Rick Steves' Travel as a Political Act

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Rick Steves' Travel as a Political Act

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Mag 22, 2009, 7:01 pm

I have just finished reading Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves and found it very thought provoking and would love to discuss it.

Have you read it? If so, what did you think?

I will start the discussion by saying that Rick is a local author for me. The book is up front in that it was written from a US traveller's point of view which could feel 'backwards' to those outside the US but still I think there are interesting points for anyone reading it.

Giu 1, 2009, 11:39 am

Haven't read it yet Carol but, perhaps tangentially related, here's an interesting link about America & Europe that suggests the some differences are exaggerated:


Giu 1, 2009, 1:06 pm

Thanks TSORAMA, that was an interesting article and touched on a few of the same topics as Rick Steves did. I will be interested to hear what you think after you read his book.

There was a statement in the article that was a real eye opener to me - does Britian (or even Europe) consider the US to be more religious then Europe? I live in Washington State on the west coast which, admittedly, is consistently named one of the least churched states in the US so perhaps my viewpoint is skewed but I would have considered Europe to be much more religious. Yes, we have the southern Bible belt and they are a vocal and politically active group. Yes, we tend to be prudes when it comes to sexuality and nudity...I'm assuming that is tied to religion. However, in my travels around Europe, I see a church steeple usually marks the center of town. Many businesses are closed on Sundays. My impression is that Europeans observe more relgious holidays then the US. Divorce and abortions still feel more taboo in at least some European coountries then in my part of the US. Some European countries have a state religion whereas the US attempts to seperate church and state. I have not had this perspective come up in any of my travels. Isn't it funny how different perspectives can be?

Thank you again for sharing the article and adding to the conversation.

Giu 1, 2009, 1:19 pm

Carol - I think that the view from Europe might be that the religious groups in the US are more strident in their views, i.e. certain groups have high visibility and (at least until recently) a lot of political influence - which they have tried to use in day to day life.

In reality I expect that there is wide variation in the US (Washington state, as you point out, is different to the bible belt) just as there is in Europe (the UK apart from parts of the Scottish highlands has very little church 'interference' in day to day life, but parts of rural Europe still are very traditional in that the church does have a part to play in everyday life).

The book sounds interesting, I hadn't heard of it before.

Giu 1, 2009, 2:01 pm

I think you have a good point zenomax. What shows up on the news may not be a broad reflection of society but it does affect our perceptions.

Rick Steves is a local travel guru - he writes travel books, does a travel TV show, has a radio program, and offers tours. His primary audience would be North Americans travelling to Europe. I don't know if his book is availble across the pond but you can check his blog out at http://www.ricksteves.com/tapa_blog/ and get a good feel for what is in the book. His travel business is focused on travel to Europe but this book goes beyond the EU.

Giu 15, 2009, 2:29 am

I haven't read the book, but I did read the article from Prospect and your questions, and I have a few comments as a European, a Norwegian and an extensive traveler.

I'd say that we don't necessarily think that the US is "more religious" than Europe. However, we are sort of scared by how a group, large or small, of religious people with what we consider fairly extreme views gets to decide how things are done over there, often in the name of religion.

This includes among other issues:
- That creationism is still taught/mentioned as an alternative to evolution in some schools and is given serious coverage in the news.
- The way Islam seems to be feared by so many and considered more or less to be an evil force, when it's "just another Christianity", really.
- The whole "pro life"/anti-abortion movement.
- The medieval idea of nudity having anything to do with sin.
- That winning athletes and other award winners often take the opportunity to thank their god for his grace in allowing them to win.

... and so on.

And it doesn't help that "God bless America" is said by so many, so often and with such confidence.

Regarding the religion you've observed in Europe:

- You find churches in every town centre because they were the focal point of every community a few hundred years ago, when they were built. Go there for Sunday service, and you won't have problems finding somewhere to sit, to put it mildly.

- The reason shops are closed on Sundays doesn't have anything to do with religion anymore. It's all about "socialism" and the belief that there should be at least one day in the week when pretty much everyone has the day off. That day is not spent going to church.

