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Pack Your Bags: Travel as a Political Act

Travel connects people with people. It helps us fit more compatibly into a shrinking world. And it inspires creative new solutions to persistent problems facing our nation.

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Travel has taught me the fun in having my cultural furniture rearranged and my ethnocentric self-assuredness walloped. It has humbled me, enriched my life, and tuned me in to a rapidly changing world. And for that, I am thankful. In this book, I’ll share what has made my travels most rewarding, and how they have helped shape my worldview and inspired my activism. As a travel teacher, I’ve been fortunate to draw from a variety of rich overseas experiences. And, since just after 9/11, I’ve been giving a lecture I call “Travel as a Political Act.” I enjoy flying all over the USA, giving this talk to peacenik environmentalists in Boulder, high-society ladies’ clubs in Charlotte, homemakers in Toledo, Members of Congress and their aides on Capitol Hill, and at universities across the country.

In that talk, I trace the roots of my ideas to the actual personal travel experiences from which they originated. While I draw from trips all over the globe, my professional focus is Europe, so most of my anecdotes are set in Europe. Europe is not that exotic, but it’s on par with us in development, confidence, and impact on the developing world. Consequently, Europe provides an instructive parallel yet- different world from which to view the accomplishments of our society and the challenges we face.

I enjoy bettering myself by observing others. And I appreciate constructive criticism from caring friends. In that same spirit, I enjoy learning about my society by observing other societies and challenging myself (and my neighbors) to be broad-minded when it comes to international issues. Holding our country to a high standard and searching for ways to better live up to its lofty ideals is not “America-bashing.” It’s good citizenship. I’m unapologetically proud to be an American.

The United States has made me who I am. I spend plenty of time in other countries, but the happiest day of any trip is the day I come home. I’d never live abroad, and I’d certainly not have as much fun running my business overseas as I do here at home. America is a great and innovative nation that the world understandably looks to for leadership. But other nations have some pretty good ideas, too. By learning from our travels and bringing these ideas home, we can make our nation even stronger.

As a nation of immigrants whose very origin is based on the power of diversity (“out of many, one”), this should come naturally to us... and be celebrated.  

Rick Steves is the host of a public television series, and a public radio travel show, and the author of many travel guidebooks and autobiographies.

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