Rick Steves with schoolgirls in Iran

Rick Steves: Travel as a Political Act
March 5 at 6
$5 
Christ Church Cathedral 
1117 Texas Ave.
brazosbookstore.com

Rick Steves has been writing travel books and leading tours around the world for decades, but it wasn’t until 9/11 that he began connecting his political principles (he’s a vocal proponent of marijuana decriminalization, among other liberal causes) with his work as a travel guide. “People would have me give my budget travel talks, and I ended up talking more and more about politics,” Steves recently told me. “And I realized that wasn’t very upfront, so I decided that this should be front and center.”

On Thursday night at Christ Church Cathedral, Steves will read from his new book, Travel as a Political Act. The book urges Americans, that famously insular species, to broaden their perspective by doing more foreign travel. It’s different from anything Steves has ever written. 

“Since 9/11 I find myself encouraging people to get out of their comfort zones,” he said. “We’re too fearful these days, and the flip side of fear is understanding. That really is the ultimate value of travel. The most valuable souvenir is a broadened perspective. You can come home and not incorporate that into your life, or you can come and incorporate that into your being.” 

To go beyond the headlines about American-Iranian relations, in 2008 Steves traveled to Iran to shoot a documentary that later aired on public television. During a recent trip to Israel and Palestine, Steves was appalled by how many Americans ventured into Palestine to see the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and then scurried right back to Israel, skipping the nearby mosque also devoted to Jesus. After all, he noted, Jesus is one of Islam’s most revered prophets. There’s also a monument to Palestinians imprisoned in Israel that tourists routinely skip.

Although Steves speaks only English, he said it’s possible for even monolingual tourists like himself to get off the beaten path by hiring local guides. “The bottom line is talking to people—real people, not people who are positioned outside the tourist bus trying to sell you stuff.”

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