Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Travel as a Political Act

I love Rick Steves' travel shows on PBS and have a couple of his destination books, but the one that caught my eye a few years ago and then languished on the TBR shelf was Travel as a Political Act.  I read it in February, finally, as part of my TBR Pile Challenge, and it was as good as I anticipated.

The basic premise is a very logical thought--the more we know first-hand about other peoples, countries, and cultures, the more likely we are to understand them, empathize with them, and find a way to live together on this tiny planet more peaceably.  By traveling and meeting real people, not just staying with the people in your tour group, we can overcome much of the media-produced fear of those whose skin color, religious practices, and priorities differ from ours.

With Steves as tour guide, the reader can visit Yugoslavia, "After the War," El Salvador, Denmark (those highly taxed but notoriously content Europeans), Turkey and Morocco (for a look at secular Islam), and Iran. The chapter on Iran was my absolute favorite--Steves was asked to do a travel show on Iran and he had to overcome his personal fears in order to do his job. I learned so much about the country of Iran and its people--this chapter alone makes the book worth getting, although I don't mean to disparage any of the rest of it!

Steves also weighs in on how various countries deal with drug problems, comparing our "war on drugs" to an alternative that legalizes possession but then emphasizes treatment.

I'll be upfront that my political leanings are pretty much aligned with Steves so nothing he advocated offended or shocked me. Reading Travel as a Political Act has resparked my flame to do more than arm-chair travel, especially to places that are more foreign than comfortable, more different than not.

For more info, visit Steves website, which has a section on Philanthropy and Social Activism, and which provides more insights into his thoughts on meaningful travel.


  1. I have not seen the television show but I would like to after reading your commentary.

    I probably would want to see the show before I read the book.

    Steves's site looks great!

  2. My sister loves his show, and I keep meaning to watch. She also enjoys his podcasts. I think she would enjoy this book, too.

  3. Jane, I'm glad you enjoyed this book so thoroughly. It sounds like my cup of tea as well. I agree with the sentiments you express here about overcoming prejudices by getting to know people.

  4. Every Saturday morning we enjoy our coffee while watching Rick Steves. It is so true that if you get to know other people and learn about their culture and history, you are much more likely to respect them and find the things in common rather than the things that make us different.