Rick Steves Europe Awaits focuses on the destinations that are "good for the soul."

By Paul Feinstein
June 09, 2021
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When your entire identity is wrapped around traveling the world and motivating others to do the same, what do you do during a global pandemic? If you're Rick Steves, you wait for a mass-vaccination campaign, and then put out a two-hour TV special that inspires Americans to travel again.

Rick Steves is the multi-hyphenate travel guru behind the eponymous best-selling guidebooks to Europe, he's the host of a weekly public radio show, and is the star of Rick Steves' Europe, a travel show distributed by American Public Television.

A pandemic wasn't going to stop him.

Steves' latest foray into the world of television is Rick Steves Europe Awaits, a two-hour special where he takes viewers to some of his favorite spots on the Continent in charming and surprising ways. We wanted to chat with Steves to see how life has been the last year, and his new TV special that's aimed at inspiring Americans to get out and explore once again.

Travel + Leisure: Rick, it's so great to talk with you. For starters, can you tell us about the special?

Rick Steves: "Europe Awaits is a collection of destinations in Europe that I think are perfect for post-COVID travel. Places that are good for the soul. Places that get us off the beaten path where we can connect with people and traditional lifestyles and beautiful food without dealing with a lot of the crowds that just were crippling before COVID hit."

I love the idea of traveling for the good of your soul. What are the places people can expect to see?

"We're going to go to Sicily, Mykonos, the Cotswold villages, northern Portugal, Tuscany, and remote Romania. And in each of these places we will be trying to get an intimate look at the culture and experiencing it as temporary locals."

Rick hitches a cart ride with a farmer in Maramures, Romania.
Credit: Courtesy of Rick Steves' Europe

How did you decide on these particular destinations?

"During COVID, we couldn't travel and shoot new stuff, and I wanted to find a collection of destinations that really complemented each other. I had [this video] and it's very vivid, and it's right up to date. So, over the course of this special, we just get to celebrate these different dimensions of travel. They fit together well, and it was almost too good to be true, because they all really fit this idea of 'what's good for your soul.' It's about finding a great place to go, especially if you don't want to be going where everybody else is going."

So much of your personal ethos is to inspire people to travel. Did you come at this special from that lens?

"Well, we put together Europe Awaits knowing that a lot of people are excited about returning to Europe. When there's an event like a pandemic, or whatever that stops tourism, the demand does not dissipate, it just gets backed up. And there'll be a warm and enthusiastic welcome in Europe when tourism returns. But [the show] is a celebration of the diversity that awaits when you travel smartly in a place like Europe. I think for me, it's my mission. My mission is to inspire Americans to venture beyond Orlando. It is really important for Americans to get out there and get to know the other 96% of humanity.

For me, Europe is the wading pool for world exploration. And if you have a good time in Europe, you're going to go venture further beyond that on your next trip. I think it's a very positive activity as we move forward as a society that is confronted by challenges that really are blind to borders and impervious to conventional defenses and you can't protect yourself with a wall. What you got to do is protect yourself by getting to know each other and then working together."

How has this past year been for you personally?

"I'm in a mindset where, okay, you know, we've got a pause. This is God's way of telling us to slow down - it's kind of therapy for a workaholic. And I've been employing what I call a traveler's mindset right here at home. What's the good traveler? A good traveler is curious. The traveler is positive. A good traveler wants to get out of his or her comfort zone and try new things and broaden their perspective. And I've been doing that whole traveler's mindset stuff right here in the context of life skills in general. It's been a fascinating experience."

Is there also a charitable element to this special?

"Europe Awaits is what we call a membership special in public television. It's a pledge drive, and people are going to be reminded during this show that you can't have public television without having people supporting it. And I love, as a producer of public television, to be able to assume an attention span and respect the intelligence of my viewers and produce programs that are driven not by a passion for keeping advertisers happy, but by a passion for just inspiring people to reach out there and celebrate the world in all its diversity. I'm kind of an odd duck, but I see pledge drives as a celebration of this kind of non-commercial media.

Ultimately, Europe Awaits is just timely, and it's fun to do something that is timely. And this really is timely because when you have an event like this pandemic, and everybody's travel dreams are backed up, this demand does not dissipate, it's ready to spring forward, and the floodgates are about to open. I just want to give people a chance to sit down for a couple of hours and simply dream about Europe. And with this collection of cool destinations, it's going to be a very, very gratifying evening. I think when people can just settle in, they'll think, 'wow, where do I want to go in Europe?'"

Rick Steves Europe Awaits is distributed by American Public Television and will air on public television stations nationwide (check local listings).