What Rick Steves Can’t Live Without (2024)

celebrity shopping

By Rick Steves

As told to Jeremy Rellosa

What Rick Steves Can’t Live Without (1)

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Zachary Scott for Rick Steves’ Europe

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what everyday stuff famous people add to their carts — like hair spray or an electric toothbrush. We asked travel writer and TV host Rick Steves about the toothpicks, popcorn popper, and hummingbird feeder he can’t live without.

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I’ve been using these passport-size journals for 25 years. I just did a 30-day trip, and I filled up two of these notebooks. If you’re a travel writer, you’ve got to catch every idea as it flutters by. It’s like netting butterflies, and if I don’t have my little pocket notebook with me, I’ll be jotting these things down on scraps of paper and will lose track of them.

The pencil is a physical thing. It’s tangible. I drum with it. I do a little rattle back and forth between my fingers and my thumb, and I put it in my lips. I have this deal where I jam my thumbnail between the twisty part and the body of it, and I can make it look like it’s magically connected to my thumb. And it always has a sharp line because it’s mechanical. And it’s tactile — as is my notebook. So I’ve got my beautiful yellow pencil and my beautiful little black notebook and my beautiful laptop when I get back to the hotel, and I get into that groove. I’ve got my tools there, and I am just a sponge or a lint brush. That’s what I am — I’m a lint brush picking up all sorts of lint, then weaving it together into some beautiful travel experiences.

I wear hemp because it’s a declaration of freedom when it comes to cannabis, and it’s a statement against our laws that prohibit farmers from growing hemp, just like it prohibits citizens from enjoying marijuana recreationally. So I feel good about hemp because it’s an environmentally positive kind of crop. It’s underappreciated. It’s the victim of a long-minded prohibition. So I wear hemp a little bit as a declaration of my opposition to the prohibition against marijuana, but I also wear it because it’s comfortable. And when I wear it, I just shake my head in disbelief that in our society we have these weird hurdles against using hemp and cannabis that are based on lies.

From $52

I grew up in our family cabin in the mountains here in the Cascades in Washington State, and we call these mukluks. And these are slippers that feel like a Norwegian handwoven sweater with a leather bottom. And I love them because I can walk through the snow to get firewood, and I love them because they remind me of the coziness of a cabin. And anytime I want to be cozy, I put on my Acorn slipper socks.

This makes popcorn a ritual. A lot of people just have a microwaveable pouch for their popcorn or something like that. But when I’m cozy at home and I want to have a nice movie evening with my partner — I don’t cook much, but I can make great popcorn. And you dump your corn in there and you dump your choice of oil in there, and then you crank this handle slowly while it pops and you crank. There’s a paddle at the bottom that mixes the kernels of corn until they pop. So that keeps it moving. You just feel like an old organ grinder, cranking the handle.

Before COVID, I had a ritual where every day at 10:30, I would feel like, Man, I’m just dragging. So I’d leave my office and walk across the town to Starbucks and have my Grande extra-hot latte. And it was just part of my daily routine, plus my caffeine fix. And when COVID happened, I couldn’t do that anymore. I didn’t get that connection with my community by taking my walk and tipping my hat to the ladies on the benches, like an old-fashioned movie. I needed to have my ritual, and I started just getting these cans of Starbucks. I still have my mid-morning coffee, and it is a strangely beautiful part of my day. Now I order it 24 cans at a time, and I don’t have the stress of wondering: Where’s my next fix?

It’s a silly little passion of mine to spear my food with a toothpick and then chew the toothpick when you’re done eating. But you don’t want just any old kind of toothpick. You want a toothpick that’s pointed on one end and with an artful cap on the other end. I was teaching my little 1-year-old grandchild how to eat with a toothpick. And a lot of people go, “Oh, it’s a pointed thing, get it away from his face.” But Atlas, my grandson, is really good with toothpicks. One of the first examples of dexterity he showed was holding the toothpick and spearing slices of apple or banana.

We live in Chihuly country here in Seattle, and everything in glass wants to be nice and artful. As the sun’s going down, the sun cuts through that beautiful orange-and-red glass filled with that sweet water for the hummingbirds. It’s just beautiful. The base of it gets kind of mucky and moldy if you don’t wash it, and, over time, it needs to be replaced. And I was walking to work one day, and there was a tiny, little garage sale, and I stepped into the garage sale and found the base of this hummingbird feeder — not the feeder, just the base — exactly the part I needed. It was like divine intervention. It cost me a dollar.

From $20,000

I love my piano. It’s the first thing I bought. I bought it before I had a car. It was really expensive — it cost me $3,000 back when I was 16 years old. But my dad said it would be a lifetime investment, and he was right. When I travel, I always have to lift the ball board on a piano keyboard just to see what the make is, because my dad used to import pianos, and I know the different makes. And this is made in a small town in the Black Forest of Germany.

When the day’s done, I’ll go over to the piano and just improvise on the blues scale, and my dad will be looking down at me. I’ve got a beautiful painting of him on the wall, and he introduced me to Europe and the music. So that’s something I’m thankful for.

If I’m going for two weeks or two months, winter, summer, north, south, it doesn’t matter — this is my world. I’ve lived out of this bag for a quarter of my adult life, literally. But this has everything I need. I like a bag that gives me a self-imposed limit on what I can carry on to the airplane. It’s got hidden padded shoulder straps, so I can carry it around as a suitcase or I can carry it around on my back, and so I can be the last person on to the airplane. I don’t need wheels yet. I mean, the day will come when I’ll need wheels, but I’m still spry enough to get around by hanging my bag on my back, so I’m kind of a lifelong backpacker. There’s too much visual pollution in the world, and this is just a low-key monochrome bag that does the job and no more, no less.

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What Rick Steves Can’t Live Without
What Rick Steves Can’t Live Without (2024)
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