“Rick Steves wants to set you free,” begins an extensive NYT Magazine profile on the travel guru. He believes “the tiniest exposure to other cultures” will change your entire life.
Travel, Steves likes to say, ” ‘wallops your ethnocentricity’ and ‘carbonates your experience’ and ‘rearranges your cultural furniture.’ Like sealed windows on a hot day, a nation’s borders can be stultifying. Steves wants to crack them open, to let humanity’s breezes circulate. The more rootedly American you are, the more Rick Steves wants this for you. If you have never had a passport, if you are afraid of the world, if your family would prefer to vacation exclusively at Walt Disney World, if you worry that foreigners are rude and predatory and prone to violence or at least that their food will give you diarrhea, then Steves wants you — especially you — to go to Europe. Then he wants you to go beyond.”
Fear of foreign travel, fear of experiencing the world, says this man who has spent more than one-third of his adult life outside the U.S., is “for people who don’t get out much.”
Steves does a concert with the Boston Pops Orchestra featuring stirring 19th-century anthems by Romantic-era composers, including Grieg, Smetana, Strauss, Berlioz, Elgar, Wagner, and Verdi. Each selection honors a particular nation, while the finale, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (Europe’s official anthem) pays homage to the continent’s motto of “United in Diversity.” The concert is enhanced by a montage of evocative video images curated by Steves. The BPO concert is based on a television special Steves did in 2014.
In an interview with the Boston Globe, Steves explained why he likes to calm travelers’ anxieties and fears. “I miss the days when people would say “Bon voyage.” Now nobody says [it]. They say “Have a safe trip.”
“When somebody says “Have a safe trip,” I’m inclined to say “Have a safe stay at home.” Where I’m going is safer than where you’re staying, there’s no doubt about that. It’s safer to travel in Europe now than anytime in our lifetimes. We’ve become an afraid nation. I think fear is a dangerous thing and it can be used against us. Fear is for people who don’t get out very much. And, the flip side of fear is understanding. We gain understanding when we travel. I think the most fearful people in our country are the people buried deep in the middle of it with no passports.”
In this lecture and in his book, “Travel As A Political Act,” Rick Steves urges people to venture thoughtfully out of their comfort zone. When doing so, “we gain empathy for the other 96 percent of humanity and come home with the greatest of all souvenirs: a broader perspective.”
Quotes from Travel As A Political Act:
“I would like travelers, especially American travelers, to travel in a way that broadens their perspective, because I think Americans tend to be some of the most ethnocentric people on the planet. It’s not just Americans, it’s the big countries. It’s the biggest countries that tend to be ethnocentric or ugly. There are ugly Russians, ugly Germans, ugly Japanese and ugly Americans. You don’t find ugly Belgians or ugly Bulgarians, they’re just too small to think the world is their norm.”
“Ideally, travel broadens our perspectives personally, culturally, and politically. Suddenly, the palette with which we paint the story of our lives has more colors.”
“Travel is rich with learning opportunities, and the ultimate souvenir is a broader perspective.”