- Divorce is not a taboo. It's not mentioned very soften simply because it happens so often. And also because many choose not to get married, they just live together instead, and no one has a problem with that.

- Abortion is sort of a taboo, in the sense that it's not talked much about. However, that has nothing to do with religion, but with the unpleasant circumstances that may have caused the need for an abortion.

- We may have more religious holidays than in the US, but they're not observed as religious holidays to people, they are just days off work.

- Having a state religion does not mean the state is run by religion. It's just the way things have always been, and there is concern that if the church had to "run itself", we would soon have lots of town centres with churches that fall down and hit people in the head. Which would be a shame, since churches are often magnificent buildings and a part of the cultural heritage of Europe. In general, religious leaders have little impact on politics in Europe, only what they are entitled to in a democracy, through the votes of the people supporting the religious parties. In my country that means around 5-6 percent of the population, and those voters are generally old and dying.

It IS funny how different perspectives can be. I don't claim any of what I said is the truth, but it IS how I perceive it to be. #8D)

Happy trails,


Giu 15, 2009, 9:28 am

Hi Bjørn, and thank you for adding another perspective to our discussion.

You said "we are sort of scared by how a group, large or small, of religious people with what we consider fairly extreme views gets to decide how things are done over there, often in the name of religion." ME TOO!

I was lucky enough to visit Norway in 2005. We took the overnight boat from Copenhagen to Oslo and arrived on your Independence Day to be greeted with parades, flag waving, and many people wearing traditional or ceremonial clothing - very nice! We stayed with friends in Oslo for a few days and then took a road trip west to the fjords. Norway is very beautiful.

Giu 15, 2009, 12:37 pm

Bjorn - you do include an interesting snippet of information which I had forgotten about. A number of countries in Europe do have political parties which are specifically aligned to a religious group.

This is different to both the USA and the UK (with the exception of Northern Ireland). I am sure this is largely because of proportional representation, but it does give religions an opportunity to participate in civil life and influence policy more directly.

Giu 21, 2009, 8:04 am

Carol: I'm glad you got to experience our Constitution Day. Although it can be argued that with all the flags and self-praise that comes with it, maybe it's a bit too much, I still think it's a nice celebration overall. It's been conducted exactly the same way since way before we found oil in the North Sea and became a rich country, and the day is all about the children, not about soldiers or showing off. And it certainly has nothing to do with any particular religion. (I'm trying to stay on the topic here. #8D) )

Zeno: Actually, the main religious party in Norway ("The Christian People's Party"/Kristelig folkeparti) claims that they have many followers from other religions than Lutheran Christians, including Muslims and Jews. In Norway we generally don't register with a party and who votes for which party in the elections is obviously a personal secret for most people. So I suppose we'll just have to take their word for it, and conclude that this political party is not aligned to A religious group, but to religious groups in general. Which makes sense. First of all because all the major religions share a lot of values, and secondly because they certainly have lots of shared interest (public funding of religious groups in general, public support for maintaining religious buildings, and so on).

Giu 21, 2009, 1:20 pm

There is an interesting conversation occuring in this thread http://www.librarything.com/topic/67126#1342151 that seems pertinent to our discussion. See messages #293, 295, 298, 302.

It is a long and heated thread about a different topic. But it is interesting to me to see how the US, UK, and Netherlands view freedom of speech differently.

Ott 14, 2009, 3:49 pm

I have not yet read Travel as a Political Act although I found his UK guide very useful when I was visiting and picking random Welsh B&Bs.

There was also an interesting Salon.com article before his program on Iran aired.


Gen 2, 2010, 7:43 pm

Hi Carol, Thanks for starting this thread. Very interesting and I hope some of the participants might see my re-starting the conversation.

I am about 1/2 way through Steves' book and must say it feel sad and depressed about the discussion of globalism and its impact on the poorer people in South and Central America. I think many of us living on the left coast have had snipets of information regarding corporations stealing indigenous peoples' folk medications, and other examples of global organizations, answerable only to their shareholders (relatively wealthy people) do not see the ruin they leave in their wake.

