Travel guru Rick Steves
says travel with an
open mind and ...
By Rick Steves
Costco member Rick Steves, owner of Seattle-based Europe Through the Back Door, spends
four months a year in Europe, writing guidebooks, leading tours and producing a popular
public television series on travel. Here, he offers
his opinions on how travel can help bring the
struggles of the rest of the w orld, enabling us to
digest news coverage more smartly.
Travel helps us celebrate, rather than fear,
diversity. On a trip through Afghanistan, I was
eating lunch in a Kabul cafeteria. An older man
joined me with his lunch, intent on making
one strong point. He said, “I am a professor
here in Afghanistan. In this world, one-third of
the people use a spoon and fork like you, one-third use chopsticks and one-third use fingers,
like me. And we are all civilized.”
Travel helps us appreciate the challenges
other societies face. Stepping into a high school
stadium in Turkey, I saw 500 teenagers punch
the sky with their fists and shout, “We are a
secular nation!” I asked my friend, “What’s the
deal? Don’t they like God?” She said, “Sure,
they love God. But here in Turkey, we treasure
the separation of mosque and state as much as
you value the separation of church and state.
And, with Iran just to our east, we’re concerned about the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.”
Travel shows us that Americans are
among the haves in a have-not world. In contrast, nearly half of this world’s people live on
Whether seeing the sights in Spain or
sampling cheese in London, gaining a
better understanding of the world can help
create better, stronger and safer societies
for us all, says travel expert Rick Steves.
FOR MANY AMERICANS, the critical question nowadays is “How can we make America
safer in the world?” I think we’d be safer by
better understanding our world. A great first
step is to travel—thoughtfully.
Thoughtful travel—becoming a “
temporary local” to really get a break from our cultural norms—shows us how the world sees
America. My travels have taught me that people around the world love the ideals of America
and are inclined to like Americans even though
they often disagree with our government.
Though many Americans travel, millions
more don’t venture out to see or experience the
world. About 80 percent of Americans do not
hold a passport. Many of those have world-views based on little more than TV news. Travel
gives us a firsthand look at the complexity and
$2 a day. And travel teaches you that, if you
know what’s good for you, you don’t want to
be filthy rich in a desperately poor world. It’s
just not a pretty picture.
Travel combats ethnocentrism. I was
raised thinking the world is a pyramid with
the United States on top and everyone else trying to get there. But as I traveled, I met intelligent people—living in countries nowhere
near as rich, free or full of opportunity as
America—who wouldn’t trade passports with
me. Rather than the American dream, they
have the Nepalese, Bulgarian, Turkish or
Such cultural snapshots—the essential
joy of travel—have made me both thankful to
be an American and an enthusiastic citizen of
PHOTOS COUR TES Y OF EUROPE THROUGH THE BACK DOOR
I have some Slovenian friends who muse
that the world would be smart to establish a
scholarship giving each American a free trip
abroad as a high school graduation present.
While they know that’s unrealistic, they’re
convinced that if more Americans traveled
before they voted, they would elect a government with policies that don’t put us at odds
with the rest of the world.
Travel gives us a perspective that can
translate into American policies that will not
alienate us from the family of nations. And
when that happens, I believe we’ll all be truly
stronger, safer and better off. C
The Costco Connection
Costco members can find Rick Steves’
guidebooks and travel DVDs at select
Costco locations and on costco.com.