Travel as a Political Act

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I recently finished reading Rick Steves’ Travel as a Political Act. Originally published in 2009, its third edition was released last month. I found the book provocative and illuminating. I learned a lot and found much to ponder.

This is the first part of my series of chapter-by-chapter reviews of Rick’s book. See the tag Travel as a Political Act for my reviews of other chapters as I add them. I think these will be more a series of takeaways than reviews. I want to share what I think were the key points, chapter by chapter, adding my own perspective as appropriate. Of course I am much less experienced than Rick Steves as a traveler and as a travel writer, so I don’t pretend that I can offer anything more than a whetting of the appetite. I would urge all travelers, arm-chair travelers, and would-be travelers to read Rick’s book.

Chapter 1: How to Travel as a Political Act

The various sections of this chapter provide a guide to its (and the book’s) overarching philosophy:

  • Travel like a medieval jester
  • Choose to travel on purpose
  • Connect with people
  • Stow your preconceptions and be open to new experiences
  • Take history seriously—don’t be dumbed down
  • Overcome fear
  • The American Dream, Bulgarian Dream, Sri Lankan Dream: Celebrate them all
  • Pry open your (Christian) blinders
  • Get beyond your comfort zone—choose to be challenged
  • See the rich/poor gap for yourself

The medieval jester, Rick reminds us, could tell truth to power without being punished. And Rick challenges us to bring back valuable insights from our travels and share them with our communities. For me, this blog is my way of doing that. I must constantly remind myself, though, that as much as my readers like to see pretty pictures of sights and hear about the fun adventures I’m having, I can dig deeper and share more powerful truths.

Travel challenges truths that we were raised thinking were self-evident and God-given. Leaving home, we learn other people find different truths to be “self-evident.” We realize that it just makes sense to give everyone a little wiggle room.

My challenge is to travel thoughtfully, to go out of my comfort zone so I can interact with people. When I do that, the rewards always turn out to be worth the risk. And when I don’t, I look back with regret at the missed opportunities.

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