuttled businesses, employees have been let go. I read that you've got nearly a hundred employees and you have somehow managed to keep them all employed during this time. Is that true? And how did you do it? - Well, yeah, I run a business.
I happen to be privately held so I don't need to ask questions about what I'm gonna do with my business decisions. And for 30 years I've had good years and made plenty of money and I've got a great staff of about a hundred and now I've been dealt a couple of bad years and I just think it's ethical to keep my team together. I should be with my team through good times and bad, they're with me in good times, I'll be with them in bad times. Plus it's just good business to have my team intact because I know we're gonna get through this, and we're gonna throttle up when we get through the pandemic. And I want my team to be intact so that we can, once again, help Americans enjoy Europe with all of our tours.
So, last couple of years, we were thriving. We're a hundred million dollar company, a payroll of a hundred people, just having a blast. This year we were geared up for our best year ever. Last year we took 30,000 people around Europe.
This year we had 22,000 tickets already sold for our tourists, but suddenly this tsunami swept over us of this pandemic, and now we had to give everybody their money back, but we said, we're gonna be around when this is over. So in the meantime we're just gonna kind of trim the sails and hunker down, and we're gonna work on content and keep our staff together and still share our love of travel. Our mission is to inspire Americans to venture beyond Orlando.
And we'll be here when we get through this pandemic and lead tours once again. - Rick I'm sure that there's no answer, nobody can see through a crystal ball at this one, but let's take a stab at recovery, 'cause probably nobody has more insight than you do, what is it gonna look like, and how is what we're going through gonna change the travel industry? - Well, you know social distancing and Rick Steves' travel are opposites. I don't go to Europe to sit in a bubble and not get a germ. I go to Paris to get kissed on the cheeks. I go to Rome to gather in the Piazza with the crowds and then to do the (indistinct), licking my gelato. I go to Ireland to go into a pub on the West Coast of Ireland, where they stand in the bluff and they gaze out at the Atlantic and they say, oh, the next parish over is Boston.
I go into that pub to sit close to people. People who they say, strangers are just friends who've yet to meet. Now, I think that's gonna come back, that kind of normalcy, but it'll take awhile. And I think we need to be patient in the interim. You can gather all the experts in the world from the tourism industry together, they don't know any better than you and I do about how this is gonna play out. Right now Europe is spiking again.
Right now America has no leadership on getting a grip on this pandemic. Right now we're belittling science. I think we need to be patient, I think we need to be diligent, we need to get a grip on this. We got to take a pause. And my big fear is the rest of the world is gonna be traveling and crossing borders, but they're not gonna want Americans there, because we're still the dangerous ones.
So, we have a little work to do right here at home. But I do think that travel is gonna come back. I wouldn't be investing in my staff, assuming we're gonna need a staff in the future if I didn't believe that, and I'm spending a lot of money to keep my staff together. It'll come back incrementally.
First, there'll be individuals traveling, individuals that are really motivated. I just had a cousin in Norway that flew to the Greek Isles because she loves the Greek Isles. And she knows she's got a 10-day quarantine waiting for when she gets home. That was okay for her.
I don't think that's okay for most people. But eventually it'll lighten up and individuals will be traveling. And the last thing to come back will be organized bus tours like mine and big organized tourism, but that'll happen too. Again, incremental, right now when people push me to say, what do I expect? I would expect nothing in the rest of this year, nothing in the spring of 2021, a very fragile check out the water, coming back next summer. A little bit of tourism, a little bit of, we'll do a few bus tours in the fall of 2021.
2022, I think we're gonna have a break-even year and then it'll be a tentative and so on. And that'll be exciting because the light will be at the end of the tunnel. Right now we're in a tunnel, but we can't see any light. And then 2022, I think we'll be rocking again.
What will tourism be like? I think it'll be essentially the same with compromise. I think it's like airports. If you think of an airport before terrorism, we had these vast lobbies that were just wonderful and wide open, and then you'd go with your loved ones right to the gate.
