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With travel cancelled, Rick Steves cuts an onion, turns on his oven for the first time ever

Rick Steves sitting on the fountain in downtown Edmonds. (Photo from Brian Soergel, Edmonds Beacon)

Ever since he was a teenager, 65-year-old travel guru Rick Steves has spent a few months of every year in Europe. This year? Europe has closed its doors to U.S. travelers.

“I’m kind of embarrassed when I talk to my European friends, as they open up and we’re still back on square one because of our impatience,” Steves said.

Everyone’s anxious to get traveling again, but how does Rick Steves, travel writer and the owner of a successful touring company, sate his wanderlust?

“It’s tough to be home. But also I’ve been enjoying the challenge of employing my traveler’s perspective, the wonder that a traveler has. The curiosity that a traveler has right here in Edmonds, where I live. Getting to know my town, getting to know my neighbors, trying new things. I think I’m addicted to productivity and this crisis is sort of therapy for somebody who’s trying to accomplish a lot every day,” he said. “For the first time in my life, I’m cuddling with dogs at night and walking them in the afternoon. I never got that and now I get it. For the first time in my life I’m cooking! I’ve owned my house for 10 years, I’ve never turned on the oven. I’ve never really barbecued before but now I love it. These are new things, these are like travel. But they’re right at home.”

He confessed that until quarantine, he’d never sliced an onion.

Steves owns a successful tour company, sells guide books, and has radio and television travel shows centered on traveling Europe. But he says he’s not going to pivot. He loves Europe and he’s prepared to wait it out.

“I’m afraid it’s staycation time. My Europe guides are selling almost zero right now. What is selling is road trip books. First, it’s going to be Seattleites going to the coast, and it’s going to be people in Paris going to the French Riviera, then it’s going to be adventurous individuals breaking out of this staycation and traveling,” he said. “My cousin in Norway loves the Greek Islands. She just flew to the Greek Islands last week knowing that when she comes home to Norway she’ll have a 10-day quarantine to wait through. She’s determined to go to Greece, and Greece is welcoming her. She’s the early individual traveler, but the lion’s share of my revenue comes from taking people on bus tours around Europe and there’s not going to be bus tours for awhile. That will be the last thing.”

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He acknowledges that our American culture and attitude is not helping us get out of this pandemic.

“I think the coronavirus is an interesting chance for us to remember that rugged individualism doesn’t apply here. We’ve got to be in this together,” Steves said. “The challenges that are confronting us are going to be challenges that don’t recognize borders, that can’t be addressed with a big military, that can’t be defended against by having a high wall. That’s not a political statement, that’s just a logical reality. We have a great opportunity to work together and to embrace science, and to be patient, and to whoop this thing. We’re not doing very good so far.”

Steves recently asked his fans on Facebook to come up with a list of things you can do at home to pretend you’re traveling in Europe.

“When your kids get into the car you can say, ‘Mind the gap.’ You can detach your toilet seat and just sit on the porcelain. When your quarantine partner asks for water you can say, ‘With gas or without gas?’ One person suggested, ‘Place your La-Z-Boy in front of your partner’s favorite chair and recline it all the way back as if on an airplane.'”

The crux: Surviving this pandemic, this quarantine, is dependent on a positive attitude. It’s all about what you make of it. And Steves is making music.

“Every night in Edmonds — my house is on a bluff overlooking the town — as the sun goes down, I get out my old trumpet and I play Taps,” he said. “My valves are all stuck so I have to treat my trumpet like a bugle. But when I’m done playing Taps, there’s a smattering of whoops and hollers and clapping that’s all over the community and it’s just that one moment where our community comes together and we celebrate how blessed we are, what a beautiful environment we have, how we need each other, and how we’re going to get through this.”

In a stroke of good timing, Steves just released a new book, For The Love Of Europe, that’s not a guidebook, but 100 essays detailing his favorite places, experiences, and people in Europe. It’s the perfect way to indulge your wanderlust if you’re dreaming of a European vacation.

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal,” featuring celebrities like Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Rainn Wilson, and Greta Gerwig. Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!

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