Rick Steves – Travel as a Political Act – Review

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Rick Steves deliver a presentation on “Travel as a Political Act” as a fundraiser for Twin Cities Public Television.   Rick is an icon in the world of European travel advice. He shared with us his insight from years of travel, and challenged us to travel with an open mind, and not be dumbed down by a narrow world view. 

Rick is a great storyteller, and has that gift for drawing the audience in, spinning a great tale, weaving anecdotes with education, and opening our eyes to other cultures.

 You can download the presentation as a series of podcasts from iTunes.  Just search for Rick Steves Lecture Series.  You can also watch the lecture here on Rick’s You Tube channel. 

And now Rick has just released a book which fleshes out the theme of his presentation and provides background that has shaped his political views. 

 Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the first chapter:

  •  To get the most out of your travels, plan to get out of your comfort zone, meet the people, seek out new experiences, and view other cultures – as well as our own – with an open mind
  • Seeing how smart people overseas come up with fresh new solutions to the same old problems makes me more humble, open to creative solutions, and ready to question traditional ways of thinking.  We understand how our worldview is both shaped and limited by our family, friends, media and cultural environment.  We become more able to respectfully coexist with people with different “norms” and values.
  • One of the greatest rewards of travel comes from the people you encounter – especially if you’re open to letting them show off a bit and impress you with their culture.  Stow your preconceptions, and relish the opportunity to meet and learn from local experts, whether it’s cheese makers, or owners of a 5th generation family vineyard.
  • Take history seriously, and don’t be dumbed down.  I believe now that if more Americans had a history degree and put it to good use, this world would be better off. Those with a knowledge of history can understand current events in a broader context and respond to them more thoughtfully.
  • My travels have taught me to have a healthy skepticism toward those who peddle fear.  And in so many cases I’ve learned the flip side of fear is understanding.
  • Thirteen thousand people die in the U.S. every year from hand guns.  But we’ve deemed that’s an acceptable trade-off for enjoying our Second Amendment rights.  Europeans (who suffer less than 25% of the per capita gun killings we do) laugh out loud when they hear Americans are staying home for safety reasons. 
  • Every time I’m stuck in a long security line at an airport, I reflect on one of the most concerting results of terrorism:  the very people who would benefit most from international travel – those who needlessly fear people and places they don’t understand – decide to stay home.  I believe the most powerful things individual Americans can do to fight terrorism are to travel a lot, learn about the world, come home with a new perspective, and then work to help our country fit more comfortably and less fearfully into this planet. 

 Other chapters in Rick’s book include:

 –        Lessons from the Former Yugoslavia:  After the War

–        Europe Unites:  Successes and Struggles

–        Resurrection in El Salvador

–        Denmark:  Highly Taxed and Highly Content

–        Turkey and Morocco:  Sampling Secular Islam

–        Europe: Not “Hard on Drugs” or “Soft on Drugs” but Smart on Drugs

–        Mission:  Understand Iran

 I encourage you to check out the book or Lecture Series for Rick’s though-provoking ideas.  And as Rick says:  Keep Traveling!

 Enchanted Traveler


2 thoughts on “Rick Steves – Travel as a Political Act – Review

  1. Fida

    I admire Rick Steves for a long time. He makes the effort to really get to know a culture.

    Traveling has shown me that people are essentially the same everywhere I go. We want all the same – freedom, good living, love and friendship. Fear keeps us from getting to know each other, which is sad, and we miss out on so many things. Rita Golden Gelman want’s to make a gap year abroad for US students a must, and I think something like that really could be helpful to bring us closer.

    I wish you a travelicious 2010!

    1. enchantedtraveler Post author

      Thanks so much, Fida, for your thoughtful comments. Yes, I agree, Rick really gets us thinking about the similarities of our cultures. We have much more in common than we have differences. I think that’s a wonderful idea for all students (especially US) to be required to study abroad. Travel is the best education we can give our children. I feel so strongly about it that I take my children to Europe with me whenever the budget allows. I tell them (only half-jokingly) to enjoy the trip to Paris, because that is their college fund! But Europe has such a wealth of learning opportunites: art, history, language, geography, religion, literature, and on and on.

      I wish you a happy, healthy, enchanted year of travel!!


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