Now, of course, we've even forgot about those vast lobbies. There's no more vast lobbies. They're completely junked up with all this security apparatus, TSA stuff which is necessary.
And we say goodbye to our loved ones at the curb, but we still go to the airport and we still use it in a relatively efficient way to go flying places. I think we'll go back to our Europe, might be this year, but traveling in general. And it will be essentially the same but it's gonna take time.
I am not gonna retool my whole tour program to accommodate this interim period when we're not really traveling again, I'm just gonna lay low, be patient. Patience is not an American forte, it's not a Rick Steves forte, but right now it needs to be, and then in time we'll be traveling again. - We are talking to Rick Steves.
A great opportunity, rare opportunity to get his insight on what exactly is happening right now, because it is impacted so many of us. And I think that you're right when we come back, and when we feel comfortable, we're gonna come back with a vengeance, because I think we all realize how important travel is to us, and when your face is kinda like hot water, when you don't have it, you realize how important it is. I cannot wait to book my next trip. - I was just thinking about that because I'm not even going very far around here as I'm hunkering down, but when I do get on the freeway, and I get up to 60 miles an hour, it's like, woo, it's exciting. And a couple of times I've driven over the Cascade Mountains here of East of Seattle, and it just feels good, and people are gonna wanna spread their wings. And Europe is certainly gonna be offering a warm and enthusiastic welcome when we get through this.
But again, we've got to be patient. You don't go through your whole lives without something that derails your life for a couple of years, we thought we could. I've had 65 years of no derails. If I was born in 1900, think about it, I would have had, when I was 14 years old, World War I, 18 years old, The Great Pandemic, 29 years old, the depression, and 39 years old, I would have had Hitler in World War II. Right now, we've got 2020, so relax, it's a couple of years do, things differently.
I've been getting more media in the last six months than ever before. It's ironic. I'd love the interest, I'd get from big magazines and so on, during my normal time when I can make some money, but now they're all curious. I was just in Forbes this week. I was just in Time Magazine. I was in The New York Times Daily podcast, and I'm hunkered down out here in Seattle.
I'm pretty much under the radar for most big type media like that, but they wanna know, what's it like for the travel guy stuck at home. And I've been sharing, just kinda thinking out loud about how I've been exercising my traveler's spirit right here at home, and it's a beautiful thing, and it's a philosophy. A good traveler is curious, a good traveler celebrates getting out of his or her comfort zone. A good traveler has a positive idea.
A good traveler wants to adapt and change and celebrate different things, and come home with a broader perspective. You can implement that sort of mindset right in your own community, and I've been doing that. I've had a very, I don't regret it, but I've had a very focused life. All I do is travel. I spend a third of my adult life living out of a nine by 22 by 14 inch, carrying the airplane-size suitcase overseas.
I love it, but it squished a lot of things that other people get excited about out of my life, and now I can check those out. I've never really appreciated the beauty of having dogs to take on a walk or cuddle with, as you're watching TV, now I do. I've never enjoyed cooking. I just bought a set of new knives and I'm thrilled. I've got sharp knives.
My kids were saying, who is this guy? But I'm trying different things. I'm playing the piano more. For me, every sunset is a devotional. I'm much more tuned into the fragility of our environment, the importance of taking care of our community, the importance of good governance.
This is a very valuable time during this COVID time for us to take a pause and assess where we are? What are our values? And how do we want our society, our community to be when we come out of this? - And talk about new experiences, Rick, I saw you on another interview. I gotta bring this up 'cause I think it shows how human you are, is one of the reasons we love you. Not only are you cooking, is this like the first time you ever used an oven? And I know if you have new knives but you never cut an onion in your life or boiled pasta before.
Rick, what's wrong? - Yeah, no, I sort of downplay that now because I do think it sounds like I'm just a freak, I'd never cut an onion. But it's not because I've got servants, it's just because I'm just very simple on my nutrition, I just picnic. I picnic in Europe and I picnic at home, and I'll eat leftovers and I don't complain about it. But now, yeah, you know when you do something for the first time, you don't realize you've never done it until you do it for the first time.
