Rick Steves has been a leading expert in the travel industry for more than 40 years. He specializes in European travel; however, his message to travelers of 2023 resonates with all of us who travel no matter how far we go. Cloud Nine recently interviewed Rick Steves to ask his opinion of how COVID-19 impacted travel and what he anticipates travel to be like now that the threat of COVID has lessened.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Please, give us a little background on yourself. What are some things you enjoy doing when you are home from all of your travels?
I guess I’m an unusual person who loves work so much it consumes me. I’m on a mission to help Americans travel smarter with a goal to inspire and equip Americans to travel beyond Orlando (meaning to encourage them to travel outside of the U.S.) and experience somewhere full of diversity and culture, it’s so important. I work a lot. I love to travel. I love to make mistakes. I take careful notes.
I am passionate about political causes. Being mindful of climate change through travels and teaching others to do so, I am fighting hunger through bread for the world and through my local church. I also have a very successful business and these funds go to various causes such as building senior centers just outside of Seattle.
I currently have a girlfriend who is just wonderful and teaching me the wonder of having dogs, learning to cook and loving hiking.
My daughter is pregnant and having a baby soon. This will be the first grandchild in the family. It will rock my world and make my world even more beautiful.
I have seen you quoted as stating in a previous interview that your “mantra has been: COVID can derail our travel plans, but it cannot stop our travel dreams.” Do you feel that the travel train has gotten back on track to bring our travel dreams into travel memories?
Regarding travel after COVID, my big concern was the energy in the streets would no longer be there post-covid but as restrictions began to lift and I began traveling again, I noticed while I was at my favorite market street in Paris just watching the world go by, that strangers were walking around with their dogs and I was able to pet their dogs, people were socializing out in public, going about their business and it was NORMAL. I’ve traveled enough to know if you’re excited about various travel experiences, we are there. It’s back. That magic of what makes travel so exciting. It’s here and it’s here with gusto.
What do you predict travel will be like in 2023?
First, we don’t know. COVID has a way of messing with us. One minute we’re confident and then you’re back in it. My strong hunch: it will become endemic and we will grind it into our lives and live with it. Certain common sense things are now woven into travel in a hygiene issue. It is tradition to kiss Saint Peter’s feet at the Basilica in Rome but now you can’t. Food probably won’t be out for the public to paw through buffet-style like it has in the past due to more concern for hygiene. More people will be eating outdoors for a little space. Entry by appointment is probably here to stay. I used to walk by Anne Frank’s house to see how long the line was and it was usually about 2 blocks long, now there is no longer a line – just as many people want to visit but now it is by appointment only that you can. Reservations made online are great for travel. No more pandemonium. To travel smartly these days you have to make a reservation and this is good news.
What is safe? Safe is what people are comfortable with. If you’re filled with anxiety you won’t be comfortable.
What about 2023 airport travel? How do we make our time traveling the most efficient? Do you have any advice you can give travelers to maximize their time while in the process of traveling to their final destinations?
A general adjustment society is making in the U.S. and Europe is the now prevalent understaffing. People who have gotten covid, who are retiring, changing their approach to work and all of these are tough to the current staff on airplanes, in restaurants, tour buses, airports, etc. There is a lot of congestion in airports that boils down to understaffing and bottlenecks. Fly whether domestically or internationally in a way that minimized exposure to chaos by flying direct when you can, if needing a connection opt for connections with more time and travel with only one carry-on bag measuring 9x14x22 inches. My tours carry 25k people each year and nobody is allowed to take more than that amount of luggage. This is doable and puts you in a whole different category – no chaos in the airport no, checked bags. Get to the airport early and do what you can online. On ricksteves.com I have a lecture on how to pack light. Don’t pack for the worst scenario but pack for the best scenario – you can buy anything while traveling.
Have an app on your phone that provides flight tracking. This tells you the exact story of the flight you are on and the one you are connecting to, including what gate to use – this is very helpful. I use Flight View Elite. A good rule to follow is absolutely no shopping, stopping for food and drink or general dilly-dallying in the airport until you get to your gate. You never know if what might delay you or what hurdles you’ll encounter along the way. Get to your gate, establish your camp and get settled before taking time to spend around the area.
What is your advice to business travelers?
Business travelers face the same challenges as recreational travelers do – getting situated at your destination, getting around town and not getting ripped off. Each travel destination presents its own challenges. Equip yourself with good information and you can expect a great outcome. Always remember, you can turn a business trip into something full of memories. Work but still be able to experience the destination you are in.
What can your company, Rick Steves’ Europe, provide to travelers as they prepare to travel in 2023? Guides, podcasts, tours, etc.?
We have 100 people who work on the same mission to help Americans travel smarter, efficiently, economically and experientially with a focus on Europe.
Ricksteves.com provides access to the following:
- All tv shows we have ever produced.
- A program for teachers: Classroom Europe is an easy-to-use educational tool to expose students to the wonders of European travel, culture and history.
- We have 50 guidebooks
- Rick steves audio Europe – a free app that is a wonderful source of information while traveling, including free self-guided audio tours to 60 of the most important cultural experiences.
- Tour program which provides 40 different itineraries. Even if you don’t tour with us you can look at our itineraries and draw inspiration to create your own.