On his latest trip to Rome, Rick Steves’ longtime tour guide was nervous because she had not given a tour in almost two years. “She was tearful at the end of it, she just said, ‘I can’t tell you how great it was to have in person, people with me,’” Steves recounted.
As tourists return abroad, the travel writer and host joined Boston Public Radio with tips for traveling abroad at this stage in the pandemic. He also shared memories from his latest trip to Italy and Greece.
Steves said traveling from the United States to Europe can feel safe and doable as long as travelers follow four key tips: get vaccinated, carry a CDC vaccination card, fill out a passenger locator form if one is required, and get a COVID-19 test before each flight.
“You just got to be diligent and embrace the few bureaucratic hurdles,” Steves said. He also advised travelers to fill out any necessary forms before arriving at the airport, and to make use of hotel concierges to find testing locations and print out any necessary forms before returning home.
Then, as long as travelers are willing to comply with mask regulations, Steves said traveling felt rather normal.
“I felt there was nothing dangerous about it,” he said. “If you’re comfortable taking a road trip in the Southwest of the United States … you can go to Europe and have a vacation. You just got a few hurdles to get over there and a few hurdles to get back. … For me, it’s worth embracing the world and getting out and having a little fun.”
On his latest trip abroad, Steves managed to find silver linings of the pandemic. Usually, top tourist sites like the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City are full of what he calls a “mosh pit of tourists.” But with COVID-induced capacity limits, Steves found visiting popular sites a better experience than before.
“You have to show your CDC card to get in and then you have an instant temperature take. And then they let you in, and you’re there with 50 people instead of 800 people,” Steves recalled of his recent trip to the Pantheon in Rome.
Steves also appreciated a feeling of normalcy, beyond the requisite mask. “When you’re high in the French Alps, there is no COVID,” he said. “You’ve got lakes stretching in one direction and these cut grass peaks in the other direction. And you’re feeling really good, because you’ve huffed and puffed for three hours, and there’s this feeling of accomplishment.”
However, the joys of travel abroad come with the caveat of with vaccination status. “Technically you can travel without your vaccination, but it’s horrific,” he said. Unvaccinated patrons would struggle to enter a lot of tourist sites that require CDC cards.
Steves also debunked myths Americans may have about the state of the pandemic abroad, including that the U.S. is the only country facing protests against vaccination. “They’ve [European countries] got people that are demonstrating in the streets,” he said. “I just saw that in Florence. But they’ve got I think a bolder government that’s just saying, ‘All rright, enough, we’ve got an economy, we’ve got to get back on track.’”
He added that despite some perceptions, many Europeans do want to see American tourists — they just want them to be vaccinated.
On the horizon, Steves is looking forward to his upcoming guided tours to Europe, for which he is requiring all guides, bus drivers and participants to have the vaccine. He is also working on a six hour production that tells the story of European art, which he hopes to release in a year.
Above all, Steves is excited to help get tourists back abroad. “It’s just almost tearfully beautiful to be back in the saddle and helping people travel around Europe,” he said. “Post-COVID, I think there’s going to be a value that people recognize in travel, that’s more important than ever, and I’m so thankful to be positioned in a way where I can be evangelical about that new appreciation.”
Steves is an author, television and radio host and the owner of the Rick Steves’ Europe tour group. You can catch his television show, “Rick Steves’ Europe,” weeknights at 7:30 p.m. on GBH 2 and his radio show, “Travel With Rick Steves,” Sundays at 4 p.m. on GBH.