And then you go, whoa, I've never done this before. And I'll never forget, cutting through an onion, and I just thought, oh, I've never done this. I've never been comfortable with my oven, I've never been comfortable with making pasta, or just the wonder of soup. My girlfriend and I are just experimenting with soup. You just open the refrigerator door and you think what's what's on the push list. Let's put it in that soup.
And these are just simple little joys. Italians when they sit down to dinner, they talk about the ingredients. I just loved that. I was sort of envious about it.
Now, when I sit down to dinner, we talk about the ingredients. We talk about how we made it together. We talk about what we wanna eat and cook tomorrow night. That is just another dimension of life.
It's not that everybody should do that, any more than that, everybody should travel. It's just there are these dimensions of life that we can embrace. And right now travel is no longer an option, so that's okay. That's a blessing because now I have that spirit, I've got that energy, that curiosity, that love of life, let's try it with something else. Before gonna bed, let's sit down at the piano, in the dark, and play chords and just see where they go.
Make up chords, make up resolutions, just see where they take you. Dust off old passions, celebrate life. We can do that. Then when we get out of this thing, maybe we'll realize there's more to life than increasing its speed. You see, from a philosophical point of view, I'm able to learn a little more about myself now that I'm in a different world.
I think I'm addicted to productivity. I'm a workaholic, and I think this is just therapy for a workaholic, this pandemic Is kinda like God's way of saying, hey, slow down. And we need to be mindful. And then our challenge is, if we have all these highfalutin, better understandings of what's important in life, when we get the freedom to go pedal to the metal again, that we remember those things that we thought, maybe we were neglecting during normal times, and then we can come out of this COVID period a little better for it. - What are the light, and what a side of you, Rick, that people should see because if I may, it is very much on brand? To me, it just reinforces the authenticity of Rick Steves because we're talking about something entirely different than travel, but what you are talking about is what you bring forth in travel, and that is mindfulness.
It really is, thank you for sharing that side of you. And if it's not too personal, you're 64 years old now. What a laugh there's 65 is retirement age, but what are your thoughts about the next 10 or 20 years, what are you gonna be doing? You know, the saddest thing about reaching retirement age is, your friends, your coworkers start to retire.
And, but if you're as blessed as me to love your work and find that your work gets you out of bed in the morning and it gives you energy and it gives you constant creative challenges, I could retire a long time ago, and I'm just in a luxurious position now, where I can do what I think is a meaningful, and gratifying, and ethical, and inspirational, and so on. And I really believe in the value of travel. I just think there's so many reasons that we should be traveling. And when we come out of this pandemic, it's more important than ever. And I'm in a position now where I can tackle more, maybe high minded projects. We just did our show about the the roots of hunger and the importance of development aid, whether you wanna love your neighbor, or whether you just wanna be in a in a safer and more stable world, it's an important, pragmatic investment.
So, I spent a lot of time and money in the last year producing a one-hour special called Hunger and Hope lessons learned in Ethiopia and Guatemala, something I've wanted to do forever. I didn't do it to make money. I did it because I love to teach the value of travel, and I've got the time and the wherewithal to do that. And I've got other projects cooking right now that can hardly wait to dive into. So, I have no retirement in my future. It is possible as only as long as I'm physically able to travel.
And I am becoming aware that it's a little more demanding physically, to keep up the tempo and travel, because it's grueling to be hiking around Europe all over the place and updating guidebooks, leading tours, making TV shows, doing that research. But it honestly, it keeps me younger and more enthusiastic and more energetic. I go to Europe, my staff always says, oh, we want a day off every week. And I go, oh, okay, you're mortals.
But I'm just insane about travel. For me, when I travel, it's breathing straight oxygen. And I work 60, 12-hour days in a row, and I feel better when I get home. (laughs) Then when I left, I take really good care of myself.
