Life Travel Is a Continuation of Politics
posted by January 22 at 11:39 AMon
Politics define certain industries. Free-range poultry versus chicken factories. Hybrid cars versus gas-guzzling SUVs. But travel?
“Eating five meals a day and still being able to snorkel—that’s not travel, that’s hedonism,” travel guru Rick Steves said last weekend at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. He told a room awash with Gore-tex and purple scarves that if people truly love travel—then they must travel to learn, to advocate for a different approach when they return.
“Is it a noble thing to do—to teach rich white people to travel?” Steves asked about 700 rich white people. Blank stares. He began with slides of Eastern Europeans twirling in town plazas and explained that those affable foreigners hold Fourth of July on different days of the year and they detest the U.S. for its recent audacity in foreign policy. And 700 people nodded. Then he showed a picture of a Scandinavian public restroom that has blue lights inside to prevent junkies from finding their veins and a picture of the syringe dispenser outside, and he spoke of the supervised heroin-injection facilities down the street and said there are fewer overdoses there. He talked about how many people in the Netherlands don’t drive cars at all, and we really need to consider doing these same things in the U.S. And the room became very quiet.
Rick Steves has a posse.
What’s remarkable is that not only is this not economic suicide for Steves’ business, Europe Through the Back Door, it’s helping. “They say, ‘I can’t believe you are saying these things. We will not use your guidebooks again,’” he said. “Fine, Europe will be more fun without you.” And everyone applauded. In fact, painting a trip to visit the cheese-eating surrender monkeys as a virtuous act has drawn crowds to his free events (this one was named Travel as a Political Act), which he holds three times a year, and draws new buyers to his books ($21.95) and clients for his tours ($3,595). His assistant tells me these free tri-annual presentations, press from his political positions, and his PBS show are the only way he promotes his multi-million dollar travel empire.
But it’s not just a ploy to generate press (though if it were, I guess it’s working). He says he’s negotiating with the U.N. to get permission to film his show in Iran. “My only goal is to humanize the country. We need to know who our government wants to bomb.”