Notes from the Pandemic
Call me a masochist. I’ve been listening to Rick Steves.
Steves, you may know, is a guru of European travel. Forty years ago, he started out writing travel books, then graduated to leading tours. These days he hires others to lead the tours, produces successful TV and radio shows about Europe, and sells travel products. His company is based in the little town of Edmonds, Washington, just outside Seattle.
My wife Yvonne and I have been on several Rick Steves tours—to Italy, Eastern Europe, and Ireland, shown below—and have found them delightful, with knowledgeable guides, well-located and welcoming hotels, and a real sense of community among tour members.
On his radio show, Steves started out the pandemic interviewing his guides, encouraging listeners to dream of travel and to plan for a time when it might resume. Lately I’ve noticed something new. He’s becoming a philosopher of travel.
Why do we travel? How do we benefit from our trips? Can we travel without leaving home?
Rick Steves appears to be turning inward, reflecting quietly on what before must have been a constant flurry of activity. I picture him sitting at home, eyes closed, thinking back on his travel and trying to figure out what it all means.
On a recent show he mentioned three categories that I like and am still pondering: tourist, traveler, pilgrim.
A tourist, I realize, is what I previously had been—seeing sights but not exploring them or learning about them. Starting with our first Rick Steves tour, I graduated to traveler—absorbing some of the history and meaning of the places we visited. I aspire to be a pilgrim—investing travel with depth and meaning, building on what I learn and, in the encounter, allowing myself to be changed.
Rick Steves has become a pilgrim. In the radio of my mind, I am walking alongside him.