Tuesday, June 26

Travel As A Political Act

Travel as a Political ActTravel as a Political Act by Rick Steves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As Rick Steves is one of the most seasoned travellers of which I am aware, I had high expectations of this piece of writing, in particular because it branches off from his repeated pattern of reporting on the good, bad and challenges of a particular place or city.  This book appeared to meander into the more tempestuous waters of the politics of travel, which, as a travel and tourism graduate student, I have been researching for two years.

Each chapter presents a country (or city) and a specific topic (i.e. after war, taxes, soft drugs, etc.) through which Steves shares his experiences, opinions and political ideologies about what he has learned from each of the places with regards to the people and their lives in relation to that topic.  There is a mixture of positive, negative, warnings, messages, ideas, and comparisons throughout the book always directed at his largest market, the American people.  This book is full of lessons and suggestions that many English speaking people can learn from as non-Americans will also find this information poignant.  

This book presented some very good ideas about race relations, cultural understandings/misunderstandings, differences in choice, varying life perspectives, poverty, all within the subject of travel.  He is honest as a traveler and points to the places where he, as an American, is welcome, where he encounters harsh words, and differentiates between government propaganda and the people in the same country/city who see through their country's poor attempts at defaming other countries.  While I did not agree with everything he says in the book (i.e. the continued myth that the USA won World War II for the Europeans, and calling the USA America), as a person who was raised in foreign countries and continues to travel, I did see his open-mindedness and joy in meeting other people through his writing.  I would recommend everyone read this book, in particular those individuals who are afraid of travel or a particular country.  Time to set fear aside and ride the wave of mutual understanding and respect.

Best Parts:

I worry that the mainstream tourism industry encourages us to be dumbed down.  To many people, travel is only about having fun in the sun, shopping duty-free, and cash in in frequent flyer miles.  But to me, that stuff distracts us from the real thrills, rewards, and value of travel.  In our travels - and in our everyday lives - we should become more educated about and engaged with challenging issues, using the past to understand the present.  The more you know, and the more you strive to learn, the richer your travels and you life become.  In my own realm as a travel teacher....I take it with the responsibility to respect and challenge the intellect of my tour members, readers, or viewers.  All of us will gain more from our travel partners to be engaged and grapple with the challenging issues while on the road.  Your experience will be better for it.  p. 12

While traveling, I'm often struck by how people give meaning to life by producing and contributing.  p. 45

Perhaps Europe's inclination to be tolerant is rooted in the intolerance of its past.  In the 16th century, they were burning Protestants for their beliefs.  In the 18th century, they were drowning women who stepped out of line as witches.  In the 20th century, Nazis were gassings Jews, Gypsies, and gay people.  Now in the 21st century, Europe seems determined to get human rights, civil liberties, and tolerance issues right.  Instead of legislating morality, Europe legislates tolerance and human rights. Along with all the rights an American would expect, the in-the-works European constitution will include the right to work, food, and education.  All will have the right not only to healthcare, but to preventative healthcare.  In Europe, the "right to life" means no death penalty.  Europeans will all have the right to the protection of personal data, the right to access any data that has been collected, and the right to have it rectified if it is inaccurate.  Everyone will have the right to paid leave and paid parental leave.  And all will have the right to join or form a trade union.  p. 72

That first [travel] trip lit a fire in me.  I realized I have a right, if not the responsibility, to form my opinions based on my own experience, even if it goes against the mainstream at home.  p. 87

Traveling reminds us that contentment is based not on surrendering to conformity, but in finding that balance between working well together and letting creative spirits run free.  p. 125

What I learn about Islam from media and the US can fill me with fear and rage.  What I learn about Islam by traveling in Muslim countries fills me with hope...The centuries-old tension between Christendom and Islam is like a human sharing a forest with a bear.  Both just want to gather berries, do a little fishing, raise their kids, and enjoy the sun.  Neither wants to do harm to the other, but - because they can't readily communicate - either would likely kill the other if they crossed paths.  The world is our forest and we're sharing it with others.  As it gets smaller, more and more cultures will cross paths.  Our advantage over the human and the bear: we can communicate.  p. 147

When we travel - whether to the "Axis of Evil" or just to a place where people yodel when they're happy, or fight bulls to impress the girls, or can't serve breakfast until today's croissants arrive - we enrich our lives and better understand our place on this planet.  We undercut groups that sow fear, hatred, and mistrust.  People-to-people connections help us learn that we can disagree and still coexist peacefully.  p. 193

My travels have taught me that you don't want to be really rich in a terribly poor world...[it is] simply pragmatic to bring compassion for the needly along with me into the voting booth.  p. 199

Interesting Websites from book:

Take Back Your Time


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