I eat, well, I get my eight hours of sleep. But for me, to be working and producing is good medicine. - Rick, one of the reasons you're able to do these things, where I think others can't is, you've really changed the way a lot of us look at travel.
We generally think travel, places to go, things to see, but you've pulled that away because it seems to us that your whole thing is people. And it's people that most of us would think of as ordinary, but when you see them and when you get to experience them, meet them, learn about their culture, you find that even the ordinary are extraordinary. - You know, that's interesting you say that because, I just wrote this amazing book. (laughter) And it is called "For The Love Of Europe".
And I locked myself down last year... Is that a nice little ad? Look at that. (laughs) - I wish I had the slow tilt. - I locked myself down last year to write this book. It's a collection of my a hundred favorite articles.
My favorite people, places and experiences in Europe, a 400 page book. And I locked myself down last year 'cause I really wanted to share the most beautiful memories, just the greatest hits of a lifetime of traveling through Europe, and what I'm wired to make travel guide books. So I had to work really hard to call through this and in comb out all of the guidebook bookie stuff, what we called guide bookie stuff. And just make it stories and moments, and what is the pithy magic of travel. And I did it last year, and then I thought, when this pandemic hit, oh, I could have locked myself down this year and done it, and it would have been kind of a twofer, but I'm glad I locked myself down last year to do it because it is the perfect book for this pandemic lockdown kinda time, because it's perfect for people trying to keep their travel dreams alive while they can't travel. So that's been...
Oh, and when, I guess, what I was getting at, to make the last chapter, I thought, how am I gonna stamp this thing up? So I swept through the whole book, read through it one last time, and I realized the overarching lesson is the importance of people. People is the measure of a good trip. How many people do you meet? that's what carbonates the experience. And when I'm leading a tour, when I'm making a TV show, writing a guide book, or just going on vacation, the mark of a job well done is how am I connecting people with people? My great fear about COVID is that it's the little mom and pops that are gonna be falling by the wayside, 'cause they don't have the economic wherewithal to get through this difficult time, whereas the chain organizations and the giant corporations they have the wherewithal to get through it. So when we get through this, I just want it to be more than subway sandwiches and Amazon, I want to have those wonderful creative, edgy, little mom and pops, those idealistic cafes, restaurants, guest houses, museums, and so on, and that's my concern. I've just finished a TV show called Why We Travel.
And it's a love note to travel. I just finished the soundtrack of it yesterday. It'll air on public television, all over the country in a few weeks, Why We Travel, and it'll be streaming on my website at Rick Steves. If you ever wanna tune into a Rick Steve show, everything we've ever produced is on my website for free.
Just go to the TV section and you can click and watch it. But Why We Travel, kinda talks about how there's three kinds of travelers. There's tourists, there's travelers, and there's pilgrims, and they're all fine. And you can do a mix, but it's important to realize that, a tourist is just kind of has a bucket list.
They wanna have fun, they want to check off famous things. A traveler wants to learn. A traveler wants to get out of his or her comfort zone and try something different and learn. And a pilgrim understands that, you learn more about yourself and your home when you leave your home, and you look at it from a distance. A pilgrim travels to learn more about him or herself.
And I just love all of those kinds of travel, and we can mix them together. But what I celebrated there was just, why we travel? And it really is, time and money well spent, especially in this day and age. - Well, you took the guidy part out of this book.
Rick, I think you could take travel out all together. And if you've already written this kinda book, for giving me, but listening to you, I think you're a philosopher on life. So, let me ask you to take travel out of this answer altogether, and if people are the measure of a good trip, what is the measure of a good life? What's the moral of the story? What can we learn about life in general from you? - Well, I guess something that my tourists have taught me is, it's never too late to have a happy childhood, and age only matters if you're a cheese. (Bill giggles) So we don't wanna be, have a youthful kind of a...