***darn...dinner calls. I'll come back and post some additional thoughts a bit later.

Gen 10, 2010, 3:40 pm

Thanks for the recommendation of this book -- I am about to search it out and will start it this week. A very interesting topic.

Gen 10, 2010, 3:47 pm

Well, we are meeting to talk about this book tomorrow evening and I look forward to hearing what the others think of the book. I really enjoyed his visits to Europe. I found the trip to Iran to be tantalizing and wish there was more. I know his trip was limited and I'll bet he wishes there was more, too.

I do think that this is a great book to recommend to people who want to travel and see the world. I like Steves approach of getting to know people and not spending all of his time running between museums and shopping.

Gen 10, 2010, 6:05 pm

Good to see you here Maggie1944!

Welcome to the thread Robreadss!

Gen 18, 2010, 12:05 am

I just finished Travel as a Political Act and wanted to thank you for recommending it for our book discussion. I liked the book a lot, especially the chapters on travel to Muslim countries, and the chapters on dealing with marijuana use in a more pragmatic way - basically decriminalizing it. Maybe I'll even go to Hempfest this year! We miss seeing you in person. Cheers, Jan

Gen 18, 2010, 1:13 am

Hi Jan, I sure did miss discussing this book at our book club. I've been to hempfest a couple of times but it has been many, many years ago.

I'm not sure that I am brave enough to travel to much of the middle east, it seems like it would be quite difficult for a U.S. woman to travel there without offending someone.

But then that remeinds me of my first day in Delhi, India. I was told not to look a man in the eye because that was considered a sexual overture. I was trying to order breakfast at the hotel and keeping my eyes averted and the poor waiter who I am sure had been well trained on dealing with north americans kept leaning over to look at me - we almost ended up under the table before I finished ordering breakfast!

Gen 18, 2010, 2:33 pm

That's so funny! Reminds me of some of my bowing episodes in Japan. I do completely and wholeheartedly agree with Steves comments about the value of student exchange programs. My exchange program to Japan back in the early '70s was life-changing and I wish our government would spend a portion of the money they set aside to fight wars to send all the kids in the US who would like to go on foreign exchange programs.

Gen 19, 2010, 12:14 am

I wasn't clever enough to think of being an exchange student when I was still in school, I wish I had been!

I have to say I am perplexed by two different relatives that have spent time in Japan and only ate at McDonald's...sigh...what a waste. I don't understand the desire to travel without 'experiencing' where you are travelling to.

On the otherhand, I have had the opportunity to meet quite a few people from Singapore and everyone of them is homesick for their food - makes me want to go to Singapore just to eat! But somehow that just doesn't feel the same to me as eating at McDonalds, of course, I don't usually eat at McDonald's anyway so maybe I am biased.

Gen 19, 2010, 1:19 am

When I lived in Japan, there was only one McDonald's that I knew of, and it was in Tokyo - about 300 miles from where I lived. There was a Mr. Donut in the city near me, and it was a treat to go there on Saturdays after school. Yes, school on Saturdays!

But I did know people in Germany when I lived there who rarely ate anything but McDonald's and Burger King. This was more recently. McDonald's are ubiquitous in Europe now -- even in little cities in Hungary, though they serve beer, so that makes them different.

Gen 19, 2010, 8:52 pm

I did go into both McDs and Starbucks in Paris because they had bathrooms available to the public. Not so often true in really French establishments. Remember...the guys used to be able to pee in the streets.

ah, well, there are many ways to experience a country different than your own, right?

Gen 21, 2010, 1:55 am

Thanks for the reminder Maggie1944, of course you are right.

I occassionally go to a Starbucks when I travel when I want an iced drink because I know they use filtered water even for their ice.

I've always had good luck finding a public restaurant inside large stores...but not always a free one.

Ago 15, 2010, 3:11 pm

I'm just about finished Travel as a Political Act and I'm really liking it. I'm afraid he's preaching to the choir though--I'm not sure if this book will reach much of the audience who really should read it.

Ago 16, 2010, 12:08 am

Yup, you are probably right Nickelini. I'm glad to hear that you are enjoying it, I really enjoy Rick's ability to discuss hot topics without all the rhetoric.