What: Rick Steves, presentation
Where: Sleeping Lady Chapel Theater, 7375 Icicle Road, Leavenworth
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Cost: $30 adults, $20 students and seniors
Tickets and information: 1-800-574-2123 or sleepinglady.com
There are more ways to travel than just for pleasure.
Beyond the popular landmarks, museums, restaurants and beaches, there are cultures that differ greatly from our own. Author Rick Steves’ 2009 book, “Travel as a Political Act,” expounds on his own experiences exploring foreign cultures and the new knowledge and perspectives with which he’s come home.
The Edmonds resident began a regular regimen of visits to Europe in the 1970s, and has since gone on to teach travel to others through books, guided tours, radio and television. Steves received degrees in business administration and European history from the University of Washington. He published his first travel book, “Europe Through the Back Door,” in 1980.
On Friday, Steves lectures about “Travel as a Political Act” at Leavenworth’s Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort. All ticket holders receive a signed copy of the book. Co-sponsored by the Leavenworth Rotary Club, the event raises money for the Leavenworth Rotary Youth Exchange program.
The traveler says he enjoys vacationing in Leavenworth at a cabin that’s been in his family since he was a kid.
“My grandpa used to be a relatively famous drunk Norwegian ski jumper in Leavenworth,” Steves mentions. “I’m looking forward to coming over and talking to people. It’s just fun to be able to share some perspectives that I can bring into town.”
Go! Magazine: What do you mean by “Travel as a Political Act?”
Rick Steves: “Travel as a Political Act” is a way of where you travel and you recognize that the most important souvenir you can bring home is a broader perspective — kind of a global perspective — and to have a more comfortable understanding of how the United States relates with the other 96 percent of humanity.
Go!: In what way has travel altered your perspective?
Steves: I used to think the world was a pyramid with the United States on top and everybody else trying to figure out how to get there. Then I realized smart people don’t necessarily have the American dream. Everybody’s got their own dream. At first I thought that was kind of a threatening thing, and then I realized that’s a beautiful thing. The variety of this planet is something to celebrate; it’s not to be threatened by. I find that the Norwegians have the Norwegian dream, Sri Lankans have the Sri Lankan dream, and the Moroccans have the Moroccan dream. I think that’s something to learn about in your travels. I find there’s a lot of fear in our society lately, and I think people are peddling fear on us for their own needs. Historically, that should raise red flags. It’s occurred to me lately that fear is for people who don’t get out much. If you get out and travel, it’s not as scary of a place as (for) somebody who stays home and lets the TV shape their impression of the world.
Go!: Is that why you wrote this book?
Steves: I’ve been teaching travel for 30 years, and I’ve never had a grand plan, but my teaching has been kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, for travelers. For the travel equivalent, the bottom rung is all the basic travel skills: Staying healthy, staying safe, getting a hotel, getting a room, catching the train, packing light, using a travel agent and so on. But that’s not why you travel; that enables you to travel. So that was in the 1980s. I was always teaching travel skills and I wrote “Europe Through the Back Door.” In the ’90s, I wrote a different book called “Europe 101,” and the whole focus of my teaching was appreciating history and art, culture and cuisine, and good wine and all that kind of stuff, and that’s why you travel. In the last decade, I find myself going even on a different initiative — which I think is a little higher — which is traveling in a way that broadens your perspective. So after a lot of thinking and lecturing and traveling and so on, I gathered enough information to write “Travel as a Political Act.” After traveling to Iran a couple of years ago, I realized this is really exciting stuff and I should share it with people, because too many people go back to Hawaii every year when they could try something different.
Go!: When did you first visit Europe?
Steves: My parents dragged me there when I was 14 years old, 1969. I was a 14-year-old with a bad attitude. I didn’t want to go. As soon as I got over there, I thought it was quite interesting, actually. There was different candy and different pop; I remember statuesque women with hairy armpits. It was kind of a wonderland. I saw other kids just a little older than me traveling without their parents and Europe was their playground. And I realized if I arranged my priorities properly, I could do that. So I vowed to spend every summer for the rest of my life in Europe, and I have.
Go!: How much time do you actually get to spend at home?
Steves: I’m in Europe for four months out of the year, and then I’m back here for the rest of the year. I’m kind of a workaholic. I have a staff of 80 people, and I write guidebooks and I produce a weekly hour-long radio show that airs in 150 cities, and I’m very excited about our TV series, and lots of other stuff going on. My passion is this opportunity to help Americans travel smarter.
Go!: There is a quote by Thomas Jefferson that states, “Travel makes a man wiser, but less happy.” What is your interpretation of this?
Steves: Just think of the alternative. The opposite is staying home and having barbecues all your life and having your same friends over and having a very low-risk, low-stimulation kind of existence. You watch the same TV shows as everybody else and when you die you have a little smiley face on your tombstone. That’s fine, nothing wrong with that, but you’re clueless about what’s going on in the rest of God’s great creation. Media here tries to keep us insular, and I find when you travel you humanize people, or you humanize countries. I went to Iran because I think it’s good character to know people before you bomb them. And if you go to Iran, all of the sudden that whole issue causes you more concern. I went to Nicaragua because I wanted to learn why every 50 years there’s a big slaughter where big landowners kill the landless people down and keep them on the plantation. I went to El Salvador just over last Christmas so I could find out what it’s like to be on the receiving end of globalization. There’s a humble little country that doesn’t even have its own coins; they’re dollarized, they have our money. These people are desperately poor. The average lot in life for women is to walk five or six hours a day for water. They have to abandon their children and walk for water. Now that’s a pretty harsh reality; that’s the ultimate feminist issue. But if you’re a comfortable American that doesn’t have much of a world view, you don’t give that a second thought, and when it comes to trade policies, all you wanna do is subsidize your own farmers, not knowing that farm subsidies here demoralize farmers in hungry countries so they don’t grow their own food. These are complicated issues. I just want to know about them, I have an appetite for that kind of thing, I’m curious and I think that’s what Thomas Jefferson was getting at.