Friday, March 16, 2018

Sixty at Sixty - Rick Steves' Book Tour - Travel as a Political Act

Back in 2007 my daughter and I took a six-week trip to Europe to celebrate her 16th birthday and my 50th. We planned the whole trip ourselves with the help of a guidebook I'd found called "Europe Through the Backdoor" by Rick Steves. The book was a gem, all we needed to plan a fabulous experience, involving rail and boat travel through nine countries, accommodation in seventeen cities and towns, and sights galore, including the 'must-sees" and lesser known ones we might not otherwise have considered.

I haven't traveled in Europe since but if I was going to I'd look to the Rick Steves' travel guides to help me make the most of the trip. So when I heard that there was an opportunity to hear Rick Steves talk about his book "Travel as a Political Act" at Barnes & Noble in New York City last week, I jumped at the chance.

I was a little surprised to see that the seating for the 7 pm event would open at 5 pm, priority given to those who had just bought the book. I turned up at 6 to find quite a few people already there, but I didn't want to sit for an hour so I browsed in the store for half an hour. Turned out to be a big mistake! By 6.30 the place was standing room only and, by the start of the event, even that was a little crowded. Whoever planned the event seriously underestimated the number of people who would turn up. Fortunately, it was a superb talk.

Steves believes "we can learn more about our own country by observing other countries - and by challenging ourselves (and our neighbors) to be broad-minded when it comes to international matters," and that "thoughtful travel comes with powerful lessons." He pointed out that it is often those who do not have passports and have never left the region of their birth who are most fearful when it comes to dealing with cultures different from their own.

I'm a firm believer in the old saying 'travel broadens the mind,' but I can't help wondering whether most of the audience were like-minded, so Steves was speaking to those who already believed in purposeful travel and therefore not reaching the people who might be inspired by his book. 

Obviously, not everyone can afford to travel, but even a lot of those who can do it with certain expectations that their experience will not be too different from what they already know. They stay in five-star chain hotels that look similar the world over, complain that they can't get their favorite food or drink, or only want to see the sights (or get the tan) that will impress the folks back home, and then return home with little to no awareness of the place they've just visited. While tourism of that nature can be great for the local economy it does little to broaden perspectives and break down barriers between cultures.

If you get a chance to listen to Rick Steves talk, I'd highly recommend it. But make sure to get there early!

I haven't finished reading the book yet, but what I have read just makes me want to do more traveling!

When Mel is not out exploring she writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. For more information about her books visit her website. 


  1. Oooh! We LOVE Rick Steves. We used Europe Through the Back Door when we traveled to Europe with my parents/sister/bro-in-law for their 50th. We're using his Great Britain guidebook for our trip this spring, too.

    We see him out and about in Edmonds (where he lives) often. He's a nice, down to earth kind of guy. You can't go wrong using his guides. Good to know he packs bookstores in NYC :-)

  2. You definitely can't go wrong using his guides - and I love that they inspire you to visit places you might otherwise have missed. We also got his Europe 101 History and Art guide which really increased the enjoyment we got out of visiting museums and art galleries.

    I hope you have a wonderful time in Britain this spring. I'd love to hear what you get up to!

  3. Love Rick Steves, too. Watch his show religiously. I'm so glad you got to see him.

    1. I've never watched his shows - I shall have to remedy that!

  4. Mel, what a great opportunity to see Rick in person. I don't get to travel much so haven't used his book but I really enjoyed his shows that explored European culture. Been a fan for years.

  5. I shall definitely have to look out for his shows now! I had no idea they were so popular, but having listened to him talk, I can see why they would be.