Get out of your comfort zone, enthusiasm for things. Americans are really hung up on success and they are quick to let other people to define success for them. And I don't think, if you let other people define success for you, you're not really successful. I think you need to give some thought of, what is to you successful? And then embrace life with gusto, embrace life with abandon, and on your terms, live your life in a way that when you look back on it, it's a success.
And I'm thankful that I've found my mission, I've found my niche. We live in a world where we're privileged enough to enjoy the luxury of pursuing our niche. And I'm lucky that my niche is actually can be good business and I can dedicate my life to this business in a focused kind of out of balance workaholic way, and I've run that little artful gauntlet of turning your passion into a business, and it's still is your joy and your passion. So I'm lucky I can be successful as a travel writer, as a person whose mission is to inspire Americans to get out there, get out of your comfort zone, venture beyond Orlando and come home with what I think is the most beautiful souvenir, and that's a broader perspective. As a Christian, I really believe that the world is filled with equally precious children of God, and when we travel, we get to know the family.
And for me, that's just a joy. And I'm looking forward to a lot more travels to come, and I'm hoping that this COVID time is just a nice pause for us to stay home a little while. This is my first year home in 40 years.
This is my first summer in Seattle, my first birthday at home in almost 40 years. And I'm thinking, I wouldn't have had that otherwise, and I think I've made the most of it. I'm keenly aware of how privileged I am and how this is not a time for people to learn how to cook for a lot of time.
People, it's just a time to figure out, how do we keep a roof over our head? So we need to be mindful of that. And we need to work together as a community to get through this. - Well, I could talk to him for hours because even without talking about travel, Rick is an interesting inspiring guy that we can all learn from. And if you'd like to know more about Rick, his books, his television show, his radio show, his upcoming projects, just check out RickSteves.com.
In that interview, as you heard, Rick mentioned that he kept all 100 of his employees working throughout the pandemic at his own expense. But what he didn't mention is that he created Rick Steves' Volunteer Corps, RSVC, to keep his team not only working, but active in their community, up in the Seattle area. They've been working with local food banks, they've been cleaning up hiking trails, and really lending their services anywhere they are needed, which is another reflection of the kind of guy that Rick Steves is, a great guy with an attitude that is truly straight out of the Growing Bolder playbook.
I love the fact that he encourages everybody to get out of their comfort zone, to define success for yourself. Don't let anybody else do that for you, and to embrace life, not only with gusto, but also with abandon. So here's to a 2021 that allows us to begin to return to travel. And of course it doesn't have to be Europe or some far off expensive, exotic locale, if we're paying attention, the life enriching lessons of travel can be found just about anywhere, anytime. We leave our nest and wander out of our comfort zone, our meme this week is a reminder that travel is the only thing that you can buy that actually makes you richer. So finally, as we move through this holiday season and into the new year, an encouragement to wear the white hat, and I don't mean that as a fashion statement, if you're old enough to remember all of the old TV Westerns or if you watch the reruns, it was always easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys because the good guys always wore the white hats.
We're talking the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, they all wore white hats. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys these days, especially in the real world. And there is no question that we need the good guys more than ever right now, because there is great division, there is great struggle. There are a lot of people and a lot of companies out there trying to take advantage of many of us as we struggled to get through here. So, wearing the white hat really doesn't require much, it just means paying attention to others, trying to put ourselves in other's shoes, really, truly trying to see through their eyes. And even if we don't agree with what we see, at least try to treat them with respect and dignity.
So let's do all we can to help others succeed. Let's try to put ourselves above others whenever we can and see what happens. So let's go ahead and try to wear the white hat in 2021. All right, don't forget, we've got the daily Bold Start, we have got the weekly Growing Bolder Insider, we've got the soon to be monthly Growing Bolder Magazine, and of course, we've got the 24/7 growingbolder.com,
and you can always find us right here on Facebook and YouTube. So you guys have a great weekend, happy holidays, and we'll look for you right back here next Friday morning, Christmas Day, with a special edition of What's Next. ♪ Growing ♪ ♪ Bolder ♪ ♪ What's Next. ♪ (upbeat music)